Dear Kathleen- on breastfeeding moms and nutrition

Daily, we receive hundreds of emails and messages from Leakies looking for help and information in their breastfeeding journey.  As so many seek support from us, we are so honored to have the support of Kathleen Huggins, IBCLC and author of The Nursing Mothers’ Companion.  Kathleen is jumping on board with The Leaky Boob to have a regular article answering Leaky questions every month.  The questions will be selected from the huge pool we get in every day to try and help cover the wide range of topics about which Leakies are asking.  These questions are from real moms and represent hundreds of requests for more information in the past two weeks.  Please understand that this is simply the professional opinion of one International Board Certified Lactation Consultant in an informal setting and is not intended to replace the care of a health care provider.  Kathleen is offering support and information, not diagnosing or prescribing treatment.  For your health and safety, please seek the care of a qualified physician and/or IBCLC.  Kathleen does have limited availability for phone or online consultations, see her website for more information.


Dear Kathleen,

Somebody recently mentioned breastfeeding moms having poor quality milk because they eat junk.  I am feeding my 6 week old but I don’t eat particularly healthy and I am worried now that my milk may not be as good as I first thought and she may be missing out on vital nutrients – I will of course start eating much healthier (every time I feed I crave something sweet) but I am worried that for the first 6 weeks of her life she was not getting the best milk. Any advice would be greatly appreciated.

Thanks in advance.


Not a Health Nut



Dear Not a Health Nut,

Hello!  This is a great question and one that I am sure many mothers wonder about.  The bottom line is that that the quality of your milk is generally not affected by your diet.  Mothers who live in poverty stricken areas around the world and here in the U.S. are able to provide nutritious milk to their infants.

Many mothers find that their appetite is low right after giving birth. Eating small nutritious snacks throughout the day will provide sufficient calories for you.  The fat stores accumulated during pregnancy will provide some additional reserves.

With that being said, eating nutritious foods will help you feel good and maintain your health. Try and avoid eating “empty calorie” foods like sodas, candy and chips! A poor diet will not effect milk production but is more likely continue at your own expense, leading to fatigue and listlessness! To Dieting during the early weeks is not recommended; as most mothers who are eating nutritious foods will gradually lose the weight they gained during pregnancy.

There is no set number of calories that is necessary during lactation.  In the past, there was a recommendation of eating 500 calories above a mother’s regular diet but now this is not thought to be the case.  On the other hand, some mothers, like those who are nursing multiples may need additional calories.  Most mothers supporting nursing multiple babies may need more calories but in many of these cases, she may naturally feel more hungry.

Nutrition and breastfeeding


It is not advisable to begin a weight loss program until after two months post partum and weight loss should be limited to 1-2 pounds per week.  Low carb diets are also not recommended as they can cause some dehydration, constipation, fatigue and sleeping problems.

Vitamin and Mineral Supplements for Mothers

It is recommended that mothers get 1000 mgms of calcium (calcium carbonate, being the least expensive with the highest concentration)per day.  This can also be achieved by drinking 3 glasses of milk per day or having several servings of cheese or yogurt.  If you don’t like milk or cow’s milk products, you can either take a calcium supplement or eat other calcium rich foods each day.  These include goat milk or cheese, bone containing canned fish, whole grains or whole grain flours, nuts, seeds and dried fruits.  Green leafy vegetables, with the exception of brocolli, are poorly absorbed. Other calcium rich foods include tofu or soy milk or cheeses, and lime based corn tortillas.

If you eat a vegan diet, which excludes egg and milk products, it is recommended that up to 4 mgms of vitamin B12 be taken daily to avoid deficiencies.  While mothers can take a supplement she can also include foods rich in this vitamin.   These include goat milk and/or cheese, canned fish, whole grains and whole grain flours, green leafy vegetables, nuts, seeds, and dry fruits.  Also, tofu or soy cheese, tortillas made with lime-processed corn.

Iron supplements may be necessary if you are anemic following the birth of your baby for your own health.  Some mothers develop vitamin B deficiencies, experiencing depression, irritability, impared concentration, loss of appetite, and tingling or burning feet.  A daily B complex supplement or taking Brewer’s yeast mixed with juice or milk can reverse these symptoms.

Supplements for Babies

Vitamin D, actually a hormone produced by sunshine is now recommended for breastfed babies.  This vitamin is important for several reasons.  It promotes the absorption of calcium in the baby’s intestinal tract. It is also an important part of a baby’s immune system keeping the baby less prone to infection.  Most recently, a lack of vitamin D has been associated with rickets, a bone softening disease.  There is also an association of low vitamin D with Type-1 diabetes, multiple sclerosis, rheumatoid arthritis and cancer.

Many babies are born already vitamin D deficient. While babies can get vitamin D from sunlight, assuring that they get enough is complicated by the latitude, season, altitude, weather, time of day, air pollution, and how much skin is exposed and whether sun screen is applied.  While a baby who is exposed to sunlight for 30 minutes per week wearing only a diaper or for two hours a week fully clothed without a hat.  Some babies in higher latitudes need even more light.

Because sun exposure is associated with skin cancer later in life, the American Academy of Pediatrics now recommends that all breastfed babies receive 400 International Units of vitamin D throughout childhood.  Formula fed babies do not need this supplement.  Most formulations of vitamin D are combined with other vitamin preparations which are unnecessary for the breastfed baby and may be difficult to give to the baby.  One company, Carlson Laboratories, offers a vitamin D supplement, Baby Ddrops and are available at health food stores and on-line pharmacies.  The baby only requires a single drop, which can be placed on the mother’s nipple for easy ingestion.

Best  wishes to you and your baby!




Kathleen-Higgins Kathleen Huggins RN IBCLC, has a Master’s Degree in Perinatal Nursing from U.C. San  Francisco, founded the Breastfeeding Warmline, opened one of the first breastfeeding clinics in  the United States, and has been helping breastfeeding mothers professionally for 33 years.  Kathleen  authored The Nursing Mother’s Companion in 1986 followed by The Nursing Mother’s Guide to Weaning.  Kathleen has also co-authored Nursing Mother, Working Mother with Gale Pryor, Twenty Five Things Every Breastfeeding Mother Should Know and The Nursing Mothers’ Breastfeeding Diary with best-friend, Jan Ellen Brown.  The Nursing Mothers’ Companion has also been translated into Spanish.  Mother of two now grown children, Kathleen retired from hospital work in 2004 and after beating breast cancer opened and currently runs Simply MaMa, her own maternity and breastfeeding boutique.  She continues to support breastfeeding mothers through her store’s “breastaurant,” online at The Leaky Boob, and in private consultations.