Breastfeeding meal plans: the ultimate guide

Breastfeeding meal plans: the ultimate guide

Maternal nutrition needs change throughout pregnancy, and breastfeeding is no exception. Here’s what you need to know about maternal nutrition and creating appropriate breastfeeding meal plans.

Many breastfeeding moms find it difficult to balance feeding and caring for their babies while also finding time to take care of themselves. A breastfeeding meal plan can help ensure they are eating healthy foods, and getting enough nourishment for themselves and the baby.

You can support your client’s nutrition needs as a dietitian through breastfeeding meal plans and personalized care. Here’s what you need to know about maternal nutrition, what should (or should not) be included in a healthy breastfeeding diet, and some meal ideas to help increase milk supply.

TIP: Between supplements and dietary recommendations, here are some ways that you can provide nutritional support to breastfeeding mothers.

How to calculate the calories a woman needs when breastfeeding

The CDC recommends breastfeeding mothers eat 330-400 calories extra calories per day. 

However, there are a few factors to consider when helping nursing moms determine their energy requirements: the mom’s current weight and activity level; the age of the baby; and if they are exclusively breastfed or not. 

You can calculate this by using metabolic equivalents (METs) since this value can help assess daily energy requirements. Learn more about how to calculate METs in this article.

It’s also important to keep in mind that mothers who are supplementing with formula, or those with babies who are also eating solid foods, may have lower calorie needs than a mother who is exclusively breastfeeding. 

What to eat when breastfeeding

Studies have found that women who breastfeed have a reduced risk of developing certain medical conditions like heart disease and diabetes later in life. Plus, breastfeeding provides essential nutrients to the baby, which is why it’s important to help your clients make healthy food choices and eat enough calories. 

Here are some nutrient-dense foods for what to eat when breastfeeding:

  • Whole grains
  • Salmon and sardines
  • Beef
  • Eggs
  • Leafy greens
  • Legumes
  • Yogurt
  • Sweet potatoes
  • Nuts and seeds
  • Healthy fats (like omega-3s)
  • Nut butter
  • Dairy-free products

What foods should be avoided while breastfeeding?

Most foods are safe to eat, but here are some foods to limit or avoid:

  • Fish with high mercury levels
  • Dairy products
  • Caffeine
  • Alcohol

Tips to create a healthy breastfeeding meal plan

Here are some things to consider when creating a healthy breastfeeding meal plan.


Encourage hydration

Water is important for sustaining milk production, and moms should pay close attention to their thirst. Breastfeeding mothers should aim for 16 cups of water per day from food and beverages. Encourage moms to drink water anytime they feel thirsty and suggest drinking water whenever they are nursing.


Include a variety of foods

It’s important to include a variety of foods within your client’s meal plan to meet their macro and micronutrient needs. Not only will this boost the mother’s health, but it’s also vital for the baby since studies have found that a well-diverse diet is critical for physical growth and cognitive development.

If there is a risk of deficiency, you can have your clients continue taking their prenatal vitamins or other vitamin supplements as necessary. 

Focus on simple meals

Focus on meals that are easy to prepare and do not take a ton of time. For example, crockpot meals are ideal for parents who are juggling multiple household tasks and schedules. 

You can also consider finding recipes that make large quantities that can be frozen or saved for another meal.


Understand your client’s eating preferences

If your client follows a vegetarian or vegan diet, choosing foods that will provide the nutrients they need is important. To do this, you can incorporate foods that are rich in iron, protein, and calcium. You may also want to consider supplementation (especially vitamin B12 and omega-3), as these nutrients are mainly found in animal products. 

TIP: Discover how you can nutritionally support your plant-based clients with supplementation.

Be aware of allergic reactions

Certain foods could cause your client’s baby to become irritable or have an allergic reaction, resulting in the baby becoming fussy, developing a rash, and experiencing diarrhea or wheezing. If this happens, try an elimination diet to see if it positively affects these symptoms. 

TIP: Understand the difference between food allergies and food intolerances in this article. 

Meal plan for breastfeeding moms

If you’re feeling stuck on what to include in a meal plan, here are some suggestions for each meal.

  • Breakfast: Try an overnight oats recipe to have something ready to eat whenever they are. Include fruits, nuts, and seeds to add variety and additional nutrients. 
  • Lunch: A turkey, cheese, and avocado wrap with a whole wheat tortilla are quick and easy to eat on the go. 
  • Dinner: Find easy-to-make recipes with simple ingredients. For example, casserole dishes can be split into two meals or doubled to make multiple dinners. Also, consider preparing foods for multiple nights to cut down on meal prep time. 
  • Snacks: Foods that are easy to grab and take minimal effort to prepare are important. Yogurt with blueberries, hard-boiled eggs, and bananas with peanut butter are all great snack options. 


As a dietitian, you can help new moms ensure they are eating healthy foods, and getting enough nourishment for themselves and the baby. You can do this by creating curated meal plans that include nutrient-dense foods and fluid needs that will meet your client’s increased energy output.



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