Breastfeeding is both time-consuming and stressful for most moms. The last thing we want to think about is what we will be eating. The problem with that is that in those moments we tend to grab for fast foods that are quickly accessible and tasty, although unhealthy. Store bought freezer meals, chips, candy bars, cookies, and the like. Why is that a problem, considering the fact that breastfeeding burns about an extra 300-500 calories?
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Breastfeeding Makes You 300-500 Calories Hungrier
The problem is that you tend to almost always consume MORE than or just that extra 300 calories because you are also extra hungry. You didn’t expect to have the same appetite while burning more calories did you?
That’s the problem breastfeeding moms, like myself, run into. We forget that fact.
Is Misinformation Preventing Your Weightloss?
I believe that we tend to allow ourselves to splurge on foods when breastfeeding because we are told contradicting information about how much calories our body actually burns. I was told by a lactation consultant that my body was burning an extra 800 calories! Another told me I was only burning 300 calories! Although the values do vary from mother to mother and depend on the age of your child and if you exclusively breastfeed or not, the problem is that when you overestimate the number of calories your baby burns, you allow yourself to eat uncontrollably! Then you get frustrated because you are not losing the weight. I know because I was there!
I am by no means suggesting that you start counting calories, I’m sure you don’t even have the energy for that while breastfeeding. Eat when you are hungry, your body will let you know when it needs more nutrients, just be careful with what you do eat and when you are full.
What Do 300 Calories Look Like?
For the sake of reference, I believe it’s very important to understand what 300 calories look like. Just to put it into perspective.
What is a calorie?
First, I would like to define a calorie in terms of the food we eat. Calories, simplified, are units of energy, and although they have a negative connotation, they help us perform day to day functions. This is why I wouldn’t recommend cutting too many calories, especially while breastfeeding. Your body and your baby need those extra calories. However, when you eat too much then they get stored and that’s the problem!
Once you start paying attention to calories, you will quickly realize that calories of foods differ significantly depending on where it comes from and how it’s prepared. Since not everything comes with nutritional information, you can use this shortcut when estimating the number of calories a food might have (1).
1 Gram of a Carbohydrate = 4 Calories
1 Gram of a Protein = 4 Calories
1 Gram of a Fat = 9 Calories
A Visual Guide of 300 Calories
You will quickly see the difference in calorie counts when considering a food in its raw form, when it is prepared at home, and when it is bought.
You can quickly tell by this illustration that portion sizes don’t always correlate with calories. Check out some more examples!
Now, these are just shown for the purpose of visualization. I don’t think you’ll be gobbling down 387 blueberries anytime soon! However, 300 calories are about the size of what a healthy breakfast should be around, and when you look at these proportions it really does make you think which foods you would rather choose when it comes to snacking and eating.
Now let’s take a look at prepared meals, specifically, how 300 calories look like prepared at home vs. bought out.
I really liked this infographic as it really put the difference between take-out and home-prepped foods very well! As a breastfeeding mother, seeing this really encouraged me to meal prep and reconsider fast food dinners.
Why This Matters?
The reason why understanding 300 calories matters is because it gives you an actual sense of how much ‘extra calories’ you should be consuming while breastfeeding. While the actual range of calories burned during breastfeeding varies, being between 300 and 500 calories, this still does not mean we can carelessly splurge if we’re seriously trying to shed that excess baby weight.
If you have been struggling to lose weight, I encourage you to take a look at the calorie counts of the fast food chain or restaurant you have been ordering take-out from or the calorie counts of the snacks you’ve been reaching for, you might be in for a world of surprise!
Don’t believe me? Just check out this infographic detailing the calorie count of food from The Cheesecake Factory, a nice restaurant that one would think would be much healthier than a fast food joint like McDonald’s. Some of those are a day’s worth of calories!
