How Many Calories Should I Eat While Breastfeeding?
As a breastfeeding mum, it’s essential to ensure you’re getting enough calories to keep up your milk supply and energy levels. But how many calories do you need for breastfeeding? This blog post by our Head of Nutrition Sheridan Skye, will break down everything you need to know about how to support your breastfeeding journey with nutrition.
Do Mothers Need More Calories While Breastfeeding?
Yes, they do! In fact, breastfeeding requires far more calories than a pregnancy. During pregnancy, maternal fat mass increases to prepare for breastfeeding to ensure you have enough energy to sustain a process that is as metabolically expensive as breastfeeding (wild, isn’t it!)
How Many Extra Calories for Breastfeeding?
Well, that’s the tricky part. It’s a nuanced topic; there’s no doubt about it. I dedicated an entire three-part series to answer this question in our postnatal series (shameless plug). But I don’t want to leave you hanging, and I hope this blog gives you some little nuggets you can walk away with and implement immediately.
You’ll hear several different values when it comes to this question. Some say 200, some say 300, and some say 800, which is a big difference when you stop to think about it!
Butte and King published a brilliant paper on energy requirements during breastfeeding. They concluded that women require up to 625 extra calories per day in the first five months to support exclusive breastfeeding.
So does that mean ALL women should eat an additional 625 calories per day for the first five months?
Well, not exactly! This number does vary a lot amongst women. Keep reading to find out more.
Is Dieting Safe During Breastfeeding?
Before we get into the complex topic of calorie requirements during breastfeeding, let’s address the elephant in the room. Is dieting safe during breastfeeding? The short answer is yes – dieting can be safe during breastfeeding. This means you can safely lose fat in your postpartum period without affecting your milk supply. Outside of severe protein energy malnutrition, women’s milk volume stays relatively consistent regardless of their calorie intake. In fact, your baby’s requirements are essentially what regulates your milk production, with supply matching demand. This means that each time your baby removes milk from your breasts, your body is signalled to ‘make more to match that supply. So the best way to increase supply is to remove more milk from the breast by increasing the frequency of feeds and ensuring your baby transfers milk well from your breasts. So while a deficit is not likely to affect your milk supply, when energy is restricted, your health is at greater risk of decreasing over the potential decrease of your milk supply.
Can You Have a Calorie Deficit While Breastfeeding?
A slow and steady approach to fat loss (around 0.5-1kg per week) is safe for milk production. Since we now know that losing fat is safe during breastfeeding, let’s dive deeper into the possible consequences of dieting while nursing. Losing fat requires you to restrict calories (energy), which can decrease the micronutrients you consume. After birth, women are commonly depleted of essential micronutrients such as iodine, vitamin D, and EPA/DHA. Restricting food intake, while safe from a fat loss standpoint, might put you at greater risk of further depleting the micronutrients mentioned. So, if you decide to diet, prioritise your fruits and veggies (your pelvic floor will also love the added fibre, constipation isn’t great for a weak pelvic floor).
How To Determine My Breastfeeding Calories?
Here are some things you need to consider:
- Are you exclusively breastfeeding (aka, no other food such as solids or formula is being offered)? If yes, your energy needs will be slightly higher. If not, they are likely lower.
- How old is your baby? Energy requirements tend to be highest in the first five months of feeding, which usually coincides with the introduction of solids. When your baby becomes well-established on solids, he or she will begin to take in less milk. So a baby who is five weeks old compared to a baby who is nine months old will need different volumes of milk. Mamas who choose to breastfeed beyond 12 months will require even less energy for their milk supply because their (now toddler) will take in even less milk).
- Are you feeding multiples or tandem feeding? Self-explanatory right – more babies = higher energy demands.
These questions should help you to determine if your energy demands will be on the higher end of the 625 calories per day we quoted earlier in this blog. From there, you can estimate your maintenance calories using our TDEE calculator. It’s important to note that this calculator will estimate your maintenance calories if you are NOT breastfeeding. We suggest adding an additional 300-500 calories and monitoring what happens with your average weight over a two-week period. If you lose weight, you are in a deficit. If you maintain your weight, you have found your maintenance. If you gain weight, you are in a surplus. You will then adjust according to your calories by decreasing or increasing calories or keeping them the same.
