Eating for Breastfeeding: Expert Tips

By Jen Andrus

In honor of National Breastfeeding Month, let's talk nutrition and breastfeeding. As I hope you all know, Pretty Pushers are designed with breastfeeding in mind. I'll leave the lactation instruction to the experts, but I would like to talk about hunger and calorie needs as well as micronutrient goals and the ongoing concern over mercury, pesticides, alcohol and caffeine.

Most women describe breastfeeding hunger as the most intense hunger they've ever felt which makes sense because your calorie needs increase by about 500. My best advice is to listen to your body and eat when you’re hungry which essentially means small, frequent meals or regular snacks. Even though you'll be exhausted and have 100 other things on your mind, it's a good idea to keep a food log for a few days to get a sense of how many calories you are actually taking in and where there might be holes in your nutrient intake. There are many apps and websites available. I like because it allows you to see your vitamin and mineral consumption clearly. If you're not consuming in a calorie range that makes sense (probably somewhere around 2200 calories depending on age, height, weight and activity level) you can consult a registered dietitian who will help you get on track.

photo via The Independent

If you are trying to shed any extra baby weight, remember that too few calories will negatively impact your milk production so weight loss needs to be slow. If you eat too little you’re also likely to miss some critical nutrients. As with pregnancy, your body prioritizes the baby so nutrients like folic acid will go to the baby first and your levels will drop.  

A good diet is pretty simple; it includes a wide variety of fruits and vegetables to get a nice spread of vitamins. A mix of good whole grains that should take more than a minute to cook, low fat dairy, lean protein like chicken breast, turkey, lean beef, fish or tofu, and healthy unsaturated fats that come from plant sources (in other words, avoid animal fats). Drink an extra glass or two of water (and even more in the hot months or if you’re drinking alcohol).


Vitamin D is critical for bone development and is commonly low due to decreased consumption of D fortified foods and sun avoidance. Talk to your doctor, but it’s generally a good idea to continue to take your prenatal vitamins after giving birth. After a couple of months, it’s OK to switch to a regular multivitamin (your 6 week check up is a good time to ask your doctor, who will know your personal history). Additional supplements are generally not needed, however, if you’re low in vitamin D you might need to take an additional 1000IUs a day to increase your levels and therefore the amount in your breast milk. Often, your doctor will have a protocol in place to combat deficiencies.


It is suggested that you get 1300 mg of calcium a day, which is best achieved by eating calcium rich foods. There isn’t a lot in your prenatal vitamin because it’s presence decreases the absorption of Iron. Calcium supplementation is becoming controversial because it might impact heart health so again, talk to your doctor if you’re unable to achieve the RDA with milk, yogurt, and low fat cheese. If you do need to supplement it’s better to take it in smaller doses throughout the day rather than all at once.


If you’re not a fish eater, you also might consider supplementing omega 3s. Look for one that has at least 1000 mg of EPA and DHA combined. This should be clearly stated on the label, if it is not then assume it doesn’t have what you need. DHA is important for the baby’s brain development and might positively impact any postpartum blues you’re having. If you ARE a fish eater, keep in mind that the mercury in fish will still get to your infant through breast milk so it’s best to play it safe and avoid mercury in fish as much as possible. The environmental protection agency (EPA) has excellent information on this topic.


Another environmental contaminant we have some control over are pesticides. First and foremost, buy local when you can (local is most often organic regardless of label). To decide which foods to spend a little extra on to get organic look to the Environmental Working Group’s (EWG) “dirty dozen.” They update this list annually and they offer a list of both the most and the least contaminated foods.


Alcohol seeps into your breast milk. Your doctor is likely to have some specific guidelines but keep in mind a couple of things: alcohol is empty calories so you’re not maximizing your nutrient intake if you’re drinking regularly. Probably most importantly, the alcohol might make your baby sleepy, but just like with you, it will negatively impact the quality of sleep and therefore throw him or her off schedule. One wise friend describes pumping and dumping as spilling gold. If you do like a drink to relax, try to time it for just after a feeding minimizing the need to pump and dump.


Caffeine will also stimulate your baby just like it does you. The standard advice is limiting it to 300 mgs of caffeine a day while breastfeeding, which is actually equivalent to one brewed Starbuck’s Grande. If you switch that to a skim latte you cut the caffeine in half and get a serving of milk giving you extra vitamin D and Calcium for a win-win.

Eating well while breastfeeding is crucial for starting your baby’s life off with the right diet. You’ll feel better too! Another win-win.

~ Jen Andrus



Jen Andrus has been featured on national television on Fox News Live, and she has been quoted in multiple publications including Self Magazine and Parents magazine. Her expertise ranges from pediatrics to adult to geriatric nutrition. She has completed the eating disorder training program through the Renfrew Center. Jennifer is a Certified Diabetes Educator as governed by the National Certification Board for Diabetes Educators (NCBDE).

Before opening a private practice, Eat to be fit, Inc., she was an outpatient dietitian at the University of Michigan Medical Center and was the pediatric specialist at the University of Michigan East Ann Arbor Medical Center. She has lectured at multiple corporate groups and fitness centers.

Ms. Andrus holds a MS in Nutritional Science from the University of Michigan. She completed her internship at the University of Michigan Medical Center. Jennifer also holds her Bachelors degree in Health and Society from the University of Rochester.


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1 comment

  • Pumping and dumping is unnecessary and moderate alcohol intake is fine-

    • Lindy