What to Eat While Breastfeeding to Lose Baby Weight While Not Lowering Milk Supply
Before I go into foods that are recommended for both, I want to emphasize that the goal isn’t to count calories or even diet. It’s to listen to when your body is actually asking for food, and then to feed it food that is nutrient-dense.
1. Lean Proteins
Proteins are an essential part of a breastfeeding mom’s diet. It’s recommended that in the first 6 months of breastfeeding that mothers consume 65 grams of protein/day and that between 6 and 12 months that mothers consume 62 grams of protein/day. Not consuming enough can cause loss of muscle mass (3).
Unlike red meats, lean meats are much lower in saturated fat and cholesterol content while containing the same amount of protein (4). The best part is that proteins are both nutrient-dense and filling, which are also big bonuses when trying to lose weight while maintaining your supply!
Lean meats include, but aren’t limited to, chicken, turkey, fish, eggs, beans, lentils, and even protein powder.
2. Healthy Fats
Everyone has heard about the negative effects of fats in their diet, however, not all fats are bad for your health. In fact, if consumed in proper portions they can actually help you eat fewer carbs, feel fuller and thus eat less fat, and, I think the coolest fact, burn more fat! How it works is that these fats boost your body’s fat-burning efficiency by regulating hormones that enhance your metabolism and curb your appetite (5)! So they’re actually very important to a nursing mother’s weight loss!
Additionally, although the amount of fat in a nursing mother’s milk is not affected by the number of fats she consumes, it does affect the content of the fat in her milk (6). This is why the consumption of healthy fats is both important for weight loss for the nursing mother as it is for the nursing baby!
Healthy fats you should aim to consume while nursing are Omega-3 Fatty Acids (found in walnuts, flax seeds, soybeans, and fatty fish like salmon and tuna), Omega-6 Fatty Acids (found in vegetable oils and seeds), and Monounsaturated Fats (found in some oils like olive oil, in poultry, in avocados, and in nuts and seeds) (7).
Limit your total fat intake to no more than 20-25% of your total calories (3). Be sure to not overeat, though, because then you can actually gain weight!
3. Opt for Low-Carb
Carbs have been on the no eat list of many diets, including the currently popular Keto Diet. The problem with carbs is that they make us feel hungry and consequently eat more than needed (9). However, although cutting carbs can help tremendously with post-pregnancy weight loss, cutting out too much can risk a breastfeeding mother’s milk supply (10).
The recommended daily carb intake for nursing mothers varies between 50 grams (11) and 210 grams (12), depending on the source, therefore I would definitely discuss details on recommended carb intake with your doctor if you have any questions or concerns. The La Leche League considers a low-carb diet as safe as long as the consumption of fruits, vegetables, and proteins meets sufficient nutrition (9).
Choose Whole Grains
If you choose to include grains in your diet then opt only for whole grains, like quinoa, brown rice, and oatmeal, instead of refined grains, like baked goods, pastries, and white bread. Refined grains have a lot of added sugars and aren’t as nutritious as whole grains (11). Whole grains, on the other hand, are low-fat, cholesterol-free, and rich in fiber (13). One study found that a diet rich in whole grains could help in significant loss of belly-fat (14), while another found general weight-loss benefits with whole grain consumption (15).
If you choose to consume whole grains, watching your carb consumption, as with fat consumption, is still important.
Fruits and Vegetables
Everyone knows that fruits and vegetables are probably the healthiest choices when it comes to carb consumption, especially when breastfeeding as they have essential vitamins and minerals.
Try to eat a variety of fruits and vegetables aiming especially for dark, leafy greens, which tend to be avoided by most but which carry the most nutrients! At the same time, watch to see if what you eat affects your baby’s digestion, some raw fruits and vegetables, like prunes, pears, peaches, plums, apricots, citrus fruits (oranges and lemons), asparagus, artichokes, and cruciferous vegetables (kale, cauliflower, broccoli, cabbage, Brussel sprouts, and bok choy) can give gas in some babies (16).