If you prefer expert guidance, our postnatal programs break down this topic in much greater detail, and you’ll have access to our Breastfeeding calorie calculator for peace of mind.
Foods to Eat While Breastfeeding
Since your diet directly affects your and your baby’s health, there are some important foods to include during this time. First, consuming a wide range of foods from each of the three macronutrients: protein, fat, and carbohydrates, is essential. Regarding breastfeeding, many vitamins and minerals are vital for both mom and baby. One nutrient, in particular, is iodine, which helps the body make thyroid hormones for regulating metabolism and keeping cells functioning correctly. Fortunately, iodine is found in many foods like dairy products, seafood, eggs, fortified breads and cereals. However, breast milk is also a great source of iodine for your baby.
One nutrient that is easily overlooked during breastfeeding is vitamin D. This vitamin helps our bodies absorb and use calcium, leading to strong bones and teeth. It also plays a role in immune function and cell growth. So how do we get enough vitamin D while breastfeeding? The most efficient way is through regular sun exposure, as our skin produces this vitamin when exposed to sunlight. In addition, foods like salmon, tuna, egg yolks, and fortified dairy products can also provide vitamin D.
Calcium is essential for bone health, and it’s also necessary for milk production. In fact, a nursing mum needs about 1,200 milligrams of calcium each day – that’s more than the recommended daily intake for non-nursing adults! So, where can a breastfeeding mama get her daily dose of calcium? Of course, dairy products like milk and yogurt are obvious choices. However, many non-dairy options, too, include leafy greens, almonds, and tofu made with calcium sulphate.
If breastfeeding, it’s essential to ensure you’re getting enough iron in your diet. Why? Iron helps keep your red blood cells healthy and supports oxygen delivery. This also means it sustains your energy levels and ability to fight off infection. Breast milk itself doesn’t contain much iron, so nursing mums need to get their daily recommended intake from foods like red meat, beans, lentils, fortified cereals, and dark leafy greens. The critical thing for mums to know is that the recommended daily intake of iron for breastfeeding mothers doesn’t consider mothers with a regular period. This is because breastfeeding can delay menstruation! If you have your cycle, you should aim to get more iron in your diet.
Other critical nutritional considerations include consuming foods high in zinc, folic acid and omega-three fatty acids.
Should Mothers Take a Multivitamin While Breastfeeding?
Multivitamins can be a helpful supplement for nursing moms, especially if they’re not able to eat a balanced diet or are dealing with nutrient deficiencies. However, checking with your healthcare provider before starting any new supplements while breastfeeding is always best. They’ll be able to provide personalised recommendations and ensure that the vitamins won’t interact with any medications you may be taking. Additionally, some vitamins can harm nursing infants in large doses, so it’s crucial to follow the directions and talk to your doctor about your individual needs.
Is Training Safe During Breastfeeding?
When it comes to fitness and breastfeeding, there’s no need to stress. There are many claims out there that exercise decreases your milk supply due to increased lactic acid production, but this has been debunked in a study by Carey & Quinn (2001). So, generally speaking, exercise is completely safe during this time (unless your healthcare provider has advised otherwise). In addition, regular physical activity can have excellent benefits for both mum and baby. It can improve mood, reduce stress, and help with postpartum weight loss. As always, listen to your body and don’t push yourself too hard – gradually easing back into your routine will prevent injury and ensure you can keep up a regular exercise schedule that works for you and your little one. And remember, breast milk is easily digestible for babies, so they’ll receive all the nourishment they need even if mom has a sweat session.
Try Our Pre and Post Natal Pregnancy Program
Becoming a new mom can already be overwhelming, and adding the pressure of getting back in shape can make things even more stressful. That’s where our postpartum programs come in. Created by experts in fitness and nutrition, they take out all the guesswork and provide an easy-to-follow plan for getting back into shape. You don’t have to navigate the overwhelming world of diets and workouts on your own – we’ve got your back. So let us help you become the strongest, healthiest version of yourself as a new mom. Trust us, you’re worth it.
Read our Other Educational Fitness and Nutrition Blogs:
- What Is Mommy Tummy?
- 5 Reasons You Are Not Losing Fat In A Deficit
- 3 Reasons Your Diet Isn’t Leading To Fat Loss
- Are All Calories Created Equal?
- How Much Protein Can You Absorb?
Yours in Health,
Head of Nutrition