The Calories You Need
In general, a woman who is not pregnant or breastfeeding needs to eat between 1800 and 2000 calories per day, depending on her height, weight and activity level. During pregnancy, an additional 300 calories a day is usually recommended. When you are breastfeeding, you will need to add even a little bit more, since making breast milk requires more energy. If you're nursing one child, you should eat approximately 2200 to 2500 calories each day; when you're nursing a newborn 8 to 12 times a day, your body will need more calories. Later, when your child is older, eating solid foods and breastfeeding less often, you will not need to eat as much.
If you are diabetic, a teen mom, a vegetarian or vegan, breastfeeding more than one child, or breastfeeding while you are pregnant, you will have special dietary needs. Your doctor, a nutritionist, or a registered dietician can help you plan a diet that contains all the calories and nutrients necessary to keep you and your baby healthy.
Gaining and Losing Weight While Breastfeeding
The additional calories that you need while you're breastfeeding will not cause you to gain weight, as long as you're eating the right foods. As your body makes breast milk, it burns off those extra calories. If you are eating a healthy, well-balanced diet, you will gradually lose your pregnancy weight. But if you're trying to add more calories by eating junk foods, cakes and high fat foods, the weight will come off much more slowly — and you may even gain weight. Junk food only gives you empty calories, not the nutrients that you need.
Many women think about how they will lose weight after their baby is born. While you are breastfeeding, you should not go on a calorie restricted diet to try to lose your pregnancy weight unless you're specifically recommended to do so by your doctor for medical reasons. Liquid diets, weight loss pills, or going without food for long periods of time can be harmful to your health and likely cause a decrease in your milk supply. Losing weight gradually is much healthier. Remember, it took you nine months to gain your baby weight, so make sure you give yourself at least that much time to lose it. Be realistic with your goals. Eating healthy foods and incorporating exercise into your daily routine can help you to safely lose weight and get back into shape. Just be sure to check with your doctor before you begin to exercise.
American Academy of Pediatrics. New Mother’s Guide To Breastfeeding. Bantam Books. New York. 2011.
Lawrence, Ruth A., MD, Lawrence, Robert M., MD. Breastfeeding A Guide For The Medical Profession Sixth Edition. Mosby. Philadelphia. 2005.
Newman, Jack, MD, Pitman, Theresa. The Ultimate Breastfeeding Book of Answers. Three Rivers Press. New York. 2006.
United States Department of Agriculture. Nutritional Needs While Breastfeeding. ChooseMyPlate.gov. Accessed February 8, 2013: http://www.choosemyplate.gov/pregnancy-breastfeeding.html
Whitney, E., Hamilton, E., Rolfes, S. Understanding Nutrition Fifth Edition. West Publishing Company. New York. 1990.