9 Tips for Healthy Weight Loss While Breastfeeding
Every Thursday, I pop into a local breastfeeding support group to offer diet and nutrition advice for new moms and their beautiful babies. Recently, one of the new moms asked if it was safe to lose weight while she was breastfeeding. My answer? Absolutely! However, there are some important guidelines to ensure both mom and baby keep healthy and well nourished.
#1. Take it Slow. Don't Lose Too Much Too Fast.
A well-balanced diet with moderate exercise is recommended for everyone, including breastfeeding moms. The key words here are ‘balance’ and ‘moderation’, as we only want mom to lose weight at a rate of 4-6 pounds per month. If the weight comes off too quickly, negative consequences may result. If you lose a significant amount of weight, you may become anemic, malnourished, and even more tired than you already are – making it difficult to keep up with your busy child.
While each plan will vary based on your body size and activity level, please do not limit your calories below 1,800. Most breastfeeding women need at least 1,800 to 2,700 each day to provide enough energy to get through the day while meeting the new demands being placed on the body.
#2. Get Plenty of Calcium.
If you are not eating enough calcium-rich foods, you may be setting yourself up for osteoporosis.
When people are trying to lose weight, dairy foods (animal or plant based) are often the first things to go - increasing the likelihood that the minerals essential to our bones are lacking (calcium, phosphorus, magnesium, vitamin D). This occurs because even though you are not getting those nutrients in your diet, your baby will certainly still be getting them in theirs by leaching each nutrient directly from your own bones – making them weaker and weaker.
#3. Your Body Favors the Baby Over You.
Research has found that unless mom becomes severely malnourished as a result of a extreme weight loss or a terrible diet, her body will still be able to produce adequate amounts of nutrient rich breast milk. If you’re not getting the nutrition you need from your diet, your baby will simply pull all of the nutrients away from your bones and body stores. In other words, baby’s nutrition needs will still be met, while you will become more susceptible to health issues due to nutrient deprivation. The slow and steady path toward weight loss is not only healthier for mother and child, it is also far more sustainable!
#4. Breastfeeding Burns Calories.
Losing weight is basically a matter of balancing the calories we take in through food and drinks, with those we burn through bodily functions and physical activity – although not all calories are created equal. Luckily for breastfeeding moms, nursing can burn up to an extra 500 calories every day. If you went back to eating the same amount of food you ate pre-pregnancy, without changing anything else, you will lose weight because of the added calorie burn from breastfeeding.
#5. Pull out the Stroller.
If you begin taking daily walks while pushing the stroller along the way, you will be burning off even more calories. Plus, pushing the stroller up those hills will help you build muscle mass - something that burns more calories than fat. In fact, this method of boosting exercise without cutting calories by a significant amount is the ideal way to go about weight loss.
#6. Keep Plenty of Healthy Foods on Hand.
When it comes to a balanced diet, do your best to include all of the main food groups in as many meals as you can. As new moms are busy adjusting to life with baby, try to make it easier to eat right by taking a few steps to organize your kitchen:
- Stock your cupboards with microwavable whole grain brown rice, canned seafood, popcorn kernels (easily popped in the microwave using a paper lunch bag), trail mix (more nuts and seeds than fruit), low-sodium soups, natural peanut butter, and whole grain bread.
- Fill your fridge with fat-free milk, crisp water flavored with fresh lime or herbs, baby carrots or other fresh veggies already chopped and ready to be munched on, lean meats, and hard-boiled eggs.
- Keep frozen veggies, frozen meals (Kashi® is my favorite!), turkey breast, veggie burgers, and chicken breasts.
- Finally, and perhaps most importantly, be sure to keep easy and nutritious options at the ready. If you keep fresh fruit on the counter in an attractive bowl you and your family will be far more likely to eat them than if they are buried deep within the crisper.
Now that you have nutritious options ready to satisfy your hunger at a moment’s notice (peanut butter and banana sandwich on whole grain bread with a glass of milk, OR lentil soup with baby carrots, grapes, and a cup of yogurt, OR a whole grain wrap filled with turkey breast, spinach, mandarin oranges, and avocado with a piece of string cheese) it should become much easier for you to eat right. However, if you still find yourself struggling to remember what you have on hand, try planning ahead.
#7. Plan Meals Ahead of Time.
It's extremely helpful to sit down on Sunday mornings and come up with a mealtime game plan for the week ahead. If I know that Tuesday night is turkey night, I will remember to pull the breast out of the freezer the day before so that it will be thawed and ready for me to toss it into the slow-cooker or Le Crueset pan for roasting. Plus, when I take the time to plan, I always have a well-stocked kitchen because I don't forget to include anything on my grocery list saving me time and strife as there is nothing worse than making it all of the way home from the grocery store only to find that you forgot one of your essentials for the week (Ugh. It frustrates me just thinking about that!).
#8. Eat the Rainbow.
Eating a variety of whole foods during the day and throughout the week will help to ensure the nutritional needs of both you and baby are being met. For an easy way to ensure you have the right balance of food on your plate, check out my previous blogs on MyPlate or visit ChooseMyPlate.gov and begin tracking your own food and exercise online with the brand new SuperTracker which can be customized to meet the nutritional needs of breastfeeding moms.Once again, PLEASE do not limit your calories to less than 1,800. This amount should support your weight loss goals while ensuring you and your baby get the energy and nutrition you need!
#9. Baby Comes First!
Okay, with all of this said and done, let me take a moment to offer this advice. Before you jump on the weight-loss band wagon, simply try to enjoy your new baby. Savor the time you have bonding with your child while you allow your body to recover from the miraculous process of child birth. Your body is certainly going through incredible changes and you may notice that weight loss happens naturally for you as you get into breastfeeding simply due to the metabolism boost alone.
Breastfeeding is an amazing act that is so rare in the big picture of life. You may choose to focus on adjusting to the realities of being a mom for now and perhaps begin your weight loss journey once you are done breastfeeding. It is completely up to you.