Nursing is estimated to burn about 500 calories a day. Without even going into all of breastfeeding’s countless health benefits to your baby, this factoid alone is a pretty good incentive to nurse—especially if you are like me and put on, oh, a wee bit more than the recommended 25-35 lbs during pregnancy.
But not all women have an easy time losing weight when they are nursing. Nursing can make you very hungry! And going on some kind of extreme weight loss regimen could potentially affect your milk supply.
There are safe ways to lose weight while breastfeeding, though. (I should know—I lost 40+ lbs. of baby weight three times while successfully plumping up each of my kids!)
Here are my tips for reclaiming your pre-pregnancy jeans…while you’re still wearing a nursing bra:
Drink lots of water
This old dieting adage is particularly true for nursing mothers, because dehydration can zap your milk supply. (Ever notice how thirsty you are after feeding or pumping?) Consider the 8 glasses of water a day rule to be the bare minimum and keep a water bottle by you at all times, and sip it while you’re nursing as well as when you’re not. Water is calorie-free, necessary for an adequate milk supply—and, it is also likely to cut down on mindless eating or mistaking thirst for hunger. Drink up, ladies!
Fill up on healthy things
If you ever needed an incentive to fill your body with good-for-you grub, look into the eyes of the sweet little bundle of joy in your arms. Everything you eat is pretty much passed on to your baby—so skip the junk food, which is fattening anyway, and choose basics that are nutritious for both of you. Eat plenty of fruit and vegetables. Go for whole grains over foods processed with refined flour. Choose nuts and lean protein and stay away from anything fried. Don’t have time to sit down to a proper meal? Go for healthy mini-meals or snacks like KIND bars, applesauce, natural peanut butter or almond butter (just a spoonful or two because the calories add up), or even a bowl of cereal with skim or almond milk!
Get guidance from a professional
If you’re really worried about eating the right foods to lose weight while still sustaining your baby’s growth, don’t be afraid to get in touch with a nutritionist for guidance. Another option: try the “New Moms” paleo plan developed by “Paleoista” diet expert Nell Stephenson—it’s a six-week menu created with the unique nutritional needs of new mothers in mind. Stephenson says the plan is ideal for moms nursing colicky babies because the paleo approach to eating doesn’t include soy, dairy, peanuts or gluten, all foods that babies might not tolerate through breastmilk.
Work up a sweat
After you’ve gotten the go-ahead from your OB/GYN, you can make exercise part of your life again. Start slow—take walks with your baby in a stroller or, for added effort, strapped to your body in a baby carrier or in a sling. See if your husband or someone else you trust can watch your little one so you can steal away to the gym for an hour. If not, pop in a workout DVD during naptime or when baby’s happily chilling in his bouncy seat—I like this Gaiam Yoga video because it’s designed for weight loss and is great for newbies as well as experienced yogis. Make sure you drink more water if you’re exercising, though—and consider adding in electrolytes. Nuun tablets are almost calorie-free but keep you hydrated as effectively as any of those sugary sport drinks.
Nursing tea—an “insurance policy”?
If you’ve got concerns about your supply dipping, you might want to check out Earth Mama Angel Baby Organic Milkmade Tea, created specifically for breastfeeding moms to enhance milk supply. Many women with milk supply concerns also turn to the herb fenugreek with good results.
Listen to your body
All of these weight-loss tips aside, if you’re hungry and you’ve properly hydrated yourself, by all means, eat! Post-partum weight loss can be quick for some women, but for many, it’s a long, slow journey. Be patient with yourself and try not to fret too much about your body image (I know, easier said than done).
You just created a human being. And you’re feeding that amazing human being with your own body. Yay, you! Whenever that tiny pre-pregnancy dress in the back of your closet makes you feel glum, take a look instead at the tiny little boy or girl who thinks you’re the most beautiful and important person in the universe.
You did good, Mama!
Jorie Mark is the Creative Director of Vitacost.com and mother to three children, ages 2 to 9.