The effects of a breastfeeding mother’s diet on her baby’s skin

The effects of a breastfeeding mother’s diet on her baby’s skin

To the best of our knowledge, there is no direct relationship between a breastfeeding mother’s diet and her baby’s skin.  However, there are overall health benefits to both a mother and her baby, when during lactation, a mother eats a healthy and nutritious diet from the 5 main food groups.

A healthy diet for breastfeeding is reasonably easy to manage but it does require a little investment of time and energy.

Mothers who are breastfeeding require a healthy, nutrient dense intake of foods as well as additional kilojoules to support their lactation.

Lactating mothers require a higher intake of specific nutrients to produce milk and also to ensure their own needs are being met. Calcium, iodine, iron, omega 3 fats, vitamin B12, vitamin D and zinc are all required in higher amounts. 

Recommended daily foods and servings

Vegetables and Legumes

7.5 serves/day


2 serves/day

Cereals and grain foods

9 serves/day

Meat and meat alternatives

2.5 serves/day

Dairy and dairy alternatives

2.5 serves/day


Top tips for a healthy breastfeeding diet

The general guide is to eat according to your own health and energy levels.

It may also help to:

  • Eat slightly more of the same foods you would normally eat.
  • Eat according to your appetite. When breastfeeding, women can experience more hunger.
  • You don’t need to eat a ‘perfect’ diet. Anything in moderation is fine.
  • It can be helpful to remember that breastmilk is made from the nutrients of the food you eat, not the food itself. Some babies can be food-sensitive and react to flavours and foods which come through in their mother’s milk. Avoid restricting foods unless you’re being supported by a healthcare professional.

Water and healthy fluids

Breastmilk is very high in water as well as nutrients and fats. Most lactating women need to drink around 2.5 litres of water each day. On hot or humid days (and nights) and when being active, it’s fine to drink more according to individual need. Many breastfeeding women find it helpful to have a drink of water themselves when they sit down to breastfeed their baby.

Thirst is a common motivator to drink; however, by the time we are aware we’re thirsty our bodies are already in a state of fluid depletion. This is why it can be useful to have a water bottle or jug handy throughout the day as a prompt to keep drinking.

How can I tell if I’m drinking enough water?

One of the best ways to check adequate hydration is to check the colour of our wee. Dark yellow or orange wee (urine) is a sign that the kidneys are working hard. Increasing water intake will cause wee to become more dilute, pale yellow or even clear. 

If you feel your milk supply is low, it may help to increase your water intake. Setting a timer on your phone may be a good prompt, as can filling a 2.5 – 3 litre water bottle and aiming to drink the contents by the end of the day.

Breastmilk supply is based on a supply = demand principle and the effectiveness of a baby’s suck. However, eating a nutritious diet and ensuring your fluid intake is adequate will also help to support your lactation.

Women who eat a vegetarian, vegan or other ‘special’ diet benefit from consulting with a dietician to ensure their intake of foods and kilojoules is sufficient. Check here to find a dietician in your local area.

What to avoid when lactating

Try to avoid smoking, vaping and taking medication when you’re breastfeeding. Most medications are safe when breastfeeding; however, speak first with your doctor and/or pharmacist to ensure you’re not going to be taking anything which is contraindicated during breastfeeding.   If you do plan to drink alcohol, it is recommended to wait 2-3 hours, per drink, before breastfeeding again.

Breastfeeding mothers can drink a moderate amount of tea and coffee - for example, a few cups each day.  Most babies are not affected by the estimated 1% of what is taken in via breastmilk. Caffeine levels in breastmilk usually peak around 60 minutes after a mother’s consumption. 

If you find your baby is unsettled after you eat particular foods, it may help to avoid eating these. Garlic, onion, curries and hot, spicy foods are common culprits.

Do I need to avoid allergy foods when I’m breastfeeding?

Unless you have a confirmed allergy yourself, or you’ve been guided by a healthcare professional to avoid particular foods, there’s no need to avoid specific foods when you’re breastfeeding. In fact, current evidence supports babies being fed a wide range of healthy, nutritious, as well as potentially allergenic foods in their first year of life, especially if they’re breastfeeding.

Written for GAIA by Jane Barry, Midwife and Child Health Nurse, April 2024.