May 28, 2024 • 10 min read

Breastfeeding Meal Plan: Best & Worst Foods to Eat (PDF Included)

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Whether you’re a new mom or a seasoned pro, breastfeeding is hard work. You expend a tremendous number of calories and nutrients feeding your growing baby.

Breast milk is incredibly nutrient-dense and is designed to be the sole source of nutrition for your precious bundle of joy. However, the nutrients in breast milk come directly from the mother’s stores. This is why a healthy diet is essential while nursing. 

During this time, it’s important to consume foods rich in protein, calcium, and iron, as well as many other essential vitamins and minerals. You’ll also want to avoid consuming large amounts of processed foods and sugary treats that provide little nutritional value.

Hormonal changes, interrupted sleep patterns, and a desire to lose the “baby weight” can make it really difficult to put these recommendations into practice. Working with a postpartum dietitian is a great way to get personalized advice and support.

This guide goes over the best and worst foods to eat while breastfeeding, a sample 7-day meal plan with a printable PDF (access here), and everything else you need to know.

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90% of Zaya Care patients pay $0 for dietitian visits

Breastfeeding diet overview: key points

The dietary recommendations for breastfeeding women are similar to those for all adults. For example, nursing women are encouraged to consume a diet rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and dairy while limiting processed food.

However, some nutrient requirements are increased for breastfeeding moms, and it’s important to know which so you can be sure you and your baby are getting what you need. 

Below are some specific dietary recommendations for breastfeeding women.

  • Increase your calories. Producing milk takes a lot of energy and in turn, burns a lot of calories. Women who are nursing require an extra 500 calories per day for milk production, which means you may want to include an extra snack or two between meals.
  • Increase your folate, iodine, and choline consumption. Nursing moms need more of these nutrients which can be easily achieved by increasing food sources of these in your diet. Below are good food sources for each of these nutrients:
    • Folate: liver, leafy greens, beans, peas, fortified breakfast cereals
    • Iodine: fish, seaweed, dairy products, iodized salt
    • Choline: liver, meat, fish, poultry, eggs, potatoes
  • Continue prenatal vitamins. Many nursing women continue to take their prenatal vitamins as an effective way to get needed nutrients that may be lacking in their diet.
  • Choose your seafood wisely. Breastfeeding mothers should avoid seafood that contains high amounts of mercury such as swordfish, king mackerel, shark, and tilefish. However, omega-3 fats are also essential during this time, and women should aim to get two servings of fatty fish per week such as salmon or light tuna.
  • Avoid alcohol. Alcohol can pass through breast milk and should be limited or avoided while breastfeeding to prevent any harm to your baby. If you do decide to enjoy a standard serving of alcohol, such as five ounces of wine or one ounce of hard liquor, wait at least two hours before nursing.
  • Watch your caffeine. Small amounts of caffeine can make their way into breast milk which can cause a fussy baby. Watch your caffeine intake from beverages such as coffee, tea, and energy drinks, and try to stick to under 300mg per day (two to three cups of coffee).

Best foods to eat while breastfeeding

If you are nursing and want to make the best food choices for your nutrition as well as that of your growing baby, below are some of the best foods to eat.

  • Lean proteins. Along with increased calorie needs, you also have increased protein needs during lactation. Include more lean proteins such as chicken, fish, and tofu, and limit fattier cuts.
  • Whole grains. Whole grains such as quinoa, brown rice, and oatmeal are rich sources of fiber and essential nutrients, including folate, which breastfeeding women need in higher amounts than the average adult.
  • Leafy greens. Leafy greens such as spinach, kale, and Swiss chard are also great sources of folate and fiber and are low in calories, which can help aid in weight loss for newly postpartum women. 
  • Eggs. Eggs are an excellent source of choline and protein, and they are versatile and budget-friendly. They are also incredibly easy to add to meals or snacks for busy moms.
  • Dairy products. Dairy products such as yogurt and milk are great sources of calcium. While the current recommendation for calcium in breastfeeding women is the same as in non-breastfeeding women, some studies suggest those who are nursing may benefit from higher amounts.
  • Nuts and seeds. Nuts and seeds, such as almonds and chia seeds, are good sources of protein and fiber. They are nutrient-dense which makes them an easy grab-and-go snack between meals.
  • Legumes. Legumes, beans, and lentils are also good sources of protein and fiber as well as folate. They are inexpensive and easy to prepare, making them a great option for busy moms.
  • Fruits. Fruits such as berries, apples, and bananas are rich in fiber and essential vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants that can help keep nursing moms energized and feeling their best.
  • Healthy fats. Healthy fats such as avocado, olive oil, and fatty fish are essential for the growth and development of babies as well as the health of nursing moms. These foods are also calorie-dense which helps to meet the higher calorie demand during this time.
  • Low-mercury seafood. Low-mercury seafood is an excellent way to boost omega-3 fats safely for both mom and baby. Aim for two servings of fatty, low-mercury fish per week such as salmon, sardines, and trout.

