Breastfeeding: The Basics

On a desktop computer, hold "Ctrl" and Press "F" to search for keywords on this page.

Taking Care of You

Healthy Eating

Nutritious, Balanced Diet

A nutritious, balanced diet helps you stay energetic and make plenty of milk for your baby. No foods are banned while breastfeeding. Eating a healthy, balanced diet is important at all stages of life. Breastfeeding is no exception. Making milk will use about 330-400 extra calories a day, so you might have a bigger appetite while you are breastfeeding. 

Making healthy food choices—along with regular physical activity—will keep you healthy while you breastfeed. Choose a variety of foods and beverages to build your own healthy eating style. Include foods from all food groups: vegetables, fruits, grains, dairy, and protein foods. 

Try to:

  • Make half your plate vegetables and fruits.
  • Make at least half your grains whole grains.
  • Move to low-fat or fat-free milk, yogurt, or cheese.
  • Vary your proteins.

It’s important to focus on eating healthy, rather than losing baby-weight, while you’re breastfeeding. Slow weight loss over several months is safest.

Essential Nutrients for Lactation

CALCIUM can be found in milk, cheese, yogurt, bok choy, broccoli, kale, sardines, salmon, and chia seeds.

IODINE can be found in dairy products, eggs, seafood, iodized table salt.

CHOLINE can be found in dairy and protein food groups, such as eggs, meats, some seafood, beans, peas, and lentils.

IRON can be found in oysters, white beans, dark chocolate, liver, lentils, spinach, kidney beans, sardines, chickpeas, tomatoes, beef, potatoes, and cashews. Pair iron rich foods with Vitamin C foods—and avoid dairy products in the same meal. 

ZINC can be found in oysters, beef, crab, lobster, pork chops, baked beans, chicken, pumpkin seeds, yogurt, cashews, chickpeas. Zinc deficient mothers are more likely to have poor milk production.

OMEGA 3s can be found in flaxseed oil, chia seeds, walnuts, and salmon. 

VITAMIN B12 can be found in liver, clams, tuna, nutritional yeast, salmon, beef, yogurt, and eggs. (May need to take a supplement if you are vegetarian or vegan) 

VITAMIN D can be found in cod liver oil, trout, salmon, and mushrooms. However diet alone does not provide enough Vitamin D for mom or baby. Breastfed infants should be supplemented with 400 IU per day of Vitamin D beginning in the first few days of life. 

Foods to Limit

Generally, you do not need to limit or avoid specific foods while breastfeeding. However, certain types of seafood should be consumed in a limited amount and some mothers may wish to restrict caffeine while breastfeeding. 


Fish is an excellent source of protein and contains essential vitamins and minerals for breastfeeding Fish is an excellent source of protein and contains essential vitamins and minerals for breastfeeding women. However, consider the amount and types of seafood you eat. Most fish contain some amount of mercury, which builds up in fish flesh and can pass from mom to baby through breast milk. This can have a negative effect on the brain and nervous system of the baby. 

Breastfeeding women (as well as pregnant women and women of childbearing age) should follow the US Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) advice about eating fish: 

  • Eat a variety of fish.
  • If you eat fish caught by family or friends, check for fish advisories on the EPA’s website. If there is no advisory, eat only one serving and no other fish that week. Some fish caught by family and friends, such as larger carp, catfish, trout and perch, are more likely to have fish advisories due to mercury or other contaminants. 
  • Try to avoid eating the “Choices to Avoid” fish or feeding them to children. It is best to eat a variety of fish from the “Best Choices” and “Good Choices” categories on this chart.

Mercury can be harmful to the brain and nervous system of any person exposed to too much of it over time. So, lower mercury fish are a good choice for everyone. These charts can help you choose which fish to eat, and how often to eat them, based on their mercury levels. 

For adults:

  • 1 serving = 4 ounces of fish
    eat 2-3 servings (between 8-12 ounces) of fish a week from the “Best Choices” list (measured before cooking) 
  • or 1 serving (4 ounces)
    eat 1 serving of fish a week from the “Good Choices” list (measured before cooking)
Best Choices
  • Anchovy
  • Atlantic croaker
  • Atlantic mackerel
  • Black sea bass
  • Butterfish
  • Catfish
  • Clam
  • Cod
  • Crab
  • Crawfish
  • Flounder
  • Haddock
  • Hake
  • Herring
  • Lobster, American and spiny
  • Mullet
  • Oyster
  • Pacific chub mackerel
  • Perch, freshwater and ocean
  • Pickerel
  • Plaice
  • Pollock
  • Salmon
  • Sardine
  • Scallop
  • Shad
  • Shrimp
  • Skate
  • Smelt
  • Sole
  • Squid
  • Tilapia
  • Trout, freshwater
  • Tuna, canned light (includes skipjack)
  • Whitefish
  • Whiting
Good Choices
  • Bluefish
  • Buffalofish
  • Carp
  • Chilean sea bass/Patagonian toothfish
  • Grouper
  • Halibut
  • Mahi mahi/dolphinfish
  • Monkfish
  • Rockfish
  • Sablefish
  • Sheepshead
  • Snapper
  • Spanish mackerel
  • Striped bass (ocean)
  • Tilefish (Atlantic Ocean)
  • Tuna, albacore/ white tuna, canned and fresh/frozen
  • Tuna, yellowfin
  • Weakfish/seatrout
  • White croaker/Pacific croaker
Choices to Avoid

