If you’re a new mom, things are changing at lightning speed. You’ve been sharing your body for nearly a year with another person you’ve helped create from scratch.
Once you bring your child home, you may want to be comfortable in some of your pre-pregnancy clothes—and your own skin. You might even wonder if it’s okay to diet while nursing.
In this article, we’ll take a look at what your body—and your baby’s body—needs when you’re nursing. We’ll also talk about how you can achieve your post-pregnancy goals without compromising you or your baby’s health.
What Are the Nutritional Requirements for a Nursing Mom?
Nursing a newborn is no joke. A new mom can expect to nurse 5–8 hours a day during the first month of motherhood. That’s, basically, a full-time job that consists of keeping your baby fed, healthy, and happy.
Unsurprisingly, your body’s needs during this time are quite significant. You may be itching to retire your maternity clothes, but don’t rush to restricting calories to diet while nursing. Your body needs those calories to help nourish your baby.
In fact, your body will need 300–500 more calories every day to produce milk. You actually require more calories when producing milk than you needed while pregnant.
Not only do you want to take in those extra calories, you also want to take in the right kind of calories. Reach for extra proteins and vitamin-packed snacks like fruits and vegetables.
How Soon Is Too Soon?
You may be wondering how soon after delivery you can get to dieting and exercising and if you can diet while nursing. The truth is, there’s not a single answer that will be right for every woman or every baby.
Always discuss your exercise plans with your doctor first. Many women are cleared for exercise around 6 weeks postpartum. Know that dieting and exercising too soon after delivery can actually be harmful.
Your baby’s health, growth rate, and nursing ability may also be factors as you determine when to move forward with your plans to diet while breastfeeding. Consult your pediatrician if you have any concerns.
Alternatives to a Diet While Nursing
Restricting your calories isn’t the only way you can help get back to a shape you’re more comfortable with. Here are some great alternatives to a traditional diet while breastfeeding:
- Be active: Get out with your baby. The third trimester can be brutal on the body and mobility may be compromised—many women have a hard time staying as active as they previously were. Going out with your baby, even for walks around the neighborhood, can be beneficial to getting back into shape. It’s also great for your emotional and mental well-being.
- Eat smarter: Nursing moms are usually hungry. Those extra needed calories may leave you opening the fridge door more readily. You’re likely running on little sleep and still curbing your caffeine intake—these will all add up to making you hungrier. Keep plenty of healthy food options on hand so you don’t need to deny yourself good food when hunger strikes.
- Schedule in naps: Sleep deprivation is a real problem when you’re caring for a newborn. Fatigue can have you looking for food when what you really need is a nice long nap. Have someone watch your baby while you get some sleep. Not only can this lead to a drop in your hunger pangs, but it will also leave you happier and more capable of focusing on your baby’s needs.
- Drink more water: We frequently mistake thirst as hunger. When you’re producing milk, you need to drink significantly more water. Drinking water will leave you feeling fuller, can lead to an uptick in milk production, and help your body function optimally.
What Food Should Nursing Moms Eat?
The kind of foods you eat can impact the quality and quantity of your milk. If you’re a nursing mom, be sure to keep these foods on the menu:
- Protein: Poultry, fish, eggs, and beans can be a great choice for getting enough protein. Try for two to three servings a day.
- Fruit and vegetables: Dark, leafy greens offer plenty of nutrients. Keep a wide variety on hand for the fullest range of dietary benefits. Eat at least three servings of vegetables and two servings of fruit every day.
- Choose whole grains: Wheat bread, oatmeal, pasta, and cereal are great dietary staples while nursing.
- Drink water: Many dietary restrictions are lifted once you’ve delivered—even if you’re nursing. Choose water over sodas and other beverages to help keep you truly hydrated, though.
- Keep taking your vitamins: It’s recommended that you keep taking your prenatal vitamins the whole time you’re nursing. This will help ensure you and your baby are getting what you need.
While you’re planning your menu, make sure you aren’t skipping any meals. Skipping meals can lead to a more inefficient use of your calories and may actually prevent weight loss. To successfully diet while nursing, keep eating meals at regular intervals.
In between meals, reach for a snack. Choosing healthy snacks can help keep your energy up and your metabolism firing. Snacks should contain a mixture of protein and complex carbs to be most beneficial to your weight-loss journey.
Tips for Losing Weight While Nursing
Here are a few things to keep in mind as you embark on your weight-loss journey post pregnancy:
- Start slowly: Don’t be afraid to load your baby up in the stroller and take a quick walk around the block. Fifteen minutes may be enough the first time you head out—you can build up to longer periods of time. Doing too much too fast can delay your progress and set your recovery back. Always make sure you’re cleared for physical activity by your care provider.
- Be patient: You may see immediate results and you might not. Your body is continuing to experience a tremendous amount of physical and hormonal change as your milk comes in. Know that nursing a baby doesn’t always mean the pounds will melt off and that this journey may take longer than you expect.
- Be kind to yourself: You’re a rockstar who just delivered an amazing baby. Don’t get caught up in all the things you think you should be. Try to give yourself a break and appreciate everything your body’s gone through lately.
- Keep perspective: You likely spent 40 weeks—maybe more—growing your child. During that time, your body did a lot of changing. Expect that it will take the same kind of time to change again postpartum.
What Kind of Weight Loss Should a Nursing Mom Expect?
Weight loss is possible while nursing. If you’re eating well and working in some physical exercise, you can expect to safely lose 1 pound per week.
If you’re already crunching numbers in your head, keep the following in mind. This 1 pound of weight loss a week can be fairly easily achieved. Simply add in a 15-minute walk every day and stick with healthy eating habits.
You can lose 4 pounds a month and hardly interrupt or change your regular routine, meaning you won’t need to actually go on a diet while nursing.
As time goes by you may be ready to add more aggressive workouts to your schedule. Your child will likely be sleeping in longer stretches at night (and you will be, too). You’ll have started slowly and built back up your muscle and endurance. As you increase your physical activity, you may find you begin to lose more than 1 pound a week.
Reaching Your Weight Loss Goals Post Delivery
Being a new mom is hard enough—don’t punish yourself with unrealistic goals or expectations. Take your time when it comes to pursuing a diet while nursing.
Make the right food choices and stay active and it will happen for you. In the meantime, try to enjoy motherhood and these early months with your little one, keeping you both happy and healthy.