Foods to avoid while breastfeeding

While it’s important to know which foods to start including in your diet to best support your breastfeeding, you’ll also want to be aware of foods you should limit or avoid. 

  • Alcohol. Alcohol can transfer through breast milk and is not safe for your baby. It is recommended to wait at least two hours after each standard serving of alcohol to nurse or pump breast milk. For example, if you had one five-ounce glass of wine at 5 pm, you should avoid nursing or pumping until after 7 pm.
  • Caffeine. Caffeine can also transfer in small amounts into breast milk which may impact your baby. While it’s not a major health concern, it is recommended to limit caffeine intake to under 300mg per day or about two to three cups of coffee.
  • Highly processed foods. It is recommended for all adults to limit highly processed food items. However, this is particularly beneficial in nursing women as it can help to aid in post-partum weight loss.
  • High-mercury fish. High-mercury fish such as shark, swordfish, and king mackerel should be avoided while breastfeeding as the mercury can pass through breast milk and potentially impact the baby’s development.
  • Spicy foods (if they cause discomfort to the baby). There is no harm in eating spicy foods when breastfeeding however, in some cases, it can change the flavor of your breast milk which may upset your baby. If you notice your baby being extra fussy after you eat spicy food, limiting these may help keep baby happy.
  • Peppermint and sage. Large amounts of certain herbs such as peppermint and sage may reduce milk supply. While research on this is limited, avoiding concentrated forms or large doses of these may be beneficial if you are struggling with your milk supply. 
  • Artificial sweeteners. Artificial sweeteners such as sucralose and aspartame can transfer to breast milk. Current research is inconclusive on the potential health effects in infants. However, it is advised to avoid artificial sweeteners, particularly in large amounts, while nursing as they may alter metabolic health among other challenges.
  • Excessive amounts of chocolate. Small amounts of chocolate while nursing are fine, but it’s important to avoid consuming excessive amounts. Chocolate contains theobromine, a compound that may cause your baby to become fussy or irritable and lead to alterations in sleep. 
  • Certain herbal supplements. Research on the safety and efficacy of most herbal supplements during lactation is limited, so it’s best to avoid these products to avoid any potential risk for your infant.
  • Food allergens. If your baby is showing signs of a food allergy, you should avoid consuming that food while nursing as it can transfer through the breast milk and cause a reaction.

7-day breastfeeding meal plan

Here is a sample 7-day breastfeeding meal plan that includes many of the best foods listed above while avoiding those that may be harmful. 

It comes out to roughly 2,500 calories per day. Your ideal diet may have more or fewer calories and incorporate different foods based on intolerances, preferences, and other medical conditions.

Remember, it’s always important to talk to your doctor and/or dietitian before making any drastic changes to your diet and to learn what is best for your situation. Working with a Registered Dietitian is a great way to get professional help developing a breastfeeding meal plan tailored to your situation.

Click here to see a PDF of this breastfeeding meal plan.

Day 1

  • Breakfast: Oatmeal with sliced almonds and blueberries
  • Lunch: Grilled chicken salad with mixed greens, avocado, and vinaigrette
  • Dinner: Baked salmon, quinoa, and steamed broccoli
  • Snack: Greek yogurt and a banana

Day 2

  • Breakfast: Scrambled eggs with spinach and whole grain toast
  • Lunch: Lentil soup with a side of whole wheat pita bread
  • Dinner: Stir-fried tofu with mixed vegetables and brown rice
  • Snack: Apple slices with almond butter

Day 3

  • Breakfast: Smoothie with yogurt, mixed berries, and a spoonful of chia seeds
  • Lunch: Turkey and avocado wrap with whole grain tortilla
  • Dinner: Baked trout, sweet potato, and green beans
  • Snack: A handful of mixed nuts

Day 4

  • Breakfast: Cottage cheese with sliced peaches and flaxseeds
  • Lunch: Quinoa and black bean salad with diced tomatoes and bell peppers
  • Dinner: Grilled lean steak, asparagus, and a side salad
  • Snack: Carrot sticks with hummus

Day 5

  • Breakfast: Greek yogurt parfait with granola and strawberries
  • Lunch: Baked chicken breast, couscous, and steamed spinach
  • Dinner: Pasta with olive oil, garlic, and a heap of roasted vegetables
  • Snack: Fresh pineapple chunks

