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How Many Calories Do I Need When Breastfeeding?

Medically Reviewed by Michelle Roth, BA, IBCLC
Here's how many calories you need to retain your energy while breastfeeding.

Are you breastfeeding and have no idea whether you’re eating too many or even not enough calories?

Counting calories isn’t always as bad as it seems. For the breastfeeding mom, consuming sufficient calories for you and your baby will be essential at some point. The human body needs calories to survive and thrive.

We’ll break down the science of calorie consumption and give you the lowdown on how many calories you need while breastfeeding. We’ll also discuss the best places to get your calories, ensuring you feel satisfied and can offer your best to your baby.

Key Takeaways

  • Breastfeeding moms need an additional 450 to 500 kcals daily, resulting in approximately 2,500 kcals a day.
  • Empty calories come from foods and drinks high in sugar, like baked goods, fast food, and soda, providing few nutrients.
  • Nutrient-dense foods for breastfeeding moms include complex carbohydrates, iron-rich foods, proteins, and hydration sources.
  • Breastfeeding can help with post-pregnancy weight loss, but focus on proper nourishment for your baby and maintaining a healthy diet.

How Many Calories Do I Need When Breastfeeding?

The Dietary Guidelines for Americans indicate that the total number of calories you need daily depends on several factors (1). These factors include, but are not limited to, the following:

  • Age.
  • Height and weight.
  • Physical activity.
  • A desire to gain, lose, or maintain current weight.

According to the guidelines, maintaining caloric balance in women aged 19 to 50 requires a daily calorie intake as follows. Keep in mind that as we age and our metabolism slows, we require fewer calories overall:

  • Women who lead a sedentary lifestyle: 1,800 to 2,000 kcals.
  • Moderately active women: 2,000 to 2,200 kcals.
  • Active women: 2,200 to 2,400 kcals.

Breastfeeding Women Need More Though

A breastfeeding mom needs an additional 450 to 500 kilocalories daily to make breast milk. Overall, breastfeeding moms are looking at approximately 2,500 kcals a day (2).

How to keep count? The USDA DRI calculator is a good place to start. It works out the daily nutrient recommendations as provided by the Dietary Reference Intakes.

You can also download apps, such as MyFitnessPal or Lose It! to keep those calories in check.

Foods That Contain Empty Calories

Calories aren’t just calories, and there are such things as empty calories. We have foods that carry too many calories and provide few vitamins, fiber, minerals, and phytochemicals (3).

Here are some examples:

  • Foods that contain a lot of sugar or sugar substitutes, like syrups, baked goods, and frozen desserts such as ice cream.
  • Breakfast foods, such as cereals and bars.
  • Fast foods, like french fries, pizzas, and onion rings.
  • Condiments, such as mayonnaise.

Some drinks also fall into the empty-calories category. Sodas, energy drinks, juices, and alcoholic drinks are but a few of the empty-calorie drinks.

Calorie labeling in restaurant menus has created a greater level of self-awareness. You can now know how many calories are in the foods you order (4).

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Nutrient-Dense Foods for Breastfeeding Moms

Since these foods contain healthy fats, vitamins, minerals, and fiber, they will keep your energy levels up for longer. They will also be passed on to your baby and help them grow (5).

Examples of nutrient-dense foods include:

1. Complex Carbohydrates

Whole-wheat bread, brown rice, beans, oatmeal, fruits, and vegetables are good examples of complex carbs that take time to digest. Refined food products spike your energy levels temporarily before leaving you sluggish. Complex carbs, on the other hand, release energy slowly over a longer period.

Complex carbohydrates contain Vitamin B12, which will be passed to your baby through breast milk. Vitamin B12 supports the growth of your baby’s nervous system.

2. Iron-Rich Foods

Think lean beef, poultry, white beans, spinach, lentils, and lima beans. One of the symptoms of iron deficiency is fatigue. These iron-rich foods will help your baby grow while keeping your energy levels up.

3. Proteins

Load up on white meat, eggs, peanut butter, fish, beans, and nuts. Vegetarians and vegans can replace meat with tofu and legumes, as well as certain grains, seeds, and nuts. These excellent sources of protein enhance growth.

Looking for a snack? How about reaching for yogurt or cheese? The calcium will be passed on to your baby and help promote the growth of strong bones.

4. Beverages

Hydration is important, and doctors recommend drinking 12 glasses of water daily to account for both your needs (6). Water remains the best source of fluids for you and your baby.

You can also drink low-fat milk. It contains Vitamin D, some of which will be passed along to your little one.

Will Breastfeeding Help Me Lose Weight?

Even though we need to consume more calories to produce milk, most of us are concerned about post-pregnancy weight. Women who breastfeed exclusively for the first six months of their baby’s life use around 650 calories daily doing so.

You will burn calories without necessarily feeling it. That said, weight loss will also depend on your physical activity. The amount of weight gained during pregnancy is also a determining factor.

It is more important for you to concentrate on eating right and providing proper nourishment for your baby. And keep in mind if you’re consuming 1,000 extra calories per day because breastfeeding makes you so hungry, breastfeeding isn’t really going to help you lose weight. So relax, and focus on your little one. There will be time later for shedding that weight.


How Many Calories Do You Burn Breastfeeding For 30 Minutes?

Breastfeeding can burn approximately 20 calories per ounce of milk produced. For a typical feeding session, this might range from 200-500 calories, varying with individual metabolic rates and milk production.

What Happens If You Don’t Eat Enough Calories While Breastfeeding?

If you don’t consume enough calories while breastfeeding, it can affect your energy levels, overall health, and potentially your milk supply. It’s important to eat sufficient, nutrient-rich foods to support lactation and your well-being.

How Do I Know If I Am Eating Enough While Breastfeeding?

If you’re eating enough while breastfeeding, you should feel generally well, maintain a stable weight (after initial postpartum weight loss), and produce enough milk. If you’re concerned, consult a healthcare provider or a lactation consultant.

Why is it So Hard to Lose Weight While Breastfeeding?

Losing weight while breastfeeding can be challenging due to increased appetite, hormonal changes, fatigue, and the body’s tendency to hold onto fat stores for milk production. Focusing on healthy eating and gradual weight loss is key.

Does Breastfeeding Slow Down My Metabolism?

Breastfeeding doesn’t slow down your metabolism; it actually increases your caloric needs. However, hormonal changes and lifestyle factors can affect weight and metabolism during the postpartum period.

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Medically Reviewed by

Michelle Roth, BA, IBCLC

Michelle Roth, BA, IBCLC is a writer, editor, and board-certified lactation consultant for two busy pediatric practices. She is a former La Leche League Leader, Lamaze Certified Childbirth Educator, and Certified Infant Massage Instructor.