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.  

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Nutrients for breastfeeding women

The Australian Healthy Eating Guidelines for breastfeeding women say the nutrients new mothers need to ensure they eat include:


A breastfeeding mother needs additional dietary protein to build the protein in her breast milk. Protein is vital for the growth, maintenance and repair of cells. The average requirement for protein during breastfeeding is 54 g/day but because of individual variation, some mothers will need 67 g/day or more. Protein is found in a wide range of foods such as:

  • meat (including fish and poultry)
  • eggs
  • dairy
  • legumes (such as beans, pulses and soy products)
  • nuts
  • grain-based foods such as bread and pasta contain smaller amounts of protein.

Folate is a B vitamin that is needed for healthy growth and development. On average, breastfeeding mothers require 450 µg/day of folate but some will need as much as 500 µg/day or more. Folate can be found in:

  • leafy vegetables
  • wholegrains
  • peas
  • nuts
  • avocado
  • yeast extract e.g. promite, vegemite, marmite etc.

Iodine is an essential mineral needed for the production of thyroid hormone, and to ensure healthy growth and development. Breastfeeding mothers require on average 190µg/day of iodine, some women may need up to 270µg/day. Iodine can be found in:

  • seafood 
  • milk
  • vegetables

Zinc is a component of various enzymes that help maintain structural integrity of proteins and help regulate gene expression. Breastfeeding mothers require on average 10 mg/day of zinc but some will need 12 mg/day or more. Zinc can be found in:

  • lean meat
  • wholegrain cereals
  • milk
  • seafood
  • legumes
  • nuts
Vitamin A

Vitamin A is vital for normal growth and helps provide resistance to infections. Breastfeeding mothers require on average 800 µg/day of Vitamin A but because of individual variability some will need 1,100 µg/day or more. Vitamin A can be found in: 

  • milk
  • cheese
  • eggs
  • fatty fish
  • yellow-orange vegetables
  • fruits such as carrots, pumpkin, mango, apricots
  • vegetables such as spinach and broccoli
Vitamin B6

Vitamin B6 is important for the metabolism of protein and the formation of red blood cells. Breastfeeding mothers require on average 1.7mg/day of Vitamin B6 but some will need 2 mg/day or more. Vitamin B6 can be found in: 

  • muscle and organ meat
  • poultry
  • fish
  • wholegrains
  • brussel sprouts
  • green peas
  • beans

Energy needs for breastfeeding mothers

The energy needs of a breastfeeding mother are increased because of milk production. In fact, the energy requirements for breastfeeding mothers are, on average, 2,000 kJ (445 kCal) per day more than that of a usual adult woman's daily energy needs. These energy requirements are based on full breastfeeding in the first 6 months and partial breastfeeding after that time.

While it is normal (and expected) that mothers put on weight while pregnant, it is not recommended that mothers follow a weight loss diet after childbirth. Breastfeeding naturally allows for gradual weight loss. If you gain weight after birth, it is most likely that you are eating too much food, or choosing foods that are high in energy (kilojoules).

  • At rest, exclusively sedentary or lying, for example in bed or a chair all day - 8,800 kJ/day
  • Exclusively sedentary activity with little or no strenuous leisure activity such as an office employee- 10,000 - 10,550 kJ/day
  • Sedentary activity with some requirement for occasional walking or standing, but no strenuous leisure activity - 11,100 - 11,700 kJ/day
  • A lifestyle that involves predominantly standing or walking - 12,300 - 12,850 kJ/day
  • Heavy physical work or a highly active leisure - 13,400 - 14,500+ kJ/day

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