It is a wonderful thing when you start to get the hang of motherhood. There is so much pressure to make sure baby is happy, healthy, gaining weight, sleeping well, and even filling enough diapers, that for the first few months that is often all we can focus on.
Eventually we look in the mirror, and while admiring that adorable, giggly baby in our arms, notice that we have spent so much time focused on baby that our health has been shuffled to the back burner.
While a mom body is absolutely nothing to be ashamed of (you grew an entire human being in there!), if your focus is to get healthier and get back to pre-baby weight, there are safe ways to do it while properly maintaining your breastmilk supply.
- Eat a Lower Carb Diet
- Eat Frequent, Small Meals
- Drink Plenty of Water
- Get Some Rest
- Weight Loss Methods to Avoid While Breastfeeding
- Patience Is Key
Eat a Lower Carb Diet
Carbohydrates are the body’s main source of energy and should make up about half of the total calories consumed throughout a day. Carbs are found in grains (such as breads and pastas), vegetables, fruits, milk products, and legumes (nuts and beans).
The body breaks carbs into glucose, or sugar, which enters the bloodstream and is then used for energy or stored for later as fat. Lower carb diets have been well known to help women lose weight because they cause the body to dip into its fat reserves for energy.
So What Can I Eat That Is Low-Carb?
Eating lower carb doesn’t mean eating less, necessarily, just simply replacing carbs with higher fat and protein options. In fact, a nursing mother should not drop below 1,800 calories per day to ensure she can maintain a healthy milk supply. Replace high carb foods like rice, white bread, and sweets with quality options like lean meats, fish, eggs, and vegetables. Keep your carbs whole grain and nutritious.
Try not to focus so much on eating less as eating healthier. Quality, nutrient-rich foods should be your goal to benefit both you and your baby’s health. This is a great opportunity to cut out highly processed and sugar laden foods as well, as these often have high calories and very little nutritional value.
Are Low-Carb Diets Safe While Nursing?
Yes! If dieting is done moderately, after your baby is two months old, and the focus is slow weight loss, a low carb diet should not affect breast milk production. Breastfeeding mothers should aim to lose no more than 1 pound per week, or up to 6 pounds per month, to ensure that their body adapts properly to weight changes.
If after a few days of eating lower carb you notice a sudden decrease in milk output, you may be cutting too much too quickly. Scale back and be sure that you are taking it slow, as well as listening to your body. Be wary of trying to follow popular low carb diets, like Atkins or Paleo, because these may be too restrictive for the needs your body currently has.
Eat Frequent, Small Meals
I remember as a teenager how I was always hungry and always eating (but still skinny!) and, somehow, my appetite as a nursing mother still topped that. I used to have dreams about chocolate cake, so somehow thoughts of delicious food flooded both my active mind and my subconscious.
And it’s no wonder, because just the act of making breastmilk for your little one burns an extra 500 to 600 calories a day. It is an exhausting activity whether you realize it or not. This can be a frustrating thing as well when your focus is trying to shed that pesky extra baby weight.
Plan Snacks and Meals Ahead
Many people try to avoid snacking to keep their weight down but holding out until a meal can lead to unintentionally overeating or binge eating. Research suggests that waiting until you are incredibly hungry leads to unhealthier food choices as well. Eating frequent, smaller meals keeps you satisfied, can boost your metabolism, and keep your mood more stable.
Plan meals and snacks ahead of time so that what you have available is both healthy and filling enough to last. This can help you avoid reaching for that box of cookies when your stomach signals it is time. Be sure to choose meals and snacks that are whole grain, high in fruits and veggies, and contain lean proteins.
Drink Plenty of Water
This seems obvious, but tends to be an area we all fail in. Water is especially important for a nursing mother because your body is literally producing a beverage to help another human grow, and it takes a lot out of you. While you don’t necessarily need more water than the average woman while breastfeeding, you definitely want to avoid getting too little because dehydration will decrease milk supply.
We may all start the day with an intention to drink half our body weight in water, but when we get thirsty, we find ourselves reaching for coffee, tea, soda, and other calorie-laden beverages that may just dehydrate us further.
Does Water Help With Weight Loss?
Drinking water, especially before you eat, can work as an appetite suppressant and will keep you feeling full longer with no calories or sugar. If you fill up on water before a meal, you may find yourself less hungry, and therefore less likely to overeat or take in too many unneeded calories. You may be less tempted to reach for that soda as well, which provides no nutritional value.
Water also aids the body in digestion, which in turn, can help burn calories. Water keeps everything running smoothly by helping the kidneys remove waste products from the body, pushing out urine and feces, and preventing water-retention, or bloating, in the stomach area.
Make Drinking Water Fun!
