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

02.Nutrient and energy requirements

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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