By Ali Macy, Director of Marketing & WAG Coach
Working Against Gravity
Breastfeeding has immune, digestive, cognitive, and metabolic benefits for both you and your baby—it also places a myriad of nutritional demands on your body, and postpartum foods for breastfeeding and recovery can help you meet those demands .
The American Academy of Pediatrics, American Dietetic Association, and World Health Organization recommend breastfeeding exclusively for the first six months of a baby’s life [2,3,4]. That being said, it’s essential to understand that breastfeeding can be incredibly challenging for some, and it is okay (and encouraged!) to adjust your expectations and actions based on your experience and the needs of your little one.
As you read through the nutritional suggestions for breastfeeding and recovery below, remember that a fed baby is a healthy baby. If you’re struggling, reach out to an International Board Certified Lactation Consultant (IBCLC), a nutrition coach, or a fellow breastfeeding mama.
You can also listen to one The MINT Prjct’s latest podcast episodes with IBCLC Tiffani Dickerson here
Nutritional Needs During Postpartum and Breastfeeding
Although your body always produces milk high in the nutrients your baby needs for healthy development, research shows that the maternal diet affects the makeup of your breastmilk and that eating a high-quality diet supports optimal nutrient levels in your milk and your postpartum recovery .
We hope the suggestions here encourage and inspire you to add more whole, nutrient-rich foods to your routine. They are not meant to add stress to the breastfeeding experience, and as always, you don’t need to be “perfect” with your nutrition to be a good mom—it is all about balance!
How Many Calories Do You Need for Breastfeeding?
Exclusively breastfeeding individuals need about 500 additional calories daily in the first six months—this includes mamas who are pumping and bottle feeding with breastmilk. As a baby starts experimenting with solid foods, these needs decrease to around 400 calories daily in the second six months .
But, many factors can impact the number of calories you need, like:
- Age of your baby
- Daily activity (NEAT)
- Exercise frequency and intensity
- Body composition
- Formula supplementation and baby’s ability to transition to solid foods
The best way to assess if your calorie intake is adequate is to keep tabs on your milk supply. If you’re pumping, this is relatively easy to measure. If you’re physically breastfeeding, it is a little bit harder. In this case, look for signs from your little one, like dehydration, an unusual dip in wet diaper frequency, or insufficient weight gain. In these cases, consult with your pediatrician and an IBCLC.
Make sure to consider stress, exercise, hydration, and your infant’s current needs, and work with a nutrition coach specializing in pregnancy and postpartum nutrition if you want support monitoring and adjusting your calorie intake.
Essential Nutrients for Recovery and Milk Production
Your body prioritizes nutritious milk production. This means that nutrients like total calories, protein, folate, and many trace minerals are found in sufficient amounts, even if you’re not focusing on the essential nutrients outlined below.
But those nutrients need to come from somewhere, right? If you’re not getting enough essential nutrients for milk production, your recovery from birth and your general health could be at risk as your body will pull those nutrients from your stores.
On the flip side, the foods you eat do impact concentrations of the following nutrients :
- B vitamins: B1, B2, B3, B6, B12
- Fat-soluble vitamins: A, D, E, and K
- Fatty acids: DHA
- Trace minerals: selenium and iodine
Most of these nutrients are vital to brain health, which only about 25% developed at birth . These nutrients are also key players in maternal hormone health. But what specific foods should you focus on to get these essential nutrients? Let’s dive into some nutrient-rich inspiration.
The Best Postpartum Foods for Breastfeeding and Recovery
The foods in the infographic below are high in the macro- and micronutrients needed most for proper milk production and nutrient makeup.
Maternal Hydration and Breastmilk Production
Current milk production needs, activity level, body weight, body composition, and climate all affect how much water you need while breastfeeding. Much like assessing adequate calorie levels, adequate hydration levels are best found through self-monitoring. Start by drinking to thirst and keeping tabs on urine color.
What About Supplementation While Breastfeeding?
We recommend starting with whole foods as much as possible. But life happens (especially when you’re in the first few months postpartum), and grabbing whole foods isn’t always possible. In this case, supplementation can be helpful in ensuring you’re getting optimal nutrient intake.
