Nutrition and Breastfeeding

Australian Dietary Guidelines

The Australian Government supports the Australian Dietary Guidelines which aim to encourage, support, and promote exclusive breastfeeding for the first six months of an infant’s life. The need to encourage and support breastfeeding is highlighted in both the Dietary Guidelines for Australian Adults and the Dietary Guidelines for Children and Adolescents in Australia, incorporating the Infant Feeding Guidelines for Health Workers, which advise:

For Australia, it is recommended that as many infants as possible be exclusively breastfed until six months of age. It is further recommended that mothers then continue breastfeeding until 12 months of age—and beyond if both mother and infant wish. Although the greatest benefits from breastfeeding are to be gained in the early months, especially from exclusive breastfeeding for at least six months, there is no doubt that breastfeeding provides benefits that continue beyond this time. After six months, continued breastfeeding along with complementary foods for at least 12 months will bring continuing benefits (NHMRC 2003).

Despite this recommendation and the high level of government and non-government activity that promotes and supports breastfeeding, only 28 per cent of infants are fully breastfed at five months while around half are receiving at least some breast milk at six months (AIFS 2008, Baxter 2008)

Breastfeeding, Nutrition and Exercise Video

Breastfeeding Women

This information is based on the Nutrient Reference Values for Australia and New Zealand Including Recommended Dietary Intakes, the Australian Dietary Guidelines, and The Australian Guide to Healthy Eating. These recommendations are for healthy women with standardised weight, height and estimated energy requirements and may not meet the specific nutritional requirements of individuals. Specific advice for individual needs should be sought from a qualified dietitian.

Healthy Eating Guidelines for Breastfeeding Women

The Australian Guide to Healthy Eating recommends the following servings per day:

  • 5 - 7 servings from the bread, cereals, rice, pasta, noodles group.

An example of one serve is 2 slices bread; 1 medium bread roll; 1 cup of cooked rice, pasta or noodles; or 1 1/3 cups of breakfast cereal flakes.

There is an allowance of about 20 g a day for poly or monunsaturated fats and oils that can be used to spread on breads or rolls or used elsewhere in the diet.

  • 7 servings from the vegetables, legumes group.

An example of one serve is 75 grams or 1/2 cup cooked vegetables; 1/2 cup cooked dried beans, peas, lentils or canned beans; 1 cup of salad vegetables; or 1 small potato.

  • 5 servings of fruit.

An example of one serve is 1 medium apple; 2 small pieces (150 g) of fruit (apricots, kiwi fruit, plums); 1 cup of diced fruit pieces or canned fruit; 1/2 cup of fruit juice; or 1 1/2 tablespoons of sultanas.

  • 2 servings from the milk, yoghurt, cheese group.

An example of one serve is 250 ml of milk; 250 ml of soy milk; 40 grams (2 slices) of cheese; or 200 g (1 small carton) of yoghurt.

  • 2 servings from the meat, fish, poultry, eggs, nuts and legumes group.

An example of one serve is 65-100 grams cooked meat or chicken; 2 small chops; 2 slices of roast meat; 1/2 cup of cooked dried beans; 80-120 grams of fish fillet; 1/3 cup peanuts (almonds); or 2 small eggs.

Note: You get plenty of fats and oils from the amount used with cereal foods and from meat, eggs, cheese, peanut butter, margarine, etc so fats and oils aren’t included separately. 

For more information check out the Australian Guide to Healthy Eating

Energy requirements (kilojoules / day)

The energy needs of a breastfeeding mother are increased because of milk production. In fact, the energy requirements for breastfeeding mothers are, on average, 2,000 kJ (445 kCal) per day more than that of a usual adult woman's daily energy needs. These energy requirements are based on full breastfeeding in the first 6 months and partial breastfeeding after that time.

While it is normal (and expected) that mothers put on weight while pregnant, it is not recommended that mothers follow a weight loss diet after childbirth. Breastfeeding naturally allows for gradual weight loss. If you gain weight after birth, it is most likely that you are eating too much food, or choosing foods that are high in energy (kilojoules).

Note: Because there is individual variation in milk production, levels of physical activity and weight loss during lactation, it is difficult to make an exclusive recommendation on energy needs during breastfeeding. For individualised advice, please consult a dietitian.

