Nutrition for the Life Cycle Series – Nutrition During Lactation

By Emily Carver, Recent ASU Nutrition Student

First in a series

Your world has changed forever. You just welcomed a beautiful new baby into the world and they are dependent on you for everything, including food. If this is your first child, this might be incredibly daunting and exhausting, and if this is an additional child, this might still be incredibly daunting and exhausting!

Whether you’re able to nurse your newborn or not, nutrition plays a key role in how you and your newborn feel. It can be easy to push your needs aside as you cope with feeling overwhelmed and exhausted as you adjust to all the changes, however, taking care of yourself by ensuring you’re getting enough nutritious foods will have tremendous benefits on your recovery.

This can certainly be an “easier said than done” statement, but when you make sure you’re eating enough calories to sustain yourself and your baby, you’ll have more energy and your milk production will have a greater chance of sustaining, rather than decreasing with lack of calories consumed.

The number of calories that a lactating mother need varies by the individual. The Daily Recommended Intake (DRI) assumes that roughly 500 calories per day are burned for a normal-weight lactating woman for milk production within the first six months (1). Because of this, it’s estimated that they need an additional 330 – 450 calories a day.

This means, women who are lactating need to increase the amount of nutritious food they eat by 330 – 450 calories every day in order to make up the difference.

If you’re uncertain how you can increase your caloric intake and what foods would be good choices,, helps take the guesswork out of it for you (2). They’ve designed a general food plan lactating women can use and adapt to suit their nutrition needs.

Some aspects of the food plan include consuming over 3 ounces of whole grains a day. Whole grains can be a slice of wheat toast, cooked pasta or rice, and tortillas. 2 ½ cups of vegetables a day are also recommended such as raw or cooked dark green vegetables, beans, peas, and any vegetable that are red or orange in color. For fruit, 2 cups a day, whether dried, fresh, or cooked can be consumed to meet your daily needs.

Protein is another major component of the day’s food plan, and Choose My Plate recommends 5 ½ ounces a day. Protein can be consumed in a variety of ways, including meats, poultry, eggs, peanut butter, nuts, and beans. If you consume only plant-based foods, it’s important to make sure you’re getting adequate amounts of bioavailable B12 through other sources like yeast and seaweed or in a vitamin supplement.

To read the complete list of foods Choose My Plate offers for a 2,000 calorie a day food plan, visit their website for more. No matter your food preferences, one thing to remember that will help you and the baby is whole foods are best. The less processed the better, and with everything, moderation is key.

When it comes to food choices, there’s an abundance to choose from, so load up on all the nutrients you can find, and nourish your body as you recover. We all know you need it!



Brown, J.E., Isaaacs, J.S., Krinke, B.U., Lechtenberg, E., Sharbaugh, C., et al. (2014). Nutrition Through the Lifecycles. Stamford, CT: Cengage Learning


United States Department of Agriculture. (2017). MyPlan for Moms. Retrieved from:

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