Breastfeeding Nutrition
Anti-Inflammatory  |  Blood Sugar Balance  |  Functional Nutrition 101  |  The Feed

Nutrition Tips to Support Breastfeeding

by: Christina Palmisano MS, MBA, RDN, LD, IFNCP  |  June 28, 2024

The process of lactation and the intricacies of breast milk are truly fascinating and a wonderful example of how incredible the human body is. Equally incredible or arguably more, is a mother’s selfless commitment to breastfeeding. It is very clear in research that breast milk is an optimal source of nutrition for newborns and infants; however, the process of producing breast milk, maintaining a strong supply, keeping up with the demands of breastfeeding all while adequately caring for oneself along the way certainly does not make it the easiest food for a mother to provide.


Mom’s optimal nutrition, of course, plays an important role in breastfeeding. Interestingly enough, human milk has a fairly constant composition and is only selectively affected by the mother's diet. This is not to say that a mother’s diet doesn’t impact the quality and output of her milk, because it absolutely does, but rather, nutrition while breastfeeding is incredibly important for the health of the mother. While lactating, the mother’s body will always prioritize the needs of the baby at the expense of maternal stores. Below are a few of my nutrition tips to optimize maternal stores and maternal health while nourishing baby.


Prioritize both quantity AND quality of calories

Lactation is an energy-dependent process.  Additional calorie requirements will vary from woman to woman based on age, body composition, activity level, baby’s age and more, but additional needs are likely around 300-500 calories each day. Choosing high quality, nutrient-dense foods (high quality protein, whole food carbohydrates, healthy fats, etc.) is key to fueling the body with the additional calories it needs to produce milk while simultaneously supporting nutrient stores, blood sugar balance and overall health for the mother.


As previously mentioned, despite human milk having a fairly constant composition, energy and nutrients in human milk come from both maternal diet as well as maternal body stores. This is why prioritizing a diet with an adequate quantity of calories as well as quality of calories is essential not only for maternal health, but also optimizing the nutrient-content of breast milk for baby’s health. All macronutrients are important while breastfeeding, but whole food carbohydrates, like whole grains, legumes, low glycemic fruits and starchy vegetables, are particularly important in supporting breast milk supply. You may be tempted to eat low carbohydrate or even low calorie for weight loss goals, but if a strong and steady supply is a goal of yours, including 1-2 servings with meals and snacks is highly recommended. 


Identify micronutrient deficiencies

In addition to being an energy-dependent process, lactation is also a very nutrient-dependent process. Because nutrient-dense milk with a constant composition is the body’s priority while lactating, breastfeeding women are at increased risk for nutrient deficiencies. Low nutrient stores will compromise maternal health as well as breast milk nutrient-density. This is why vitamin and mineral supplementation while breastfeeding is essential along with a diet rich in micronutrients. Continuing to supplement with your prenatal may be enough for some, but the best way to understand the status of your nutrient stores is through micronutrient testing. Working with a functional dietitian - like in our personalized My Food is Health program - is a great way to receive an individualized nutrition (including supplement!) protocol to support you in whatever stage of life you may be, including while pregnant or postpartum. Receiving and following a plan like this is a proactive way to avoid future health issues associated with micronutrient deficiencies. 


Stay hydrated

Because of the physiological demands for more fluid during lactation, increased hydration is key while breastfeeding. Having a reusable water bottle nearby throughout the day and night is a simple way to keep your fluid intake up. Drinking 8-10 oz before each feed is helpful too. Increasing your fluids while breastfeeding has not been shown in research to increase milk supply, however, increasing your fluids will prevent dehydration, which can lead to a decrease in milk supply. Further, hydration is not just drinking water. Proper hydration is dependent on the presence of electrolytes, like magnesium, potassium, sodium, etc., to drive water into cells and transfer bodily fluids, like breast milk, appropriately. Adding electrolytes into your water is so helpful.


Keep a stash of quick and easy optimal snacks stocked

Eating balanced meals rich in protein, healthy fats and whole food carbohydrates is important while breastfeeding (and at all stages of life), but keeping a stash of quick, easy and nutrient-dense snacks while breastfeeding is particularly necessary for when hunger hits and your hands are full. Some of my favorites include: homemade muffins, power balls, overnight oats, chia seed puddings like this one!, a handful of nuts with a piece of fruit, and hard boiled eggs. Head to The Being Collective for recipes and more healthy snack ideas!

Similar Articles