Physical Activity

Regular, moderate physical activity is good for health. It appears that most breastfeeding women can participate in some exercise without affecting their lactation. However, it is important to note that sometimes, if feeding straight after exercise, a baby may appear unsettled during feeding due to lactic acid in the breast milk. This does not hurt the baby and usually the lactic acid levels drop within two hours.

It is best to combine exercise with balanced eating and adequate nutrition. It is also important to drink plenty of fluids when breastfeeding and exercising. On a rare occasion, a breastfeeding mother may find she needs to limit her exercise so that her milk supply does not drop.

Benefits of Breastfeeding

The Australian Dietary Guidelines strongly recommend breastfeeding. Breast milk is natural and especially 'designed' for the human baby. It has many health benefits for the baby and also the breastfeeding mother.


  • Breastfeeding helps in the physical recovery from childbirth.
  • Breastfeeding helps the mother in weight stabilisation after pregnancy and childbirth.
  • Breastfeeding may possibly also reduce the risk of some cancers, such as breast or ovarian cancer.
  • Bonding happens between the mother and baby during breastfeeding.
  • Breast milk is inexpensive and does not need to be prepared.


  • Breast milk provides all the nutrients a baby needs for at least the first 6 months of life. For the following 6 months, breast milk continues to be an excellent source of nutrition when combined with other suitable foods.
  • Breast milk is dynamic and living. It constantly changes in its nutrient composition to meet the needs of the baby throughout different times of feeding.
  • Breastfeeding provides protection against disease later in life. It helps boost the immune system to fight illness and infections. The baby is also less likely to develop allergies.
  • Breastfeeding reduces the likelihood of later diseases and health risks including obesity, diabetes, heart disease and some childhood cancers.
  • Breast milk is ready when your baby needs it.
  • Breast milk is hygienic.
  • Babies digest breast milk easily.
  • Breast milk contains a lot of natural substances that help a baby's development and growth.

Healthy Eating for Breastfeeding Women

Breastfeeding mothers have a slightly increased requirement for most nutrients compared to mothers who do not breastfeed as many vitamins and minerals in a breastfeeding mother's diet are transferred into the breast milk. Therefore, it is important for the mother to eat adequately for her own nutrition combined with the nutrition of her baby. A breastfeeding mother should eat regular nutritious meals and snacks to meet the extra energy (kilojoules) needed for making breast milk and feeding. Consuming a variety of foods each day is important in meeting both the mother’s and baby’s nutritional needs.

The Dietary Guidelines for Australian Adults are:

  • Enjoy a wide variety of nutritious foods
    • Eat plenty of vegetables, legumes and fruits
    • Eat plenty of cereals (including breads, rice, pasta and noodles), preferably wholegrain
    • Include lean meat, fish, poultry and/or alternatives
    • Include milks, yoghurts, cheeses and/or alternatives.
      Reduced-fat varieties should be chosen, where possible
    • Drink plenty of water

and take care to:

    • Limit saturated fat and moderate total fat intake
    • Choose foods low in salt
    • Limit your alcohol intake if you choose to drink
    • Consume only moderate amounts of sugars and foods containing added sugars
  • Prevent weight gain: be physically active and eat according to your energy needs
  • Care for your food: prepare and store it safely
  • Encourage and support breastfeeding

For individual nutrient requirements such as those described below, the Nutrient Reference Values for Australia and New Zealand Including Recommended Dietary Intakes provides an average nutrient intake requirement for individuals and a value that would meet the needs of most individuals in the population. Because it is difficult to assess an individual’s exact requirement for a particular nutrient, you might like to aim for the upper figure to maximise the certainty that a sufficient amount of the nutrient is obtained from food. For more information go to

The nutrients of particular concern during breastfeeding are:

  • Protein
  • Folate
  • Iodine
  • Zinc
  • Vitamin A
  • Vitamin B6


A breastfeeding mother needs additional dietary protein to build the protein in her breast milk. Protein is vital for the growth, maintenance and repair of cells. The average requirement for protein during breastfeeding is 54 g/day but because of individual variation, some mothers will need 67 g/day or more. Protein is found in a wide range of foods such as meat (including fish and poultry), eggs, dairy, legumes (such as beans, pulses and soy products) and nuts. Smaller amounts of protein are found in grain-based foods such as bread and pasta.


Folate is a B vitamin that is needed for healthy growth and development. On average, breastfeeding mothers require 450 µg/day of folate but some will need as much as 500 µg/day or more. Folate can be found in leafy vegetables, wholegrains, peas, nuts, avocado and yeast extract (eg promite, vegemite, marmite etc).


