Weight loss is often an important issue for new mothers. Nursing mothers often hear how easy and rapid weight loss is a great benefit of breastfeeding. While this is true, sometimes after a few months, more of that pregnancy belly is still around than mothers would like. So is dieting safe while breastfeeding?
According to the third edition of the Breastfeeding Answer Book (LLLI), pages 446-448, women after the first two months, when milk is established, can safely lose weight in a gradual way. About a pound a week has not been shown to affect milk production or the growth of the baby. Exercise can also be added – one study indicated 45 minute workouts 4 times a week did increase weight loss with no affect to milk supply or baby weight. Nursing mothers should be sure to be aware of thirst, and drink water or water-based liquids (or milk, if the mother is a regular milk drinker already) whenever thirsty.
This can be accomplished by cutting about 100 calories per day and increasing activity level. In the same book, on page 437, the official recommendation of the Subcommittee on Nutrition during Lactation recommends a 2700 calorie diet but says that most nursing women realistically consume between 2200 and 2460. 1800 is the minimum level considered appropriate *if* the foods are of high nutritional value, as the recommendations are based on a standard American diet which consists of many processed (less nutritious) foods. A prenatal or multivitamin may be appropriate, especially with the lower calories and should be discussed with a health care provider.
Fad diets, liquid diets and rapid weight loss are NOT recommended, although fasts of less than a day have not been shown to affect milk supply. According to La Leche League's website (http://www.llli.org/FAQ/lowcarb.html), low carb diets or other diets that create rapid weight loss might not only affect milk supply, but also allow the release of environmental toxins, stored in body fat, to be released into the milk.
Further according to the Breastfeeding Answer Book, the diet of vegetarian mother that is otherwise healthy is not generally a concern. Many vegetarian diets still contain animal products in the form of dairy or eggs, which is more than sufficient. Those eating diets with NO animal protein, like vegan or macrobiotic diets should very carefully watch B12 levels in themselves and in the baby, and may discuss a B12 supplement with their health care provider. There are vegan B12 supplements available. Those not eating dairy products may also want to watch their calcium levels so as not to affect long-term bone density. In general, vegetarians may have lower levels of calcium, but the level in the milk does not seem to be affected. As a bonus, vegetarians also have lower levels of toxins and contaminants in their system thanks to an overall lower fat diet.
For women wanting assistance or personal guidance, commercial diet plans do offer appropriate and customized assistance for breastfeeding mothers. See my article on "Breastfeeding and Commercial Diet Plans," linked below.
If you are more the DIY type, the following book may offer some assistance:
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