Breastfeeding helps new mothers heal from giving birth and provides babies with complete nutrition. Although their bodies use up calories to produce milk, it may seem that breastfeeding prevents women from losing their baby weight. Some mothers may fear restricting their food intake will negatively affect their milk supply. Newborns require constant feedings, which often lead to sleep deprivation and midnight snacking or a lack of energy to prepare balanced meals. Following a nutritious meal plan, combined with moderate exercise, actually helps improve the quality of mothers’ milk, boosts their energy levels and stimulates them to gradually drop pounds.
Breastfeeding mothers do not need to wean their babies to lose weight. Many women blame their excessive snacking on hunger due to their bodies’ increased demands to produce milk. More often than not, snacking results from being bored, housebound, anxious about the new addition and excessively tired. Nursing a baby actually helps reduce pregnancy fat stores and shrink the uterus. Nursing and milk production results in a 200- to 500-calorie-per-day metabolic boost, although this does not give nursing moms license to eat anything and everything in the pantry.
A meal plan that promotes a slow rate of weight loss, about 1 lb. per week is the safest strategy. It took nine months to put on the baby weight, and it will take at least as long to shed it. Diets that limit complete food groups (such as low-carb diets or raw-food diets) or that reduce calories below 1,800 per day should be strictly avoided, warn registered nurses Sharon Perkins and Carol Vannais, authors of "Breastfeeding For Dummies."
Types of Food
Lean proteins, fresh vegetables, whole grains, low-fat dairy and heart-healthy fats make up the bulk of a healthy meal plan for weight loss while breastfeeding. Options for protein sources include skinless poultry, lean beef and egg whites. High-volume, low-calorie foods, such as popcorn and grapes, are snacks that will satisfy the urge to eat when mothers feel bored or ravenous. These foods are filling and provide plenty of vitamins, minerals and antioxidants to pass on to babies through breast milk.
Breaking daily calorie allotments into several mini-meals during the day helps keep the metabolism revved and constantly supplements the milk supply. Eating every few hours also promotes more stable blood sugar levels, leading to even energy and temperament. Postnatal hormones already provide enough fuel for irritability, so mothers do not need extreme hunger to contribute as well. A well-stocked pantry that includes numerous healthy, convenience foods, such as whole-grain spaghetti and tomato sauce, deli turkey, whole-grain cereal and canned beans, discourages tired moms from giving in to the urge to go to the drive-through.
Restricting calorie intake during the first six weeks post partum could interfere with the establishment of a mother’s milk supply and ability to heal from childbirth. An occasional serving of fish is a smart, lean-protein choice. Because mercury may be passed through breast milk, breastfeeding mothers should limit the intake of those fish high in mercury, such as mackerel, swordfish and shark.