Breastfeeding - self-care

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Alternate Names

Nursing mothers - self-care


As a breastfeeding mother, know how to take care of yourself. Keeping yourself well is the best thing for breastfeeding your baby. Here are some tips about taking care of yourself.

Eat to Stay Healthy and to Feed Your Baby

  • Eat three meals a day.
  • Try to eat foods from all the different food groups.
  • Vitamin and mineral supplements are not a substitute for healthy eating. Know about food portions, so that you eat the right amount.

Eat milk foods, at least 4 servings each day. Here are ideas for one serving of milk food:

  • A cup of milk 
  • One cup of yogurt 
  • 4 small cubes of cheese or 2 slices of cheese 

Eat protein-rich foods, at least 3 servings each day. Here are ideas for one serving of protein:

  • 1 - 2 ounces of meat, chicken, or fish
  • ¼ cup cooked dried beans
  • 1 egg
  • 1 tablespoon of peanut butter

Eat plenty of fruits, 2 - 4 servings each day. Here are ideas for one serving of fruit:

  • ½ cup fruit juice
  • Apples
  • Apricots
  • Peaches
  • 1/2 cup cut up fruit, such as watermelon or cantaloupe
  • ¼ cup dried fruit

Eat plenty of vegetables, at least 3 - 5 servings each day. Here are ideas for one serving of vegetables:

  • 1/2 cup cut up vegetables
  • 1 cup of salad greens
  • ½ cup vegetable juice

Eat grains like bread, cereal, rice, and pasta, eat about 6 servings. Here are ideas for one serving of grain:

  • ½ cup cooked pasta
  • ½ cup cooked rice
  • 1 cup cereal
  • 1 slice of bread

Eat one serving of oil each day.

  • 1 teaspoon oil
  • 1 tablespoon of low fat mayo
  • 2 tablespoons of light salad dressing

Drink plenty of fluids.

  • Stay hydrated when you are nursing.
  • Drink enough to satisfy your thirst. Try to drink 8 cups of fluid each day.
  • Choose healthy fluids such as water, milk, juice, or soup.

Don’t worry about your food bothering your baby.

  • You can safely eat any foods you like. Some foods may flavor the breast milk, but babies are usually not bothered by this. 
  • If your baby is fussy after you eat a certain food or spice, avoid that food for a while. Try it again later to see if it is a problem. 
  • Some highly allergenic foods (such as strawberries and peanuts) may be passed into breast milk. This may increase the risk of a later food allergy in the baby. If you are concerned, discuss food allergies with your health care provider.

Caffeine, Alcohol, Smoking, and Breastfeeding

Know that small amounts of caffeine will not hurt your baby.

  • Limit your caffeine intake. Keep your coffee or tea at 1 cup per day. 
  • If you drink larger amounts of caffeine, your baby may get agitated and have trouble sleeping. 
  • Learn how your baby reacts to caffeine. Some babies may react to even 1 cup a day. If that happens, stop drinking caffeine.

Avoid alcohol.

  • Alcohol affects let down of your milk. 
  • If you choose to drink, limit yourself to 2 ounces of alcohol. 
  • Talk to your health care provider about drinking alcohol and breastfeeding.

Try not to smoke. There are many ways to help you quit.

  • You put your baby at risk if you smoke. 
  • Breathing in smoke increases your baby’s risk for colds and infections. 
  • Get help to quit smoking now. Talk to your health care provider about programs that can support you to quit. 
  • If you can quit, you will feel better and decrease your risk of getting cancer from smoking. Your baby will not get any nicotine or other chemicals from cigarettes in your breast milk. 

Know about your medicines and breastfeeding.

  • Many medicines pass into mother’s milk. Most of the time, this is safe and okay for your baby. 
  • Talk with your health care provider about any medicines you take. Do NOT stop taking your medicine without first speaking to your health care provider. 
  • Know that medicines that were safe when you were pregnant may not always be safe when you breastfeed. 
  • Ask about drugs that are okay with breastfeeding. The American Academy of Pediatrics' Committee on Drugs keeps a list of these drugs. Your health care provider can look at the list and talk to you about medicines you take when breastfeeding.

Breastfeeding and Contraception

Know that you can get pregnant when breastfeeding. Do not use breastfeeding for birth control.

You are less likely to get pregnant while breastfeeding if:

  • Your baby is younger than 6 months old. 
  • You are breastfeeding only, and your baby does not take any formula. 
  • You have not yet had a menstrual period. 

Talk to your health care provider about birth control. You have lots of choices. Condoms, diaphragm, progesterone-only pills or shots, and IUDs are safe and effective.

Breastfeeding delays the return of normal menstrual periods (called lactation amenorrhea). But your ovaries will make an egg before you have your period. You can get pregnant before your periods begin again.


Version Info

  • Last reviewed on 9/27/2012
  • Linda J. Vorvick, MD, Medical Director and Director of Didactic Curriculum, MEDEX Northwest Division of Physician Assistant Studies, Department of Family Medicine, UW Medicine, School of Medicine, University of Washington. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M. Health Solutions, Ebix, Inc.

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