“There are a lot of misconceptions out there about weight loss and breastfeeding, ” says Jennifer Ritchie, IBCLC and author of I Make Milk…What’s Your Superpower? “Some people believe that the weight just drops off if you’re breastfeeding. Others think it’s hard to get your body back while you’re breastfeeding.”
Neither is exactly right. Breastfeeding does burn extra calories — approximately 850 calories a day, to be exact. (Wow!) But losing weight while breastfeeding is rarely a given because breastfeeding makes moms hungrier. And hungry, sleep-deprived new moms tend to satisfy their cravings with simple carbohydrates — it's not exactly easy to lose weight when you’re eating those.
“When normal, healthy adults are sleep deprived, they typically increase their carbohydrate consumption to make up for the lack of sleep, ” Ritchie explains. “We end up reaching for the cookies.”
Don’t pressure yourself
Sorry, but you won’t be stepping into your pre-pregnancy jeans right away. And trying to put them on in the early weeks will just be discouraging. “In order to deliver a baby, everything in the body expands, ” Ritchie says. “Your hips expand, your ribcage expands. It took a good nine months to put that weight on, so give yourself at least nine months to get it off and get your body back.”
Just ignore the excess weight for at least the first two weeks after birth. “Honestly, the first two weeks of having an infant can be a nightmare. It’s like boot camp, ” Ritchie says. “For that time, focus on your baby, and don’t worry about dieting.”
And actually, you might want to wait six weeks or even longer before actively trying to lose the weight. “Those entire first six weeks are a transitional period, ” Ritchie explains. It takes about that long for baby to adapt to the rhythms of the outside world, and for both baby and mom to get a hang of breastfeeding. You don’t need the outside distraction of a rigid diet or exercise plan.
Make savvy substitutions
Think before you snack. Instead of reaching for the Doritos, pop some popcorn. Instead of having packaged cereal, make a batch of steel-cut oatmeal. “Oatmeal is a great breakfast for a breastfeeding mom who’s trying to lose weight. It keeps you full for a long period of time and keeps insulin levels stable, ” Ritchie says.
Starchy veggies, such as baked potatoes and sweet potatoes, can also satisfy your craving for carbs. Brown and wild rice are good side dish and snack options, too.
Set yourself up for success
A little bit of prep work one day can help you keep your eating on track for the next few days. Cut up some veggies and fruit to keep in the fridge, cook and freeze healthy meals for later quick defrosting, and don’t feel bad about grabbing steam-in-bag veggies or other healthy low-prep snacks (there are lots of options at Trader Joe’s!). “The idea is to keep healthy snacks and meals in the cabinet and fridge, and to keep out the Girl Scout cookies and chips, ” Ritchie says.
Eat smaller, more frequent meals
“If a mom waits too long between meals, there’s a hormonal effect that affects milk supply, ” Ritchie says. “Her body will start pulling energy from her reserves, which decreases insulin production and affects thyroid hormone levels. That lowers prolactin, which is the hormone that controls how much milk we make.” When you’re feeling starving, you’re more likely to eat something you know you shouldn’t. Instead, spread your calories out over six mini-meals throughout the day.
Cut calories — but not too much
It’s perfectly safe to diet while breastfeeding, as long as your total caloric intake doesn’t dip below 1, 800 calories per day and you keep eating a wide variety of nutritious foods.
Work in exercise
Wait at least six to eight weeks before starting or restarting a serious exercise regimen. If you’re planning a particularly strenuous workout, eat a healthy carb about a half-hour before you exercise. “Eating a starchy vegetable, like half of a baked potato, before running can really help prevent a decrease in your milk supply, ” Ritchie says.
Keep at it
Everyone loses weight at a different rate, so don’t be discouraged if your weight loss happens more slowly than it does for all those celeb mamas. With a healthy diet plan, breastfeeding moms typically lose about a pound a week, says Ritchie.
The cool thing is, you can tailor your plan to your lifestyle and whether you’d rather cut more calories or do more exercise. “As long as you’re burning more calories than you’re consuming, you’ll lose weight, ” Ritchie says. “So if a mom decides she wants to be able to eat the foods that she loves, she can add in some extra walks with the baby.”