New moms face unfair pressure to “get their body back” after giving birth. Articles praising celebrities for taut, fit bodies within weeks of their baby’s arrival may be well-intentioned, but they end up setting unrealistic, unhealthy expectations for what postpartum recovery looks like. Many mothers may feel tempted to adopt an extreme diet to drop pregnancy weight fast. Here’s why you shouldn’t.
Breastfeeding Takes Fuel
Your doctor may explain that breastfeeding consumes about 500 calories per day. Your body naturally uses energy from some of the fat stores you gained during pregnancy to produce milk. Food you eat also contributes toward the nutrition that goes into your breastmilk. Essentially, you’re using calories in two ways: the energy it takes for your body to produce milk, and the fats, proteins, vitamins, and more present in the milk itself.
Some new moms find they’re hungrier while breastfeeding than they were when pregnant! Generally, a full-time nursing mother should be eating about 1,800 calories minimum to meet her and her baby’s needs. An extreme diet may have a greater toll on your body while you’re nursing, because the process of breastfeeding is already nutritionally demanding.
Losing Nutrients Can Harm You
In 2015, a woman who had maintained a low-carb, high-fat diet for several years nearly died when she continued this extreme eating pattern while breastfeeding. Your body will draw from your nutrient stores to feed your baby. If you’re not taking in enough nutrients to replace what leaves through your milk, you can end up with harmful deficiencies.
Carbs aren’t inherently “bad” for you, and neither is fat. Both are essential components you need in your diet to survive and thrive. Depriving yourself of an entire food category, especially without consulting a medical professional, is risky business. A smarter way to approach eating while breastfeeding is to have a balanced diet of mostly whole, healthy foods. You can eat at a moderate calorie deficit to lose weight, and don’t aim to lose more than 1-2 pounds per week.
Your Milk Can Suffer
Another problem with extreme dieting while breastfeeding is that restricting your own food intake can affect your milk.
Generally speaking, your body prioritizes generating quality breastmilk first. That’s why you’ll tend to notice adverse effects in your own health before you see a drop in milk quality. But in the case of extreme dieting, you may exhaust your body’s resources faster. Every mother and baby are different, and some moms may notice that their diet affects milk supply more quickly. Increasing milk supply is often a challenging process, so it’s better to avoid this outcome if possible. Vitamin deficiencies, including low levels of vitamins D and B12, can also lead to health complications.
Dieting While Breastfeeding (If You Must)
To be frank, you’ve got so many better things to do in the early months of your baby’s life than worry about your weight. Bonding, resting, and preparing to return to work (if applicable) are more important. Pushing yourself too hard in an attempt to capture some magazine editor’s ideal isn’t worth the heartache.
When it comes to your breastfeeding diet, start by practicing these habits to keep you and your baby healthy:
- Drink tons of water to replenish fluids lost through breastfeeding
- Reach for plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables
- Incorporate healthy sources of protein, whether it’s meat or plant-based protein
- Limit junk food
- Continue to take your prenatal vitamin or other vitamin supplements your doctor recommends to maintain nutrient stores
- Enjoy treats in moderation. Being a new parent is stressful, so if you wolf down a few donuts to cope with a baby crying for hours, be gentle on yourself
- Resume exercise when your doctor clears you to, and focus on regaining strength and stamina, rather than worrying about your exact weight.