Healthy Baby, Healthy You: Breastfeeding & Nutrition

Written by Medinah A. Bey, Nutrition Assistant

Your food choices will affect your recovery from giving birth and your energy to feel good and parent well. Here are some tips for good nutrition during breastfeeding.

Vanessa Simmons, Philly Loves Breastfeeding, 2017

Benefits of Breastfeeding:

Breastfeeding boosts the immune system, helping to fight off infections. Breastfeeding helps reduce the risks of health issues including:

  • For the infant: Overweight, asthma, diabetes, SIDS (Sudden infant death syndrome), gastric issues.
  • For the breastfeeding parent: High blood pressure, Type 2 diabetes, ovarian cancer, and breast cancer.

Recommended Foods & Vitamins While Breastfeeding:

While breastfeeding, it’s important to consume an extra 400-500 calories daily. The extra calories are used for milk production. Here are some foods to think about consuming, that will support healthy nutrition during breastfeeding:

  • Iodine helps with the growth and brain development of the baby during pregnancy and after birth. It can be found in foods such as fish, seaweed, shrimp, and other seafood. Some fish has mercury which can be harmful to the baby as it can be passed through breastmilk to the baby, so it is important to avoid fish with high levels of mercury including King mackerel, Swordfish, Tilefish, Tuna, etc.
  • Dairy products such as milk, yogurt, and cheese are filled with vitamins and minerals including vitamin A, D, B12, Thiamin, Riboflavin, and Niacin. This can benefit the growth of the baby as it can make them stronger and assist with organ development.
  • Iron helps keep your blood pumping and supports infant brain health development into early childhood. It can be found in red meat, fish, poultry (chicken or turkey), eggs, iron-rich cereals, tofu, beans, and dark green leafy vegetables.
  • Vitamin B12 supports brain development and produces healthy red blood cells. It is found in foods from animals, primarily meat, fish, milk and milk products, and eggs.
  • Vitamin D supports healthy bone development. You can get it from natural sunlight and milk.

For more information about dietary recommendations for people breastfeeding, see the newly released 2020-2025 USDA Dietary Guidelines for Americans.

Vanessa Simmons, Philly Loves Breastfeeding, 2017

Caffeine Consumption:

Caffeine does pass from mother to infant through breastmilk, but is not usually an issue if consumed in smaller amounts (about 300 milligrams or less per day, or about two to three cups of coffee). Other caffeinated foods and beverages include soda, energy drinks, tea and chocolate. People who are breastfeeding can consult their healthcare providers for more advice concerning caffeine consumption.

Other Healthy Alternatives to Breastfeeding:

While breastfeeding is a healthy choice, it may not be an option for everyone. The decision to breastfeed or formula feed your baby is impacted by comfort level, lifestyle and medical conditions. For those who can’t breastfeed or who decide not to, infant formula is a healthy safe alternative and gives babies the nutrients they need to grow.

Breastfeeding resources and education materials including lactation services, breastfeeding at work, WIC locations, and infant formula information and sources can be found at:

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