The UCSF-John Muir Health Jean and Ken Hofmann Cancer Center at the Behring Pavilion is now open.  LEARN MORE >

Breast milk is the perfect nutrition for your newborn, providing all the proteins, fats, carbohydrates, and virtually all the vitamins your little one needs to thrive. In fact, with the exception of vitamin D, babies need nothing but their mother’s milk for the first six months of life.

To make the most of your milk, your body needs to be nourished as well — not only does your body need to supply nutrients to your baby but it needs to supply nutrients to you too, to keep you healthy and strong.

Nutrition for New Moms

When breastfeeding, your body needs an additional 300 calories every day to help your baby grow. The amount of nutrients you need to eat depends on your weight before pregnancy, your activity level, and how many babies you are breastfeeding.

While breastfeeding, some key nutrients you and your baby require include:


To build muscles, blood supply, and tissues. You need about 71 grams daily. Good sources include red meat, poultry, and fish.


To build protein tissues. You need 500 micrograms daily. Good sources include broccoli, dark green vegetables, folate-fortified cereals, dried beans, and oranges.


To build strong bones. If you don’t supply your baby with calcium through your diet, your body will take it from your bones. You need 1,000 milligrams daily (1,300 milligrams daily if you are younger than 19). Good sources include milk, yogurt, cheese, kale, broccoli, Chinese cabbage, fish with soft bones like salmon and sardines, calcium-fortified cereal, juice, and soy beverages.


To build your immune system and help cells divide. You need 12 milligrams daily (13 milligrams daily if you are younger than 19). Good sources include oysters, red meat, poultry, beans, nuts, whole grains, and dairy products.


To build up the blood supply providing oxygen delivery to cells. You need 9 milligrams daily (10 milligrams daily if you are younger than 19). Good sources include red meat, fish, poultry, lentils, beans, iron-fortified cereals, and oatmeal.

Recommended Servings

For optimal nutrition while breastfeeding, the U. S. Department of Agriculture’s Food Pyramid for Moms recommends that mothers eat these amounts of foods every day (based on a 2,000 calorie diet):

Milk Group

3 cups; be sure to choose lower fat options. One-cup equivalents include 2 cups of cottage cheese, 1½ ounces of hard cheese, 1/3 cup of shredded cheese.

Meat and Beans Group

5 ½ ounces. One-ounce equivalents include 1 egg, 1 slice of lunchmeat, 1 tablespoon of peanut butter, ¼ cup of beans, ½ ounce of nuts or seeds.

Fruit Group

2 cups; be sure to choose one vitamin C source daily, such as an orange. One-cup equivalents include 1 cup of 100 percent fruit juice, 1 large banana or orange, 1 small apple.

Vegetable Group

2 ½ cups; be sure to include one serving of dark green leafy vegetables every day. One-cup equivalents include 1 cup of cooked vegetables, 2 cups of raw leafy vegetables, and 1 cup of 100 percent vegetable juice.

Grain Group

6 ounces; be sure to eat mainly whole grains. One-ounce equivalents include 1 slice of bread, 1 cup of cereal, ½ cup of cooked cereal, rice, or pasta, 1 small tortilla, 1 pancake, ½ mini bagel.


6 teaspoons; choose unsaturated fats as much as possible, such as olive or corn oil. Equivalents include 1 tablespoon of margarine or mayonnaise = 2.5 teaspoons of oil, 1 ounce of nuts = 3 teaspoons of oil, 2 tablespoons of salad dressing = 2 teaspoons of oil, ½ an avocado = 3 teaspoons of oil.

Vitamin and Mineral Supplements

Vitamin and mineral supplements can’t replace a healthy diet, however some breastfeeding women may need a multivitamin and mineral supplement if they can’t get enough nutrients from the food they eat. Talk with your doctor about taking a supplement, and follow his or her advice. Be sure to tell your doctor about any supplements you are already taking, to protect yourself against taking too much.

Breastfeeding Nutrition and Health Tips

  • Eat a wide variety of different foods to maximize the nutrition you get from them.
  • Choose foods with lots of fiber like whole grains, fruits, and vegetables over less nutritious foods, such as white bread, white rice, or pastries.
  • Drink lots of fluids (eight 8 ounce glasses daily).
  • Eat three to five meals and snacks daily.
  • Don’t drink alcohol. Alcohol will pass to your baby through your breast milk.
  • Don’t smoke. Smoking and secondhand smoke are bad for you and your new child even if you only do it occasionally. And if you are a heavy smoker, smoking can affect your milk supply.
  • Keep yourself healthy through exercise. Exercise lifts your mood, reduces stress, and helps you to sleep better. Many of the health benefits good nutrition provides, exercise provides also — such as lowering your risk for heart disease, high blood pressure, and diabetes.

Postpartum Weight Loss

The first four to six weeks after your delivery, you shouldn’t worry about losing weight. And avoid losing too much weight too fast through dieting while breastfeeding. Losing more than an average of 4-5 pounds a month after your baby is born can affect your milk supply.

Breastfeeding naturally helps with losing weight. Initial weight loss after giving birth is usually about 10 lbs, followed by another 10 lbs or so of fluid weight in the first one to two weeks postpartum. Any remaining weight is generally lost gradually (about .5 lb/wk) if calorie intake is reasonable.

Breastfeeding women can see a return to their pre-pregnancy weight by four to six months postpartum. If weight loss is too slow or stops before your goal weight, trade in empty calorie foods such as soft drinks, candies, and desserts for more fruits and vegetables. Trade high fat foods such as fried foods and fast foods for lower fat meats.