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Maternal nutrition during lactation

Nancy F Butte, PhD
Alison Stuebe, MD, MSc
Section Editors
Steven A Abrams, MD
Kathleen J Motil, MD, PhD
Deputy Editor
Alison G Hoppin, MD


A mother's capacity to produce milk of sufficient quantity and quality to support infant growth is resilient and remarkably resistant to nutritional deprivation. However, milk production normally affects maternal body composition and nutritional status, and lactating women have increased nutrient demands.

The changes in maternal nutritional status during lactation, effect of maternal nutrition on milk volume and composition, and nutrient requirements of lactating women are reviewed here. Additional aspects of breastfeeding are discussed separately.


Lactation is supported partially by mobilization of tissue stores. This, in turn, affects maternal weight and nutritional status.

Body weight — Postpartum weight changes in lactating women are highly variable [1]. Mild, gradual weight loss typically occurs during the first six months postpartum. Average weight loss in this period is greater in affluent than poor populations (0.8 versus 0.1 kg per month). These differences are thought to depend upon differences in weight gain in pregnancy, cultural practices, level of physical activity, and availability of food.

Gestational weight gain is the most consistent and strongest predictor of postpartum weight change in most studies [1,2]. Other factors that contribute to weight loss after pregnancy include prepregnancy weight, age, parity, race, smoking, exercise, return to work outside the home, and lactation.


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Literature review current through: Jun 2016. | This topic last updated: May 29, 2014.
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