Nutrition When Breastfeeding

You do not need to follow any special diet or exclude any particular foods from your diet while you are breastfeeding.

You simply need to follow a healthy, balanced and varied diet – but this is not particular to breastfeeding mothers.  For good health everybody should be following a healthy, balanced and varied diet.

What is a healthy, balanced and varied diet?

The following are the main groups of foods that should be included in a healthy, balanced and varied diet:

  • Fresh vegetables and fruit of all types, eaten raw or fresh.
  • Different grains such as wholegrain bread, oats, rice, potatoes, etc.
  • Protein foods from animal sources and/or plant sources such as meat, chicken, fish, cheese and milk, beans, lentils etc

Does diet determine a mother’s milk supply?

  • No, the amount of milk removed by the baby during breastfeeding or when a mother expresses determines the quantity of milk produced.
  • You do not require special foods to produce or increase your milk supply.
  • If your diet is not adequate, your body provides what is needed to make the milk nutritious.

Are there foods that I must eat or avoid?

  • There is no particular food that must necessarily be eaten, especially if this is something that you are not used to or don’t like.
  • A breastfeeding mother does not need to avoid any particular foods, including spicy foods, garlic, and cabbage.

Does what I eat influence what my child will eat?

  • Children acquire their family’s food habits and preferences gradually.
  • A baby first tastes this food via the amniotic fluid before birth, and later through his mother’s milk.
  • Avoiding foods is therefore not necessary – your baby needs this early exposure to the family foods.

How does being a vegan / vegetarian or on a macrobiotic diet affect breastmilk?

  • Vegan / Macrobiotic diet: A breastfeeding mother who is on a vegan or macrobiotic diet that includes no animal protein may need to take a vitamin B12 supplement in order to avoid B12 deficiency in her infant.
  • Vegetarian diet: Vegetarian mothers with a balanced diet can be assured that their diet should not present a problem with breastfeeding their babies.

How much fluid is needed while you are breastfeeding?

  • In general drinking to thirst is a good rule.
  • You are usually drinking enough if your urine is light coloured.
  • Many mothers do feel thirsty when they are breastfeeding, especially in the early days.
  • It is a good idea to have a glass of water available while breastfeeding.
  • Drinking beyond your needs is unnecessary, as it does not increase the milk and can also be unpleasant.


Babies born nearsighted - see moms face when breast feeding...
Babies are born extremely nearsighted, which means they can only see things about 8 to 15 inches away. That also happens to be the distance between your face and your baby’s face when breastfeeding. So when your baby locks eyes with you, it’s a true bonding moment.

Common nutrition related myths busted

A breastfeeding mother has to be obsessive about what she eats. Not true!

  • A breastfeeding mother should try to eat a balanced diet, but neither needs to eat any special foods nor avoid certain foods.
  • A breastfeeding mother does not need to drink milk in order to make milk.
  • A breastfeeding mother does not need to avoid spicy foods, garlic, cabbage or alcohol.
  • A breastfeeding mother should eat a normal healthful diet.
  • Although there are situations when something the mother eats may affect the baby, this is unusual. Most commonly, “colic”, “gassiness” and crying can be improved by changing breastfeeding techniques, rather than changing the mother’s diet.

A breastfeeding mother has to eat more in order to make enough milk. Not true!

  • Women on even very low calorie diets usually make enough milk, at least until the mother’s calorie intake becomes critically low for a prolonged period of time. Generally, the baby will get what he needs.
  • Some women worry that if they eat poorly for a few days this also will affect their milk. There is no need for concern. Such variations will not affect milk supply or quality.
  • It is commonly said that women need to eat 500 extra calories a day in order to breastfeed. This is not true. Some women do eat more when they breastfeed, but others do not, and some even eat less, without any harm done to the mother or baby or the milk supply.
  • The mother should eat a balanced diet dictated by her appetite.
  • Rules about eating just make breastfeeding unnecessarily complicated.

