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The Skinny on Breastfeeding and Weight Loss

An Aussie Mum's Guide To Eco Friendly Babies: The Skinny on Breastfeeding and Weight Loss

Monday, February 14, 2011

The Skinny on Breastfeeding and Weight Loss

The most important thing I have to say is this: Love your body.  Embrace your curves.  Wear your stretch marks with pride for they say "I am a Mother".  Be proud of your new role and all it entails.  Even if you embark on a weight loss journey, let it be for your health, not your appearance.  Make a goal to be fit, healthy, active and energetic, not a number on the scales.  Do this and you will find happiness regardless of your weight.

Almost every new Mum I’ve known has tried to lose weight after giving birth.  It’s not always a vanity thing- often, it’s just the psychological shock of seeing your body shape change so completely.  Mums that have gained a considerable amount of weight during pregnancy or those that were overweight to begin with may choose to shed some kilos for health reasons.  Some Mums are fine with their new weight and shape but want to get back to the active lifestyles they led pre-pregnancy.  Either way, actually going about it can be daunting.  There are the ‘professional’ weight loss programs like those run in Pharmacies or available online that clearly tell you not to participate while breastfeeding.  Friends will tell you to be careful or dieting will diminish your milk supply.  Others might even suggest you give up breastfeeding for the sake of your figure; or not to bother trying to lose weight as breastfeeding will make it ‘drop off’.  If that were true I wouldn't be writing this article!
It is true that breastfeeding burns calories- in fact, you will use 1200-2100 Kj (300-500 Calories) a day if you are exclusively breastfeeding.  Your body knows this and may try to compensate by making you ravenously hungry!  The minimum recommended caloric intake is 1500-1800 calories per day according to La Leche League. 
The key is what you are eating- if you can fill yourself with healthy, satisfying foods that contain all the nutrients you need to maintain a healthy supply of breast milk, the hunger will subside and you should start to lose weight. Rather than exclude foods you love, fill yourself with foods that are good for you- ou will ahve no room left for empty calories!
I am not a dietician- these recommendations are what worked for me, and what I have learned through online research and in my years working in the natural health industry.  If you would like more info, or you are really struggling with eating or weight while breastfeeding, your maternity hospital can put you in touch with a dietician, or you can see a nutritionist. 
The key is to eat frequently, packing in as many vitamins and nutrients as you can.  Avoid empty calories- foods that have energy (Kj or calories) but no nutritional value.  Make sure each meal contains a balance of Protein, Good Carbs and Good Fats- all of which you need to keep yourself and your growing baby healthy.


There used to be a perception that protein was what you ate to look like a pro wrestler.  Thankfully, it’s now becoming common knowledge that it is a key ingredient in any weight loss program.  Protein is a building block for muscle tissue- it won’t make huge muscle but it will maintain what you have (having muscle mass raises your metabolism), help you to define areas like legs and arms, raise your immunity, suppress hunger, balance blood sugar, regulate brain chemicals (including those responsible for depression) and give you energy.  Protein requirements for a breastfeeding woman are XXXX.

Carbohydrates + Sugars:

A lot of people will use a low-carb diet for weight loss.  This is absolutely not suitable when breastfeeding- not only will it affect your breast milk supply, if you go into ketosis it can release amines into the breast milk.  You are also likely to feel tired and become constipated.  Carbohydrates (the good ones) will help to keep your blood sugar level, provide energy and brain food, keep your digestive system working and ensure organs like your kidneys can function effectively.  So, what’s a ‘good’ carb?  Well in short, it’s not white!  Brown bread, brown rice and brown pasta are all examples of good complex carbohydrates.  Complex Carbs are the ones that digest slowly and provide vitamins, minerals and other essential nutrients.  They have fibre, which acts as an insulin regulator, absorbs and removes fats from the body and slows the passage of the food, keeping you full for longer.  They are brown because the grains have the hull left on and they are not bleached or artificially whitened.  White bread, rice and pasta are made by removing the grain hulls (the part that contains the most nutrients and also fibre).  As a result you have a food that is high in fast absorbing sugars and low in everything else.
Added sugars in the diet are something to avoid where possible.  I’m not saying avoid all sugar- naturally occurring sugars from complex carbs, fruit and other whole foods are fine.  Don’t use processed foods or juices etc that have a lot of sugar added.  A couple of teaspoons in your cuppa is fine- preferably raw or palm sugar.  I don’t, however, advocate the use of artificial sweeteners either.  Some, like aspartame are not recommended during pregnancy.  Most of them have a dubious track record and some are banned in European countries.  If it’s bad enough to be banned, I don’t want it in my diet!  Stevia is a sweet herb- you can get Stevia extract in drops or tablets.  It’s very concentrated- use too much and it will taste quite bitter.  The tiny amount makes it great for tea and coffee but harder to use in cooking unless you dilute it first.  Xylitol is a sweetener made from vegetable pulp- and is my favourite natural sweetener.  It is extremely low in calories, is spoon-for-spoon as sweet as sugar (very easy to use in cooking, no conversions necessary) and has other health benefits to boot.  Xylitol is a natural antibacterial- According to the Hyperhealth database 2010, it kills the dental bacteria that causes decay as well as the H. Pylori bacteria that leads to stomach ulcers.  It increases bone strength and helps the absorption of calcium.  It’s becoming increasingly common in toothpaste, chewing gum and other dental products.  As a food, it’s a bit on the expensive side but is rapidly coming down in price.  Nirvana has released their flavoured Xylitol range- Cinnamon, Cocoa, Carob or Vanilla mixed with Xylitol and packaged in a handy shaker.  I’ve used the cinnamon (great over a cappuccino, or on toast or baked goodies) and the cocoa (makes a mean hot chocolate!).  If baking, you can also use apple or pear juice as a sugar alternative.  Agave nectar, molasses and palm sugar are all examples of sugar alternatives- they still contain some Kj’s but are packed full of nutrients.


