Weight loss and breastfeeding

Breastfeeding itself burns up tons of calories, but just how safe are dieting and exercise when you're still feeding?

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Although the arrival of a new baby (and all those new family photo opportunities) might make you want to get back in shape as soon as possible, you should make sure your body has recovered from the birth properly.

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Whether you have a natural or a caesarian birth, it’s important that you begin your new life on a healthy footing, and allowing recovery time is important.

The great news is that if you are breastfeeding, your body will naturally be getting back in shape (whatever your personal size) before you even think about the gym or diets.

Breastfeeding – a natural way to get back in shape

Producing milk burns an incredible amount of calories and the quality of your diet directly affects the quality of your breastmilk, so while you can enjoy a varied and healthy diet, it is important to keep up your calories too. (‘Good’ calories, that is, sourced from dairy, nuts etc as opposed to ’empty’ calories like crisps!)

The act of breastfeeding also helps to trigger your uterus contracting back to its pre-birth size which helps bring the size of your middle reduce more quickly.

Sometimes when you are feeding in the early days you may even be able to feel this contracting through mild afterpains.

Diet

Even if, before pregnancy, you tended to eat ‘diet’ foods, breastfeeding requires you to eat at least 1,800 calories a day – and some women may find they need to eat more.

This is partly because breastfeeding burns up calories and feeling drained is the last thing you need to add to your other new mum aches and pains.

But also because eating a healthy diet that is rich in good calories directly affects the quality of the milk your baby is getting.

If you find your baby is not thriving (following his own expected weight trajectory when you take him for check ups at the baby clinic) you may want to discuss what you are eating with your doctor or health visitor.

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It doesn’t automatically mean you have to supplement his diet with formula feeds. You don’t need to obsess about your diet being perfect, but just eat sensibly.

Some people do find that their choice of foods can put off a baby sensitive to strong tastes like curry, but it is not a health concern in any way.

Exercising

Even if you had a caesarian, getting up and about is a good idea, though in the first week or so this should mean simply gentle walks and not going too far.

(Whether you had a caesarian or a natural birth you might find that your post-partum bleeding increases if you overdo it, so simply slow down and take it easy again for a few weeks.)

Your six-week check-up is a good point at which to see how your body is doing and if you are ready for formal exercise yet. At first try walking.

Discuss gym exercising with your doctor before you go back to anything more strenuous as she will be aware of your own birth experience and body state.

While you are breastfeeding, keeping up your liquids is important all the time, so make especially sure that you are drinking enough water when exercising.

If you get breast problems like mastitis make sure you stop doing any exercising which might exacerbate the problem. Consult your doctor or health visitor, or your gym instructor if you are not sure.

More about mastitis

Enjoying breastfeeding at this time

By the time you get round to doing exercise you will already have got used to your breastfeeding body and be aware that when your boobs are full, moving around is less comfortable, so either doing a feed beforehand or expressing milk may well help you.

Activities like this don’t affect the quality or taste of your milk so you don’t need to worry on that score, but if you have been swimming or running, you might want to shower before the next feed so that your skin does not taste of chlorine or too salty for your baby.

A good weight loss marker is a maximum of about 2lbs a month so don’t overdo it.

Being a new mum is an exciting time and there are plenty of challenges ahead. If you decide to put off taking up old exercise regimes, don’t feel guilty about your body.

You’ve been through a birth and there’s plenty of time to get any unwanted weight at a later date.

Pics: Getty

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