Breastfeeding moms usually have many worries as they try to figure out the well-being of their newborn.
One of those worries is whether dieting while breastfeeding affects the quality or supply of breastmilk in any way.
Many of us have been taught at home and in schools that "you are what you eat".
With that in mind, one can be forgiven for arguing that a mother with a poor diet would make less than perfect milk. The truth is you don't need to maintain a perfect diet in order to provide quality milk for your baby.
In fact, studies show that the nature of a mother's diet doesn't completely impact her milk.
Nature is very forgiving. Even in countries where the breastfeeding mom can't afford a balanced diet or regular meals, the baby thrives perfectly well on breastmilk.
As a mother, you can even have an occasional drink, take caffeinated beverages, and eat whatever you like and still provide the baby with all the required nutrients and immunological protection. All within reason of course and during certain times. A diet laden with caffeine, high saturated fat, or processed foods is most likely not a great idea.
What about weight loss? Is it possible to safely lose weight while breastfeeding?
After 9 months of pregnancy and weight gain, most new moms start thinking about dieting in order to shed off some pounds.
They wonder if dieting while breastfeeding would "get their bodies back" and at the same time provide healthy milk for the baby.
It's important to understand that your postpartum weight was not gained overnight, so it won't disappear in a fortnight. You gained that weight so as to have enough reserves to feed your baby.
The good news is that it is possible to safely lose weight while breastfeeding.
When it comes to postpartum weight loss, there are no right or wrongs.
It's up to each individual mother to do what she feels right based on her weight loss target and her individual situation.
However, it's important to know that your body needs more food than it needed during pregnancy. You still HAVE to intake more calories. This way your supply keeps flowing. It's the TYPE of calories that count.
Think of it this way. Your baby is now bigger and still growing and your body may be the exclusive source of nourishment for that baby, for the first 6 months. With that in mind, doctors recommend at least 500 extra calories per day. How will you do that without gaining weight? Clean, non-processed whole foods. Organic vegetables, fruits, healthy fats, grain breads, quality cheese, unsweetened organic almond milk, etc etc, and of course continue to feed and pump so the "supply and demand" keeps up.
Also, do not aggressively cut down on food intake to the point where you're quickly losing more than 2lbs per week. Doing so could mean you and your baby aren't getting the nutrients you need. This will halt your breastfeeding supply.
Now, if you need to supplement your baby's diet then do so. You will figure this all out as you go along in trying to balance a diet for losing weight and breastfeeding.
Read on for more...
Here are 5 Tips for dieting while breastfeeding
1. Wait until your newborn is 2 months old before dieting
Waiting for at least 2 months before you can start dieting is safer. This allows your body to recover from childbirth as well as establish good milk supply.
Dieting while breastfeeding should also not be done rapidly. It is a process that requires time and patience.
On average, breastfeeding your baby takes 200-500 calories per day above what you needed to sustain your pre-pregnancy weight.
So keep in mind that you'll still be burning extra calories even without a planned weight loss program.
Research also tells us that breastfeeding longer than six months and more frequently increases maternal weight loss.
If you have to go back to work, like so many of us, you can do pumping at work and still have breastfeeding success and weight loss.
2. Refrain from quick-fix solutions
Most first time moms would prefer a weight loss program that will quickly restore their shape in the shortest time possible.
Note that postnatal weight loss dieting is different from all the other weight loss programs. You don't want to do anything that could be detrimental to the life of your baby.
That being said, it is recommended that you avoid quick fix solutions such as weight loss medication and fad diets.
Low-carb diets and liquid diets are also not recommended while breastfeeding. Avoid jumping into intense exercise that you have never done before. Watch out for shake diets and trendy tea diets. Diet is a diet...it only lasts for so long. Only life changes and commitment will get you there.
Instead, begin your lifestyle change or starting to wean into the lifestyle you used to have. Fill it with CLEAN, and we cannot emphasize this enough, clean whole foods. This means no junk food. It's food you find growing from the earth like heaps of veges, fruits, nuts, and grass fed/free range meats. You can eat all your calories required, but you will not store fat like as if you ate the same amount of calories in ice cream and donuts.
