Breastfeeding – Food For You, Food For Two

Breastfeeding is a unique way to bond with your baby while giving the best nutrition possible.

It is the most natural way to feed your little one, but it can be extremely energy expensive, and nutrient requirements for breast-feeding mums are even higher than during pregnancy.

Eating a healthy, well balanced diet is essential to replenish your nutrient stores. What you eat determines the energy, protein, nutrient and vitamin content of your breast milk.


Many breastfeeding mums feel extra hungry, which makes sense: Your body is working around the clock to make breast milk for your baby.

There is no single answer to how many calories a nursing mom needs, but in general most women who are breastfeeding need an additional 500 kcal for the first six months, and 400 kcal during the next six months.

On average, 100 ml of human milk gives 70 kcal of energy.

During the first six months after delivery, 750 ml of breast milk is produced daily.

Your calorie intake depends on a number of individual factors, how much exercise you get, how your metabolism works, and how frequently you’re breastfeeding, etc.

Spread your caloric intake over five “meals,” breakfast, lunch, after- noon snack, dinner, and an extra snack during the evening.

Avoid high kilojoule snacks such as chocolate bars, potato chips and other nutritionally void quick fixes and stock your pantry and fridge with easily accessible snacks such as raw nuts and seeds, humous or tahini to spread on crackers or with vegetables, homemade protein smoothies, grilled chicken tenderloins, homemade vegetable muffins, homemade pancakes (filled with fruit, ricotta, ground seeds and nuts, and organic eggs), frittata, soups and protein balls.


Proteins in human milk provide an important source of amino acids to rapidly growing breastfed infants.

Human milk proteins also enhance immunity, defense against pathogenic bacteria, viruses and yeasts, and promote the development and the function of the baby’s gut.

The protein content of human milk decreases rapidly during the first month of lactation and declines much more slowly after that.

Have good quality protein with each meal (or snack) and ensure that it is a bioavailable source and nutritious. For example, just because a sausage has protein in it, doesn’t mean it’s the best choice. A grilled chicken tenderloin is certainly more nutritious!



The average woman who breastfeeds exclusively produces 750 to 800 mL of breast milk per day.

When you consider the amount of fluid lost by producing (and releasing) breast milk, its no wonder that hydration is a high priority.

If your daily requirement for water is 2L/day, then increase to 3-4L when fully breastfeeding (5-6 feeds per day). Consider drinking filtered water while breastfeeding.

Essential Fatty Acids

Found in deep-sea cold-water fish, flaxseeds and dark green vegetables, omega-3 fatty acids must be consumed either through the diet or from taking supplements because the body is unable to synthesise them.

Breast milk is a rich source of EFA’s that are critical for normal  growth and development of the little bub’s brain, nervous system and eyes. A higher DHA supply has been associated with benefits to visual acuity, cognitive function and maturity of sleep patterns.

Supplementation with Omega 3 essential fatty acids can also help maintain healthy mood and prevent postnatal depression in the breastfeeding mum.

Fish is a great source of omega-3 fatty acids but may contain high amounts of mercury. Exposure to excessive amounts of mercury through breast milk can pose a risk to a baby’s developing nervous system. Choose fish that is low in mercury, such as anchovies, salmon, mackerel, sardines, trout, or arctic cod.


Human milk contains a small amount of iron, but it is in a form that is easy for babies to absorb.

Iron stores are depleted during pregnancy, so it is important that you rebuild your iron stores with iron-rich foods.

Women who are already at risk of iron deficiency, require supplementation to support the normal healthy development of the growing baby.


Studies indicate that calcium consumption is very important during lactation, and should be encouraged to replace maternal skeletal calcium stores that are depleted during this period.

There is often lowered bone mineral density and increased rate of bone resorption throughout lactation, but maternal bone mineral content is usually restored upon weaning.

Calcium is highly concentrated in breast milk. It enables bubs to grow big and strong helping them to develop their muscles, bones and neurological system.

Aim to consume 1500mg of Calcium daily, through diet  or supplementation during breastfeeding.

Good food sources of calcium are: goats milk or cheese, fish, green leafy vegetables, sesame seeds, tahini, almonds, walnuts, dry figs, and tofu.

Vitamin B’s

B Vitamins are “the energy vitamins” that can give you an extra boost, after a sleepless night. They also help regulate your blood sugar levels and carbohydrate metabolism and are essential for the nervous system and brain development of your baby.

Vitamin D

Vitamin D levels in human milk are dependent on maternal vitamin D status, which is determined by the woman’s sun exposure and dietary and supplemental intake.

Supplementation during lactation has been shown to improve vitamin D status in both the mother and the baby.

