A Disclaimer: Fellows – I am going to to talk about girl-things in the blog post below. If that is not your cup of tea you can skip this blog post. Ladies – let us not get into the merits of breastfeeding here. I am a firm believer that women need to make their own choices about what works for them. In addition, I am not a medical doctor nor am I a nutritionist. This is just what works in my experience. Ok, are we good? Alright then.
Here is a little background of my nursing/pumping experience. E1 was a preemie and started life with a tube to eat until he learned how to do it himself. So I started motherhood pumping. When E1 figured out how to eat he mastered the bottle but could never get the hang of the breast (he didn’t draw properly. we tried physical therapy but in the end it was easier just to pump and bottle feed). As a result I exclusively pumped for 13 months. During that time I lost weight naturally but it all came back and then some after I stopped, mostly because I still was eating as if I were nursing.
With E2 she spent a week in special care and as a result I pumped and breastfed because I could not be with her 24/7 in those first days. Since then we’ve continued to breastfeed and I still pump for bottle feeding while I am at work or away. On days were I breastfeed exclusively I pump 2-3 times a day (morning, maybe once during the day and at bedtime). On days where I have work I pump 4-6 times a day and routinely breastfeed her 2-3 additional times.
So after getting all that background out of the way let’s get to what I’ve learned.
Obviously it is possible to lose weight while breastfeeding but there are some things you need to attend to.
If you have just had a child I would wait at least two months before trying to lose weight – regardless of your birth experience. It takes some time to get used to the needs of a baby – both physically and mentally. Give yourself some time to heal from the birth, give your milk a chance to come in and your baby a chance to learn how to eat well. Take some time to bond with your baby. Chances are that it will be at least two months before you even have the energy to leave the couch anyway! After two months then it is fine to start trying to lose weight but take it slow. It is more important to maintain your health and your baby’s health than to drop weight quickly.
In my experience you don’t necessarily need MORE water while breastfeeding but you do need to be sure to drink all the water you are supposed to in a day. I try to follow the “half my body weight in ounces” liquid plan. So I routinely have 150+ ounces of water (and some coffee). It is a good health practice for me and it allows me to stay hydrated while producing the milk needed for E2.
3. Extra Fuel
If you are a calorie counter you should be eating at least 1800 calories a day for nursing. Some places say you can have a regular 1800 calorie diet while other sites say that you need at least 300 additional calories to help maintain a milk supply. For me I definitely need more fuel to keep my milk up. With Weight Watchers I get 14 extra points a day and I need to be sure to eat those each day. I also try really hard to make sure I have good food with them rather than using my “extra” points for sugar and treats.
Exercise is fine while breastfeeding and a good thing for postpartum mothers too. I find when I exercise a lot I have to bump up my food even more to maintain a strong supply. In addition it helps if I breastfeed or pump immediately before going to the gym or for a run/walk. It helps with pain/bouncing during my workout. I also have to be careful about hydrating well during and after my workout.
5. Avoid Sudden Changes to diet or activity levels
Please don’t decide to diet TODAY and lose weight all at once by dropping calories dramatically and adding 3 hrs of workouts a day. Nothing messes up milk supply like sudden changes to diet or activity level. If you want to lose weight start gradually – track your food to see how many points/calories you are already eating. Then slowly add in some workouts and reduce some calories. Your body will find a balance for both maintaining milk supply as well as losing some weight each week (1-2lbs a week is recommended).
6. Avoid Fad Diets and Diet Pills
While you are breastfeeding avoid the new diet trends. Now is not the time to experiment with cleanses, meal replacement shakes, herbal supplements, appetite suppressants or any other strict diets or pills. As a general rule I prefer a more “real food” approach to weight loss, but during the time where you are breastfeeding what you really need is the calories from a balance of foods. Extreme methods in general are too extreme for your body while breastfeeding. It will mean that you lose weight slowing but it will be better for you and your baby in the long run.
What do I do if my milk supply feels low?
If my milk is feeling low (mine always diminishes when Aunt Flo visits) I can use some weekly points to have some milk producing foods – oatmeal (and beer) work quite well for me. Sometimes I can have an oatmeal cookie to satisfy a craving and still give a bit of a bump to my milk supply. The other thing that works is high protein foods – some chicken, cheese or greek yogurt goes a long way. I also try to add a pumping session or two because more than calories, milk supply is determined by demand.
The other thing is sometimes a LARGE meal is enough to boost my supply. I discovered this unintentionally after a meal out – I ate a TON of my points (weekly and daily) in a very balanced and overall healthy meal. Afterwards my milk supply was stronger for several days. It is important to remember though that the pumped milk doesn’t full represent a milk supply. If your child is thriving being breastfed then you are making plenty for them – even if you cannot pump much at a time. If you pump exclusively and are having troubles feel free to drop me an email and I can give you some pointers there.
For me, I am blessed with a strong supply. I think part of it comes from exclusively pumping E1 for so long. This time around I am able to pump less but I also know that is a function of trying actively to lose weight and breastfeeding in addition to pumping. For me I try not to worry too much so long as I am making enough for E2 to have at daycare and when I am away. There will be times as children age when milk supply regulates and you start to make just enough rather than an abundance.
I have thought about what I might do if my milk supply really started to suffer due to my weight loss. I would likely go into a maintenance mode for a while to see if my supply would boost up again. Luckily for me I have not had that trouble so I can keep trying to lose weight.
None of this is easy, by the way. Breastfeeding full time is not easy. Pumping at work or exclusively pumping is not easy. Losing Weight is not easy. Doing all of them – also not easy, but for me it is part of what I have to do to lose weight. I wanted to take advantage of the fact that my metabolism is more engaged when I am breastfeeding. Unlike pregnancy when my body seems to FREAK OUT, my body is a well-running machine while nursing/pumping. It is a good time for me to work on habits, even if it isn’t easy.
That being said, it may be that having had a new baby makes life just too hard to face losing weight too. It is not uncommon to have life be a blur for a year or more after having kids. There will be time when you can find additional time for yourself again. In my (non-medical) opinion, it is far healthier to have a relatively healthy diet and good mental support than to lose all the baby weight right away. Keep an eye out for postpartum depression symptoms too – that is no joke and there is help if you need it.
I think that covers most of what I’ve learned through my experience with breastfeeding/pumping. I am happy to answer any questions to the best of my ability if you have them. In addition Kellymom is a great resource for breastfeeding information and my go to when I need some answers.