Feeding and nutrition of the mother during lactation

By (gynecologist), (embryologist), (embryologist) and (psychologist).
Last Update: 01/19/2022

The correct feeding of the mother during breastfeeding is very important since the baby receives all the nutrients necessary for its development through breast milk.

In general, a healthy and balanced diet is recommended during lactation. It is not necessary to follow a specific dietary pattern, but it is necessary to pay attention to some beneficial foods and others that may be harmful.

The most important thing is the variety and nutritional contribution of fruits, vegetables, cereals, legumes, meats, fish, eggs, and dairy products.


First of all, it should be noted that exclusive breastfeeding helps the mother to lose weight after giving birth. This is due to the energy consumption involved in breastfeeding and, therefore, it is not necessary to follow any special diet to lose weight.

In addition, according to the World Health Organization (WHO), breast milk is the best food for breastfed babies, as it contains all the nutrients they need (proteins, fats, carbohydrates, vitamins, minerals, and water) in quantity and quality, and also provides them with antibodies to strengthen their immune system.

However, in order for the composition of the milk to be adequate and to provide the baby with all the necessary components for its development, the mother must eat a healthy diet.

It is true that breast milk is able to cover the baby's nutritional needs even if the mother does not feed properly, but this is detrimental to health, as the lack of nutrients will be drawn from the mother's reserves.

Breastfeeding is, together with pregnancy, one of the stages of a woman's life with the highest nutritional requirements.

On the other hand, a low-calorie diet or a diet that includes foods from only one food group may decrease the quantity and quality of milk produced.

Nutritional recommendations

Most nursing mothers feel very hungry. This is normal, as the body is under constant extra stress to produce milk.

It is best to eat small amounts, but very frequently. In this way, energy levels are maintained, hunger attacks are calmed and binge eating is avoided.

Next, we will discuss other important considerations about feeding during breastfeeding, as well as the most appropriate foods and beverages for the mother to consume.


In order to follow a healthy diet during lactation, it is essential to consider variety and balance.

A mixture of carbohydrates, proteins, and fats is mandatory at meals, as it provides energy to produce milk and supplies the body with all essential nutrients.

Among the most suitable foods during lactation, we find the following:

Cereals and pulses
whole wheat bread, rice and lentils are very beneficial as they provide protein, calcium and iron. It is important to include a small amount at each main meal.
Fruits and vegetables
should always be consumed fresh, not only because they have more nutrients than processed foods, but also because they are the main source of vitamins and minerals. It is also important to eat them daily.
beef has a high protein content, which covers the energy needs of the nursing mother. It also contains folic acid or vitamin B9, which is involved in the formation of various tissues, such as muscles, nerves, and blood. It is recommended to eat red meat 2 or 3 times a week, while white meat and eggs can be consumed more.
is an important source of protein when breastfeeding. Oily fish contains omega-3 acids such as decosahexanoic acid (DHA) which plays a crucial role in the development of the nervous system (mainly the brain). It has been scientifically proven that the omega-3 acid consumed by the mother reaches the child through breast milk. In addition, DHA also improves maternal health, as women with lower DHA levels are more prone to postpartum depression.
it is important to increase dairy intake during lactation for a higher calcium intake. If the mother does not consume the calcium needed to produce milk, she will take it from her bone reserves. It is preferable to drink skimmed dairy products.
Healthy fats
it is important to consume fats of varied origin, such as olive oil, sunflower oil, butter, or margarine, as some of them provide omega-3 and omega-6, which are essential for the baby's neurological development, and also other important vitamins such as A and D.

On the other hand, if you want to learn more about food and fertility in women, we recommend you to visit this link: What are the types of foods that promote female fertility?

Influence on taste

Some foods, especially vegetables, can affect the organoleptic and digestive characteristics of breast milk. Therefore, the baby may react to certain foods if he does not like the taste of the milk or it does not agree with him.

Normally, the baby will cry or feel irritated after feeding if he notices that the milk tastes too strong for him. It is important for the mother to observe these reactions and, if necessary, eliminate these foods that displease the baby until breastfeeding is terminated.

Some of these foods are the following: citrus fruits, cauliflower, asparagus, artichokes, onions, red radishes, raw peppers, garlic, leeks and spicy food.

It should be noted that if the baby does not respond badly to these products, it is not necessary to stop taking them. Some experts say that it is also beneficial for the baby to become accustomed to different flavors through breast milk.

