Many new moms feel pressure to cut calories and lose the baby weight right after giving birth. But, getting proper nutrition while breastfeeding is crucial. A healthy breastfeeding weight loss plan includes sufficient calories for milk production and plenty of nutrients to support baby's growth.
Calories Needed When Breastfeeding
During breastfeeding, about 450 to 700 calories go into your breast milk each day, according to the American Pregnancy Association. Whether you need to consume extra calories while breastfeeding depends on your goals.
For women who aren't trying to lose weight, the National Institutes of Health suggests consuming an extra 450 to 500 calories above your pre-pregnancy daily caloric needs. Women who do want to lose some weight do not need to increase their calories.
Your calorie needs are based on your age and activity level. According to the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, sedentary women who do not engage in physical activity outside of their daily activities of living need 2,000 calories between ages 21 and 25 and 1,800 calories between ages 26 and 50. Moderately active women who engage in physical activity equivalent to walking 1.5 to 3 miles per day at a pace of 3 to 4 mph need 2,000 calories per day.
The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics warns that breastfeeding women should not eat fewer than 1,800 calories per day. Doing so can affect your ability to produce an adequate milk supply. Before reducing your calories, it's important to discuss it with your doctor.
Maximizing Your Calories
Getting adequate nutrition is important for any breastfeeding mom, but when you're trying to slim down and taking in fewer calories, it is crucial. Limiting your calorie intake could result in nutrient deficiencies that can affect your newborn's development if you are not careful.
The most important nutrients during breastfeeding are:
Calcium helps build healthy bones and teeth and plays a role in normal functioning of the muscular, nervous and circulatory systems. Breastfeeding women need at least 1,000 milligrams of calcium per day. The best sources are low-fat dairy foods, spinach and fortified cereals.
Folate, or folic acid, is a B vitamin crucial for the normal development of a baby's brain and spinal cord. It also helps produce healthy red and white blood cells. Getting adequate folate before and during pregnancy and while breastfeeding can prevent a baby from being born with a neural tube defect. Breastfeeding women need 400 micrograms of folate daily from leafy greens, beans, nuts, citrus fruits and fortified cereals.
Iodine is a mineral that enables the body to make thyroid hormones that aid brain development and growth. Getting too little iodine can increase the risk of thyroid problems and cognitive delays in newborns. During lactation, women need 290 milligrams of iodine, according to the National Academies of Medicine, which can be found in iodized salt, seafood and dairy.
Vitamin B12 is important for forming a baby's red blood cells, as well as for healthy brain development and function. Women need 2.8 micrograms of B12 while breastfeeding. B12 is abundant in animal foods, including meat and eggs, but it's not found in plant foods. If you are vegetarian or vegan, you may need a B12 supplement.
Protein supports the growth and development of a baby's muscles, bones and other tissues. It's also a highly satiating nutrient that can aid appetite control and weight loss, according to a research review in Nutrition & Metabolism in November 2014. Breastfeeding women need at least 72 grams of protein a day, which they can get from eating lean meat and poultry, fish, beans and nuts.
Healthy Breastfeeding Weight Loss Plan
There are many other nutrients important in these early stages of your infant's life that you provide through your breastmilk. Vitamins A, D, C and B6, iron, healthy fats and carbohydrates all serve different roles in growth and development, so it's important to keep a close eye on your nutrition and not just your calorie intake.
A few more tips for staying healthy and losing weight while breastfeeding:
Make every meal count by leaving nutrient-depleted, high-calorie, processed junk foods and fast foods off your plate. Instead, opt for an array of fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains, lean meats and poultry, fish, beans and nuts. These foods are nutrient-packed and lower in calories, so you can get all the good nutrition you need in fewer calories.
Stick to a normal meal schedule, and don't skip meals. If you get hungry between meals, choose low-calorie, nutritious snacks such as carrot sticks and hummus or whole-grain bread with a little nut butter.
Drink plenty of water. You need extra fluids while you're breastfeeding, and dehydration can have deleterious effects on your ability to produce breast milk, warns the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. It's also easy to mistake thirst for hunger and reach for a snack, when what you really need is a tall glass of water. If cravings strike, try gulping 16 ounces of H2O, then see if you're still hungry.
Get active. Even if it's just walking baby around the block a few times, the more activity you can work into your day, the better your chances of seeing weight loss results.
- American Pregnancy Association: "Diet Considerations While Breastfeeding"
- National Institutes of Health: "When Breastfeeding, How Many Calories Should Moms and Babies Consume?"
- Dietary Guidelines for Americans: "Appendix 2. Estimated Calorie Needs per Day, by Age, Sex, and Physical Activity Level"
- Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics: "Losing Weight While Breast-feeding"
- KidsHealth: "Pregnant or Breastfeeding? Nutrients You Need"
- National Academies of Medicine: "Summary Tables, Dietary Reference Intakes"
- Nutrition & Metabolism: "A High-Protein Diet for Reducing Body Fat: Mechanisms and Possible Caveats"
- PKD Foundation: "Hunger vs. Thirst: Tips to Tell the Difference"