Breastfeeding - self-care


A breastfeeding mother must continue to take care of her baby and herself, as she did during her pregnancy.

See also:

Alternative Names

Nursing mothers - self-care



In general, breastfeeding women should eat a well-balanced, varied diet. Taking vitamin and mineral supplements is not a substitute for healthy eating.

Eat plenty of fruits and vegetables, whole-grain breads and cereals, calcium-rich dairy products, and protein-rich foods (meats, fish, and legumes). Make sure you are getting enough calories.

  • Milk, yogurt, and cheese -- eat at least 4 servings
  • Meat, poultry, fish, dry beans, eggs, and nuts -- eat at least 3 servings
  • Vegetables -- eat at least 3 to 5 servings
  • Fruits -- eat 2 to 4 servings (choose two foods high in vitamin C and folic acid, and one food high in vitamin A)
  • Bread, cereal, rice, and pasta -- eat about 6 to 11 servings
  • Fats, oils, and sweets -- go easy!

You should be eating 5 servings of food that have plenty of calcium every day, including milk, yogurt, cheese, salmon, broccoli, and tofu.

This is just a guide. You may need to eat more than this based on your size and activity level.


Nursing mothers need enough fluids to stay hydrated. Most experts recommend drinking enough fluids to satisfy thirst. Eight 8-ounce servings (64 ounces) of fluid such as water, milk, juice, or soup is a good goal.


Breastfeeding mothers can safely eat any foods they like. Some foods may flavor the breast milk, but babies rarely react to this. If your baby is fussy after you eat a certain food or spice, try avoiding that food for a while, then try it again later to see if it is a problem.

It is possible that some highly allergenic foods (strawberries, peanuts) may be passed into breast milk, increasing the risk of a later food allergy in the baby. If this is a concern, discuss food allergies with your pediatrician.


A nursing mother can safely drink moderate amounts of caffeine (equal to 1 cup of coffee per day) without causing harm to her baby. But any more caffeine than that may cause agitation and sleeping problems in the baby. Some babies may even react to 1 cup a day, so keep a close eye on your baby.

Since alcohol has been found in human milk and can interfere with the milk ejection reflex, avoid alcohol while breastfeeding. An occasional drink, no more than 2 ounces of alcohol, may be safe, but you should consult your health care provider about the possible risks.

If you are a smoker, this is a great time to quit for yourself and for your baby. Nicotine and other chemicals from cigarettes are found in breast milk.

  • Breathing in smoke will increase the number of colds or infections your baby develops.
  • If you are unable to quit, visit your doctor. See: Smoking - tips on how to quit.


Many medications (prescription and over-the-counter medications) will pass into the mother's milk. Most of these medications are safe.

Check with your health care provider before taking any medications. Do NOT stop taking any prescribed medication without first speaking to your doctor. Remember, medications that were safe while you were pregnant may not always be safe while breastfeeding.

The American Academy of Pediatrics' Committee on Drugs releases a periodic statement with a list of drugs and their compatibility with breastfeeding. Your obstetrician and pediatrician are both likely to be familiar with this publication and can answer your concerns about breastfeeding while taking medications.


Breastfeeding will delay the return of normal menstrual periods (called lactation amenorrhea). This helps keep extra iron in your body.

Although the risk of pregnancy is less while you are breastfeeding, you can get pregnant. Breastfeeding should not be used as the only method of contraception.

You are less likely to get pregnant while breastfeeding if:

  • It has been no more than 6 months since your baby was born.
  • You are breastfeeding only, and your baby is not receiving any formula.
  • You have not yet had a menstrual period.

Discuss your birth control choice with your health care provider. Barrier methods (condom, diaphragm), progesterone-only pills or shots, and IUDs have all been shown to be safe and effective.

Remember that your ovaries will make an egg before you have your period, so you can get pregnant before your periods begin again.


Eglash A, Montgomery A, Wood J. Breastfeeding Disease-a-Month. 2008;54.

Review Date: 
Reviewed By: 
David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M., Inc., Susan Storck, MD, FACOG, Chief, Eastside Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology, Group Health Cooperative of Puget Sound, Bellevue, Washington; Clinical Teaching Faculty, Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology, University of Washington School of Medicine.

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