Highest Mercury Levels

  • King mackerel
  • Marlin
  • Orange roughy
  • Shark
  • Swordfish
  • Tilefish (Gulf of Mexico)
  • Tuna, bigeye

Fish* provide key nutrients that support a child’s brain development.
*This advice refers to fish and shellfish collectively as “fish”

Fish are part of a healthy eating pattern and provide key nutrients during pregnancy, breastfeeding, and/or early childhood to support a child’s brain development: 

  • Omega-3 (called DHA and EPA) and omega-6 fats
  • Iron
  • Iodine (during pregnancy)
  • Choline

Choline also supports development of the baby’s spinal cord. Fish provide iron and zinc to support children’s immune systems. Fish are a source of other nutrients like protein, vitamin B12, vitamin D, and selenium too. 


Caffeine passes from the mom to baby in small amounts through breast milk, but usually does not negatively affect the baby when the mother consumes low to moderate amounts (about 300 milligrams or less per day, which is about 2-3 cups of coffee). Irritability, poor sleeping patterns, fussiness, and jitteriness have been reported in babies of moms with very high intakes of caffeine, about 10 cups of coffee or more per day. 

If your baby appears to be more fussy or irritable after having caffeine, consider decreasing intake. Babies do not metabolize caffeine as quickly as adults, so it can build up in their system. Preterm and younger newborn infants break down caffeine more slowly, so mothers of these infants might consider consuming even less caffeine.

Common dietary sources of caffeine include the following:

  • Coffee
  • Soda/Pop
  • Energy Drinks
  • Tea
  • Chocolate

Vegan or Vegetarian Diets

If you are a vegan or vegetarian breastfeeding mom, you may have very limited amounts of Vitamin B12 in your body. These low amounts of vitamin B12 can put baby at risk of vitamin B12 deficiency, which can result in neurological damage. Iron may also be of concern as plant source foods only contain non-heme iron, which is less bio-available than heme iron. Talk to your WIC Dietitian or a health care provider to determine if you should supplement with Vitamin B12, iron and other nutrients such as choline, zinc, iodine, or omega-3 fats (EPA/DHA). 


A multivitamin could be helpful to get the extra nutrients needed while breastfeeding. However, taking a prenatal vitamin after baby is born may provide more iron and folic acid than you need. If your diet does not have enough iodine or choline, a multivitamin supplement may be beneficial. Talk to your WIC A multivitamin could be helpful to get the extra nutrients needed while breastfeeding. However, taking a prenatal vitamin after baby is born may provide more iron and folic acid than you need. If your diet does not have enough iodine or choline, a multivitamin supplement may be beneficial. Talk to your WIC Dietitian or a health care provider about whether or not a multivitamin is needed and which one is right for you. 

Infant Allergies or Sensitivities

Babies love the flavors of foods that come through your milk. However, sometimes baby may be sensitive to something you eat. Watch your baby for the symptoms listed below, which could mean that your baby has an allergy or sensitivity to something in your diet: 

  • Diarrhea, vomiting, green stools with mucus or blood
  • Rash, eczema, dermatitis, hives, dry skin
  • Fussing during and/or after feedings
  • Crying for long periods
  • Sudden waking with discomfort
  • Wheezing or coughing

These signs do not mean your baby is allergic to your breast milk! But they may be sensitive to something that you ate. You may need to stop eating whatever is bothering your baby or eat less of it. You may find that after a few months you can eat the food again with better results. 

Talk with your baby’s doctor if your baby has any of the symptoms listed above. If your baby ever has problems breathing, call 911 or go to your nearest emergency room. 

