Can You Diet While Breastfeeding? 4 Important Tips

Can You Diet While Breastfeeding? 4 Important Tips

When it comes to postnatal weight loss, there are no rights or wrongs.

It’s up to each individual mother to do what feels right given her individual situation.

Some mothers wish to shed the extra kilograms they may have put on during pregnancy.

For other mothers, losing weight doesn’t register anywhere on their priority list, or at least not for a long time.

If a breastfeeding mother wishes to lose weight, particularly in the early postnatal period, she may wonder if it’s safe for her to do so.

Well, the good news is that it’s possible to safely lose weight while breastfeeding.

However, there are some things to keep in mind.

Can You Diet While Breastfeeding?

Here are 4 top tips with regards to losing weight while breastfeeding.

#1: Slow And Steady Weight Loss Is Best

It’s best to lose weight gradually when breastfeeding.

Weight loss of up to about half a kilogram per week is safe for most breastfeeding mothers.

Once breastfeeding is established, it has been found that overweight women may restrict their energy intake by about 500 calories and exercise aerobically 4 times per week to promote a weight loss of up to half a kilogram per week without effecting their baby’s growth.

It’s important not to lose weight too quickly when breastfeeding. Doing so could mean your baby and you don’t get the nutrients you need.

If you feel you need to lose a lot of weight or lose weight quickly, be sure to seek advice from a doctor, nutritionist or dietitian.

#2: Adding Exercise Can Help

Research has indicated that while diet alone can help mothers lose weight postnatally, it may be preferable to do so by combining diet and exercise.

This is because exercise improves maternal cardiorespiratory fitness and preserves fat-free mass, while diet alone reduces fat-free mass.

#3: Consider Your Increased Energy Needs

In the first 12 months, the extra energy requirement for breastfeeding mothers (due to the energy needed to make breastmilk) is generally considered to be about 500 calories.

Large individual variation exists however and depends on factors such as one’s individual activity level. This extra energy requirement assumes an exclusively breastfed baby under 6 months and a partially-breastfed baby (only solids in addition to breastmilk) from 6–12 months and no change to the mother’s activity level.

Hence, such estimates would differ depending on the individual situation such as if a mother was using variable amounts of formula in place of breastmilk.

#4: Focus On Being Healthy

It’s important to prioritise your health and nutritional needs. So regardless of whether you’re trying to lose weight or not it’s important to:

  • Consume a wide variety of foods from all the major food groups such as lean proteins, dairy, vegetables, fruit and wholegrains.
  • Choose healthy snacks of nuts, seeds, vegetables and fruits.
  • Choose foods that contain little or no added sugar. Foods labelled ‘low-fat’ are often very high in sugar. Foods with added fruit or fruit juice concentrate, but labelled ‘no added sugar’, can be just as high in calories as some others with added sugar. Also be aware that ‘no sugar’ foods and drinks may contain artificial sweeteners, which can result in sugar cravings.
  • Avoid processed foods and sugary snacks which are devoid of nutrients and play havoc on your blood sugar levels. A bowl of pasta can spike your blood sugar levels higher than a bar of chocolate.

So, you can lose weight while breastfeeding, there are just a few things to be aware of. It’s also advisable to seek advice from a doctor (in case of any medical considerations, however they are not trained in nutrition) and a nutritionist or dietitian prior to losing weight.

For more information about diet and breastfeeding see the following BellyBelly articles:

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Renee Kam is a mother of two daughters, an International Board Certified Lactation Consultant (IBCLC), a physiotherapist, author of 'The Newborn Baby Manual' and an Australian Breastfeeding Association Counsellor. In her spare time, Renee enjoys spending time with family and friends, horse riding, running and reading.

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