4. Choose Low-Fat Dairy
As I will mention later, avoiding dairy is sometimes recommended with breastfeeding since some babies are sensitive to proteins found in cow’s milk (17). However, if your baby is unaffected and you choose to include dairy in your diet, opt for low-fat (18). Dairy can sometimes be problematic for weight loss due to its high caloric content. When you choose low-fat, you consequently get a higher protein and carbohydrate percentage (19).
As a side note, there are a variety of benefits for full-fat dairy, making it instead sometimes a better alternative for weight loss. This is where watching your calorie tracking comes in, though. Benefits of going high-fat include higher satiety and reduced bloating, among others (20).
Rule of thumb, if you’re like me and find yourself overeating dairy, try to avoid it in general for weight loss or go low-fat, however, if you eat dairy sparingly, then eating high-fat will probably have more benefits for you in the long run.
Make sure to pay attention to sugar counts when looking at low-fat dairy. Since eliminating the fat from dairy removes some of the flavorful natural sugars, some companies compensate for this by adding a load of sugar to the mix so beware!
5. Drink Lots of Water!
Water is not a food, however, it is incredibly important to both weight loss and milk production.
Since breastmilk is more than 80% water (21) it is expected that nursing mothers would be thirstier than if they weren’t nursing. With that said, there isn’t a specified amount of extra water a breastfeeding mother should drink, it is just recommended to drink when you are thirsty (22). You should definitely not be forcefully chugging water!
You can also lose weight with water. Drinking water helps burn more calories, curb appetite if done before meals, and eat less (23)!
Big Picture to Maintaining Milk Supply While Eating to Lose Weight
The biggest concern when it comes to protecting your milk supply is that moms usually eat less when they want to lose a certain amount of baby weight (24). Although dieting is ok for breastfeeding mothers, it is important that the total calorie count for the day doesn’t fall below 1,800 calories (25).
Foods to Avoid if You Want to Lose Weight
Avoiding certain foods when breastfeeding isn’t a new concept. If you want to lose weight, there are additional foods that you might want to avoid.
Pastries are a weak spot for everyone and it’s no wonder that they can prove to be a major roadblock to post-partum weight loss. Mothers tend to think that they could indulge in sweets post-partum because of the additional calories they lose while breastfeeding, however, as we have already mentioned earlier, the number of calories burned while breastfeeding is not as much as we might think it to be. Although one could eat a good sized meal under 500 or even 300 calories, baked pastries and candy tend to have a lot more calories compared to portions. The worst part is that the calories are mostly empty leaving one unsatisfied and craving more!
What to eat instead:
When you’re craving sweets, grab an apple (or another favorite fruit) instead! In the beginning, it might be difficult but over time the habit you create will carry benefits for years to come.
2. Excessive Dairy
Although dairy has a lot of nutritional value, it also has a high-fat content (26). The common culprit to overeating on dairy is usually cheese. It is important to watch how much cheese you add to dishes and how much you snack on throughout the day. Cheese is salty and addictive which makes it easy to eat beyond its health benefits.
How to limit consumption:
If you would like to limit your cheese calorie intake, then opt for low-fat cheese instead. Another option would just be to add less cheese to dishes, if possible. Also, avoid purchasing snack cheeses if you find yourself reaching for those often.
What to eat instead:
Usually, cheese cravings mean you aren’t eating enough fats (27). A healthier alternative would be to reach for an avocado instead! Spread some avocado on toast, sprinkle with some salt and pepper.
3. Sugary Drinks
Sugary drinks are the worst since they are full of sugar, and they don’t satiate the thirst. On the contrary, they make you more thirsty! Just look at how much extra sugar you are consuming with each drink!
It’s quite obvious that sugary drinks are no good, but what can you do instead?
What to drink instead:
Drink water, of course! You’re thirsty and that’s what your body is actually asking for! Another option, if you’re looking for something sweeter, reach for a juicy peach or honeydew melon. You’ll get the sweetness without the extra sugars, and fruits have more nutritional value!