Vitamin D deficiency and its effects on children’s bones are emerging as a major paediatric health issue in Australia and New Zealand due to sun protection and more indoor work and lifestyle activities.


Iodine requirements are increased during lactation: breast-feeding women require 290 mcg/day of iodine. Iodine-deficient women who are breast-feeding may not be able to provide sufficient iodine to their infants who are particularly vulnerable to the effects of iodine deficiency.

The production rate of thyroid hormone returns to normal when breastfeeding. However, iodine requirements are increased during lactation as infants are completely dependent on the breast milk as a source of iodine and need around 90 to 100μg of iodine per day.

Infancy is a period of rapid brain growth and development. Sufficient thyroid hormone, which depends on adequate iodine intake, is essential for normal brain development.

Iodine deficiency during infancy may result in abnormal brain development and, consequently, impaired intellectual development.

Women with pre-existing thyroid conditions should seek advice from their practitioner prior to taking a supplement.


The requirements for zinc during lactation are greater than those during pregnancy, especially during the early weeks postpartum.

Zinc is an essential antioxidant important for the quantity and quality of human milk and also for the the growth, development, and immune function of the baby.

Magnesium P5P can help energy levels of the breastfeeding mother, stabilise mood, and prevent cramps and muscle spasms as well.


Probiotic or “good” bacteria have positive effects for both mother and baby and may modify the growth pattern of the child during the first years of life.

Following birth, the baby is continually nourished by good bacteria through breastfeeding. Probiotics boost the immune system and improve digestion by increasing good bacteria in the intestines.

As a baby’s immune system develops, their body is better able to fight off mild illnesses, helping them to return to health — and easing mum and dad’s worry.

Probiotics may also help decrease the incidence of allergy symptoms in the first years of life.

UltraBiotic Pregnancy Care assists in the maintenance of healthy bacteria in the urinary and reproductive tracts, help maintain healthy digestion and bowel health, and help support the immune system. New research has also shows probiotics to be effective in the treatment of infectious lactational mastitis.

Galacatagogues, or herbs that increase breastmilk production include nettle, raspberry leaf, alfalfa, fenugreek, milk thistle and fennel. You may take these herbs as teas (drink at least 3-4 cups/ day). Choose organic herbs.


What To Avoid During Breastfeeding


Avoid caffeinated drinks, as caffeine in your breast milk can agitate the baby and interfere with his/her sleep.


There’s no level of alcohol in breast milk that is considered safe for the baby.

Alcohol passes through the breast milk in less than an hour.

The presence of alcohol in breast milk will change the flavor of the milk leading to reduced milk intake by the baby, having a negative effect on baby’s growth and development.

Motor development skills are found to be significantly lower in infants regularly exposed to alcohol through breast milk, compared to infants not exposed.

Infants can develop Pseudo – Cushing Syndrome when exposed to breast milk that contains a high level of alcohol. The child’s facial appearance, describe as “balloon – shaped” and “moon – shaped” or appears obese. The syndrome is reversible, when alcohol is not longer present in the breast milk.

An infant worth immature liver has a limited capacity to metabolise alcohol, so even a low dose of alcohol will have a potent effect.

Women who are chronic or heavy consumers of alcohol should not breastfeed.


Smoking will expose your baby to your cigarette smoke passively as well as via your breast milk.

Cigarette smoking significantly reduces breast milk production.

Babies who are ‘smoked over’ are more likely to be hospitalised and to suffer from respiratory and gastrointestinal illnesses.

Studies show that these infants are more likely to be colicky and irritable and to experience a wide range of problems from apnoea, vomiting, poor growth, lazy eye, hearing impairment and unexplained death.

Smoking depresses the immune system, leaving both the mother and infant more vulnerable to infection, allergy and other immunodeficiency problems.

In addition, early experiences with the flavour of tobacco influence the likelihood that exposed children will find these flavors appealing later in life and become smokers as well.

Ensure that you are getting enough quality sleep and rest so the body is able to produce sufficient amounts of breast milk

Fresh air and exercise are always a recommendation to improve health, however these nature practices also improve general health and circulation to encourage breast milk production

Remember anything that gets into your body, gets into your breast milk. Good nutrition is therefore just as important for you as it is for your baby.

When nursing, observe your baby so you can eliminate from your own diet any food that seems to bother the little bub..


Further reading:


“Nutritional and physiologic significance of human milk proteins”, Bo Lönnerdal, Am J Clin Nutr June 2003 vol. 77 no.6,

“Iodine and neuropsychological development”, Hetzel BS,  J Nutr. 2000;130(2S Suppl):493S-495S. (PubMed)