It’s not the time to go on a crash juice diet!
Sure, in the weeks and months after birth, when you’re starting to feel better and baby is sleeping a little more, you might be tempted to start dealing with the baby weight that you put on during the pregnancy. There’s nothing wrong with exercising and eating a healthy diet, but you have to keep one thing in mind at all times: if you’re breastfeeding, what you eat (and drink) affects the baby too.
While you are pregnant, you probably ate more to help feed the baby. The same is true when you’re breastfeeding, though perhaps not to the same extent. It’s not a licence to eat burgers and fries everyday! Sleep deprivation can also cause your body to respond by begging for carbs but that doesn’t mean reach for the box of cookies!
Calories needed for breastfeeding
Breastfeeding takes up about 400-700 calories a day, so you need to compensate for that by adding 300-500 or so calories, on average, per day, to whatever your diet looked like towards the end of your pregnancy. Most new moms need to be eating about 2500 calories a day, in total, to keep up their own strength and recovery, as well as to nourish the baby appropriately.
What does 300-500 calories look like? It’s one or two healthy snacks per day.
Eating less than that can cause your milk supply to drop, so while you don’t have to count calories, you want to make sure you stay up over 2000 a day, more or less. Also, a sudden drop in caloric intake—if you decide to go on a diet, for example—can also disrupt your milk production, but more on that further on.
The best way to make sure you, and baby, are getting the right amount of calories, is by listening to your body. If you’re hungry, you need to eat. During a growth spurt or a period of cluster feedings, you might find that you’re more hungry than usual. No, you’re not just keeping up with baby but again, if you are hungry, respond to that need.
What to eat and drink when breastfeeding
Hydration is very important during this period and your best bet for that is water. Eight cups a day is best, though not always feasible. Busy new moms tend to forget to do things like drink enough, so if you’re thirsty, you definitely need to have some water. The goal here is to do the best you can, not berate yourself if you only drank six cups! After all, you do get some hydration from other things including certain foods or other beverages.
To get the extra 300 or so calories you need to keep up with breastfeeding, here are a couple of ideas:
•Apple slices with peanut butter
•Pita pockets and hummus dip
•Cooked edamame (soybeans)
•Yogurt mixed with fresh fruit and nuts
•Mixed berry smoothie
Of particular importance is to make sure that you are getting enough protein in your diet. It’s a vital component in breast milk: mothers who breastfeed need to consume twice as much protein as the average woman.
Some high protein foods include:
•Lean meats, including chicken
•Fish—limited to 12 ozs (or 1.5 cups) a week, to avoid too much exposure to mercury, which many fish contain
•Nuts and seeds
•Beans and other legumes, like lentils
Like all healthy diets, a good composition of fresh fruits, vegetables, whole grains and lean proteins, with plenty of iron and calcium as well as protein, is best! Don’t be afraid of flavors either! Exposing baby to new flavors through the breast milk can make them more likely to accept new flavors when you move on to solid foods!
What to avoid eating or drinking when breastfeeding
In order to maintain the hydration you’ve put in, it’s best to avoid too much in the way caffeinated beverages, which cause you to lose more fluids than you might be taking in, through more frequent urinating. It can also affect the baby, through the milk, if you have too much caffeine in your body.
Alcohol is best avoided as well and if you do have a drink, just know that it will take two or three hours to clear from your milk.
Remember, anything you eat or drink goes into your milk supply, so while treats are okay, keep them to a minimum!
Can I diet while I breastfeed?
The short answer is: yes, but with limitations.
The long answer is that you should probably discuss it with your doctor but, on a general level, here are some things to consider for dieting while breastfeeding:
1.Don’t start until your milk supply is fully established and you have recovered. Pregnancy and birth leaches away quite a few nutrients from the body and you want to be sure that you are in excellent form, nutritionally speaking, before you start.
2.Decrease your calorie intake SLOWLY. You can’t go from 3000 a day to 1800 a day and expect to have a positive effect on your life! Your body effectively responds to this sudden lack of nutrition but slowing down what it considers to be non-essential functions, including milk production!
3.Limit your weight loss to not more than 5 lbs per month. At that rate, you are still getting enough calories to ensure an appropriate milk production without starving the rest of your body. For this, calorie intake shouldn’t get much below 1800 / day.
Remember, it took nine months for you to put on weight and grow a human: give yourself a break and take your time trying to lose the weight.
If you have questions about breastfeeding, ask your postpartum doula or check in with a lactation consultant. There are no dumb questions when it comes to feeding your baby!