How Much Should I Eat While Breastfeeding?

AllisonMS, RDN, CDN

Read time: 4 minutes

What to know about how much to eat to support breastfeeding

  • Learn about your increased calorie needs during breastfeeding

  • Easy snack and meal ideas to help you meet your increased calorie needs

Producing breastmilk (along with taking care of your baby) requires a tremendous amount of energy! That’s why it’s not uncommon to feel extra hungry while breastfeeding. Eating enough nutrient-dense foods will help both you and baby meet your nutrient and calorie needs.

How many calories do I need while breastfeeding?

When exclusively breastfeeding, your body uses up to 500 calories per day to make breastmilk.4 Because of this, previous recommendations were to eat about 450 to 500 extra calories over pre-pregnancy levels to meet breastfeeding needs.1

The new 2020-2025 Dietary Guidelines for Americans have updated their recommendations on calorie needs while breastfeeding. The new DGAs includes a slight calorie deficit to help with gentle postpartum weight loss.3 The new recommendations are to eat 330 extra calories during the first 6 months postpartum, and then 400 extra calories after 6 months.3

For safe and slow postpartum weight loss, around 330-400 of the 500 calories your body needs for breastfeeding will be coming from extra nutrient-dense foods added to your meals and snacks, while the last one-third of the calories (about 100-170) can come from the weight gained during pregnancy (stored fat).2,3

Note that the 400 calorie recommendation after 6 months postpartum assumes you have lost some weight and are looking to maintain.4

Should weight loss not be a priority, you can add up to 500 calories to your diet each day. Remember that calorie needs are extremely individualized and calorie requirements are influenced by activity level, breastfeeding frequency (if you are exclusively breastfeeding or also providing formula), and the number of babies you are nursing.2,5

Read more: What to Eat While Breastfeeding

Still confused about how much to eat while breastfeeding? Reach out to our team of registered dietitians and lactation consultants for free! They’re here to help on our free to live chat from Monday – Friday 8am-6pm (ET), and Saturday – Sunday 8am-2pm (ET). Chat Now!

Weight loss while breastfeeding

Postpartum weight loss is something many moms think about. Eating enough to support breastfeeding is important, and it doesn’t need to interfere with you gradually getting back to your pre-pregnancy weight.

The first one to two months after delivery are incredibly important for establishing a good breastmilk supply.6 It’s important not make any big changes to your diet or add the undue stress of trying to lose weight until after your supply is set up. Stress can actually negatively impact your milk supply.7,8

Once you’re ready, taking a gentle, gradual approach to weight loss is most effective. In fact, eating too few calories may impact your breastmilk supply. Aim to consume a minimum of 1500 to 1800 calories per day, depending on your individual needs.9,14 Any less than this and it may also be more difficult to get all the nutrients your body needs while nursing.

Research has found that a loss of 1 to 2 pounds per week may be safe for breastfeeding women and is not likely to affect breastmilk supply.10,11,12

Read more: Meal Plan: Getting the Right Nutrition while Breastfeeding

Exercise while breastfeeding

Exercise is a great way to burn some extra calories to help with your steady weight loss goals.

The good news is that moderate to intense exercise has not been shown to change the composition, calorie content, or volume of your breastmilk.13,14

Note that some studies have found that exercise alone may not produce as reliable weight loss results as exercise combined with changes in diet.12 This is likely because appetite increases with exercise, causing people to eat a bit more to make up for their calorie burn.

Be sure to get clearance from your doctor before starting a new exercise routine.

Learn about:

Postpartum Exercise: Avoid Overdoing it

Tips for Postpartum Exercise when Short on Time

What happens when you stop breastfeeding as often?

Whether from introducing some formula or from your little one starts solids, there will come a time when you are breastfeeding less often. At this point, the energy demand for milk production will go down and, accordingly, so will your calorie needs.

Be sure to listen to your body and watch how your little one is growing and developing. Adjust your diet as needed to help keep your supply adequate as well as continue to maintain or lose weight.

Until then, it’s important to maintain your healthy eating habits. Your food choices can help optimize the nutrition composition of your milk. As a general rule of thumb, eat when you’re hungry (and at regular intervals), prioritize healthy nutrient-dense choices, and stop when you’re full.

