It is commonly said that breastfeeding helps mothers lose weight. While some women find that nursing helps the baby weight fall right off, that is just not the case for everyone. It is true that exclusively nursing burns 500 calories a day, but not all
breastfeeding moms have an easy time losing weight. Hormonal changes, increased hunger, and potential thyroid issues after pregnancy can all contribute to troubles losing that extra baby weight.
It is also very normal for a nursing mom’s body to hold on to around 10 lbs of “extra” weight. This is a biological mechanism to protect you and your baby in case of a famine—this 10 lbs could help ensure both of your survival if food were to suddenly become unavailable. Some women find they have the opposite problem, and lose more weight than is healthy or safe. This too can be a sign of thyroid or other health issues, and women experiencing this should see their healthcare provider. The healthiest, safest way to lose weight while nursing is to maintain a healthy, balanced diet of whole foods in moderate portions, and keeping an active lifestyle.
From Dr. Abbey at InfantRisk- “Herbal products are not regulated by the FDA and there can be significant variations in the potency and purity between different products or even between different lots of the same product. Herbs can also interact with each other and with prescription medications, so we tend to advise not taking them at all. As a general rule, breastfeeding is a time for simplicity. Focus on eating a balanced, nutritious diet and minimizing your use of extraneous stuff”
If you are interested in adding herbs to your diet, consult a licensed/certified herbalist familiar with lactation so that you can get personalized, safe recommendations.
Exercise while Nursing
Always wait for the OK from your OBGYN or midwife to begin exercise after your baby is born. The current recommendation is not to exercise until after 6 weeks. It is a common myth that exercise will decrease the milk supply of a nursing mother. This is not true. To quote from Kellymom, “Research has shown that moderate exercise does not affect milk supply, milk composition, or baby’s growth. Exercising to exhaustion may have a short-term effect on lactic acid and IgA content of a mother’s milk.”
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Any product or lifestyle change that claims to detox your body should be carefully examined. More times than not, this is a marketing ploy buzzword used to sell
a product when there are no true “detoxing” ingredients in the food or drink. Most humans with working livers do not, in fact, store up “toxins” in their bodies that need to be cleansed or released; we would all have been dead far before the detox craze hit, if this were the case. “Detox Water” recipes, for instance, are often just fruit mixed with water. This is absolutely not dangerous, and the use of the word “detox” here is simply taking advantage of this current fad in the diet world in order to get more likes/pins/attention.
A product or change that TRULY encourages your body to release
toxins should absolutely NOT be used while breastfeeding. Anything that is released into your bloodstream (such as potential toxins) is also released into your breast milk and can be passed on to baby.
Meal Replacement Shakes & Bars, and Protein Powders
Meal replacement products are generally nutritionally inferior to healthy meals comprised of whole foods. Most contain artificial flavors, colors, sweeteners, and genetically modified ingredients as well as other questionable ingredients. The ideal diet for any person, including breastfeeding mothers, would be comprised of natural, high nutrient, whole foods such as fruits, vegetables, protein from animal and/or plant sources, whole grains or other complex carbohydrates, and healthy “good” fats. If you do choose to consume protein/meal replacement shakes or bars, note that these products should only be used as snack-style additions to your already healthy diet, and should never replace a healthy meal.
For more on the “ideal” diet for nursing moms, check out these links:
Fat Burners & Pre-Workout
Most workout supplements contain branch chain amino acids, BCAA, and a fat burner or metabolism enhancer, all designed to speed up the recovery process or give you the “high” to get through a good workout. These additives may pass through breast milk and cause side-effects including weight loss in babies, and as it is not well studied, nursing mothers should avoid them for baby’s safety.
Artificial & Natural Low Calorie Sweeteners
Many popular diet products contain artificial sweeteners, and there are passionate feelings on both sides of the fence regarding the safety of these products. Artificial sweeteners are by no means part of a healthy, whole-foods diet, and should ideally be avoided for one’s general well-being. Here is what the current experts say about some popular sweeteners, regarding safety for use during lactation:
According to Hale (Medications and Mothers’ Milk, 2012), Nutrasweet (aspartame) levels in mother’s milk are too low to produce significant side effects in infants who do not have PKU (phenylketonuria). It IS contraindicated in babies with proven PKU. Hale lists aspartame in Lactation Risk Category L1 (safest), but L5 (contraindicated) if baby has PKU.
According to Hale (Medications and Mothers’ Milk, 2012), there has been little research on sucralose in breastfeeding women. Per Hale, it is poorly absorbed from the GI tract and is excreted unchanged in the urine. The United States FDA considers sucralose to be safe for use in breastfeeding women. Hale lists sucralose in Lactation Risk Category L2 (safer).
Sorbitol is a sugar alcohol found naturally in some fruits and vegetables and is used as a sweetener in foods and medications. It’s not listed in Hale, but is unlikely to be a problem breastfeeding-wise. It’s commonly used in toothpaste, sugar-free chewing gum, etc.
Per Hale (Medications and Mothers’ Milk, 2012), milk levels of saccharin tend to accumulate over time, but still are considered minimal. Moderate intake should not be a problem for nursing mothers. Hale classifies it in Lactation Risk Category L3 (probably safe).
Stevia (Stevia rebaudiana)
Stevia is a very sweet herb that is used by many as a zero-calorie sugar substitute. Rebaudioside A (purified from Stevia rebaudiana) is “generally recognized as safe” (GRAS) as a sweetening agent for foods by the US Food and Drug Administration, but no studies have been done on pregnant or breastfeeding women. Hale (Medications and Mothers’ Milk, 2012) recommends caution when it comes to using stevia while breastfeeding because many different herbs in the same genus are being used as natural sweeteners, and because there are no studies on the use of stevia in breastfeeding women. He classifies stevia in Lactation Risk Category L3 (probably safe).
Popular Diet Programs & Products
We do understand that some moms prefer to try diet programs, cleanses, or products to kick-start their weight loss journey. Some of these are safe for breastfeeding, and some are not. Here is a rundown of currently popular products, common ingredients, and programs, and their safety for use by nursing mothers. Please note that this list is far from exhaustive, and you should ALWAYS contact your doctor or IBCLC to discuss the possible risks and effects of a diet program on your health and the health of your baby.