Finally, try using honey as a sweetener in your tea, instead of sugar. Take it a little further and try to see how much you can replace sugar in all your dishes for honey!
4. Other Heavily Processed Foods
Although the above fall under the category of processed foods, since they are the common culprits for stubborn weight, I wanted to point them out specifically. However, all medium to heavily processed foods are extremely bad for your health.
The reason why processed foods are so bad is that they are high in calories, added sugars, unhealthy fats (hydrogenated, saturated, and trans fats), and sodium (28). Summed up, they are empty calorie foods and most have no nutritional value. This means that, once again, you have fed your body calories that will most likely be stored as fat because you are still hungry and will consequently feed yourself extra calories. Additionally, processed foods contain a lot of chemicals and additives that have potentially questionable effects on our bodies (29).
What to eat instead:
The biggest reason for the consumption of processed foods is that they are easily accessible and quickly satisfying. To avoid the temptation of grabbing those chips or going through the drive-through, try to plan and prepare meals at home. If you are running behind, try to reach for healthier prepared food options. Many supermarkets now have a whole aisle dedicated to prepared meals like soups, salads, and sandwiches, these are much better alternatives to a burger and fries.
My Tips for Losing the Weight
In addition to watching what I ate, there are some other daily choices I made that also helped me get back to my pre-pregnancy body and without which my postpartum weight loss journey would not be complete.
1. Drink a Cup of Water Before Every Meal and Snack
Drinking some water every time before you eat is something my mom taught me, but I have been hearing about it more and more. Sometimes we confuse our body’s reaction to thirst for hunger, drinking a glass of water can clear up this confusion pretty quickly. Once you drink that glass of water, just wait a few minutes, and if you’re still hungry then you know for sure that your body actually needs food.
As mentioned earlier, drinking a glass before a meal also quenches hunger so that you feel a little more food. Thus, you are prevented from overeating excess calories!
2. Substitute Cravings
This piece of advice might not be as straightforward as you might like, but it helped me curb my worst cravings! This is where I confess that I had the worst addiction to Hot Cheetos you could imagine, I would kill a big bag in one sitting. I know, terrible.
Well, how did I get past it? I substituted the craving for some real, healthy, and tasty food. It took a lot of experimentation to find out what I actually enjoyed from the chips, apart from the addictive MSG, and when I realized that it was the spicy crunch, I sought alternatives. I tried spicy hummus with baked tortilla chips or crackers. When that didn’t satisfy, I tried spicy tortilla soups and southwest salads, and found the latter to hit the spot, surprisingly! Experiment and see what satisfies your cravings. Remember, healthy food doesn’t have to be boring!
3. Watch What You Buy
Never go grocery shopping when you are hungry, you are definitely setting yourself up for weight loss failure! If you find yourself buying caloric snacks everytime you go for produce or milk (or whatever else it may be), it might be a good time to ask your significant other to go to the grocery store instead.
You are much less likely to eat junk food when it’s out of proximity, so avoid bringing it home as much as possible!
4. Meal Prep to Avoid Take-Out!
I noticed that I would have the hardest time losing weight when we would order takeout. Sure, as a new mom it’s incredibly tough to prepare a meal, and take out is the best stress-free option. The problem is that most take-out food is full of sugars, sodium, unhealthy fats, and is highly processed when compared to food prepared at home.
The solution is to avoid takeout completely and instead be strategic with meal preparation. I have a whole post on how to get things done with a baby if you would like to check it out here, where I discuss how I plan out my day to get the most done, which includes preparing daily meals.
One thing you could do is plan out your meals for the week and purchase your needed groceries on the weekend. Then, complete the prep (like cutting vegetables, thawing meat, or marinating meat) the night before so that the cooking is as effortless as possible.
