Nutrition and Weight Loss Tips for Breastfeeding Moms
“Pig feet and peanut stew. Good for producing milk. Eat.” I looked at my mom like she grew horns on her head. I just pushed a baby out of me. I should be celebrating with cake and ice cream. This is what she expects me to eat?
In the traditional Chinese culture, mothers should be confined to their house during the month after childbirth. This practice, called “sitting the month,” includes a strict set of rules, such as the women is not supposed to shower or drink cold water. There is a specific meal plan that is designed to help detoxify the body, replenish the blood lost during birth, repair the body back to health, and stimulate breastmilk production.
Despite my poor mother’s efforts, I ditched the idea of “sitting the month” altogether. But I was left without a plan and so many questions. What should I be eating postpartum? And how can I lose all the pregnancy weight without jeopardizing my milk supply? Oh, my gosh my milk supply… What happens if my baby goes hungry because I am not eating the right things to generate milk? For answers to these commonly asked questions by breastfeeding moms, I turned to my friend, Kristina Rattet. Kristina is a certified nutritionist, weight loss coach, and lactation educator counselor at The Fit Forward Mom. As a mom of two beautiful boys, Kristina aims to help other moms live a healthier lifestyle, both mentally and physically.
What foods are good to eat while breastfeeding?
During lactation (and at any phase of their life actually), it’s important that the mother takes care of herself and is getting ample nutrients, calories, and water to keep her energy levels up and milk supply well established. Calorie and nutrient dense foods include nuts, fruits, vegetables, whole grains (rice, whole grain bread, and pasta), fatty fish, lean meats, red meat, avocado, cheeses, bone broth, beans, and omega-3 fortified eggs. Women should avoid thirst and should aim to drink 128 ounces of water a day. More importantly, it’s helpful to have a steady stream of food available – things that are easy to grab and eat, so that a busy mama isn’t skipping meals because she can’t cook something up while attending to a fussy baby, needy toddler, or hectic schedule of play dates, activities, appointments, and work demands. I always recommend that my clients keep their purses packed with protein bars and nut bars and that they keep their refrigerators packed with Greek yogurt cups, cottage cheese cups, fresh fruits, cheese sticks, and other portable and ready-to-eat healthy snacks.
Is there a specific diet a mom should eat while breastfeeding?
As in specific types of commercial diet? I think the best answer to this is that breastfeeding moms should avoid any sort of extreme diet plan, especially within the first 6 months postpartum. Breastfeeding moms should not go “low-carb”, go “low-fat”, do any “cleanses” or “detoxes”. Calories should be kept high enough to maintain a milk supply, but not so high that it causes excess weight gain.
Should I be taking any supplements while breastfeeding?
You should always consult with your doctor before beginning any supplements while breastfeeding. Please take the following into consideration. Within the United States, the supplements industry is left highly unregulated. There is little to no standard for claims that can be made, purity control, verification of ingredients, and efficacy of the products. Always buy your supplements from a reputable manufacturer or check https://toxnet.nlm.nih.gov/newtoxnet/lactmed.htm for toxicology information for lactating women.
That being said, there are certain supplements that I evaluate my clients’ needs for: fish oil, iron, a pre/postnatal multivitamin, calcium, vitamin D, and magnesium. There is no one-size-fits-all supplement recommendation, other than the pre/post-natal vitamin. The rest of the recommendations come based on need. If you are deficient in nutrients, your doctor can identify which ones through routine blood tests (which I recommend for every postpartum mom around the 6-8 weeks mark).
In regards to supplements such as galactagogues that can increase breast milk supply, look for ones that include: goat’s rue, milk thistle, moringa, shatavari, fennel, black seed, anise, and/or alfalfa. I personally recommend that my clients avoid fenugreek, as (1) too much fenugreek can actually decrease milk supply, (2) it often upsets baby’s stomach and can cause gas and discomfort, and (3) it is a thyroid inhibitor.
Does what you eat affect the baby? Are there certain foods nursing moms should avoid?
