Thinking about dieting while breast feeding to try to lose weight? Here's why that's not the best idea.
If you're a mom, or a woman thinking about having kids, or even a woman not thinking about having kids, I'm sure you're well aware of the pressure women feel to 'get their bodies back' after having a baby. Like, right away. While it's shoved in our faces no matter where we turn, from celebrities making unrealistic transformations weeks after birth (with the help of expensive trainers, unhealthy nutrition plans, and staff to watch their children), to the well-meaning stranger who comments on how 'you don't look like you just had a baby!' it's more than a little annoying how focused people are on a woman's body after birth. Newsflash: your body didn't go anywhere. It's still here, and it's even more amazing than before because it's providing life and nourishment to a tiny human!
What I am even more irked about (and frankly, kind of disgusted by) is that same preoccupation in my own field. When doing research for this article I came across way more studies on whether or not breast feeding helps women lose the baby weight, or just how low a woman's calorie intake could go without sacrificing her milk supply, than research on breast milk composition or the effects of dieting on new moms. Even nutrition researchers who should care more about the health of the mother and baby are focused on postpartum weight loss! Are you forking kidding me?
And in case you weren't aware, moms are also under a tremendous amount of pressure to breast feed. Exclusively, for at least a year. And while many women want to breast feed specifically because they think it will make them drop the weight they gained during pregnancy quickly, that's a complete double standard and just not a good idea. Because the reality is, dieting and breast feeding don't go together. Here's why.
Why You Shouldn't Diet While Breast Feeding
Your Body Needs More Calories Energy While Breast Feeding, Not Less
I don't like to get into calories too much as every person is different, but in general, nursing moms need about 500 or more extra calories a day to maintain an adequate milk supply. Eating too little in an attempt to lose weight will affect how much milk you produce, and seriously deplete your energy levels, which are already low with a new baby.
Your Body Needs Extra Nutrients To Feed Your Babe
Your body has extra high demand for nutrients postpartum and while nursing. Some nutrients in your milk are influenced by the amount in mom's diet, while others will be supplied to baby regardless of mom's intake, sacrificing the stores in her bones and tissues if there's not enough in the diet. The way to get more nutrients? More food. Not less. Not only could eating too little affect the quality of your milk supply, but it could also deplete you of important nutrients.
Food Restriction Is Bad For Mental Health
Breast feeding is tough. It's so much more difficult than you could ever imagine before you become a mom. The struggle can take a huge toll on your mental health. But add in the irritability, lack of energy, blood sugar crashes, and preoccupation with food that come with restricting food intake, and your mental health can really suffer, especially if you're already at risk for postpartum depression or anxiety. Nourishing yourself properly is important for reducing the risk of depression and other perinatal mood disorders.
Stress Hinders Milk Production
New moms are already under enough stress between sleep deprivation, figuring out how to care for a new baby, and figuring out breast feeding as it is, but worrying about losing baby weight just adds more stress. Stress hormones like cortisol can inhibit oxytocin levels, and since oxytocin is what causes the let down reflex, it affects your milk delivery system. Give yourself one less thing to stress about by accepting your postpartum body as it changes.
It's Unrealistic To Expect Your Body To Go Back To The Way It Was Before
Bodies change. It's part of life. Do you know any 40 year old women with the same body they had in high school? No, that would be weird. Your body created, housed, nourished, and birthed a wonderful, beautiful little human, and it goes through a lot of changes to do so. So no, it probably won't ever go back to exactly the way it was before, and that's 100% normal. It's more realistic to learn to love (or at least respect) your new body, wherever it may land, for the things it is capable of and the gifts it gives you.
The bottom line? Breast feeding is hard. Dieting makes it harder. Breast feeding is about so much more than a mother's body (it shouldn't be about her body at all), it's about nourishing and bonding with your new baby, and there are so many amazing benefits that have nothing to do with losing weight.