Nutrition guide for breastfeeding mothers

Maintaining mother's good health is one of the keys to successful breastfeeding.
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  • Updated:20 May 2011

01.Foods to eat and foods to avoid


The benefits of breastfeeding for mother and baby are well-known. But breastfeeding puts an extra load on the mother’s body and maintaining her good health is one of the keys to successful breastfeeding.

Many new mums are so busy attending to their baby's needs that they don’t have time to think about their own diet and making sure they maintain their energy and health. This article looks at how much more breastfeeding mothers need to eat and which foods they should focus on to stay as healthy as possible.

Servings from each food group

The Australian Guide to Healthy Eating recommends breastfeeding women eat a range of healthy food, with these guidelines:

  • 5 - 7 servings from the bread, cereals, rice, pasta, noodles group
    An example of one serve is 2 slices bread; 1 medium bread roll; 1 cup of cooked rice, pasta or noodles; or 1 1/3 cups of breakfast cereal flakes. There is an allowance of about 20 g a day for poly or monunsaturated fats and oils that can be used to spread on breads or rolls or used elsewhere in the diet.
  • 7 servings from the vegetables, legumes group
    An example of one serve is 75 grams or 1/2 cup cooked vegetables; 1/2 cup cooked dried beans, peas, lentils or canned beans; 1 cup of salad vegetables; or 1 small potato.
  • 5 servings of fruit
    An example of one serve is 1 medium apple; 2 small pieces (150 g) of fruit (apricots, kiwi fruit, plums); 1 cup of diced fruit pieces or canned fruit; 1/2 cup of fruit juice; or 1 1/2 tablespoons of sultanas.
  • 2 servings from the milk, yoghurt, cheese group
    An example of one serve is 250 ml of milk; 250 ml of soy milk; 40 grams (2 slices) of cheese or 200 g (1 small carton) of yoghurt.
  • 2 servings from the meat, fish, poultry, eggs, nuts and legumes group
    An example of one serve is 65-100 grams cooked meat or chicken; 2 small chops; 2 slices of roast meat; 1/2 cup of cooked dried beans; 80-120 grams of fish fillet; 1/3 cup peanuts (almonds); or 2 small eggs.


Breastfeeding mothers should drink at least an additional 700 ml/day of water over and above their non-lactating requirements to replace the fluid lost through breastfeeding. This equals to a total of 9 cups of fluids daily, and can be in the form of water, milk, juice and other drinks (avoid alcohol and limit caffeine-containing fluids, such as coffee, tea and cola). However, pure water should be everyone’s main drink.

Food breastfeeding mums should avoid

Some foods that breastfeeding mothers eat or drink can affect the baby, including:


The National Health and Medical Research Council recommends that for women who are breastfeeding, not drinking is the safest option. The level of alcohol in breast milk is almost the same as a mother's blood alcohol level. It appears that an occasional drink of alcohol is not harmful. However, it is advised to have minimal amounts of alcohol when breastfeeding a baby, especially in the first three months. Ways to limit the baby's exposure to alcohol also include choosing low alcohol drinks, eating before and while drinking, and avoiding breastfeeding for two to three hours after drinking, or choosing to have an alcoholic drink immediately after breastfeeding.
Drinking alcohol in large amounts or very often can be dangerous for the baby. An intoxicated mother should not breastfeed. High intakes of alcohol may affect the mother's ability to look after her baby and increases her risk of developing depression. Large quantities of alcohol have also been seen to displace good nutrition.


Some breastfeeding mothers report that their baby is unsettled, irritable, or even constipated if they drink large volumes of coffee, strong tea, or cola. However, there appears to be individual variation in how much caffeine is found in breast milk after having a high caffeine drink.

Poor milk supply may sometimes be related to caffeine intake. Caffeine can also affect the nutrient make up of breast milk. The iron levels in the breast milk of a woman who drinks more than three cups of coffee a day during pregnancy and the early phases of breastfeeding, are one-third less than that of a mother who does not drink coffee.

It is advised that during breastfeeding, caffeine consumption should be limited to 2 to 4 cups of coffee, tea or cola per day. Also, it has been found that cigarette smoking compounds the effects of caffeine in breastfed babies.

Spicy foods

While many infant specialists doubt that spicy foods cause any problems, plenty of mothers lay the blame for their baby's unsettled behaviour on spicy or irritating foods. Some breastfed babies may get upset or unsettled if their mothers eat a lot of rich or spicy foods, or particular fruits or vegetables. If you become suspicious that a food you eat is affecting the baby, stop eating it for a few days. If the baby settles down, try the food again to see how it affects the baby. It may be helpful to avoid that food if the baby becomes unsettled again. It is advisable to speak with a dietitian or nutritionist for further advice if you find you need to avoid many different foods to keep baby happy.

How to ensure you eat the right foods

Having a new baby is a time consuming business and breastfeeding in the early days can feel like a never-ending cycle of on-again, off-again and sometimes expressing in between. For this reason it’s important that you take any help available when it comes to maintaining a healthy diet. Here are some ideas to consider:

  • Ask for help from your family and friends – you could even suggest they cook you some meals in the early days instead of giving baby a present.
  • Consider buying frozen vegetables – they can save a lot of preparation time and CHOICE tests have found frozen vegies can be as, or more, nutritious than fresh vegies.
  • Cook meals which can be eaten over a couple of days such as spaghetti, lasagne, stews etc.
  • If you’re finding it really difficult you could try a meal delivery service as a temporary measure.  

Sourced with permission from

Video: Kids and Baby Council - Breastfeeding

A panel of experts discuss hot topics affecting Australian parents at the inaugural CHOICE Kids and Baby Council. Here they look at breastfeeding.



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