The #1 question I hear from postpartum women is: How do I lose my baby weight while still maintaining my milk supply? Oftentimes, when women try to lose weight by restricting their calorie intake, it impacts their milk supply. Exhausted and frustrated, this is about the time they come to see me. So what’s a mama to do?
Ultimately, the reason we choose to breastfeed is to provide our babies with the best nutrition this planet has to offer, right? Although you might feel pressure to get your “body back” right away, remember that the main goal during this time is optimizing your nutrition. Why? You want to have energy, feel emotionally stable, provide all of the nutrients your baby needs, and of course bond with your baby in the process. Are you ready to have your mind blown? A woman needs more calories when she’s breastfeeding than when she was pregnant! A breastfeeding mom needs approximately 450-500 extra calories per day. Yes, you need more calories to produce milk than you did when you were growing a human being. Your newborn is growing at an exponential rate, so it only makes sense that your body will be working overtime to facilitate this growth.
Women are often torn because they want to lose the baby weight so badly, but they don’t realize the impact that excess calorie restriction can have on milk production. Think about it this way, the average ounce of breast milk is about 20 calories. A new baby could drink up to 32 ounces of milk in a day. That means that in one day your body can produce over 600 calories worth of liquid gold! Goosebumps.
I’ll break it down and share some of the most important nutritional tips I tell breastfeeding women. These tips are not only important for maintaining a healthy supply of milk to nourish your little one, but also to facilitate healing your own body.
- Drink water. Lots of water. Remember those 32 ounces of breast milk you’re producing in a day? If you’re dehydrated your body would have a really hard time doing that. I recommend you add 32 ounces of water to the typically recommended 64 ounces daily. This means you want to drink about 96 ounces (or about 12 glasses) of water every. single. day while breastfeeding. An easy way I keep track of my water intake is by filling my 32oz EcoVessel at least three times a day. I actually received it as a gift and now I swear that it’s the absolute best thing anyone can give a postpartum woman.. along with food, banana bread muffins, peanut butter-filled anything.. okay I’m getting off topic. Bottom line: keep a water bottle or cup of water at each place you might rest your body during the day and night, such as the couch, next to your bed, the bathroom, everywhere.
- Have 2-3 snacks daily. Although you might feel like you’re always eating (which can’t be too bad right?) keep snack items at home and in your diaper bag for between meals. Snacks are optional but provide a nice energy boost and help to prevent you from going into your next meal ravenous. The key to a snack is that it has carbohydrates and protein. You can even add veggies for a bonus dose of fiber. *Snacks are crucial if you find yourself losing weight too quickly after having your baby.
- Try to eat two 6 oz servings of omega-3 fatty acid rich fish per week, such as salmon, anchovies, or chunk light tuna. The omega-3 DHA is passed through your breast milk so your baby can reap the benefits of optimal brain and eye development. If fish isn’t typically part of your diet, I would suggest a fish oil supplement that provides at least 200mg DHA. Looking for a vegetarian option? Incorporate nuts and seeds, such as walnuts and flaxseeds, along with DHA-fortified eggs into your diet, or consider taking a vegetarian DHA supplement, usually made from algae. Continue taking your prenatal vitamin throughout breastfeeding and beyond, as those vitamins and minerals are beneficial for healing and overall health.
- Eat three meals daily. Since life with a baby can seem like a blur and you’re not sure if it’s 6am or 6pm or what planet you’re on for that matter, the main idea is to eat a meal every 3-5 hours. This keeps your blood sugar stable and keeps a steady influx of calories your body can use to produce lots of milk. Every time you eat, you want to be taking in quality calories so your body can function as best it can, even on top of sleep deprivation and lack of personal hygiene. Ditch the empty calorie foods like chips and sodas that leave you still hungry and even more exhausted.
- Try to eat from all of the major food groups every day (is peanut butter a food group?) so you get a variety of beneficial macro and micronutrients. These include:
- Fruits & Vegetables: Try to consume a ton of fruits and vegetables throughout the day so you can benefit from the antioxidants, vitamins, minerals, and fiber (ahem… help with going #2) they provide. Stock up on frozen varieties so you have plenty of options to pair with a sandwich for a quick lunch, (microwave steamer bags are your friend). When your neighbor asks if she can bring anything when she comes to meet the baby, ask for a veggie tray or a homemade salad. That’s an easy task for her but a huge help for you since making a salad is the last thing on your to-do list right now. Other quick ways to get in more fruits and veggies:
- Keep celery and carrot sticks in the fridge to dip in hummus for an easy late-night snack.
- Fill little baggies with nuts and unsweetened dried fruit, such as raisins or apricots, to munch on during your afternoon feedings.
- No time to cook eggs in the morning? Slap some peanut butter on a slice of whole grain bread and top with a 1/2 banana for a quick breakfast.
- Enlist your significant other, mom, or friend to cut up a bunch of fresh fruit to keep in a bowl that you can just grab as you walk by.
