For 10 months you are growing a tiny human which consists of sleeping when you can and making sure your body is getting the nourishment it needs to help that little one grow. Most days might be spent with different cravings, satisfied with a greasy cheeseburger and fries, pizza, tacos and maybe even sneaking in that last pint of ice cream before bed. You did it all for the baby because you were eating for two, right? Most mamas don’t diet while pregnant and some physicians might encourage you to eat what your body is craving, all in moderation. Weight gain is a natural part of being pregnant and a reason to celebrate because your body is working its magic to create something amazing.
Fast forward to postpartum where on most days you are just trying to shower, get in a cup of coffee, and pray for a solid nap. You can’t thank your neighbors enough for those freezer-friendly meals, any fast food service that can be to your house in 30 minutes or less or your Instacart shopper who accidentally left another customer’s box of cereal in your bag of groceries. Let’s be honest, dieting is already a challenge, but add in sleep deprivation and lack of time and energy and those last stubborn baby pounds just won’t budge. So how can you manage breastfeeding while dieting? Here are some tips and ideas to help you figure this out, with baby in tow.
How Many Calories Do You Need to Eat When Breastfeeding While Dieting?
If you choose to breastfeed, you may experience the feeling of extreme hunger all the time. This is because your body is burning extra calories due to needing more energy to feed your little one. The average person who is not breastfeeding should consume between 1,800-2,000 calories per day. The number of calories you burn while breastfeeding depends on how much milk you are making, the number of times you are feeding per day and the age of your child.
The average woman will burn between 200-500 calories per day while breastfeeding. The number of extra calories you should be consuming is about 500 calories per day upping your average calorie intake to between 2,300-2,500 a day. These numbers are just guidelines but will vary depending on the mother’s age, body mass index (BMI), activity level and extent of breastfeeding (exclusively breastfeeding versus breastfeeding and formula feeding). While nursing, you should not consume less than 1,500-1,800 calories per day, and most women should aim to stay on the higher end of this range. You can find more information on daily calories needed specifically for your lifestyle at My Plate Calculator.
Are There Any Foods to Avoid While Breastfeeding?
Of course everyone is encouraged to eat a healthy, balanced diet regardless of whether they are breastfeeding or not. Generally speaking, breastfeeding mothers do not need to avoid certain foods unless a baby has an obvious reaction to a particular food. Mamas are highly encouraged to try and eat as diverse and healthy as possible. According to the CDC, breastfeeding mamas should limit the amount of certain types of seafood that have high mercury counts and also excessive amounts of caffeine. It is a good rule of thumb to restrict your intake, but not cut out it out altogether. Learn more about FDA’s advice on selecting and consuming fish while breastfeeding and recommendations for caffeine intake. Everything is good in moderation!
Do I Need to Maintain a Perfect Diet?
The short answer is NO. You do not have to eat perfectly to provide quality milk for your tiny, growing human. Thankfully Mother Nature is pretty forgiving and your milk is designed to provide nutrients to your baby even in times of hardships. If mama has a poor diet, chances are it will affect her more than the baby.
According to Katherine A. Dettwyler, Ph.D., breastfeeding researcher and anthropologist, women throughout the world make ample amounts of quality milk while eating diets composed almost entirely of rice (or millet or sorghum) with a small number of vegetables and occasional meat. So if mom decides to live off of a diet of carbs and junk food, she would definitely be on the struggle bus daily but her milk would still produce the nutrients it needs for baby. At the end of the day, it is still important that you eat a well-balanced diet to ensure you are getting the nutrients and energy you need to keep up with your growing baby.
Easy, Everyday Tips to Help with Weight Loss
- Eliminate negative self talk/thoughts. We all have that little voice in our head that can be our biggest fan but at times our worst critic. Don’t put so much pressure on yourself to fit back into your pre-pregnancy jeans right away. You have enough going on and do not need any self-deprecating thoughts to get in your way of taking care of yourself and your little bundle of joy. Allow your body the time it needs to adjust to your new life with a baby and getting the hang of breastfeeding. The last thing you should be worrying about is having the distraction of a rigid diet or exercise plan. Remember, it took over 9 months to put that weight on, so allow your amazing body to do its thing.
- Make healthier substitutions. Let’s be real, we all snack. And snacking isn’t bad for you if you think before you snack. It might be easy to pop open a bag of greasy, salty chips, but if the crunch is what you’re looking for, go for a lighter popcorn option or even carrot sticks and ranch. Sleep-deprived humans typically increase their carbohydrate consumption to make up for that lack of sleep. And we all know that it is not exactly easy to lose those extra pounds while inhaling bread, pasta, and chips!
- Exercise when you can. You will have a six week follow up appointment post-delivery and if your Doc clears you to exercise, start slowly. Don’t come out of the gate guns blazing, but rather start with some neighborhood walks and ease into the more strenuous exercising you might have done prior to getting pregnant. Getting back into shape is a marathon, not a sprint sister. Take it easy!
- Stop Comparing. Everyone loses weight at different rates and in different ways. The diet that works for your new mom friend in the neighborhood may not be what helps to rev your weight loss. Don’t get discouraged if your weight loss happens more slowly, every body is different. Keep in mind that having a healthy diet and exercise plan will help those pounds drop. Set yourself up for success by having healthy, quick options on hand and try to keep out those foods that will sabotage any pounds you want to shed.
Breastfeeding while dieting is safe, however, there is no need to go on a strict diet while breastfeeding. Your body needs all the fuel it can get to keep up with your growing baby. If you are planning on limiting calories and breastfeeding while dieting, remember your calorie intake shouldn’t dip below 1,500 to 1,800 calories per day. Try to refocus your thoughts from limiting your food intake to simply making healthy food choices and you and your baby will reap the rewards!
WANT TO READ MORE?
Check out this article on Beyond 6 Months- Benefits Of Nursing To One Year.