Healthy Eating for Women’s Health- Breastfeeding

by Jessica Odyjewski
Women’s Health Breastfeeding

The time after giving birth is joyous, but it can also be overwhelming with the responsibility of caring for your little one (and unfortunately, they didn’t come with a manual!).

Healthy eating is important for both you and your baby so you can both get the nutrients you need to stay healthy. Nutritional needs differ when breastfeeding in comparison to pregnancy. Knowing what to eat for optimal energy and recovery after giving birth provides confidence and comfort for the mother and baby.

With so much information available online, it’s difficult to be confident about your choices when it comes to nutrition and breastfeeding. One helpful tip is to look for information written by Registered Dietitians who have years of advanced education and experience in working with a variety of clients and nutritional needs.

Recommendations for breastfeeding from a Registered Dietitian
Recommendations for breastfeeding from a Registered Dietitian

Here are some general recommendations for those breastfeeding from a Registered Dietitian:

Energy Requirements

Most breastfeeding women need an extra 350-400 extra calories per day in comparison to the needs of non-pregnant and non-breastfeeding women. To achieve this, eat a variety of fruits, vegetables, protein foods, and whole grains each day. Consider getting these extra calories through easy-to-grab snacks, such as apple slices and nut butter, yogurt and berries, or cheese and crackers.

Stay hydrated

Breastfeeding women have additional fluid needs (12 cups (3.1L) per day) to offset the fluid lost in milk production. Consuming an adequate amount of fluids each day can help prevent constipation and swelling.

Avoid alcohol while breastfeeding

The safest option while breastfeeding is to avoid consuming alcohol as it does enter the breastmilk. However, if you choose to drink the occasional alcoholic beverage, it is recommended to wait 2-3 hours after consumption before breastfeeding.

Avoid fish high in mercury

Mercury can impair  brain development when consumed either by the mother or by the baby through breastmilk. Check with your doctor or local authorities to determine which fish are the lowest in mercury and are safe to consume.

Limit Caffeine

It is recommended that those breastfeeding should limit their caffeine intake to 300mg per day as it can pass into the breastmilk. One cup of coffee (250 mL) contains ~100 mg of caffeine.

Essential vitamins and minerals

While breastfeeding, you may have elevated vitamin and mineral needs. While vitamin and mineral needs can be met through a healthy diet with variety, one way to ensure that both you and your baby are getting enough is to take a daily multivitamin. Some key nutrients that are important to watch out for include:

Vitamin A

Intake of vitamin A is recommended to be 4333 IU/day if you are over the age of 18. This is higher than the recommended amount for both pregnant and nonpregnant women. You can find vitamin A in orange fruits and vegetables, leafy greens, fish, eggs, and dairy products. One cup of raw kale contains 1010 IU of vitamin A!

Healthy Eating for Women’s Health
Healthy Eating for Women’s Health

Vitamin C

While breastfeeding, the recommended intake of Vitamin C is 120mg/day if you are over 18 years of age. This is higher than the recommended amount for both pregnant and nonpregnant women. The best way to ensure vitamin C needs are met is by consuming a variety of fruits and vegetables every day. One medium orange contains  60 mg of vitamin C.

Vitamin E

Intake of vitamin E is recommended to be 19mg/day. This is also higher than the recommended amount for both pregnant and nonpregnant women. Plant oils, eggs, as well as nuts and seeds are all good sources of vitamin E. One tablespoon of olive oil contains 2 mg of vitamin E.


Health Canada recommends 12 mg/day of zinc for those breastfeeding. Zinc can be found in foods like meats, grains, nuts/seeds, and dairy products. One chicken breast contains 3 mg of zinc.


Interestingly, iron requirements decrease for women who are breastfeeding due to the absence of menstruation. Good sources of iron include red meats, leafy greens, legumes, oysters, and dried fruits. One cup of soybeans contains 9 mg of iron!

All and all, the best way to ensure that your nutrient needs are met is to eat a balanced, varied diet and to eat regularly.

If you would like to learn more about nutrition and breastfeeding, contact a Registered Dietitian! You can find your local Registered Dietitian through the Dietitian Directory. A Dietitian will review your current intake and discuss postpartum recovery and breastfeeding nutritional needs for both you and your baby.

Click here to find a Dietitian near you who practices in the area of pregnancy and breastfeeding!

About the Author: Jessica Odyjewski is a third-year Dietetic student at the University of Alberta.

Reviewed by: Lindsey McGregor, RD and Hannah Jackson

Images from Unsplash and Pexels

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