Healthy Weight Loss While Breastfeeding

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Amy Melton MS, RD, LDN
Returning to pre-pregnancy weight is a common interest among post partum women. Some women shed baby weight soon after delivery, motivating others to do the same. In reality, the goal for postpartum weight loss should be gradual and incorporate healthy food choices as well as physical activity as directed by a physician. Lactating moms in particular should follow specific guidelines to ensure mom and baby both meet their nutritional needs.
So how many calories do lactating moms need? The US Department of Agriculture recommends about 500 additional calories per day for most women who exclusively breastfeed. This would amount to 2,300 calories per day compared to 1,800 for a moderately active, non-lactating woman. These numbers are not intended to be an exact caloric recommendation. Factors such as height, weight and intensity of physical activity will also impact calorie needs.  Even higher intake may be necessary for moms who are underweight, exercise vigorously, or breastfeed more than one infant. In the latter cases, seeking professional health advice from a physician, registered dietitian nutritionist or lactation counselor is recommended. 
In addition to calorie estimation, there are also individual factors that help determine how much more or less nutrition intake is needed.  Instead of trying to make precise calculations, consider following intuition and tune into hunger cues. For instance, how one feels after eating too little calories or inadequate balance from carbohydrates, protein and fat coupled with breastfeeding and exercise will be noticeably different compared to feelings after adequate nutrition intake with breastfeeding and exercising. 
Eating a balance of complex carbohydrates, lean proteins, and healthy fats will supply nutrients the body needs to feel satisfied, positively impact exercise performance and help function well with activities of daily living. A variety of free online tools are available to assist with making healthy food choices. ChooseMyPlate.gov , for example, is available to provide a daily food plan based on individual goals, weight, height, activity level, and breastfeeding methods (exclusive vs. supplemental). The plan also identifies food groups with a variety of suggestions on how to achieve a balanced diet. This is also a good tool to help plan ahead for meals while taking on a varied schedule with a new baby (or babies).
Last but certainly not least, drink plenty of fluids. With increased calorie needs, there should be an increase in water consumption. A common suggestion for a breastfeeding mother is to drink a glass of water each time she breastfeeds.
Montgomery, Kristen S. Nutrition column an update on water needs during pregnancy and beyond. J Perinat Educ. 2002; 11(3): 40–42.
US Department of Agriculture Dietary Guidelines. Available from: http://www.health.gov/DietaryGuidelines/(Accessed March 9, 2015).
US Department of Agriculture: Pregnancy and Breastfeeding. Available from:

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