5. Snack and Eat Smart When You Are Hungry
Dieting at certain times can cause your body to go into”starvation mode”, which can harm your milk supply. To avoid this, you could eat and snack smart instead of not eating, while still losing weight!
If you eat smaller meals and snack wisely in between, you avoid skipping out on food when your body needs, so you are fuller and, if you have been keen to watch you have been consuming, you are also not overeating in the calories.
To snack smart, try to consume a snack calorie load between 100 and 200 calories and consume a meal calorie load between 300 and 500 calories. Make sure those calories are nutrient-rich too!
Watching calories might not be ideal or even realistic at times, but when you do make an effort when you can, it does help you avoid overeating.
6. Workout With Your Baby
As much as I would like to say that you won’t need to work out to get your pre-pregnancy body back, I just won’t lie to you like that. Even if you lost the weight effortlessly, getting your body means getting your previous strength and functionality back as well. Your core, among other areas, will definitely need restrengthening. That requires physical exercise, but it doesn’t necessarily mean you will have to go to the gym.
Did you know that you already burn calories doing regular parenting activities?
I lost my weight right from home by doing nothing more than taking care of my baby. I would take advantage of when I would carry her to do things like squats and lunges. When we would go for stroller walks, I would intentionally walk in a regular fast-pace. If I would be over at my parent’s house, I would intentionally run up and down the stairs to “fetch” things I did and didn’t need and then repeat until I was exhausted.
The coolest part about exercising with your baby is that you can use this time to also bond while playing with your little bundle. So, no mommy guilt there!
7. Breakfast is King
This is what I struggle with the most, especially since I feel most rushed in the mornings trying to get things done before my baby girl wakes. However, when we don’t eat a hearty breakfast, we tend to splurge later on in the day which leads to weight gain (as you will read on in our final tip) instead of weight loss.
One thing that worked for me was going to sleep and waking up earlier. Getting up around 5 and 6 AM allowed me not only enough time to eat a good breakfast, but, overall, to also have a very productive day.
8. Don’t Eat After 7 PM
My mom would say to not eat after 6 PM, but I understand some people have their dinners after 6 PM.
The reason why it isn’t recommended to eat late is that calories consumed late at night are most likely to be stored as fat (30). Additionally, eating late leads to overeating especially when snacking, so if you combine this fact with the previous you are in trouble if you’re trying to lose weight!
9. Get Your MyPlate Plan
MyPlate is an incredibly helpful and FREE online resource breastfeeding moms (and everyone else) can use to calculate approximate caloric and food portion requirements. It is very easy to use. All you have to do is fill out a few demographic information and all the information that you need for an adequate breastfeeding diet is right there! Above is an example of the formatted information you will receive.
I have included the widget below so that you could get started on your own plan right now!
Take Home Message
Losing weight while breastfeeding isn’t as simple and easy as it is sometimes made out to be. Most of the time women overestimate the number of extra calories they are allowed to consume while breastfeeding, leading them to overeat and thus not only not lose weight, but sometimes even gain weight.
Not all hope is lost, though! If a breastfeeding mother chooses to eat leaner, healthier, and more nutritious foods instead of splurging on empty calories while tracking her consumption, she could definitely return to her pre-pregnancy weight!
In addition to eating and drinking right, everyday decisions that have to do with things like meal planning and exercise, among others, also play a major role in post-partum weight loss.
Overall, losing weight after delivery is not as easy as it is sometimes laid out to be, however, it can be almost effortless if done smartly.
Sharing is Caring
I hope you enjoyed reading this post as much as I enjoyed researching the topic. As a nursing mother, I also struggled with losing my post-partum weight, that is until I decided to look into why I wasn’t losing those last stubborn pounds. Realizing that a lot of the issue stemmed from my ignorance, I started researching and learning which led me to both (almost… 8 more pounds to go!) lose my postpartum weight and write this awesome post!
Now, if you found this post as helpful as I did, share it with other mommas who are struggling to get back to the weight they would like to be at!
Thanks for Your Support!