The content of this article is not a substitute for medical advice and is based on the current Australian Breastfeeding Association recommendations. Nothing contained in this article is intended to be used as medical advice and it is not intended to be used to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease, nor should it be used for therapeutic purposes or as a substitute for your own health professional's advice.
When it comes to new mums and fitness, there are still many circulating outdated misconceptions, being that through word of mouth or online articles. Maintaining a health and fitness routine through breastfeeding is certainly one of those grey areas – it’s hard to make sense of all the conflicting information out there!
Inevitably, we get lots of questions from girls who want to know more about nourishing their bodies appropriately so that they have enough energy for both taking care of the baby (including breastfeeding) and staying active.
And while we are not in a position to provide anyone with tailored advice online (raising a little human is not to be taken lightly!), we are more than happy to discuss some important points and guidelines which you may wish to implement with the help from your health provider.
Breastfeeding and nutrition
Contrary to popular belief, no “magical” diet is required for breastfeeding – so long as you are eating a variety of predominantly whole foods from all core food groups. It is worth noting that there are several at-risk nutrients, however, including:
To a certain extent, your body can compensate for the lack of intake if you’re not getting enough of these nutrients from food. However, it’s important to have a chat with your health practitioner, as supplementation – particularly of iodine – may be recommended.
It also makes sense that your energy needs are increased during breastfeeding – but by how much, exactly? The current consensus is that an additional 500 kcals is required for the first 6 months, followed by 400 kcals add-on for the following 6 months. Compared to energy requirements, protein requirements don’t increase as much – so it is often recommended to meet the additional needs through wholesome foods rich in carbs and fats.
Please note – if you’re currently doing one of our Challenges, the meal plans and macros we offer do not cater to those additional calories! So, you will have to add some on manually, after discussing your plan with a medical professional.
Also, watch out for things to avoid during breastfeeding:
- Try to minimise caffeine intake (remember that caffeine isn’t only found in coffee – other sources include teas, soft drinks, chocolate, and more, so check the labels diligently)
- Alcohol and drugs should be avoided (and any medications are to be discussed with a doctor)
- Overeating/overindulging in treats is not a great idea (if you’re experiencing unusual cravings, discuss them with your doctor to pinpoint potential reasons)
Breastfeeding and weight loss
There’s no way around it – during pregnancy, many women tend to store extra fat. This is a natural mechanism that our bodies employ to create a safety storage of nutrients for subsequent breastfeeding, so it’s nothing to worry about even if your nutrition was spot-on throughout pregnancy. When it comes to losing this extra fat, the process is highly individualised, with some women “bouncing back” within a couple of weeks after birth effortlessly, and some not starting to see any changes until after they’ve finished breastfeeding. Whichever category you fall into, be patient, kind to your body, and prioritise your baby’s health, as well as your own recovery!
On the same token, it is generally recommended to lose any excess weight within a reasonable timeframe – otherwise, it can become very difficult, especially if you carry it through another pregnancy. The good news is, you can keep safely losing about 0.5 kg per week while breastfeeding!
The following principles apply:
- Your energy target should roughly hover around your maintenance calories minus the desired deficit plus the extra energy required for breastfeeding (see above) – adjustments may be required as you go
- Slow and steady wins the race – don’t aim for a super-high calorie deficit and stick to the safe weekly amount of fat loss. If you start dropping weight too quickly and/or your milk supply suffers, it’s likely time to reassess and increase your calories.
- Do not attempt any fad/crash diets, as doing so will deprive yourself and the baby of important nutrients
- Don’t overdo calorie-dense snacks and foods
- Many breastfeeding mothers find it helpful to have more smaller meals throughout the day, rather than, for instance, 3 bigger ones
- If possible, increase the amount of exercise you do – speaking of which…
Breastfeeding and physical activity
Whatever type of physical activity you can fit in and comfortably do is highly beneficial during lactation! If you can’t go back to your gym routine just yet due to medical or other reasons, there are plenty of other options, from walking to performing light, appropriate workouts at home. Always seek medical advice before commencing an exercise regime following the birth of your baby!
Here are just some of the proven benefits of exercise for breastfeeding mothers:
- Improves general health and fitness
- Assists in weight loss, especially in combination with an appropriate nutrition regime
- Keeps stress at bay
- Boosts bone strength
- Helps fight post-natal depression
There is a common misconception that increases in the level of lactic acid following exercise can be harmful to the baby – however, it has been demonstrated that mild to moderate exercise does not affect lactic acid levels in breastmilk, nor does it have negative effects on a baby. It has also been proven that mild to moderate exercise doesn’t affect breastmilk supply or alter its composition in harmful ways. As a result, breastfed babies of exercising mothers grow and develop just fine!
It’s important to note that excessive exercise can be harmful – and what’s considered “too much” highly depends on your current health, as well as your previous fitness levels. Have a chat with your doctor to determine when it’s appropriate for you to commence structured physical activity, and what types are most appropriate!
You don’t have to be “perfect” or follow some strict rules to breastfeed a baby while staying healthy, and as active as possible! Just follow your doctor’s advice and consider the guidelines above – and all the best on your exciting journey!
Liz & Team BBR