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Breastfeeding Overview

Breast-feeding and Diet

©2006 Publications International, Ltd.                              It is important to get enough fluids when you are breastfeeding.
©2006 Publications International, Ltd. It is important to get enough fluids when you are breastfeeding.

You need about 500 calories a day more than your prepregnancy intake if you breastfeed your baby. These additional calories, plus the calories available from the three to seven pounds you stored in pregnancy for lactation, supply enough calories to make milk.

Once you reach three to seven pounds above your prepregnancy weight (including two to four pounds for the weight of your lactating breasts), let your weight guide you to the number of calories you should consume each day. Your activity level and the amount of milk you produce for your baby also affect your weight.


In addition to extra calories, include extra protein for milk production, more calcium- and vitamin-rich foods, and more fluids than your normal diet.

Here are some simple guidelines:

  • Continue to take your prenatal vitamins (unless your doctor tells you otherwise).
  • Eat a varied, balanced, good-quality diet.
  • Pay special attention to fluids; drink enough to quench your thirst. Many moms drink a tall glass of milk or water while nursing.
  • Avoid junk foods and empty calories.

Foods and Drugs to Avoid

Every breastfeeding mother wonders if something she ate caused fussiness, gas, diarrhea, or a rash in her baby. While you can eat most foods without problem, some foods can cause difficulty.

Cow's milk in the mother's diet may cause colicky symptoms in some babies. If this is a problem for your baby, she will draw her legs up toward her body and scream with gas pains after feeding. You can eliminate milk from your diet for four to seven days to see if the symptoms disappear. As your baby grows older, reintroduce milk into your diet because babies often outgrow this reaction to milk. If you eliminate dairy products from your diet, you need to talk with your doctor about a calcium supplement.

Other foods that may cause problems for breast-fed babies include those that contain food additives and dyes, certain gas-producing foods (such as broccoli, cabbage, and beans), eggs, nuts, tomatoes, shellfish, chocolate, corn, strawberries, citrus fruits, onion, garlic, and some spices. To decide if a particular food upsets your baby, eliminate that single food from your diet and see if the symptoms disappear.

If you consume food in very large amounts, this may cause problems for a breast-fed baby. A half gallon of apple juice or orange juice, very large amounts of fruit, a whole jar of peanuts, or any other food consumed in unusually large quantities may cause your baby to have diarrhea or gas.

In the past, breastfeeding mothers were encouraged to drink beer to aid milk production. We now know beer does not increase milk production. We also know beer and other alcoholic beverages readily enter the breast milk in about the same concentration as your blood alcohol level. Since no safe level of alcohol has been established for the breast-fed baby, it is wise to strictly limit your alcohol intake or not drink at all. In addition, alcohol can inhibit letdown (the release of milk from the milk-producing sacs within the breasts to the milk ducts), so your baby does not get the milk he needs.

Cigarette smoking and breastfeeding are not compatible. Heavy cigarette smoking may reduce milk production; increase the incidence of nausea, colicky symptoms, and diarrhea in the baby; and decrease the vitamin C content of the milk. Smoking near the baby increases his risk of many respiratory ailments, including pneumonia, bronchitis, and asthma. As in pregnancy, the best advice is to quit.

Caffeine passes into breast milk and may cause your baby to have an upset stomach and be irritable. If you suspect caffeine affects your baby, eliminate coffee, tea, cola, chocolate, and other caffeine-containing products from your diet (or switch to decaffeinated products) to see if the symptoms disappear.

Do not take any vitamin supplements or herbs other than your prenatal vitamins without consulting your doctor or a registered dietitian first.

Almost every drug or medication makes its way into breast milk. Some medications appear to have no harmful effects on your baby, while others are most certainly not safe. Talk with your pharmacist or your child's doctor before you take any prescribed or over-the-counter medications-be sure the medications pose no problems for your baby.

If you need to take any drugs, particularly on a regular basis, discuss this with your doctor. You may have to stop breastfeeding until all the drug has passed out of your system.

There are some cases where a mother will not be able to breastfeed. Modern formulas have come a long way toward reproducing the benefits of breast milk. In the next section, we will show you how to bottle-feed.

This information is solely for informational purposes. IT IS NOT INTENDED TO PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. Neither the Editors of Consumer Guide (R), Publications International, Ltd., the author nor publisher take responsibility for any possible consequences from any treatment, procedure, exercise, dietary modification, action or application of medication which results from reading or following the information contained in this information. The publication of this information does not constitute the practice of medicine, and this information does not replace the advice of your physician or other health care provider. Before undertaking any course of treatment, the reader must seek the advice of their physician or other health care provider.