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Does Breastfeeding Make You Hungry?

20 March 2023

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Mothers who begin breastfeeding often experience a newfound sensation – the hunger for more food. Breastfeeding is hard work, and you can expect to burn several hundred more calories per day. But there are also other reasons why breastfeeding makes you hungry. Read more to find out why these changes occur and which foods to eat to replenish the lost calories.

How many calories does breastfeeding burn?

Each day you breastfeed, your body initiates a complex process to produce and release milk to your infant. The breasts contain glands called lobules that produce milk from water and nutrients in your bloodstream. Once breastfeeding begins, a hormone called oxytocin tells the brain to contract muscles in the lobules to help push milk through milk ducts to the nipple.

This process can use about 450 to 500 extra calories per day, according to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. A small study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found this number to be even higher in the 650- to 760-calories range.

Why do mothers need more calories while breastfeeding?

Calories are energy, and you need more energy to produce milk and feed your baby.

In non-breastfeeding women, your body uses nutrients, fats, proteins and carbohydrates to carry out normal bodily functions. Those are replenished through the foods you eat. Breast milk contains two types of proteins (whey and casein), lactose (milk sugar), fats, vitamins (A, C, D, E and K) and other minerals. 

When you breastfeed, these calories and nutrients are constantly being transferred to your child. Your body also produces special immunity-boosting cells for the breast milk, which also requires more energy to create. As a result, you must replenish these lost calories through your diet.

Reasons why you may be hungry

Other than your body working harder while breastfeeding and needing more calories, there are several other reasons postpartum women tend to feel hungrier throughout the day.

Hormones: Prolactin is the main hormone produced by women during and after pregnancy to help with lactation. While prolactin is important to generate your milk supply, it also induces leptin resistance. Leptin is a hormone that tells you when you’re full. When prolactin levels are high, your brain loses its ability to self-regulate food intake.

Lack of sleep: Leptin and ghrelin are two hormones that play a role in appetite control – leptin is secreted from fat cells and helps regulate body weight; ghrelin sends a signal to your brain to signal hunger. Together, they balance each other out to tell you when you’re hungry but also signal when you’re full to avoid overeating.

Breastfeeding mothers, especially in the newborn stage when you’re getting up every three hours to feed, can suffer from sleep imbalances. Sleep helps regulate leptin and ghrelin, so any issues with sleep can increase ghrelin production and lower leptin production to make you feel hungrier.

Not staying hydrated: The hypothalamus is a small area in the center of the brain that links the endocrine and nervous systems. It also helps control both hunger and thirst, so it’s easy to get the two confused. Many people grab a snack when they begin to feel hungry, but the reality is they may just be thirsty and need fluids. Misinterpreting these signs can lead to the appearance of you being more hungry.

Breastfeeding can produce as much as 30 ounces of milk per day, which is a considerable amount of fluid lost. That’s why it’s important to stay hydrated and replenish what is lost.

What to eat while breastfeeding

The time demands of breastfeeding combined with motherhood in general tend to create poor dietary habits for women following the birth of their child. Quick meals or snacks are easy sources of calories, but they don’t always provide the nutrients you need to function at an optimal level. In fact, some foods loaded with simple carbohydrates can end up spiking your blood sugar and create a cyclical effect that makes you hungrier more often.

While there isn’t a diet for breastfeeding women, you should strive to make healthy choices that include good fats, lean proteins, complex carbs, fruits (two servings per day) and vegetables (three servings). 

  • Complex carbs: Oats, brown rice, whole wheat pasta, whole wheat bread, quinoa, barley, beans, lentils, sweet potato
  • Fruits: Apples, oranges, blueberries, strawberries, blackberries, raspberries, bananas
  • Healthy fats: Avocado, nuts, seeds, cooking with olive oil
  • Proteins: Lean meat, chicken, fish, eggs, dairy, tofu
  • Vegetables: Leafy greens (kale, collard greens, spinach, cabbage), peas, carrots, tomatoes, broccoli, peppers

Easy breastfeeding recipes

Add these easy recipes to your routine for a quick snack or meal. The energy bites combine complex carbs to keep you going throughout the day, while the Greek quinoa salad comes together in minutes and can be made for lunch or even dinner if you add a protein such as chicken or fish.

Greek Quinoa Salad

(download recipe pdf)

No-Bake Energy Bites

(download recipe pdf)


A balance of these foods and recipes should help your baby get the nutrients they need to grow and develop. However, talk to your primary care physician or OB/GYN if you feel your nutritional needs aren’t being met – you may need to supplement with prenatal vitamins.

Overcoming Common Breastfeeding Obstacles

Postpartum Anxiety: What are the Symptoms and Treatment Options?

Baby-Led Weaning: Which Foods to Feed Your Infant