Dieting and Breastfeeding

By Krista Gray, IBCLC. Last updated October 12, 2013.

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After giving birth, most mothers are ready to begin to “get their bodies back” and lose those added pounds they gained during pregnancy.  They wonder if it is safe to diet while breastfeeding.  The simple answer is that it is safe, especially when taking a nutritious, whole foods approach.

Dieting and Breastfeeding

Some of the weight a mother puts on during pregnancy is stored by her body to be mobilized for milk production during lactation.1 This is why most mothers who eat sensibly and breastfeed tend to slowly lose weight without much effort during the first six months or so postpartum. While research shows that women who breastfeed tend to lose more weight after giving birth than their non-breastfeeding counterparts, it does also depend on individual metabolism, diet, and exercise.2  After the first six months postpartum, weight that has not already come off usually doesn’t continue to come off just because of the act of breastfeeding.

There are many different diets and nutritional ideas out there – low-fat, low-carb, no grain, paleo, vegan, vegetarian, whole foods, raw foods, and on it goes. For some diets, it is important to restrict or reduce calories; others are more concerned about what foods are eaten, rather than the quantity or calorie content.  Either approach can be okay with breastfeeding.

However, it is important to realize that your body needs even more food than you did while pregnant in order to breastfeed your baby.  Breastfeeding moms typically need about 500 extra calories per day.  Think of it like this:  your baby is now even bigger than when you were pregnant and your body is still her exclusive source of nourishment for the first six months of life!

Therefore, do not restrict your food intake to the point where you are rapidly losing weight – more than 2 lbs/week for a sustained duration.  Make sure to drink to thirst – plenty of water is the best source of hydration.  Eat a well-balanced, whole foods diet with lots of fresh veggies and plenty of protein for energy.  Be skeptical of fad diets that promise quick weight loss.

If you are on a diet that restricts major food groups entirely, make sure you are getting all the vitamins and minerals your body needs.  For example, vegan mothers will need to be extra diligent to ensure they are getting enough B12.  And realize that if you do rapidly lose weight, environmental toxins and contaminants that are stored in fat cells will be released into breast milk in larger quantities.3

You may also be interested in reading about exercise and breastfeeding.

Show 3 footnotes

  1. Riordan, J. & Wambach, K. (2010) Breastfeeding and Human Lactation, 4th ed. Sudbury, MA: Jones &  Bartlett Publishers, p.499.
  2. Mannel, R. et al. (2013) Core Curriculum for Lactation Consultant Practice, 3rd ed. Burlington, MA: Jones and Bartlett Learning, p.323.
  3. Riordan, J. & Wambach, K. (2010) Breastfeeding and Human Lactation, 4th ed. Sudbury, MA: Jones &  Bartlett Publishers, p.500.
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