Splurge Tip: We love sweets so if you are gonna have something do it only once a week and opt for a real gourmet ice cream made with REAL and natural ingredients (everything you can pronounce), and if you want cakes go to a specially natural foods store and grab something in their sweet section. Maybe try gluten free and vegan flourless chocolate cake from your local juicery and cafe. It may cost a bit more, but it won't cost you as much in fat as if you had went and bought something from a gas station that was prepackaged. If it comes in prepackaged plastic it's probably chock full of bad fat, preservatives and corn syrup. Say not to corn syrup!
3. Keep weight loss at less than 1.5 pounds per week
Most mothers can safely lose up 1.5 pounds per week after the second month without affecting the milk supply.
A 10-week randomized study on moms who dieted for 11 days revealed that short-term weight loss of up to 0.5 kg (1.1 pounds) per week does not affect the mother nor the baby.
Again, keep breastfeeding and pumping. Supply and demand will help your body continue breastfeeding success.
4. Adding exercise is essential
While diet alone can help breastfeeding moms lose weight gradually, research shows that adding exercises while nursing can be of great help. Tone muscles burn more calories and is a much better permanent solution. A diet will not help unless you make it a total lifestyle adjustment.
The findings further suggest that there is a possibility that exercises combined with usual care and dieting play a role in preventing future maternal obesity.
This is because exercise preserves fat-free mass and enhances maternal cardiorespiratory fitness while diet alone only reduces fat-free mass.
So if you are considering dieting while breastfeeding, be sure to include regular exercises in your program. Try the following and still be able to breastfeed...
- Stroller walking. Walk briskly and for at least 5-6 miles. Choose a beach or park path and see the time move by quickly. Listen to your music and enjoy the outdoors. Do this 3-4 times a week. Believe it or not, being outdoors with your newborn will help with weight loss and increase bonding time.
- Babywearing and Hiking. Choose a scenic hike path and depending on your fitness level take a good hike, either babywearing or with the stroller if it is flat. You can even nurse while babywearing.
- Pilates and Yoga. These are killa in toning and creating lean muscle mass. See the pounds come off, shape start to tone, and feel stronger. Some gyms like Eqinox offer child care and top notch classes. If not, have your partner give you a break with breastfeeding and go do some self care at the closest class.
- Cardio Barre or Spinning. These classes tone and shape and torch major calories. Make sure you eat even MORE than usual after these classes but keep your diet super clean and full of good whole foods so you don't waste away your workout. Be prepared to sweat and feel energized.
5. Eat at least 1500-1800 calories per day
Nursing moms are advised not to consume less that 1500 calories per day.
Studies show that consuming less than 1500 calories per day may put your milk supply at risk.
Consuming 1500 to 1800 calories per day will give you the energy you need to care for your baby and at the same time make you feel good.
A mothers baseline need for calories depends on many factors, including nutritional status, weight, and activity level.
As mentioned above, clean eating means a steady flow of milk, but not an increase in fat stores.
Try our delicious oatmeal blueberry lactation muffins recipe and try these healthy lactation boosting smoothies that don't have the "bad stuff".
Eating healthy while breastfeeding
As we have been mentioning, dieting while breastfeeding requires you to eat healthy foods.
Though a mother's diet does not affect the breast milk, it does affect the flavor of her milk.
This implies that what a mother eats may have an impact on her child's taste preferences.
In fact, research shows that infants' picky eating habits are linked to nutritional problems, which are attributed to the mother's breast milk.
Though proper diet does not affect the quality of the milk, you'll be healthier and better if you eat well.
It is recommended to eat when hungry, and drink plenty of water. Consume a wide variety of rich foods such as lean proteins, vegetables, dairy, fruits and whole grains.
It's also advisable to seek the advice of a dietician or a nutritionist prior to embarking on a postnatal weight loss journey.
Foods to avoid while breastfeeding
Practically, there are few foods that a nursing mother should avoid simply because they are breastfeeding.
However, it is suggested that pregnant and breastfeeding mothers should avoid certain types of fish such as swordfish, tilefish, and king mackerel that have high levels of mercury. Mercury can affect an unborn child.
It is also recommended that pregnant and breastfeeding mothers should refrain from drinking alcohol and caffeine to a certain extent.
Now you know it. Dieting while breastfeeding is possible, and safe too.
However, you will be healthier and stronger if you eat well.
Remember, it's important not to lose weight too quickly so as to ensure a good health for you and your baby.
If you feel the need to lose weight quickly, be sure to seek advice from a medical practitioner or a nutritionist.
We hope this was helpful and please do share with a new mom or mom to be!
Read more on our Breastfeeding Survival Tips in the First Month.