Postnatal Diet and Nutrition

Pregnancy and/or Nursing may be one of the most important times in life to focus on your diet. Not only are you ensuring you stay healthy, but also that your developing baby has all the good stuff they need to grow healthy. However, it can be hard to fit it all in during the day. You may find yourself fighting extreme fatigue and don’t have it in you to make a full meal. Or you may have the energy and appetite, but you are corralling other little ones and just don’t have the time. For easy meal planning, use our Recipe Box, with breastfeeding guidelines on exercise and diet.

During the first 6 weeks after birth

Eat to meet your appetite, focusing on nutrient dense foods.

Eating a balanced diet, and taking your vitamin should help you meet all the major nutrient needs you have during this time. However, there are some stand out vitamins and minerals your body needs during this time. Some of those include:

Vitamin A: Also known as beta carotene is found in milk, eggs, carrots, spinach, green and yellow veggies, and broccoli. This powerful vitamin helps promote the growth of bones and teeth.

Vitamin D: You hear a lot about this vitamin even when not pregnant because it is vital to helping the body use calcium and phosphorus. You find this in milk, fatty fish, and sunshine.

Thiamin/B1: One of the main B vitamins tasked with raising energy levels and regulating the nervous system. Excellent sources of this vitamin include whole grains, wheat germ., eggs, rice, berries, nuts, and legumes.

Folic Acid/Folate: The most important nutrient specifically for pregnancy is folic acid. It helps support the placenta and prevents spina bifida and other neural tube defects. Your prenatal vitamin provides a good dose of this but you can also find it in oranges, orange juice, strawberries, green leafy veggies, beets, and broccoli

Iron: Iron deficiency is a common problem during pregnancy (and nursing) and your prenatal vitamin includes the nutrient. Iron is most concentrated in meat sources but can also be found in beans, whole grains, dark leafy greens, and nuts.

While these are just some of the nutrients your body needs, they can be ones that have the biggest impact on how you feel!

Breastfeeding Basics

While there is no one size fits all breastfeeding diet, there are several considerations to keep your breast milk flowing while losing the baby weight.

If you choose to nurse your baby, you should be aware of a few nutritional considerations.  Once milk supply is established you can reduce calories slightly in an effort to lose weight.  The main goal is to eat a variety of foods, stay hydrated and maintain a good milk supply.


Drink water.

Breast milk is made mostly of water, and drinking enough liquid will help you maintain an adequate supply while also helping you to feel her best. The Institute of Medicine recommends that lactating women consume 3.8 liters of water per day. This equals about 16 cups. It seems like a lot, but more than just water will help you reach her daily needs. Any non-caffeinated, non-sugary drink counts toward the 16 cups, and foods usually account for about 20% of water intake. Creating routines around fluids will encourage you to increase your intake. For example, slicing fresh fruit into a large pitcher and filling it with water will give the water flavor without adding extra calories or sugar. If milk supply drops, many times it is due to not consuming enough water.

Don’t count calories…but don’t go crazy, either:

To make one ounce of breast milk, a woman’s body needs about 20 calories, so depending on how much your baby is eating, you could be burning 500 to 1000 calories by simply feeding your little one. However, some moms see breastfeeding as an excuse to eat anything they desire. In the first 4-6 weeks after giving birth, your focus should be on caring for your new one and—when it comes to food—eating to meet your appetite and choosing a variety of foods. Once you have a well-established milk supply, and are looking to shed pounds, you can do so by slightly reducing calories after the 6-week mark.

Milk production requires 500-1000 calories per day. The National Academy of Sciences tells us that half the calories come from body fat stored during pregnancy and the remaining calories come from foods eaten each day. Therefore, the general recommendation for breastfeeding women is to consume an additional 500 calories per day. Keep in mind, nutrition needs can vary depending on how much milk is being produced.

But really, how much do I need?

You may be the type who likes numbers and goals…so here you go. Every woman’s needs vary, but for most, an additional 500 calories per day should be adequate for nursing moms to maintain their supply while also losing weight.

Protein: Protein is a big deal in all diets, but especially for a mom, as your body is recovering from pregnancy and also providing nutrition for a rapidly growing baby. A breastfeeding mom should consume about 50 grams of protein or more. Most of us do not have trouble meeting our protein needs; however, here are some easy ways for you to up your intake:

  • 1 glass milk = 8 g protein
  • 1 egg = 7 g protein
  • ¼ cup black beans = 4 g protein
  • 1 cup yogurt = 7-8 g protein
  • 2 T peanut butter = 7 g protein
  • 1 oz. meat = 7 g protein

*Please note that you should always eat to satisfaction while breastfeeding.