A breastfeeding mother has to drink lots of fluids. Not true!

  • The mother should drink according to her thirst.
  • Some mothers feel they are thirsty all the time, but many others do not drink more than usual. The mother’s body knows if she needs more fluids, and tells her by making her feel thirsty.
  • Do not believe that you have to drink at least a certain number of glasses a day.
  • Rules about drinking just make breastfeeding unnecessarily complicated.

A mother who smokes is better not to breastfeed. Not true!

  • A mother who cannot stop smoking should breastfeed.
  • Breastfeeding has been shown to decrease the negative effects of cigarette smoke on the baby’s lungs, for example.
  • Breastfeeding confers great health benefits on both mother and baby. It would be better if the mother did not smoke, but if she cannot stop or cut down, then it is better she smokes and breastfeeds than smokes and formula feeds.

A mother should not drink alcohol while breastfeeding. Not true!

  • Reasonable alcohol intake should not be discouraged at all. As is the case with most drugs, very little alcohol comes out in the milk. The mother can take some alcohol and continue breastfeeding as she normally does.
  • Prohibiting alcohol is another way we make life unnecessarily restrictive for breastfeeding mothers.
Has been so great to help babies in need, especially since it was so easy.
I wish I could continue to donate as it’s the most rewarding act of kindness a Mother can do and thanks to Milk Matters I was able to help.
Dena, Breastmilk Donor – Noordhoek


Caffeine use during breastfeeding

  • Caffeine is a stimulant which does pass into the breastmilk.
  • The amount of caffeine in five or less  148ml cups of coffee will not cause a problem for most breastfeeding mothers and babies.
  • A dose of caffeine as is in a cup of coffee appears in low levels in the breast milk and the level in the infant’s plasma is also low.
  • However, caffeine does accumulate in the infant supporting the theory that large amounts of caffeine consumed by the mother could have an effect on the infant.
  • Remember to account for all non coffee sources of caffeine such as: soft drinks, some pain relievers and cold medicines and chocolate.
  • Chocolate contains a substance called theobromine which can act like caffeine in both the mother and baby’s systems.
  • A baby who is being overstimulated with caffeine will be wide-eyed, active, alert and possibly fussy.
  • Smoking has been known to increase the effects of caffeine when these two substances are used together.

Weight loss while breastfeeding

Many women are eager to get back into shape after giving birth to their new baby.

It is advisable that a new mother waits at least 2 months before purposefully losing weight – the body needs time to recover from childbirth and establish a good milk supply.

It must be remembered that the weight gained during pregnancy was not gained overnight and therefore will not be lost overnight.

Factors a breastfeeding mother needs to consider when wanting to lose weight:

  • Nutritional balance or variety
    • Adequate and balanced nutrition is recommended for optimal nutrition for both mother and baby.
    • A variety of foods will help to get in a variety of nutrients which is good for both mother and baby – eating only one type of food or eliminating an entire food group (i.e carbohydrates) will affect the amount and variety of nutrients consumed.
  • Hunger
    • Inadequate calorie intake can result in feeling weak, tired and drained.
    • When a mother feels this way taking care of her baby can be difficult and these very real feelings can affect the letdown relex.
  • Rate of weight loss
    • Gradual weight loss has not been found to be detrimental to either mother’s milk supply or babies health.
    • There are documented concerns however when a mother loses weight too rapidly.


Breastmilk digested quickly plus sucking & closeness is needed...
Breastmilk is digested quickly (usually in 1.5-2 hrs), so breastfed babies need to eat more often than formula-fed babies. Many babies have a strong need to suck – meeting this need at the breast is good for the baby and for milk supply.Also, babies often need continuous contact with their mother in order to feel secure. All these things are normal, and you cannot spoil your baby by meeting these needs!
It has felt good to donate milk and be able to give something to babies who are not so lucky and are not blessed with a mother who can breastfeed them.
Debbie S., Breastmilk Donor – Plumstead