We always recommend consulting with your OBGYN, PCP, and pediatrician when deciding what supplements you or your little one need. Here are a few to consider :
- Prenatal vitamin: most health professionals suggest taking your prenatal vitamin while breastfeeding.
- DHA: This fatty acid supports the brain health of both you and your baby.
- Vitamin D: Most women don’t get enough sun, and prenatal vitamins rarely include enough vitamin D to meet daily needs.
- Iodine: The need for this micronutrient is highest in postpartum and breastfeeding women and supports healthy thyroid function.
- Probiotics: Also found in fermented foods, probiotics support healthy gut bacteria, immunity, and more. Grab our go-to HERE.
- Gelatin or collagen: Mostly for mama, gelatin and collagen support connective tissue and skin healing postpartum.
Meal Planning for Postpartum Moms
The idea of cooking—let alone meal planning and prepping—can overwhelm women in the postpartum period. After all, you’re responsible for the life of a little human who seems to take all your time and energy even though they sleep 12-16 hours per day (even after going through it, I still don’t buy it!).
Here are a few tips and tricks for getting high-quality foods during such an exhausting time:
Meal Delivery Services and Grocery Drop-Offs
Food delivery services can be pricy, but they may be worth it for a limited amount of time, immediately postpartum. Daily Harvest and Hello Fresh are great starting options. Grocery drop-offs can also take the stress out of getting to the grocery store and ensure you have whole, healthy foods to choose from. Try Instacart (grab free shipping here!), Thrive Market, Amazon Fresh, or the “To-Go” option at your local grocery store.
If you’re feeling overwhelmed by cutting and washing fresh fruits and vegetables, grab frozen options at the grocery store. These are easy to throw in the microwave, oven, or on the stove and are flash-frozen at peak ripeness, so they keep their nutrient value. Do your best to skip bags with added oils and seasonings and add your own at home.
Make the most out of your time and cook large-batch meals to freeze and save for later. Utilize set-it-and-forget-it cooking methods like crockpots and instant pots to limit your time in the kitchen. Even something as simple as doubling dinner ingredients and saving leftovers for lunch the next day is a game changer!
Cook While the Baby Sleeps
They say to sleep while the baby is sleeping, and if you can make that happen, all the power to you. If you’re like me and have trouble with napping on demand and feel better getting some stuff done, use this time to set your future self up for success by prepping a few meals or throwing together some healthy eat-with-one-hand snacks.
Balance It Out
Try your best to get a protein, carb, and healthy fat source at each meal to help stabilize hunger, energy, and blood sugar levels.
From there, choose the easiest meals to bulk up with high-nutrient foods, optimize those few meals, and don’t overly stress about other meals and snacks. If your partner is still home during breakfast, ask them to hold the baby while you make yourself a nutrient-packed meal. Do your best with lunch and snacks (using the tips above), then rely on your partner again to cook a nutritious dinner while you focus on bedtime.
Ask for Support
Outside of your partner, don’t be afraid to ask for help from friends and other family members. Say “yes” when someone offers to cook you a meal or start a meal train and hire a coach if you need more specific meal planning and prepping advice based on your (and your baby’s) schedule, food preferences, and unique nursing needs.
Recipes and Meal Inspiration
Here are a few yummy, nutrient-packed meal ideas to try.
- Mixed berry smoothie with full-fat yogurt, collagen powder, spinach, and avocado
- Two slices of sprouted grain toast with avocado, tomato, greens, and a fried egg on top of each
- Veggie quiche with egg, cheese, and veggies of choice cooked in olive or coconut oil. (Add chicken sausage or meat of choice for a bigger protein punch).
Lunch and Dinner Ideas
- Salmon with wilted greens (spinach, kale, or Swiss chard) and wild rice
- Spaghetti squash with grass-fed beef meatballs
- Chicken and vegetable soup with wild rice
- Ham and lentil soup
- Turkey Meatloaf
- Pulled chicken over a bed of greens with your favorite veggies, nuts, seeds, and green goddess dressing.
- High protein tuna casserole
Nutrient-dense snack ideas
Foods to Avoid or Limit
Many food safety concerns that apply during pregnancy are no longer necessary to worry about postpartum. But, if your baby is showing signs of digestive distress or colic, there are specific foods you may want to avoid.
