by Star Rodriguiz, IBCLC
Moms can burn 500 calories a day while breastfeeding. So that’s all you have to do, right? Just breastfeed? And the weight will all magically fall off and you will look like Giselle?
Breastfeeding can absolutely help you to lose weight, but many moms find that they need to embark on a plan of diet and exercise, too. (And, just for good measure, please let me remind you not to begin a diet/exercise plan without consulting a medical professional and all that jazz. Also, don’t rush into physical activity right after having a baby, take the time you need to really heal and adjust to having a new baby, pushing your body too soon could lead to further health issues. Most moms find they need to wait at least 6 weeks, often closer to 12 weeks postpartum before they start exercising.)
BUT WAIT! There are a lot of things that people talk about with diet and exercise and breastfeeding that make doing it seem…well, like maybe not the best idea. So what’s the reality? Can you safely breastfeed and lose weight? Or exercise?
I am so glad that I just asked that for you. The short answer is yes! Of course! But the long answer is addressed below, as we unmask three very common breastfeeding myths…
Myth #1– You need to eat A LOT to make milk, and drink A LOT, too.
Ok, so here’s the deal. When you are breastfeeding, you should eat to hunger and drink to thirst. So, if you’re hungry? Eat something. If you’re thirsty? Drink something. You may find yourself ravenous, or you may find that your appetite has changed little. Listen to your body’s cues. There’s probably little to no need to shove extra food in your mouth or force yourself to drink excessive amounts. In fact, over drinking water has been linked to a lowered supply. You may find yourself thirstier, and if you genuinely feel that you need to drink, do it. Just don’t force a specific amount down your throat in hopes that you will increase supply.
Now, that doesn’t mean you should rejoice and eat whatever, whenever. Eating a mostly healthy and balanced diet is important. Few of us are going to be able to eat perfectly all the time, though, especially with a new baby. So I always tell my clients to continue to take a multivitamin, like their prenatal, throughout the breastfeeding relationship. Moms probably need some extra Vitamin D, too. (See this study for more information.) Most moms can safely take 4000-6000 IUs a day. This will not only help you, but can help to increase the Vitamin D in your breastmilk, too. However, you should check with your doctor before increasing any dosages or starting any new vitamins.
Myth #2- You can’t cut calories while breastfeeding.
Not entirely true. You probably should wait to diet until at least 6-8 weeks, and you shouldn’t go from eating, say, 2500 calories a day to 1500 overnight. But as long as you have an established supply, decrease your calories slowly, and go no lower than 1500-1800 calories per day as appropriate for your body type, you can absolutely work on losing some weight. 1-2 pounds a week is a pretty safe range of loss, whether or not you are breastfeeding.
Some popular programs have developed breastfeeding options to help moms lose weight safely while breastfeeding. Weight Watchers and My Fitness Pal both have breastfeeding options.
Myth #3– Exercising while breastfeeding will make my supply lower/make my milk gross or sour!
Let’s talk about exercise decreasing supply, first. If you are constantly working out to exhaustion (and you’re probably not. I did P90X for about a month when I was in the third month of breastfeeding my daughter, and it didn’t fall into the exhaustive, supply-diminishing category,) yes, you may see some reduction in supply. Regular, moderate exercise, however, might actually increase your production, although that’s not guaranteed. Even high intensity exercise when it’s balanced well with adequate caloric intake, is fine and many mothers experience no trouble with high intensity work outs.
Raise your hand if you’ve heard that your baby won’t drink your milk if you have been exercising, because lactic acid will build up and sour your milk. The entire premise for this was one study with a whole lot of issues. Further studies have not been able to replicate this, and have, instead, pretty clearly shown that babies don’t refuse the breast after exercising. Anecdotal evidence, while not “official,” shows that many breastfeeding mothers experience quite the satisfied customer in their breastfed baby following even intense work outs.
One thing you do need to worry about while breastfeeding and exercising is wearing a supportive bra that isn’t too tight. Some sports bras can be really, really binding. You want to avoid that, obviously, to keep from having issues with plugged ducts and the like.
Have you heard any other breastfeeding and fitness myths? Did you lose weight or become more fit while nursing? Let us know in the comments!