- Roast a ton of vegetables to keep in a container in the fridge, since they taste even better the longer they’ve been sitting in garlicy goodness. Spread chopped onion, bell pepper, zucchini, squash, broccoli, and/or cauliflower on a sheet tray and coat with olive oil, minced garlic, and salt & pepper. Bake at 375 for 10-15 minutes or until you see a slight char on the veggies.
- Grains/Carbs: You want each meal you eat to contain starchy vegetables or whole grains, such as potatoes with the skin, corn, wild rice, oatmeal, whole wheat pasta, or beans. Repeat after me: carbohydrates are my friend. The key is selecting high fiber carbs like the ones mentioned above, while limiting refined carbs like white pasta. Tip: Buy convenience items, such as the microwave pouches of brown or wild rice, just make sure nothing besides oil and salt are added. Also look for frozen varieties of chopped squash, potatoes, peas, and corn.
*Anecdotally speaking, women I’ve counseled seem to notice the biggest drop in their milk supply when they limit carbs. Although this tends to be the go-to diet practice when trying to lose weight, it seems to be the most detrimental when trying to maintain a plentiful milk supply.
- Protein: Lastly, don’t forget the protein. You have increased protein needs when you’re healing and breastfeeding which is why it’s important to incorporate protein into meals and snacks. Chicken, turkey, lean beef, and seafood are all wonderful options to cook up with your meals. Meats, poultry, and seafood can be purchased in bulk, separated into single serving bags, and frozen. Remember that you also get protein from yogurt, milk, eggs, nuts and seeds, nut butters, beans, peas, cheese, and tofu. Hard-boil a dozen eggs and keep them in the fridge for a quick, protein-rich snack. Canned beans are a versatile pantry staple, as you can add them to everything from chili to salads. When purchasing canned goods, always look for “no salt added” or “low sodium” varieties.
Option 1: 1 slice of whole grain toast smeared with avocado, topped with 2 eggs and a side of strawberries
Option 2: 2-3 egg omelette with spinach, minced onion, and bell pepper with a whole grain English muffin or
Option 3: Slow Cooker Oatmeal (Before bed, put 1 cup steel cut oats in your slow cooker, along with 4 cups milk or water. Turn on low and cook all night. Keep extra in fridge, reheat by adding a splash of liquid and microwave until hot. Suggested toppings include: walnuts, slivered almonds, pumpkin seeds, cinnamon or nutmeg, a scoop of peanut butter, diced apple or banana, chia seeds, or hemp seeds). Pair with 1-2 boiled eggs.
Tuna sandwich (tuna mixed with avocado, diced onion, and celery on whole grain bread), a salad (with a variety of vegetables, topped with sunflower and pumpkin seeds), and a pear. *Substitute diced hard-boiled eggs for tuna for another sandwich option.
Baked chicken breast (marinated in olive oil & garlic pepper seasoning) with a medium sweet potato (skin on; drizzled with olive oil), roasted asparagus (coated in olive oil and minced garlic), and a salad (with balsamic vinaigrette dressing). *BONUS: this entire meal can be cooked in the oven!
yogurt (preferably plain; Greek or regular) with berries added
6 whole grain crackers with 1-2 scoops natural peanut butter
a small handful of nuts & unsweetened dried fruit
a piece of fruit with a cheese stick
1 cup of edamame pods (often sold in the freezer section in microwave steamer bags)
A granola bar (look for ones with lots of nuts, such as KIND bars) or protein shake
*Consider meals/snacks that can be made in bulk, separated into containers, and frozen such as chili, lasagna, and soups.
The recommendations above are what I personally think should be your focus if you are trying to eat healthy while breastfeeding. If you’re overwhelmed in any way, remember that the important thing is keeping your sanity and providing your baby with what he or she needs. Sometimes this means that you might supplement with formula or transition your baby to formula altogether. From one mom to another, that is okay. You are still a rockstar.
I truly understand breastfeeding is not easy and that all of this can be overwhelming. #thestruggleisreal. I’m going on eleven months of breastfeeding my baby girl, the first six were exclusive breastfeeding, and I too have experienced its trials and tribulations. Although Laurel latched within minutes of being born, my first five days of breastfeeding were absolute torture. I felt like her mouth was full of razor blades and every time she would latch, my face would turn beet red and tears would flow, ugh. After seeing a Lactation Consultant I learned how to get Laurel to latch deeper and our problem was solved (Thank you baby Jesus!). It took the next four weeks for my nipples to heal, since they were so scabbed and tender from that first week. Just as things were starting to get easier, and actually enjoyable, I was hit with mastitis. Uncontrollable shaking, a fever of 106, and a trip to the ER.. if you’ve ever had mastitis you know it’s not fun.
When I was pregnant I was told that the first six weeks of breastfeeding are the most difficult and that if you can get past that time it gets easier. In many ways I agree with this statement and I think it’s good advice. As things like breastfeeding and learning your role as a new mom gets “easier” with time, new challenges enter the scene constantly. I guess that’s what motherhood is, new challenges to conquer all while trying to keep your heart from growing out of your chest.