Breastfeeding mums: Eating for maximum energy

When it comes to feeding and nurturing your baby, nutritionist Jenny Bowden shares what’s good for you both.

After nine months of anticipation, anxiety and excitement, your baby finally arrives! And so begins another important step in your journey as a mother – feeding and nurturing your baby outside the womb. Breast milk provides the best start for your baby, but juggling frequent feeds with sleeplessness and busy-ness can be a real challenge. How do you give your baby the best possible start in life while still looking after your own needs?

Your baby depends on you to provide energy and nutrients for healthy growth and development; their birth weight will double by five to six months of age. But the good news is eating a nutritious, varied diet, keeping yourself well hydrated, and having plenty of rest will ensure your breast milk provides all your baby’s needs and that you’re healthy and well, too – your baby needs a healthy mum.

While breastfeeding you will need an additional 2000-2100kJ (energy) per day. That’s the equivalent of another meal. It’s important to get this from nutrient-rich foods, not junk foods, as your baby depends on you for vitamins and minerals.

  • Vitamin C needs almost double while breastfeeding, plus you need significantly more vitamin A and folate; so consume at least six servings of fruit and vegetables per day. That’s four servings of vegetables and two servings of fruit. Include plenty of dark leafy greens and coloured fruits and vegetables.
  • More good quality carbohydrates are needed to fuel the breastfeeding process. Choose whole grain carbohydrates as these provide important B vitamins and are a rich source of dietary fibre – you need 30g of dietary fibre per day while breastfeeding, that’s as much as a man! Eat at least seven servings of whole grain carbohydrates per day, like grainy breads, muesli, porridge and brown rice.
  • Extra protein is needed while breastfeeding to provide for your baby’s growth, so enjoy more protein-rich foods. These are also a great source of iron, zinc and vitamin B12, and you need more of zinc and vitamin B12 while breastfeeding, too. Eat at least two servings of protein-rich foods per day. This includes lean meats, eggs, fish, chicken, legumes, nuts and seeds.
  • Milk and other dairy products provide protein and plenty of riboflavin for you and your baby. So consume more dairy products while breastfeeding – aim for at least three servings of low-fat dairy products per day: enjoy a glass of milk, pottle of yoghurt, cheese or a little low-fat ice cream.
  • If you were thirsty while pregnant, you might be surprised to learn you need even more fluids while breastfeeding! Drink around 10 cups of fluids per day, depending on the temperature and humidity in your environment. This will help to prevent constipation and provide the necessary fluids for making breast milk. While breastfeeding, enjoy water and trim milk, limit caffeinated drinks, and completely avoid energy/smart drinks and alcoholic drinks.
  • Iodine needs increase while breastfeeding but unfortunately your diet most likely won’t  provide enough iodine. Instead take a daily 150mcg iodine supplement while breastfeeding.
  • NOTE: Folate supplements aren’t required while breastfeeding.

Life with a newborn baby can be overwhelming. Your baby has a tiny tummy and needs frequent feeding. In the first weeks you may be feeding between eight to 12 times per day, leaving little time for housework, shopping, cooking, socialising or just relaxing.

Set the expectation with yourself that the first few weeks of your baby’s life will involve frequent nursing and this is normal – then adjust your life to fit around this. Your first priorities are to eat a healthy, nutritious diet, to rest and relax as much as possible, and to breastfeed your baby. Your time and energy is now at a premium so use these ideas to reduce your load:

Set your priorities

Learn to say no. You’re not here to please other people. The world won’t end if you haven’t vacuumed or done the dishes, so let small things slide.

Don’t be a martyr

Accept help if it’s offered, let people do your housework or make a meal.

Ask for help

Get your partner to prepare meals, ask friends and family to provide a home-delivered meal or do some housework. They won’t mind when the reward is a cuddle with your beautiful baby!

Use shortcuts to save time and effort

You’re not trying to win any culinary awards, just survive day to day, so cook quick, easy, nutritious meals in bulk to freeze and provide multiple meals.


While breastfeedin,g rehydrate yourself with a glass of water or milk and a nutritious snack to keep your energy up.

Be prepared

  • Prepare for feeds – visit the bathroom, grab the telephone, a magazine, a glass of water or milk and a healthy snack before you settle in to feed baby.
  • Ask your partner to prepare snacks – such as cut up fruit and veges – for your day.
  • Keep portable snacks in your nappy bag, such as a muesli bar and a bottle of water.

Make nutrient-packed vegetables and fruits your first snack choice.

  • Home-based snacks – baby carrots, ready-cut celery sticks, plastic pottles of fruit, cut/whole fresh fruit, low-fat yoghurt, bowl of cereal with trim milk, whole grain sandwich/toast topped with banana, Marmite, cheese, jam or baked beans, rice crackers with hummus, salt-reduced soup-in-a-cup.
  • Snacks on the go – banana, apple, small handful of dried fruit and nuts, box of raisins, vege crisps, popcorn, muesli bars.

Conserve your time and energy: make easy dinners in bulk, to freeze in single-servings.

  • Chilli con carne – make in bulk, serve on rice or baked potato with reduced-fat sour cream, on nachos with grated reduced-fat cheese, or in a tortilla wrap with lettuce/tomato/reduced-fat sour cream
  • Beef or chicken enchiladas
  • Salmon or tuna pasta salad – use leftover pasta and tinned fish
  • Chicken/beef stir-fry – use pre-sliced chicken/meat, frozen stir-fry vegetable mix and a dash of teriyaki or oyster sauce.

Women’s bodies may maintain extra body fat stores until a baby’s birth as these ‘energy deposits’ help to meet the energy needs of breastfeeding. So it makes sense that breastfeeding is the best way to kick-start weight-loss, along with consuming a nutritious diet and undertaking regular physical activity. We’re not suggesting Thai kickboxing, just head out with the stroller for a 30-minute walk most days.

Your baby’s first months are a crucial time and you don’t want to reduce your milk supply by drastic dieting. So focus on eating a healthy diet (ditch the high fat/sugar/salt treat foods) and let your weight naturally reduce. Aim for a gradual, steady weight-loss over nine to 12 months (that is, no more than 0.5kg per week). Take no notice of celebrities who seem to snap back into shape weeks after giving birth. That’s not realistic for most women in the real world.

First published: Nov 2010

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