Iodine is an essential mineral needed for the production of thyroid hormone, and to ensure healthy growth and development. Breastfeeding mothers require on average 190µg/day of iodine, some women may need up to 270µg/day. Iodine can be found in seafood, milk and vegetables


Zinc is a component of various enzymes that help maintain structural integrity of proteins and help regulate gene expression. Breastfeeding mothers require on average 10 mg/day of zinc but some will need 12 mg/day or more. Zinc can be found in lean meat, wholegrain cereals, milk, seafood, legumes and nuts.

Vitamin A

Vitamin A is vital for normal growth and helps provide resistance to infections. Breastfeeding mothers require on average 800 µg/day of Vitamin A but because of individual variability some will need 1,100 µg/day or more. Vitamin A can be found in milk, cheese, eggs, fatty fish, yellow-orange vegetables and fruits such as carrots, pumpkin, mango, apricots, and other vegetables such as spinach and broccoli.

Vitamin B6

Vitamin B6 is important for the metabolism of protein and the formation of red blood cells. Breastfeeding mothers require on average 1.7mg/day of Vitamin B6 but some will need 2 mg/day or more. Vitamin B6 can be found in muscle and organ meat, poultry, fish, wholegrains, brussel sprouts, green peas and beans.

Water (Fluids)

Breastfeeding mothers should drink an additional 700 ml/day (at least) above non-lactating requirements to replace the fluid lost through breastfeeding. This equals to a total of 9 cups daily, and can be in the form of water, milk, juice and other drinks (avoid alcohol and limit caffeine-containing fluids, such as coffee, tea and cola). However, pure water should be everyone’s main drink.

It may be helpful to have a drink at the time of each breastfeed, as well as drinking regularly throughout other times of the day.

Foods that may adversely affect a breastfed baby

Some foods that breastfeeding mothers eat or drink can affect the baby:

  • Alcohol
  • Caffeine
  • Spicy and other possible irritating foods


The level of alcohol in breast milk is almost the same as a mother's blood alcohol level. It appears that an occasional drink of alcohol is not harmful. However, it is advised to have minimal amounts of alcohol when breastfeeding a baby, especially in the first three months. Ways to limit the baby's exposure to alcohol also include choosing low alcohol drinks, eating before and while drinking, and avoiding breastfeeding for two to three hours after drinking, or choosing to have an alcoholic drink immediately after breastfeeding.

Drinking alcohol in large amounts or very often can be dangerous for the baby. An intoxicated mother should not breastfeed. High intakes of alcohol may affect the mother's ability to look after her baby and increases her risk of developing depression. Large quantities of alcohol have also been seen to displace good nutrition.

The National Health and Medical Research Council recommends that for women who are breastfeeding, not drinking is the safest option.

More information regarding alcohol consumption is available:


Some breastfeeding mothers report that their baby is unsettled, irritable, or even constipated if they drink large volumes of coffee, strong tea, or cola. However, there appears to be individual variation in how much caffeine is found in breast milk after having a high caffeine drink.

Poor milk supply may sometimes be related to caffeine intake. Caffeine can also affect the nutrient make up of breast milk. The iron levels in the breast milk of a woman who drinks more than three cups of coffee a day during pregnancy and the early phases of breastfeeding, are one-third less than that of a mother who does not drink coffee.

It is advised that during breastfeeding, caffeine consumption should be limited to 2 to 4 cups of coffee, tea or cola per day.

Note: It has been found that cigarette smoking compounds the effects of caffeine in breastfed babies.

For more information about the caffeine content in food and drink:

Spicy and other Irritating Foods

Some breastfed babies may get upset or unsettled if their mothers eat a lot of rich or spicy foods, or particular fruits or vegetables. If suspicious that a food being consumed is affecting the baby, stop eating it for a few days. If the baby settles down, try the food again to see how it affects the baby. It may be helpful to avoid that food if the baby becomes unsettled again. It is advisable to speak with a dietitian or nutritionist for further advice if avoidance of several different foods is occurring.

How long should a mother breastfeed?

Exclusive breastfeeding is recommended for the first six months of a baby's life. After this period, further breastfeeding is recommended to supplement the baby's nutrition while the baby is gradually introduced to solid foods.

For further information on how long to breastfeed, and when and how to wean


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