Breastfeeding and Weight Control

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After the birth of your baby, you probably expect to bounce back to your pre-pregnancy weight. Be aware that this can take time! Everyone knows that breastfeeding is good for the baby, but it’s also one way to help you lose weight gained during the pregnancy. How many extra daily calories are required for breastfeeding and how can it help you get your old body back? Read on to learn more.

Calorie requirements

The greater the amount of breast milk produced, the more calories that are required. By the 4th week after birth with about 600mls milk being produced, an extra 500 calories might be needed daily – and by the 12th week almost 800 calories for 900mls of milk. However, in practise only half of these calories may be required. The remaining calories can be drawn from maternal fat stores.

Thus, in one of nature’s more elegant exchanges, lactation steadily uses up the fat stores laid down during pregnancy, and promotes a slow weight loss – around 0.5 – 1kg for each month of breastfeeding. If maternal fat stores are inadequate, the calories required for successful lactation must come from the mother’s diet.

Guidelines for extra calorie requirements during breastfeeding

Daily amount of breast milk produced With maternal body fat reserves No maternal body fat reserves
600 ml Up to 250 calories Up to 500 calories
750 ml 400 calories 650 calories
900 ml 550 calories 800 calories

Calorie discrepancies

Whilst the above guidelines for calorie intake are given as a precautionary step to safeguard health, practical observation and research suggest that very few extra calories (if any) may be required by many pregnant and lactating mothers – even when producing large quantities of milk (e.g. 1500 ml).

During lactation, the intestinal absorption area is increased, which allows more nutrients and calories to be absorbed from food. This, coupled with a greater metabolic efficiency (i.e. fewer calories required for body functioning), could well contribute to the slow rate of weight loss seen during breastfeeding – even though energy output is far greater than energy intake from food.

Food retention and weight change

The body retains more fluid during breastfeeding to supply the breasts with the extra fluid required to sustain normal milk production. This fluid retention can initially hide weight losses from fat tissue losses. However you should not cut down on fluids. Have sufficient water (no calories), and nourishing foods (e.g. soups, low-fat milk). Avoid excessive use of high sugar drinks such as soft drinks and cordials as well as alcoholic drinks. Water is the best thirst quencher.

Dieting during lactation

Many breastfeeding mothers are impatient in their wish to attain their pre-pregnancy weight. However, it should be noted that milk production is reduced when calories are restricted to much less than 2000 calories, or when weight loss is too rapid (either through calorie restriction or excessive exercise). By continuing to breastfeed for at least 4 – 6 months, and slowing increasing physical activity to a sensible level, maternal fat stores should be depleted within 12 months from the birth.

For weight control, begin with 2000 calories per day.

Extra notes

  • Breastfeeding women with a high level of physical activity or with little maternal fat should have their infant’s growth rate, as well as their own weight and diet, monitored very closely.
  • When insufficient nutritious food is eaten by the mother, any shortage of nutrients is at her expense. Milk produced will still contain adequate protein, vitamins and minerals even if it has to be drawn from mother’s tissues. Thus, an inadequate diet compromises the health of the mother.
  • Breastfeeding your child, and not introducing solid foods until 4 – 6 months of age lessens the risk of a baby becoming overweight.

 

Calorie King
CalorieKing's mission is to provide the best information, tools and education to Australians to help them conquer their weight.

CalorieKing is the brainchild of Allan Borushek, registered dietitian, co-found here at food.com.au and author of "Allan Borushek's Pocket Calorie & Fat Counter", Australia's best-selling calorie counter for over 30 years.

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