If you notice that your baby is showing signs of digestive upset, your pediatrician may suggest cutting out common allergens, including (but not limited to):
Foods that May Cause Colic
The Mayo Clinic defines colic as “frequent, prolonged, and intense crying or fussiness in a healthy infant” . If you believe your baby is experiencing colic, it is always a good idea to reach out to your pediatrician. They may suggest limiting foods like:
- Cruciferous vegetables like cabbage, Brussels sprouts, cauliflower, broccoli, and kale can
- Garlic and onion
- Dairy products
Caffeine & Alcohol Guidelines While Breastfeeding
Postpartum recommendations for breastfeeding go beyond the foods you eat. What you drink also impacts your breastmilk and needs to be considered.
Caffeine Intake While Breastfeeding
Just like during pregnancy, some caffeine intake while breastfeeding is generally fine for you and your little one.
Studies in the United States have shown that limiting caffeine intake to 300-500mg/day “might be a safe intake level for most mothers, although European authorities set a likely safe level at 200mg”. .
Alcohol While Breastfeeding
Your “safest” bet is to skip alcohol altogether. But there are ways to enjoy it safely while breastfeeding.
The CDC recommends limiting alcohol intake to “one drink per day or less” and waiting 2-3 hours after drinking before feeding your little one, as alcohol levels are highest in breastmilk 30-60 minutes after you have a drink . If you have more than one drink, “pumping and dumping” is an option that—when timed correctly—can limit the chances that the alcohol you drink isn’t present in breastmilk.
Alcohol also decreases your body’s ability to recover as your body prioritizes clearing alcohol from your system over fueling for day-to-day needs, tissue recovery, and other recovery processes.
Important note: The more you drink, the longer it takes alcohol to clear your system. A good rule of thumb is, “If you can ‘feel it,’ it is in your breastmilk.” For more specific recommendations, reach out to an IBCLC.
Where to Get More Support
The postpartum period is called “the fourth trimester” for a reason—it is still a time of growth, regrowth, learning, and immense change. Having support through such a transformative time will ensure you and your little one get what you need to thrive.
For breastfeeding-specific support, your pediatrician, OBGYN, or an IBCLC are your go-tos. If you want help with your nutrition, monitoring supply levels, and nailing down your unique needs based on your goals and body, hire a WAG Nutrition Coach. Our coaches have years of experience helping mamas through the postpartum period.
**Get $50 off your first month with a WAG Coach by using code MINT at checkout!
And, if you’re here, that means you know how vital movement and exercise are to a healthy recovery. The MINT Prjct’s postpartum fitness programs are designed by experts to keep your core and pelvic floor health a top priority, so you move safely and efficiently post-pregnancy and can return to fitness with confidence. Grab a discount on this postpartum program with the code WAGPP20.
This article includes affiliate links. WAG & The MINT Prjct only recommend products and resources we’ve tried and loved!
- Nichols, L. (2018). Real food for pregnancy. (n.p): Lily Nichols.
- Policies on breastfeeding. AAP. (2022, August 29). https://www.aap.org/en/patient-care/breastfeeding/policies-on-breastfeeding/
- James, D., Dobson, B., & American Dietetic Association (2009). Position of the American Dietetic Association: Promoting and supporting breastfeeding. Journal of the American Dietetic Association, 105(5), 810–818. DOI: 10.1016/j.jada.2009.09.018
- Breastfeeding. World Health Organization. (2019, November 11). https://www.who.int/health-topics/breastfeeding
- Butte, N., King, J. (2005). Energy requirements during pregnancy and lactation. Public Health Nutr, 8(7A), 1010-27. DOI: 10.1079/phn2005793
- Gilmore, J., Lin, W., Prastawa, M., Looney, C., Sampath, Y., Vesta, K… & Gerig, G. (2007). Regional gray matter growth, sexual dimorphism, and cerebral asymmetry in the neonatal brain. J Neurosci., 27(6), 1255-1260. doi: 10.1523/JNEUROSCI.3339-06.2007
- Colic. Mayo Clinic. (2022, April 5). https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/colic/symptoms-causes/
- Caffeine. National Library of Medicine. (2023, August 15). https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK501467/
- Alcohol. CDC. (2022, October 4). https://www.cdc.gov/breastfeeding/breastfeeding-special-circumstances/vaccinations-medications-drugs/alcohol.html