What should nursing mothers eat?

World Health Organization recommends all mothers to initiate breastfeeding as soon as possible after birth, within the first hour after delivery. Mothers are expected to receive practical support to enable them to initiate and establish breastfeeding and manage common breastfeeding difficulties.

It is important to follow a healthy, nutrient-dense diet while breastfeeding. In addition to promoting a mother’s overall health, a healthy diet is essential for ensuring that the baby is getting all the nutrients they need to grow well.


Emmy Ntamanga, a Kigali-based nutrition consultant, explains that beans and legumes are lactogenic properties. For instance, soybeans have the highest phytoestrogen content of all beans. Eating a variety of beans and legumes is good not only for the mother’s general health, but also for ensuring that they have a healthy milk supply.


“Green leafy vegetables that contain phytoestrogens have been shown to have a positive effect on milk production. This may be the key to understanding their lactogenic power,” he says.


Ntamanga highlights that nuts are rich in essential minerals such as iron, calcium, and zinc as well as vitamin K and B vitamins. They are also a healthy source of essential fatty acids and protein. 

Nursing mothers are advised to eat three servings of vegetables, including dark green and yellow vegetables per day. Net  photos

He also notes that avocados are a nutrition power-house for nursing moms. Nursing mothers usually complain that they are often very hungry due to the increased caloric demands of nursing, and have very little time to prepare and eat meals. Avocados provide healthy heart fats and are also a good source of B vitamins, vitamin K, folate, potassium vitamin C.

The nutrition consultant says that Omega-3 naturally found in fatty fish and algae, plays essential roles in both maternal and foetal health. For example, the omega-3 fat is essential for the development of the baby’s nervous system, skin, and eyes.  The concentration of this important fat in breast milk largely depends on one’s intake levels.

He urges drinking a lot of water to prevent dehydration while breastfeeding. Mothers should aim for six to eight glasses a day – even more, when breastfeeding.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention- CDC, states that breastfeeding mothers generally need more calories to meet their nutritional needs while breastfeeding. An additional 450 to 500 kilocalories of healthy external icon food calories per day is recommended for well-nourished breastfeeding mothers, compared to the amount they were consuming before pregnancy.

“The number of additional calories needed for an individual breastfeeding woman is also affected by her age, body mass index, activity level, and extent of breastfeeding,” CDC says.

CDC states women should not limit or avoid specific foods while breastfeeding. Mothers should be encouraged to eat a healthy and diverse diet. However, certain types of seafood should be consumed in a limited amount and some mothers may restrict caffeine while breastfeeding.

CDC points out that if an infant appears to be more irritable after the mother consumes high amounts of caffeine, she should contemplate decreasing her intake. Preterm and younger new-born infants break down caffeine slower, which is why mothers might consider consuming even less caffeine.

According to The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), while breastfeeding, mothers should eat three meals each day plus two extra small meals or “snacks”. Eat different types of locally available foods each day.

UNICEF notes that no special food is required to produce breast milk.  However, grains such as maize, wheat, rice, millet and sorghum, and roots and tubers such as cassava and potatoes, legumes such as beans, lentils, peas, groundnuts, and seeds such as sesame, Vitamin A-rich fruits and vegetables like mango, papaya, passion fruit, oranges, dark-green leaves, carrots, yellow sweet potato and pumpkin and other fruits and vegetables such as banana, pineapple, avocado, watermelon, tomatoes, eggplant, and cabbages are nutritious for a nursing mother.

Animal-source foods such as meat, chicken, fish, liver and eggs and dairy products, oil and fat such as oilseeds, margarine, ghee, and butter improve the absorption of some vitamins and provide extra energy.  Adolescent mothers need more food, extra care, and rest, UNICEF states.


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