Recently, one of our members asked us for some help. She was wondering how she should adjust her meal plan while breastfeeding and the best way to eat and get fit again after breastfeeding. As a nutrition and fitness expert who has worked with clients through pregnancies and nursing, I know how eager new moms can be to quickly regain their pre-baby bodies. The best thing you can do is be patient with your body and remember that the most important factor is fueling your body correctly, for your health and the health of your new child.
I always recommend that you speak to your doctor regarding any personal nutritional recommendations or restrictions she has depending on your health issues, pregnancy and goals. There are however general guidelines that most nursing women can use to feed themselves and their baby the healthy way.
Though calorie level depends on you as an individual, the key is eating balanced meals of protein, carbohydrate and fat every few hours to stabilize blood sugar, keep up your energy, and protect your lean muscle mass. While breastfeeding, the average woman needs approximately 500 additional calories per day. The best way to add these additional 500 calories per day is to add a small amount of protein, carbohydrate and fat on to each meal every 3 hours (you can easily regenerate new meal plans that have a higher calorie count per meal by visiting the Regenerate Meals button under your Meals Tab in your online program) or start eating every 2 or 2 ½ hours to take in an additional meal or two throughout the day. You may need to experiment with both methods to see which works best for you. And remember to listen to your body as some babies nurse more than others hunger levels may vary from mother to mother. If you find yourself getting too hungry or you are worried about not getting enough food ask yourself:
1. Do all of my meals contain the right amount of protein, carbohydrate and fat? Balanced meals stick with you longest and keep blood sugar stable.
2. Am I skipping meals or waiting too long to eat? Going too long without eating causes a drop in blood sugar and cravings later on.
3. Am I eating a balanced meal one hour within waking? While you are sleeping you are in “fasting mode” and it’s important to kick start your day with a balanced meal.
4. Am I eating every few hours until I go to sleep? (ie. if you don't go to bed until midnight and dinner was at 7 pm, you have to make sure to get one more meal in around 10-11 pm. If not hungry, go for 1/2 meal (cut each ingredient in the meal in half equally)
5. Am I getting enough water? Dehydration can cause fatigue and hunger.
6. Am I getting enough sleep? I know with a new baby that can be very hard, but it's good to keep in mind that a lack of sleep causes cravings, hunger and hormones to be more out of whack.
7. Are my meals made up of mostly high quality foods? See your Quality of Food chart in your help/ support tab (in the handbook). This step is very important. Low quality foods like protein bars or crackers for example are rapidly digested (even when the meal has the correct balance of protein, carb and fat) and will make you hungry sooner. High quality, natural foods have more staying power. You should also check with your doctor about which foods to avoid while nursing (for example , many protein bars have unnatural ingredients and artificial sweeteners that may not be safe for your baby).
8. Am I getting a good variety of foods? Make sure that your daily intake includes a variety of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean proteins, calcium rich products like low fat milk, cheese and cottage cheese, along with heart healthy fats.
9. Remember also that nursing mothers require more fluids, so make sure you are getting plenty of water throughout the day.
After breastfeeding while under your doctor’s care, you should be able to return to your normal eating schedule and calorie amount per meal that you followed before becoming pregnant. Though we see celebrities lose weight rapidly after giving birth, remember that many of them have incredible means such as personal trainers, nannies and chefs that the majority of us don’t. Give yourself time and be patient. With proper nutrition, exercise and using your Venice Nutrition plan as a guide, your body will get back into shape on its own time!