Vitamin supplements

Despite consuming large amounts of fruits and vegetables, most doctors recommend taking vitamin supplements during breastfeeding.

Depending on each woman and her needs, it is possible to continue with prenatal vitamins or the doctor may prescribe other multivitamin complexes.

In general, the vitamins and minerals that should not be lacking during lactation are the following:

the mother should consume at least 3 to 4 servings per day of calcium-rich foods (milk, yogurt, sardines, almonds, spinach or tofu) to get the necessary intake, about 1,000 mg per day. To ensure that this is achieved, it is best to take a calcium supplement.
Vitamin D
is important for bone growth because it helps to better absorb calcium. It is not possible to obtain the necessary amount of vitamin D during lactation from food and, therefore, an external supply will be necessary.
as we have said, this vitamin is obtained through the intake of fish, seafood and eggs. In case of not eating enough fish portions weekly, an additional DHA supplement will be necessary to achieve the recommended daily amount (200-300 mg).

In addition, lactating women should increase their daily intake of vitamins A and B in fruits and vegetables by 30-50%, as their requirements increase considerably during this period.

Prohibited foods

Some foods should be avoided or reduced during breastfeeding because they may be detrimental to the baby's health. These are discussed below:

Large fish
tuna or swordfish may have a high mercury content. WHO does not recommend them for pregnant women, nursing mothers, or children under one year of age.
Pastries and sugars
chocolate, jam, and sweets, in general, are allowed, but should not be consumed more frequently than twice a week.
can reach the baby through breast milk and cause insomnia, nervousness and irritability. It is recommended to moderate their consumption and not to drink more than one glass of coffee, teas, soft drinks, etc., per day. It is best to opt for decaffeinated coffee.
is detrimental to the neurological development of the baby and is therefore not recommended during breastfeeding. If you have had a drink of alcohol, you should wait about 4 hours for the alcohol in your blood and milk to decrease so that you can breastfeed.

Finally, special care must also be taken with medications, especially antitussives, corticosteroids, and some antibiotics, as they can pass into the milk and have harmful effects on the newborn.

If you need to take any medication during breastfeeding, it is best to seek medical advice and avoid self-medication.

Drinks in lactation

Continuous hydration is very important during lactation to ensure daily milk production.

Breast milk contains 85-90% water. For this reason, it is advisable to drink at least 2 liters (8 glasses) of water per day, in addition to the amount of water from fruits and vegetables.

Water consumption can also be alternated with other beverages such as herbal teas, natural juices, broths, and soups.

FAQs from users

What should the mother's diet be like during breastfeeding?

By Blanca Paraíso M.D., Ph.D., M.Sc. (gynecologist).

Breastfeeding involves a loss of nutrients through the milk that will require special nutritional needs, even greater than during pregnancy. Therefore, in general, during lactation, intake should be increased, avoiding diets of less than 1800 cal per day.

Both the maternal nutritional status and the adequate nutrition of the infant will depend on this. However, even in cases of maternal malnutrition such as famine, breast milk will have an excellent nutritional and immunological value with stable levels of iron, zinc, folate, calcium, etc., since the energy, proteins, and nutrients in the milk come both from the diet and from the mother's own reserves.

In short, a varied diet rich in fruits, vegetables, and foods of animal origin is recommended, as well as the supplements indicated by scientific societies.
Read more

Is it possible to lose weight or gain weight during breastfeeding?

By Zaira Salvador B.Sc., M.Sc. (embryologist).

Yes, it is normal to lose weight during breastfeeding, but some women may keep the same or even gain some weight. This depends on diet, exercise and metabolism.

During breastfeeding, it is possible to go on a weight loss diet, but be careful. It is not advisable to start the diet before the baby is two months old, as it can significantly affect milk production. On the other hand, the diet should be very unrestrictive and lose weight slowly. If the weight loss is too rapid, it is possible to release toxins derived from body fat into the breast milk, which is harmful to the baby.

What are the myths about maternal nutrition during breastfeeding?

By Zaira Salvador B.Sc., M.Sc. (embryologist).

Throughout history, there have been some beliefs about breast milk and breastfeeding that have finally been proven false. Some of them you can read here:

  • My milk is not good
  • Anger or fights cut the milk
  • Watery milk is bad
  • Cold foods reduce milk
  • If your mother didn't have much milk, you won't have it either

All of these claims about breastfeeding are false.

Can mother's feeding cause colic in the baby?

By Zaira Salvador B.Sc., M.Sc. (embryologist).