Source: USDA WIC Breastfeeding Support, CDC Breastfeeding & Maternal Diet, Making More Milk 2nd Edition by Lisa Marasco, MA, IBCLC and Diana West, BA, IBCLC, The Womanly Art of Breastfeeding by La Leche League International

Daily Food Chart for Pregnant, Postpartum, and Breastfeeding Women

Food Groups Serving Size Examples Pregnant / Breastfeeding Over 18* Non-Pregnant Under 18 Non-Pregnant Over 18
Based on 2000 calorie diet


Make at least half the grains whole grain or fortified with iron and B-vitamins. (whole grain, whole wheat flour, whole oats, whole corn should be listed first in the ingredient list.)

1 oz serving

1 slice bread

6” tortilla

1 small biscuit

1 small muffin

1 hot dog

1 hamburger bun

½ cup cold cereal

½ cup cooked cereal

½ cup cooked pasta

½ cup rice

3 cups popcorn

4-6 crackers

5-7 oz.

6 oz.

6 oz.


Vegetables provide good sources of vitamin A. These foods will help with eyesight and keep skin and hair healthy. Vary the types of vegetables throughout the week.

½ cup serving

Raw leafy vegetables (1 cup = ½ serving)

6 baby carrots

½ cup cooked

½ cup canned

½ cup raw

½ cup 100% vegetable juice

3 or more cups

2 ½ cups

2 ½ cups


Fruits provide a good source of vitamin C every day. Focus on whole fruits more often than juice.

½ cup serving

½ small apple

½ large banana

½ cup 100% fruit juice

½ cup of chopped, cooked, or canned fruit (ie. applesauce, fruit salad, etc.)

¼ cup dried fruit

2 – 3 cups

2 cups

2 cups


These foods are a good source of protein and iron. Protein helps build and repair body tissues like skin, bone, hair, blood, and muscle.

Cooked meat, fish, or poultry

Cooked dried/canned beans, peas, lentils
(¼ cup = 1 oz.)

1 egg = 1 oz

1 Tbsp peanut butter = 1 oz.

5-7  oz.

5 ½ oz.

5 ½ oz.


Dairy foods keep bones and teeth strong. Choose low-fat or fat-free milk for yourself.

Milk, yogurt (choose low-fat or fat-free dairy)

½ cup cottage cheese = ¼ cup milk

1½ oz. cheese (size of 6 dice) = 1 cup of milk

3 cups

3 cups

3 cups


Oils are liquid at room temperature. They provide healthy fats and vitamin E.

Olive oil, canola oil, other vegetable oils.

Soft vegetable oil spreads.

Salad dressing, mayonnaise without trans fats.

Healthy fats can also be found in nuts, olives, fish and avocados.

27 grams

27 grams

27 grams

Other Calories

Butter, margarine, sugar, candy, jam, syrup, soft drinks, cake, cookies, pie, chips, etc. These foods provide calories, with few nutrients. These should be limited and used only on occasion.

Water/Other Liquids

Water, 100% juice (no more than 8 oz/day), milk, soup 12 cups 8-10 cups**

Source: Nutrition Care Manual, DGA

*Pregnant or breastfeeding under the age of 18 should consult with their WIC Dietitian.

**Water needs can be calculated by taking the person’s weight divided by 2 to get the ounces of water per day they should consume. Divide that by 8 to get the ounces into cups. Ex: 150 pounds = 75 ounces. 75 / 8 oz = 9 ⅓ cups.

Serving Size Hand Symbols for the Average Adult

Hand Symbol Equivalent Foods Calories
Fist Fist
1 cup
Rice, Pasta
Palm Palm
1 cup
Handful Handful
1 ounce
Two Handfuls 2 Handfuls
1 ounce
Thumb Thumb
1 ounce
Peanut Butter
Hard Cheese
Thumb Tip Thumb Tip
1 Teaspoon
Cooking Oil
Mayonaise, Butter


Drink enough fluids to satisfy your thirst. You might be thirstier than before you started breastfeeding. Water, non-fat or low-fat milk, and 100% juice are good choices. You will know that you are drinking enough liquids if your urine is clear or pale yellow in color. 

What to Avoid

Like when you were pregnant, there are things you should limit or avoid while you are breastfeeding to keep your baby happy and healthy. 

AVOID ALCOHOL. It’s best to avoid alcohol while you are breastfeeding. Alcohol can enter your breast milk, and it can cause you to make less milk. If you choose to drink, you may have a single alcoholic drink once in a while if your baby’s breastfeeding routine is well established—and your baby is at least 3 months old. Then, be sure to wait at least 4 hours before nursing. You can also express milk before you drink to feed your baby later. It’s best to talk with your doctor before drinking alcohol. 

IF YOU SMOKE, it is best for you and your baby if you quit as soon as possible. Smoking can cause low milk supply, colic, and milk let-down issues. 

If you do continue to smoke, you should still breastfeed. Your milk can protect your baby from breathing problems, sudden infant death (SIDS), and poor weight gain. Wait as much time as possible between smoking and breastfeeding. This will lower the amount of nicotine in your milk while nursing. 

