Breastfeeding – Do I Need to Eat More? 

So you are breastfeeding and everyone keeps telling you to “eat more because you are eating for two”. But is this true – do you really need to eat more if you are breastfeeding? And if you do need to eat more whilst breastfeeding, how much more? A whole meal or a snack or two or three?

Breast Milk is Amazing!

Breastmilk is an amazing substance that literally supplies your baby with all its nutritional needs for the first 6 months of your baby’s life. Breast milk is the exact ratio of nutrients and macros for your baby to reach each milestone of growth as it grows. As your baby needs slightly more nutrition for growth, your breast milk changes which is incredible.

Breastfeeding – Did You Know?

  • Your body is ready to feed your baby the moment your baby is born
  • During breastfeeding, you and your baby produce oxytocin which helps to reduce anxiety and promotes feelings of connection
  • Breastfeeding supports a healthy gut bacteria in your baby – this can help set your baby’s immune system up perfectly well for their life, which is amazing
  • Breastfeeding helps antibodies to circulate in your baby, thus allowing their immune system to fight infections

What Can I Eat When Breastfeeding?

We know that a healthy pregnancy diet includes protein-rich foods, whole grains, fruits, vegetables, and healthy fats. You can read more about what to eat when pregnant here. Once you are breastfeeding you can generally follow the healthy diet principles that you have commenced in pregnancy or even pre-pregnant guidelines, with a few fine tunes that we discuss here.

It makes sense that as your body is making a nutrient-dense substance on-demand, (Breastmilk), that this will require more energy for your body to do this than when you are not breastfeeding. It’s the same as you need to have more energy (calories/KJ) when you are pregnant than in pre pregnancy.

If you are Breastfeeding, you will need more;
  • Energy (fuel – calories/kilojoules)
  • Calcium
  • Protein
  • Iron
  • Folate
  • Vitamin A
  • Vitamin C
  • Iodine
  • Water
  • Just to name a few …..

How Much More Do I Need to Eat if I am Breastfeeding?

Energy for our bodies is measured as calories (cal) or kilojoules (KJ) (1 cal = 4.2 KJ). For your body to make breast milk, you need more energy (cal or KJ) to aid this process. In fact, generally speaking, you need approximately an extra 250-500 calories per day extra than in your last trimester of pregnancy if you are breastfeeding. We are all individuals and therefore at best, this is a rough estimate. However, you can monitor your baby’s weight to ascertain if your baby is receiving adequate nutrition and your own health to ensure you are consuming adequate nutrition. Always contact your doctor, nurse or lactation consultant if you are concerned about your baby’s growth and weight.

It is important to note that even though we may need a few extra calories per day whilst breastfeeding it actually does not take a lot of food to reach 250-500 calories (1050 -2090 Kj). The Dietary Guidelines for Americans (DGAs) have slightly increased caloric requirements for women who are breastfeeding and recommend about 450 to 500 calories per day.

It is important that you aim to receive this small amount of extra calories by making smart, healthy, filling choices,  for example; whole grain bread with a tablespoon of peanut butter, an extra piece of fruit, and a dollop of yoghurt on your breakfast.

Mindful Eating

nutrition for newborn

You certainly do not have to measure your calories if you do not wish to. Have you ever heard of mindful eating? Part of mindful eating is the art of listening to your body’s hunger cues and then savouring and enjoying each mouthful of food. If you are able to tap into your hunger levels and respond appropriately (with a good, healthy choice) then this is generally an efficient, safe way of increasing your intake as your body needs it and providing your body with breastfeeding vitamins and nutrients. It may take a little practice, but it is actually a lifelong tool. You can pass this on to other children in your life as well as it becomes a lifelong lesson.

Does Breastfeeding Make You Hungry?

The majority of nursing mothers do say that breastfeeding does actually make them feel hungrier than normal. Just slightly increasing your food intake should satisfy both your hunger and your baby’s growing demands. Remember sometimes drinking some water can alleviate what we may think is hunger.

Do You Need to Take Supplements While Breastfeeding?

It is always best to have real food for pregnancy and for breastfeeding. However, it is really important to supplement our diets if we are unable to consume adequate calories. Some people who may be vegan, vegetarian, underweight, or have other medical conditions may require extra supplementation. This is addressed in another section of the website but it is recommended that if you have been taking prenatal vitamins or pregnancy vitamins then you should continue to take them as postnatal vitamins.

What to Avoid When Breastfeeding?

This is a good question to ask yourself, as I am sure we have all heard some old wives’ tales about what not to eat while breastfeeding. You certainly can be rest assured that you generally do not need to give up many foods, but there are some foods to avoid or limit.

Breastfeeding foods to avoid include;

  • Alcohol (more on this later) – there is no level of alcohol that is considered safe for your baby
  • Caffeine – it can affect a baby. Limit to 1-2 cups per day
  • Some seafood – choose low mercury seafood if possible
  • Deep-fried foods – generally unhealthy level of unhealthy fats in too large amounts
  • Ultra-processed foods – aim to choose fresh foods, as close to nature, as possible
  • High sugar foods – are empty energy (cal/KJ) and can lead to weight gain, diabetes, & fatigue.
  • Sugar-Sweetened drinks – are also best avoided. 

How Much Fluid Should I Have if I am Breastfeeding? 

We all need to be drinking at least 2-3 Litres of water per day, and while making breast milk we need closer to 2.5 Litres (84.5 US ounces) of water a day. Water is, of course, the best choice here but the other fluid in our diet, like tea and soups, etc also count. See the fluid section for more information. Some signs that you may be dehydrated or not getting enough fluid are dark coloured urine and if you start to suffer from constipation.

How Much Alcohol Can I Drink if I am Breastfeeding?

breastfeeding nutrition

The National Health and Medical Research Committee in Australia recommends no alcohol if you are currently breastfeeding. The American Breastfeeding Association state that there is no level of alcohol in breast milk that is actually safe for a baby. Interestingly, the concentration of alcohol in your blood is the concentration of alcohol in your milk. Alcohol quickly transfers from your blood into your breastmilk

As we know that alcohol generally clears from breastmilk in 2-3 hours, some nursing mothers can plan ahead prior to the consumption of alcohol. This would mean navigating the timing of your nursing or substituting breast milk for formula or breast pumping prior to the baby’s feed.

Everyone is an individual and it is not a direct science how each body deals with alcohol in their system, so the rate at which alcohol is cleared from our body depends on a few factors such as;

  • Your body weight
  • The type of alcohol consumed
  • How fast you are drinking over time
  • If you have eaten and
  • What you have actually eaten

Does Breastfeeding Help you Lose Weight?

A note about weight, it is important to not focus on losing weight while breastfeeding. Eat within your caloric needs and enjoy gentle exercise when you feel able to. Having too low a calorie intake will result in less breastmilk produced.

Remember to be Kind To Yourself

healthy baby

Whether you are breastfeeding or not, it is important that the food and drink you are consuming is actually providing your body with all the vitamins, minerals, and also fuel (the energy) you need to live a healthy life. If you are breastfeeding, this uses a lot more of your energy and your nutrients, so you need to increase your calories slightly so that you are actually eating enough to nourish your baby and your own body and looking after your maternal nutrition.

American Breastfeeding Association

Dietary Guidelines of Australia

NHMRC – National Health and Medical Research Council of Australia

Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2020-2025

Australian Breastfeeding Association

US department of health and Human Services – National Institute of Health

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