Some experts affirm that certain foods can have a negative influence on milk and, therefore, it is advisable to eliminate them so as not to cause discomfort to the baby. These foods are the following: cabbage, onions, garlic, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cauliflower, cow's milk and its derivatives, chocolate, etc.

Is it possible to follow a vegetarian diet while breastfeeding?

By Zaira Salvador B.Sc., M.Sc. (embryologist).

Yes, vegetarian or vegan mothers have no objection to continue with their usual eating habits, but there are some considerations to take into account.

Vegetarian mothers may be deficient in vitamin B12, vitamin D, DHA and iron, which could lead to anemia. Therefore, it is necessary for them to take the vitamin supplements that the doctor deems necessary. Sometimes these supplements are even prescribed for babies.

How should the mother's diet be during breastfeeding according to the WHO?

By Marta Barranquero Gómez B.Sc., M.Sc. (embryologist).

A nursing mother should have a balanced and varied diet in order to provide the necessary nutrients to the baby during breastfeeding. In addition, many specialists recommend the administration of vitamin supplements during breastfeeding.

For all these reasons, the World Health Organization (WHO) states that breast milk is good for babies, as it contains all the nutrients. Breast milk

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Maryam Sattari, Janet R Serwint, David M Levine. Maternal Implications of Breastfeeding: A Review for the Internist. Am J Med. 2019 Aug;132(8):912-920. doi: 10.1016/j.amjmed.2019.02.021.

Rosa María Santiago-Cruz , Elina Alvarado-de Luzuriaga, Marianne Gisselle Monroy-Azuara, Graciela Sideny Arciga-Vázquez, Elba Nelly Cano-Vázquez, Ulises Cruz-Apanco, Imelda Palma-Jiménez, Socorro Méndez-Martínez. Breastfeeding and infant feeding in the first level of attention. Rev Med Inst Mex Seguro Soc. 2019 Dec 30;57(6):387-394.

Stephanie Sayres, Lisa Visentin. Breastfeeding: uncovering barriers and offering solutions. Curr Opin Pediatr. 2018 Aug;30(4):591-596. doi: 10.1097/MOP.0000000000000647.

Virginia Thorley. Is breastfeeding 'normal'? Using the right language for breastfeeding. Midwifery. 2019 Feb;69:39-44. doi: 10.1016/j.midw.2018.10.015. Epub 2018 Oct 27.

FAQs from users: 'What should the mother's diet be like during breastfeeding?', 'Is it possible to lose weight or gain weight during breastfeeding?', 'What are the myths about maternal nutrition during breastfeeding?', 'Can mother's feeding cause colic in the baby?', 'Is it possible to follow a vegetarian diet while breastfeeding?' and 'How should the mother's diet be during breastfeeding according to the WHO?'.

Read more

Authors and contributors

 Blanca Paraíso
Blanca Paraíso
M.D., Ph.D., M.Sc.
Bachelor's Degree in Medicine and Ph.D from the Complutense University of Madrid (UCM). Postgraduate Course in Statistics of Health Sciences. Doctor specialized in Obstetrics & Gynecology, and Assisted Procreation. More information about Blanca Paraíso
License: 454505579
 Marta Barranquero Gómez
Marta Barranquero Gómez
B.Sc., M.Sc.
Graduated in Biochemistry and Biomedical Sciences by the University of Valencia (UV) and specialized in Assisted Reproduction by the University of Alcalá de Henares (UAH) in collaboration with Ginefiv and in Clinical Genetics by the University of Alcalá de Henares (UAH). More information about Marta Barranquero Gómez
License: 3316-CV
 Zaira Salvador
Zaira Salvador
B.Sc., M.Sc.
Bachelor's Degree in Biotechnology from the Technical University of Valencia (UPV). Biotechnology Degree from the National University of Ireland en Galway (NUIG) and embryologist specializing in Assisted Reproduction, with a Master's Degree in Biotechnology of Human Reproduction from the University of Valencia (UV) and the Valencian Infertility Institute (IVI) More information about Zaira Salvador
License: 3185-CV
Adapted into english by:
 Cristina  Algarra Goosman
Cristina Algarra Goosman
B.Sc., M.Sc.
Graduated in Psychology by the University of Valencia (UV) and specialized in Clinical Psychology by the European University Center and specific training in Infertility: Legal, Medical and Psychosocial Aspects by University of Valencia (UV) and ADEIT.
More information about Cristina Algarra Goosman
Member number: CV16874

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