Day 6

  • Breakfast: Eggs poached over sautéed kale and whole grain toast
  • Lunch: Grilled salmon over mixed greens with balsamic dressing
  • Dinner: Stir-fried chicken with broccoli, bell peppers, and brown rice
  • Snack: A pear and a few whole-grain crackers with cheese

Day 7

  • Breakfast: Omelet with mushrooms, onions, and a slice of whole grain bread
  • Lunch: Chickpea salad with cucumbers, tomatoes, and feta cheese
  • Dinner: Baked cod with a side of barley and steamed carrots
  • Snack: Mixed berries and a small handful of walnuts
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90% of Zaya Care patients pay $0 for dietitian visits

Tips for cooking & meal prepping with a new baby

Having a new baby in the home can challenge even the best intentions. Below are some tips to keep you on track for cooking and meal-prepping with a new baby.

  • Meal prep for the week. Having a plan and staying organized can help make life with a new baby a lot easier. Plan some easy meals to keep on hand so you can make the best choices during this time, even if it’s something as simple as purchasing ingredients to make sandwiches for the week.
  • Set up snack stations. Nursing moms expend extra calories making breast milk, which can rev up your appetite. Keep your hunger in check and meet your increased calorie needs by creating snack stations where you typically nurse. Include a couple of bags of nuts or a granola bar at your bedside or in the living room.
  • Use a slow cooker for easy meals. Slow cookers are the MVP cooking tool for busy moms. Find “set and forget” recipes that allow you to dump ingredients in the slow cooker, turn it on, and go about your day.
  • Keep pre-cut fruits and vegetables in the fridge. When you have a little one, the less prep you need to do for meals and snacks the better. Take advantage of pre-cut fruits and veggies that you can simply toss into meals or grab to have with a dip for a snack. This can increase your fruit and veggie intake without sacrificing valuable time.
  • Keep easy proteins on hand. Protein foods can be tough to prepare when you have a new baby. Keep easy proteins on hand such as rotisserie chicken, canned light tuna, or low-sodium deli meats in a pinch.
  • Schedule regular meals and snack times. Keeping regular meal and snack times can help nursing moms keep their appetite in check and ensure they aren’t putting their nutritional needs on the back burner. Try to stick to the same schedule and set reminders if you need them.
  • Ask family members to bring food over. Get your family involved, especially if you are newly postpartum. Ask friends and relatives to bring food over to alleviate mealtime stress. If your dad makes killer grilled chicken, ask him to make you extra so you have a lean protein you can easily throw into meals for a few days. 
  • Make extras for leftovers. Anytime you plan a meal, make your life easier by increasing the recipe. Create large batches of casseroles, soups, and stews so you can freeze some for later or eat leftovers for a few days.

Why we recommend working with a Registered Dietitian if you are breastfeeding

Breastfeeding can be overwhelming, especially if you are a new mom. With a tiny human needing you at all hours, the last thing you want to worry about is how you are going to nourish yourself so you can nourish your baby. 

While the chaos of adjusting to a new family member can be a lot, don’t let yourself get pushed to the back burner. Get support and guidance from a nutrition professional, such as a Registered Dietitian (RD), who understands your needs.

RDs are nutrition professionals who can not only provide you with evidence-based guidance on the best ways to eat while breastfeeding, but they can also provide motivation, support, and encouragement to help you find what works best for you.

There are even dietitians who specialize in the postpartum period—helping mothers recover from childbirth, transition to breastfeeding, and reduce their risk of postpartum depression and other complications.

An RD can help you feel confident that you are providing the best nourishment for yourself and your growing baby and help you tackle any challenges that can come during this sensitive time. 

Zaya Care can match you with a Registered Dietitian who accepts your insurance, so most patients pay nothing out-of-pocket for one-on-one nutritional counseling.

If you’re ready to take the first step toward great postpartum nutrition with an RD on your side, you can use Zaya Care’s free Dietitian Search Tool to find the right provider for you.

When you request an appointment with one of our Registered Dietitians, we’ll check your insurance, so you know exactly how much you’ll have to pay, if anything at all.

It’s worth noting that 90% of Zaya Care patients pay $0 for nutrition care with a Registered Dietitian as we are in-network with many major carriers.

dietitian patient image

Find a dietitian covered by insurance

90% of Zaya Care patients pay $0 for dietitian visits

Meghan is a Registered Dietitian/Nutritionist from San Jose, California. She received her undergraduate degree from San Diego State University in 2015. Following an unexpected cross-country trip that landed her in Florida, she completed her didactic training through AdventHealth Orlando. Meghan has extensive experience in multiple aspects of dietetics including critical care, motivational interviewing, writing, and research. She is passionate about health and wellness and has dedicated her free time to breaking down complicated nutrition topics and disseminating them to the public through the arena of writing.