Losing Weight While Breastfeeding

Our experts reveal safe and gradual weight loss tips for breastfeeding mums so you can shed kilos while looking after the nutrition of your newborn.

You've brought home your bundle of joy and have embarked on a journey of feed schedules, pumping and breast pads. But you're also keen to dig back into your pre-pregnancy wardrobe and ditch the extra baby weight.

Renee Kam, spokesperson for the Australian Breastfeeding Association, says it's perfectly fine to lose weight while breastfeeding. Just take it slow and steady as you try to regain your former body shape.

“While breastfeeding, it's best to lose the extra weight gradually, using healthy eating principles and adding in some extra exercise,” says Kam. “A loss of up to half a kilogram per week is generally safe for breastfeeding mothers. Don't use crash or fad diets, where you lose weight quickly. These diets don't have a good balance of important nutrients needed for both you and your baby.”

How Much More Should I Eat?

Producing breastmilk is a surprisingly energy-efficient process, but new mums will need a little extra energy to produce a good supply of milk for their baby, even if they're focused on losing weight. “It will depend how much you're breastfeeding, but as a guideline, you'll need approximately 500 extra calories for those breastfeeding full-time per day,” says 12WBT dietitian Georgina Moore.

Although it's safe to watch your diet and let the natural weight loss properties of breastfeeding take hold, radically lowering your calorie intake while you're breastfeeding isn't recommended. “There's a very fine line as lowering calories too much can lead to your milk drying up,” says Moore. “As you're losing weight, it's often a bit of trial and error to get it right. Listen to your body and its needs as well as your baby's.” The 12WBT Post Baby Program recommends starting out on an 1800 calorie plan.

Stop the Cravings!

Many breastfeeding mums will experience intense cravings and hunger pangs, particularly as they struggle through exhausting night feeds. But having healthy snacks in the fridge or nappy bag can help prevent bakery raids and coffee shop stops.

“Make sure you make good food choices that are full of nutrients as opposed to just empty calories,” says Moore. “Make smart choices - fruit, low-fat yoghurt, veggie sticks with tomato salsa or cottage cheese, air-popped popcorn, rice crackers with low-fat dip, crackers and low-fat cheese - the list goes on. You might feel ravenous whilst breastfeeding, but be aware and sensible about portion sizes.”

Breastfeeding mums often feel thirstier - this is because the body is using extra fluids and releasing the hormone oxytocin, which increases the thirst mechanism. But there's no need to start chugging copious litres of H2O every day.

“The general advice is for a mother to drink according to her thirst,” says Kam. Make sure you have water at arm's reach while you breastfeed, and if you're worried check the colour of your urine - dark yellow and strong-smelling wee usually indicates dehydration.

What to Eat and What to Avoid

A healthy diet should cover your needs and your baby's while you're breastfeeding, but it's a good idea to avoid certain foods. “Steering clear of alcohol is a big one because alcohol goes directly into breastmilk,” says Moore.

The safest recommendation is not to drink any alcohol whilst breastfeeding. If you do drink alcohol, make sure it's directly after a feed and no more than one standard drink (which takes up to two hours for the body to clear).

Some herbal remedies and supplements can also be unsafe for babies who are being breastfed. Avoid St John's Wort (a common natural treatment for depression) and check any other herbal remedies with your GP or breastfeeding nurse.

Healthy Diet While Breastfeeding

Breastfeeding mums may need a boost of iron, omega-3 fatty acids, iodine and folate, says Moore. The best way to keep your iron levels topped up during breastfeeding is to eat iron-rich foods as part of your regular diet. These include red meat, chicken, fish, eggs, dried beans and lentils, green leafy vegetables, nuts, seeds, and wholegrain breads and cereals.

Omega-3s can be found in oily fish, soy and linseed bread, and dark leafy greens. Iodine can be eaten in dairy products, seafood, seaweed and bread. Folate is available in broccoli, spinach and dried legumes such as chickpeas, beans, lentils and edamame.

In saying that, a nutritional supplement designed for breast feeding women may not go astray either. Speak to your GP, midwife or lactation consultant for more information.

Time to Train?

Many new mums can't wait to get back into the swing of their pre-pregnancy training routine to help shed excess baby weight. There's no problem with lacing up your trainers and look at getting fit with baby once you get the green light from your obstetrician, say our experts. “Yes, breastfeeding mothers can exercise!” says Kam. “Any form of moderate exercise is completely fine and a great way to get a boost of endorphins.”

Breastfeeding mums can find going back to the gym a little intimidating, but there are plenty of options to get back into training slowly, including mums and bubs boxing, yoga, Pilates and outdoor fitness training.

If you're worried about overdoing it on the treadmill, time your training around your breastfeeding, says Moore. “Lactic acid (produced during exercise and found in breastmilk) won't hurt bub, but they may seem a little more unsettled afterwards. Lactic acid levels drop after two hours, so if you're concerned, try not to feed directly after your workout.”

Top 7 Ways to Stick to a Plan to Lose Weight While Breastfeeding

1. Don't hit the supermarket when you're hungry or tired

It's easy to spot the sleep-deprived mum loading up her trolley with ready-made meals, chocolate and snacks in a fog of exhaustion. Don't leave grocery shopping until your eyes are hanging out of your head or you've run out of milk and bread. We provide shopping lists as part of 12WBT which correspond to our weekly nutrition plans. If you are not on the program, get planning some healthy meals yourself and then order it all online while baby sleeps. Or give the big weekly shopping list to your partner on the weekend and ask that no extra treats be slipped into the trolley.

2. Head outside in the morning

There's no point leaving your brisk walk until later in the day - that just gives you more time to ignore or avoid it. As soon as you and baby are up and fed, hit the streets and get a big breath of fresh air and movement. Your baby will love it as much as you do.

3. Pack snacks in the nappy bag

Don't use the spare room in the nappy bag just for wipes and toys. Pack a range of healthy snack options when you go out, including cut vegetables and fruit, raw almonds, dried fruit, and low-fat yoghurt.

4. Don't meet your mothers' group at a café

It can be easy to slip into the caffeine and cake routine during mothers' group. Break out of the latte lock and suggest meeting for a walk around a local park or beach instead.

5. Freeze and reheat

If you leave dinner until 6pm, you'll be tempted to speed dial the local pizza place. Cook up batches of soups or casseroles on weekends, and keep them in the freezer to serve with fresh or frozen veggies and whole grains. Then it's just a matter of heating and eating.

6. Put yourself first

You will always be in a better position to look after others if you are looking after yourself. It can be easy to put yourself a distant second (or third) when you're breastfeeding and caring for a newborn. But try to make time to go to the gym or pool and pop baby into the créche (they won't even notice you're gone!), or leave bub with a babysitter and have a massage, take a fitness class or go for a run. You'll be a happier mum and, later, a good role model for your child.

7. Clear your pantry of quick fixes

Be honest about the stash of chocolate you reach for during night feeds. Get rid of it and replace with nuts and seeds or other healthy snacks. While you're at it, do a complete pantry overhaul and throw out all the comfort food and junk that's derailing your best intentions.

12 Week Body Transformation can also help! Following our nutrition and exercise plans are easy as we work out all the correct portion sizes, give you recipes for balanced meals and tell you the best exercises for you. Register your interest in 12WBT here.