Tips for healthy eating while breastfeeding

Eat and drink regularly throughout the day

Eating at regular intervals ensures you’re eating enough calories and prevents you from becoming too hungry, which can lead to overeating.

Keep your home stocked with easy-to-grab meals and snacks, especially things you can eat with one hand (you may find your other hand constantly occupied with your little one).

Easy, quick snack ideas:

  • Sliced veggies with hummus or guacamole

  • Nut butter on whole grain toast or crackers

  • Nut and dried fruit trail mix

  • Hard boiled eggs

  • Sliced cheese with fruit or whole grain bread

  • String cheese

Read more: Healthy and Easy Postpartum Snacks

Fill your diet with nutrient-dense foods

Eat plenty of vegetables, fruits, whole grains, beans, nuts, seeds, healthy oils/fats, low fat dairy or dairy alternatives, low mercury fish, and lean meats.

What you eat not only nourishes you, but has an impact on the micro- and macro- nutrient composition of your breastmilk as well.15 Choosing nutrient-dense foods at each meal and snack will help ensure you and you baby are getting what you need!

Learn about:

High Quality Dietary Fats: Good for You and Baby

Meal Plan: How to Eat more Fruits and Vegetables

Add calories to your daily diet in a healthy way

You need about 330 to 400 or so extra calories per day, but always tune into your hunger and fullness cues to eat the right amount for you. It’s always okay to have more if you are feeling extra hungry.

Here are some snack ideas to meet this calorie goal:

  • 1/3 cup trail mix with 1 cup of unsweetened yogurt

  • 1 sweet potato with ½ cup black beans, ¼ avocado and salsa and a side of 1-2 cups salad greens with 1 tablespoon dressing

  • 1 cup roasted vegetables (try carrots, Brussels sprouts, butternut squash or a combination!), topped with 1 tablespoons pine nuts

  • 3 ounces salmon and 1/3 cup whole grain rice or quinoa

  • A peanut butter (or other nut butter) and banana sandwich made with 1 banana, 1 tablespoon nut butter and 2 slices 100% whole grain bread

  • 1 ounce almonds, a cup of cow milk or milk alternative, sliced raw vegetables with ¼ cup hummus

  • Turkey sandwich with 2 ounces turkey from a roasted turkey or turkey breast, 1 ounce cheese and two slices of 100% whole grain bread

Quickly estimate calories to keep your total intake in check, but don’t drive yourself crazy!

Here is a quick calorie cheat sheet:

  • One ounce protein (poultry, meat, fish) = 35-75 calories depending on fat content

  • One cup fat-free or low-fat dairy or dairy alternative = 90 calories

  • One cup cooked vegetables = 50 calories

  • One cup raw vegetables = 25 calories

  • One small piece of fruit or 1 cup berries or melon = 60 calories

  • One slice of bread, 1/3 cup rice or beans, ½ cup pasta = 80 calories

Chat with your healthcare provider about taking a pre- or post-natal vitamin

Consider taking a pre- or postnatal vitamin or breastfeeding supplement while nursing to help ensure you are meeting your daily nutritional requirements for vitamins, minerals, and micronutrients.

Speak to your healthcare provider with any concerns

If you have any concerns about your weight or diet while you’re nursing, speak to your healthcare provider. Keep in mind that our calorie recommendations are general guidelines, and you may need to eat more or less depending on your specific situation.

Let's Chat!

We know parenting often means sleepless nights, stressful days, and countless questions and confusion, and we want to support you in your feeding journey and beyond.

Our Happy Baby Experts are a team of lactation consultants and registered dietitians certified in infant and maternal nutrition – and they’re all moms, too, which means they’ve been there and seen that. They’re here to help on our free, live chat platform Monday - Friday 8am-6pm (ET), and Saturday - Sunday 8am-2pm (ET).Chat Now!

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For more on this topic, check out the following articles:

8 Tips for Simple, Quick, Healthy Cooking

Picky Eating: Taste Imprinting While Breastfeeding

Dealing with Low Breastmilk Supply