Essential Fatty Acids are just that- essential.  Everyone knows now that fish oil is good for us, but did you know that taking fish oil or an alternative source of omega 3 will helps your babies brain to develop?  Fish oil itself is extremely cheap and fairly safe, but the mass farming of fish to serve this billion dollar industry is taking it’s toll.  Plant based alternatives like Flaxseed (aka Linseed) are a more sustainable option- it tastes better too.  A good selection of whole grains, seeds and nuts will ensure you are getting a balance of EFA’s.  You can also throw in a few serves of fresh oily fish (like salmon or tuna) to increase your supply.

Power Foods:

Here are some great foods to include in your daily diet that are not only good for weight loss, but packed full of nutrients for you and baby.


A high protein grain that shot to popularity after an appearance on last year’s Biggest Loser.  You can buy the grain and boil it as a rice or polenta alternative, get flakes to be used as porridge.  It’s fairly bland like most grains so you can use it in sweet or savoury dishes.


A mix of ground Sunflower seeds, Almonds and Flaxseeds for protein, good fats and fibre.  Add to cereal, smoothies, salads or bread mix.

Rye bread:

A great low GI, nutrient packed bread that really fills you up.  Quite heavy- you may like to try a rye blend first.

Chia seeds:

This little seeds comes from South America and is full of Omega 3, calcium, potassium, fibre and protein.  Add to cereal, smoothies, salads, bread mix, or water- put a couple of teaspoons in a litre or water.  It swells up a bit but has no taste.  Drink through the day.

Any vegetable but especially those with colour (purple, red, yellow, orange, green) will help weight loss by providing low energy density food that is packed full of nutrients.  By feeding yourself all the vitamins, minerals and other necessary elements your body will not need to crave more food.  By filling yourself up with these amazing foods, you can focus on the things you are allowed to have, not the thing you are not.  

Herbal teas:

The many varieties of herbal teas have numerous health benefits that are varied and unique.  A great way to increase water intake.  Check with a herbalist or naturopath for some great suggestions or try fruit teas available at places like T2.

So, how do you put this all together?  Here’s an example of some really healthy meals:


Muesli made from rolled oats, barley and quinoa, sunflower seeds, ground flaxseed, pepitas, cinnamon powder (to balance blood sugar) and a scoop of plain protein powder.  One scoop of organic yoghurt, milk
1 High Fibre Weetbix, ¼ cup rolled oats, 2 tbsp LSA, milk, cinnamon powder
2 eggs, one grilled tomato, 2 slices wholegrain toast, ½ cup spinach
Smoothie made from 2 pieces fruit, milk, protein powder, cinnamon, LSA
You can use any kind of milk but if you are having dairy, try Goat’s milk for better digestion- I prefer soy but you can use rice, almond, quinoa (the best, but expensive!) or barley- preferably an organic variety and check to see that sugar is not one of the main ingredients!  Your health food store or natural grocers should be able to source these for you.


Salads are a great lunch option- you can use a mixed bag of greens, and any veg you like.  Use a V-slicer to julienne things like raw beetroot, pumpkin, carrots and cucumber.  Add a variety of textures as well to keep it interesting. 
Always try to include a protein ingredient- salmon, chicken, beef, egg, beans, lentils, cashews, tofu etc. 
Use flaxseed oil as a dressing with some apple cider vinegar or organic yoghurt. 
Sliced fruit like mango, apple or mandarin will give it a really different taste. 
Herbs and spices will also offer some interesting flavours.
Feta or Goats/sheep’s milk cheese will increase the protein and add calcium.
Add grains like quinoa or brown rice to make your salad more filling.
You can put it in some mountain bread to make a yummy wrap.
Eggs- as omelette, frittata, or scrambled gives you a filling lunch option.  Make sure you add salad and veg
You can always use breakfast or dinner suggestions at lunch too!


Try to keep dinner to something small and light, this is good for the digestion and assists weight loss.  There are so many great recipes out there for healthy, wholesome dinner suggestions, I’ve included links rather than suggestions!


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