Fat: Weight loss is one of the things on the fore-front of mom’s mind; however, you do not need to avoid fat to lose fat. Actual grams of fat will vary, but 20-30% of your total calories should come from fat. When looking at the different types of fat, you want to limit saturated fats – found in high-fat meats, butter, lard, and hydrogenated oil. Instead get your fat fix from the good fats found in avocados, olives, nuts, seeds, and fish. Keep in mind, although these fats are good for you, portion size is key to getting the good stuff you need while not overdoing the calories.

A note about fish: the DHA found in fish helps the baby’s brain development and has been shown to help lower your risk of postpartum depression. Your best bests are Atlantic salmon, sockeye salmon, rainbow trout, Pacific herring, shrimp, king crab, lobster, and canned light tuna. Consuming fish twice a week provides the body with the recommended amounts of DHA and omega-3 fatty acids. Mercury levels are a concern in some fish but as long as you avoid shark, swordfish, king mackerel, and tilefish you need not worry.

Carbohydrates: Finally there are carbohydrates, making up between 40 and 60% of the diet. Carbohydrates found in whole grains, fruits, and vegetables will help give your body the energy it needs while also providing a boost of vitamins and minerals. It is important to get most of your carbs from good sources and avoid an abundance of white flour and sugar as they provide a good amount of empty calories.

If you are looking for a specific meal that includes what to eat while breastfeeding, you will enjoy our Meal Plan written by our Registered Dietitian.


What about caffeine?

caffeine-breastfeedingSmall amounts of caffeine-containing foods and drinks are safe for breastfeeding mothers and healthy, full- term babies. A moderate amount of caffeine is about 200mg per day (American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, June 2013). Large amounts of caffeine- containing foods can cause fussy, wakeful babies. If a client mentions these symptoms, encourage her to eliminate caffeine from her day (www.MayoClinic.com).

What about alcohol?

alcohol-during-breastfeedingNo level of alcohol in breast milk is considered safe for a baby. You should avoid large amounts of alcohol while breastfeeding. An occasional small drink is ok, but avoid breastfeeding for 2-4 hours after a drink (www.MayoClinic.com). If a mother decides to enjoy a drink, encourage her to express milk before having the drink to feed her infant later (www.ChooseMyPlate. gov). If a mother is particularly worried, she can also purchase a home test kit. Within minutes, these testing strips analyze the milk’s alcohol content. They can be purchased at most major retailers.

Benefits of Breastfeeding

It is important to know the benefits to both baby and mother. Breastfeeding is a personal choice, and women may encounter many barriers to breastfeeding. However, by giving you more information, you can make a decision that is going to be best for your new family.

According to the Office on Women’s Health at the Department of Health and Human Services, breastfeeding has numerous benefits to infants including, but not limited to:

  • Protective effects against respiratory illness, ear infections, gastrointestinal distress, and some allergies;
  • Reduction in the rate of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS) by over one-third;
  • 15-30% reduction in adolescent and adult obesity;
  • Cells, hormones and antibodies found in breast milk protect babies from illness.

Breastfeeding isn’t only beneficial for the infant, but has proven benefits for the mother as well. These benefits include:

  • Lower risk of Type 2 diabetes, breast cancer, ovarian cancer, and postpartum depression;
  • Less vaginal bleeding and less risk of hemorrhage after birth;
  • Contraction of the uterus to its non-pregnant size sooner.[1]


Barriers to Breastfeeding

Regardless of a woman’s intention prior to giving birth, once the baby arrives, numerous issues can crop up. These issues may include: Sore nipples, too much or too little milk production, engorgement, plugged ducts, mastitis, or fungal infection. (Department of Health and Human Services: Office on Women’s Health)

Most of these are medically-related and should be addressed by a lactation consultant, nurse, or doctor. You can find a lactation consultant through your OB/GYN or a lactation consultation through your hospital or International Lactation Consultant Association (www.ilca.org).

Even if a you do not experience any of these physical barriers, almost every mom will experience mental and emotional barriers while she breastfeeds. Some of these include:

  • Embarrassment
  • Lack of confidence
  • Lack of encouragement and support
  • Pain
  • Stress
  • Tiredness
  • Lack of freedom[2]

Support from a health professional can be crucial during this time!

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends exclusively breastfeeding for about the first six months of a baby’s life, followed by breastfeeding in combination with the introduction of complementary foods until at least 12 months of age, and continuation of breastfeeding for as long as mutually desired by mother and baby.1 According to the CDC, approximately 77% of mothers breastfeed at some point during their newborn’s life. At six months, 47% of moms breastfeed and at 12 months, 25% of moms continue to breastfeed.

A lactation specialist is key, they have hours upon hours of clinical experience. And a Registered Dietitian can work hand in hand to provide your needs while nursing.


[1]104 Spangler, Amy and Carol Adams Rivera. Breastfeeding: A Parent’s Guide, 2010. Cincinnati, OH: Specialty Lithographing Company.

[2]105 Ibid.

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