Well, yes and no. This answer is personal to each mother and each individual baby, much like everything else in the pregnancy and baby world. The rate at which foods we eat pass from our stomachs into breast milk is dependent on the chemistry and metabolism of the mother. It’s very hard for something that we consume to make it into our breastmilk – it has to be digested by the mother, absorbed into the blood stream, converted into breast milk, and then ingested by the baby. By the time an element has gone through that process, it is then a fraction of a fraction of a fraction of the original quantity and concentration. That being said, there are some things that a mother can eat that a baby may be highly sensitive or allergic to – cow’s milk protein, soy protein, peanuts, shellfish, caffeine, or eggs. This is more common in babies under six months of age, when stomach linings are more immature and more susceptible to allergens. And in these cases, with the advice of their doctors, mothers may eliminate these possible allergens from their diet if their baby exhibits signs of reflux, bloody stools, runny eyes, asthma, or skin rashes that aren’t responding to treatment. Additionally, mothers should limit the amount of fish that are known to be high in mercury – but I believe this to be good advice for everyone – not just mothers.
Do you have to eat extra healthy while breastfeeding to make sure your baby gets the necessary nutrition?
Yes and no. Breast milk is amazing. In order to produce nutrient- and calorie-dense milk for babies, the body will take whatever it needs from the mother to create the perfect food for babies that has everything it needs. However, to make breast milk, the body will leach calcium, iron, and other nutrients from the mother. For this reason, it’s important that the mother eats a healthy, nutrient-dense diet to replenish HER own vitamin, mineral, carbohydrate, fat, and protein stores. Additionally, around six months postpartum, the mother will contribute less iron to breast milk, so some doctors will recommend an iron supplement for exclusively breastfed babies. Doctors may also recommend a Vitamin D supplement, as there is a correlation with Vitamin D and a decreased risk for Type 1 diabetes.
How much weight can I safely lose a week?
One main point I try to drive home with everyone considering weight loss is that there is NO one-size-fits-all approach to diet and exercise. There are so many factors that influence one’s ability to lose weight: age, height, current weight, activity level, lifestyle, prior dieting history, any metabolic decline, endocrine disorders, history of polycystic ovary syndrome, etc.
So, to answer this question for a lactating mom, it’s very important to know how many weeks/months postpartum she is, how much milk she is producing, her work/home demands, how much weight she gained during her pregnancy, what she weighed prior to her pregnancy, and more.
However, for a non-pregnant, non-lactating person, a weight loss of 0.5-2% of their bodyweight is a reasonable rate for weight loss per week, 1% being the target average – more if you’re largely overweight, and less if you are closer to your ideal body weight. That means, the average 150-pound woman should be able to safely lose 1.5 pounds per week, and the average 200-pound woman should be able to safely lose up to two pounds per week.
You look so fabulous and got back in great shape less than a year after giving birth. How did you lose the baby weight and stay fit when you are such a busy mom?
Thank you! For the first six months, I made sure to focus on nurturing my baby and letting my body (and mind) recover from having two under two, and I made exercise and dieting a low priority. My personal belief is that nutrition is the key component of a weight loss plan, so I applied the principles that I outline here to come up with a calorie plan for my weight loss. I followed it loosely for the next 4 months, and then once my son turned one year old, I really tightened up my nutrition plan to lose fat more rapidly. I am in the best shape of my life and still am able to produce 25 oz of milk a day for my one year old (I exclusively pump). I manage to do this as a busy mom by (1) staying flexible, (2) making sure I have healthy foods readily available, (3) enjoying a few sweet treats and snacks every day to stay sane, and (4) tracking my food! For the first six months, I probably worked out one time a week, because that’s all that time would allow – plus I had a lot of postpartum issues with my pelvic floor that made it painful to exercise. For the next 4 months after that, I worked out about two days a week, and I now work out four days a week. We have a basic gym set in our garage that allows me to workout at home during naps or late at night after my kids are asleep.
Have more questions about breastfeeding or nutrition? Not sure where to start on your weight loss journey postpartum? Kristina Rattet offers professional, certified nutrition programs designed to help moms reach their individual health and fitness goals. To learn more about Kristina’s services, visit her website here.
How did you achieve your target weight loss after giving birth?