Be sure to smoke away from your baby and change your clothes to keep your baby away from the chemicals smoking leaves behind. Other people smoking around your baby (secondhand smoke) can also harm your baby’s health. 

Electronic cigarettes, also known as “e-cigarettes,” “e-cigs,” “vapes,” or “vape pens,” may also harm your baby’s health. These devices deliver nicotine, flavorings, and other additives through an inhaled aerosol. There is limited research about the safety and health effects of e-cigarettes. 

Ask your doctor for advice on quitting smoking.

STAY DRUG-FREE while breastfeeding. Anything that gets you high can harm your baby and can pass to your baby through your breast milk. Avoid using marijuana, crack, cocaine, heroin, ecstasy, meth, and other street drugs. 

Misusing prescription drugs can also harm your baby. This includes taking your own prescription drugs in a way not intended by your doctor and taking a prescription drug meant for someone else. Taking drugs while breastfeeding could make your baby have seizures, vomit, and have trouble feeding. 

DRUG USE can also impact your family in many ways. It may be linked with poor parenting, child neglect, and abuse. Parents with drug use disorders may not be able to care for their children well. 

If you are taking drugs, speak with your doctor or find a treatment center right away to get help. Stopping drugs suddenly without a doctor’s help can cause serious withdrawal and health problems for you and your baby. 

Source: USDA WIC Breastfeeding Support

Physical Activity

Exercising may be the last thing you feel like doing! But, once your doctor says it’s okay, regular exercise can help you feel less tired. Try to get out for a walk every day with your baby, even if it’s just around the block. 

You can also fit several 10-minute mini-workouts in your day. Try doing jumping jacks, sit ups, or pushups, or you can jog in place, jump rope, or lift weights. 

Source: USDA WIC Breastfeeding Support


Since babies often wake up every 2-3 hours to be fed and changed, it’s no surprise moms get tired quickly! Here are some good ways to get more rest: 

  • Sleep when your baby sleeps. It’s tempting to use your baby’s naps to catch up with chores, but sometimes getting rest is more important. Set an alarm if you’re worried about sleeping too long. 
  • Go to bed early. Try to go to bed really early a few days a week.
  • Share the nights. Ask your partner, mom, sister, or other family members to help. For example, they can change diapers or put your baby back to sleep for you.
  • Ask friends and family for extra support. Try asking a friend or family member to come sit with your baby while you have a nap. Or see if a friend or relative could stay with you for a few days so you can get more sleep. They can also help with chores and errands. 
  • Try relaxation techniques. As little as 5-10 minutes of deep relaxation may help you feel refreshed. Try a bubble bath, deep breathing, meditation or massage. You can learn relaxation techniques online, download relaxation apps to your phone, or go to the library for books or DVDs. 

Remember, this phase when the baby wakes several times a night won’t last forever. As your baby gets older, they will sleep for longer stretches, and you will, too! 

Mental and Emotional Health

After having your baby, you may feel sad, worried, and overwhelmed for a few days. Lots of new moms have these feelings after giving birth. Changing hormones, anxiety about caring for your baby, and a lack of sleep all affect your emotions. 

Go easy on yourself. These feelings are normal and usually go away in a week or two. If your feelings are extreme or interfere with being able to care for your baby and yourself, talk to your doctor. You can also call the National Helpline at 1-800-662-HELP (4357) or find help and other resources online. 

Here are other ways to take care of yourself:

  • “Me time.” Taking care of a baby 24/7 is challenging. Rest when you can, eat healthy, and squeeze in some time for yourself. 
  • Talk to someone. Talking to your partner, friend, or family member lets you express your feelings and can help you feel better. 
  • Connect with other moms. WIC peer counselors can give you support and talk to you about your ups and downs. They may be able to connect you with other moms who can share their similar experiences and cheer you on. 
  • Accept help and do less. Don’t be afraid to ask others for help. They can care for your baby, do chores around the house, or run errands. That way you can rest or spend time on yourself. If chores don’t get done, that’s okay, too. Time spent caring for yourself and your baby is more important than a perfect house. 
  • Go outside. Sunshine and a change of scenery can help brighten your mood. You can walk with your baby in a stroller, so you both can enjoy some fresh air. 
  • Do something you enjoy. Take a few minutes each day to do something you enjoy, whether it’s chatting with a friend, listening to music, or watching a favorite show. 
  • Be realistic. Don’t worry about being perfect. Just do what you can and leave the rest for later. 

This post was last updated on July 22nd, 2022 at 10:30 AM

This institution is an equal opportunity provider.

Back To Top