It all sounds good in theory, but what if you just don’t like drinking water that much? Try a few fun things to help change your mindset and stay motivated, like getting a personalized or motivational water bottle that measures out your water intake for the day. Some bottles will hold all the water you need for the day so you can actively see how well you are doing, and how much you still need to drink to meet your goals.
If it is the taste that deters you try sprucing up your water with cucumbers or infusing it with fruit to give it a little bit of flavor. Visual appeal can go a long way!
Exercise has always gone hand in hand with healthy eating for weight loss, and just for overall health as well. But depending on how long it has been since you’ve had your baby, this may be the first time you’ve begun exercising post-birth.
Will Exercise Impact My Supply?
A breastfeeding woman should wait to begin regular exercise until 6-8 weeks after birth, allowing time for her body to heal and her breastmilk supply to regulate. Once your supply has been established, exercise shouldn’t cause a decrease in quantity or quality of breastmilk, as long as it is taken slowly.
Also watch that you stay properly hydrated while exercising and increase water intake if needed because dehydration can cause a dip in breastmilk production.
Where Should I Start?
Gentle exercises are best, so start with walking, light jogging, and stretches to feel-out your body, and what it can currently handle. Any form of extreme discomfort or sharp pains are not normal and should be discussed with a doctor to rule out any issues.
Start slow and increase from there, listening to your body and how the exercise makes it feel. Even steady walking has great health benefits and is something you and baby can enjoy together with a stroller or carrier. Some moms also participate in activities like yoga with their babies. Any physical exercise that works for you will greatly benefit your health!
If you are truly unsure of how to begin, talk to your doctor about your concerns and they can help you put together an exercise plan.
Get Some Rest
This has a few meanings, such as literal sleep, and physical and emotional rest. Remember the saying “You can’t pour from an empty cup”? Don’t be so focused on taking care of others that you forget your own self in the process. If you are wanting to lose weight you have to look at your overall health.
Try to Get 8 Hours of Sleep
Alright, I know you are probably laughing at this. Well, both laughing and silently sobbing as you remember the days of uninterrupted sleep. But it will get better, and in the meantime, it is important to make sure you are resting enough, even if you need to rely on others for some quick naps.
While you sleep your body recharges and repairs what needs to be fixed. Sleep is essential for healthy functioning. Lack of sleep can cause many different health issues and being overtired can cause you to skip exercising all together and make poorer food choices.
There have been correlations found between lack of sleep and weight gain. Giving your body the proper amount of rest will help you be more successful in your weight loss journey.
Give Yourself Some “Me” Time
While breastfeeding is a beautiful experience, one frustrating aspect can be that baby always seems to need you. It’s okay to set aside time to step away and be alone, because you will return to baby refreshed and willing to jump right back into the routine.
Daily and weekly me time is incredibly important for recharging both your physical and emotional health and can be as simple as a long bath alone, or a weekly outing with friends. Failing to care for your emotional health can lead to excess stress, depression, and anxiety. Chronic stress causes your body to release the hormone cortisol, which over time can contribute to weight gain instead of weight loss.
If you find yourself overly anxious or depressed for an extended amount of time after having your baby make sure you tell your doctor so that you can be checked for postpartum depression or anxiety. Postpartum depression or anxiety is nothing to be ashamed of; it is just simply a complication of pregnancy often resulting from shifting hormones and is very treatable!
You are important, and your mental health is important to achieving overall health.
Weight Loss Methods to Avoid While Breastfeeding
As you probably guessed from the above info, losing weight while breastfeeding and maintaining a milk supply is all about slow transitions, so most of the methods to avoid involve overdoing it to lose weight quickly. While these methods themselves might be effective for losing weight, they may also tank your breastmilk supply.
Skip Fad Diets
Most fad diets boast losing large amounts of weight quickly by tightly restricting calories and food choices. Often these diets are not sustainable long-term, and most are not compatible with breastfeeding.
Remember, a breastfeeding mom needs at least 1,800 calories a day, and a full range of nutritious foods. You should aim to lose no more than about a pound a week to maintain breastmilk supply.
For the same reason as fad diets, fasting should be avoided as well. It is better to eat many small meals throughout the day than to skip meals completely, which will likely impact how much breastmilk you are producing.
Aim instead to eat at least 1,800 calories of healthy, filling foods that will keep you from feeling overly hungry and keep you from binging on unhealthy processed foods.
Patience Is Key
You can do this! It may not happen as quickly as you would like, but if your goal is to continue breastfeeding then you must think about baby’s health as well.
Breastfeeding is just a season and eventually there won’t be so many restrictions, so enjoy this time with baby while you can and don’t forget to give yourself a little kindness. Weight is just a number, and your overall health is the most important thing.