Optimal Nutrition for Breastfeeding Mothers

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Newly released Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2020-25 recommends to follow a healthy dietary pattern at every stage of life.

“At every life stage—infancy, toddlerhood, childhood, adolescence, adulthood, pregnancy, lactation, and older adulthood—it is never too early or too late to eat healthfully.

For about the first 6 months of life, exclusively feed infants human milk. Continue to feed infants human milk through at least the first year of life, and longer if desired. Feed infants iron-fortified infant formula during the first year of life when human milk is unavailable. Provide infants with supplemental vitamin D beginning soon after birth.”- (Dietary Guidelines of Americans 2020-25)

I simply cannot emphasize enough the benefits of breastfeeding. It is undeniably the best food an infant can have. I breastfed my 2 boys for more than 1 year. It was most rewarding experience for me and by boys. Certainly, breastfeeding can be challenging for new moms and support is so crucial and I am so proud of Anurag Sandhu- the author of this blog for bringing this topic and his experience with his new niece and nephew. I am so proud of this nutrition graduate and aspiring physician who took lead in writing the blog on breastfeeding. -Dr. Sangeeta

    Being a new mom comes with a variety of challenges and tough decisions to make. One of these important decisions would be the controversial one of whether or not to breastfeed your child. As a new uncle to a beautiful niece and handsome nephew I began to think about the importance of the nutrition for a breastfeeding mother. Coming from North Indian descent my mom has her own beliefs on what a breastfeeding mother should eat based on traditional practices that have been passed on for generations. Listening to my mom’s advice I began to wonder what a good diet actually looks like for breastfeeding mother and if her traditional methodology has any truth to it.

    According to the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia a more balanced diet is recommended with a slight emphasis on protein. It is important to include foods high in protein for 2-3 meals per day while also eating three servings of dark green and yellow vegetables and two servings of fruit per day. Complex carbohydrates are also an important part of a breastfeeding mother’s diet which include whole grains such as whole wheat breads, pasta, cereal and oatmeal. Vegetarian diets can be compatible with breastfeeding mothers but is important to make sure you are getting adequate amounts of protein in your diet. For those mothers who abide by a vegan diet it is extremely important to supplement your protein and B12 intake considering that B12 is usually sourced from meat and other animal products.

    Taking the recommended foods into account, it is important to consider which foods a breastfeeding mother should avoid eating. Omega-3 fatty acids are important for a baby’s brain development and can be sourced from eating fish, however it is essential that you avoid eating fish that are high in mercury in efforts to prevent mercury poisoning. Fish high in mercury include tuna, mackerel, marlin, and swordfish while fish like salmon and tilapia are lower in mercury and still provide the necessary nutrients.

    Highly processed foods can also be detrimental for your body in the long run. In a study conducted by Gary Beauchamp and his associates published in 2009, they found that breast milk can influence the food preference of the child as they grow up. This finding was supported by observing rats who were exposed to food that would be deemed as junk food considering its high fat and sugar content, and consequently their offspring also preferred similar foods.

    Motherhood comes with a series of challenges that may seem rather daunting, and as a 24-year-old male there is no way that I would even be able to fully understand the real struggle that a mother must endure. Taking this into consideration, I feel like the initial few months are essential in ensuring the healthy development of your child and some sacrifices will have to be made for the betterment of that child even if it comes at the cost of you own comfort. Thank you to all the mothers out there who are willing to give up so much in order to ensure the health of the future.


    1. Beauchamp, Gary K., and Julie A. Mennella. “Early Flavor Learning and Its Impact on Later Feeding Behavior:” Journal of Pediatric Gastroenterology and Nutrition, vol. 48, no. Suppl 1, Mar. 2009, pp. S25–30. DOI.org (Crossref), doi:10.1097/MPG.0b013e31819774a5.
    2. Karcz, Karolina, et al. “Foods to Avoid While Breastfeeding? Experiences and Opinions of Polish Mothers and Healthcare Providers.” Nutrients, vol. 12, no. 6, June 2020, p. 1644. DOI.org (Crossref), doi:10.3390/nu12061644.
    3. McGrane, Kelli. “5 Foods to Limit or Avoid While Breastfeeding.” Healthline, Healthline Media, 24 Apr. 2020, https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/breastfeeding-foods-to-avoid#Other-considerations.
    4. Post, Guest, et al. “Healthy Foods During Breastfeeding: Health Food for Breastfeeding Mother.” The Pulse, 25 Sept. 2017, blog.pregistry.com/healthy-foods-nursing/. 
    5. “What Is MyPlate?” MyPlate, www.myplate.gov/eat-healthy/what-is-myplate. 
    6. Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2020-2025. https://www.dietaryguidelines.gov/

    Author’s Bio
    My name is Anurag Sandhu and I graduated from Cal Poly Pomona recently in 2020 as a nutrition science major. In my free time I enjoy watching sports, playing with my dog Rambo, and exercising. As an aspiring medical professional I love to talk about nutrition and fitness to anyone willing to listen because I truly feel that these are two aspects of life that often times are overlooked but play a significant role in everyone’s life.

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