Safe Dieting for Breastfeeding Moms

Is it safe to diet while breastfeeding? A report in a recent issue of the New England Journal of Medicine indicated that a moderate diet and exercise program can indeed help nursing mothers lose weight without jeopardizing the health of their babies. Here's what they found, studying 40 overweight, breastfeeding women one month after their babies were born.

  • Twenty of the women followed a diet and exercise program, where they decreased their food intake by 500 calories a day and exercised for 45 minutes four times per week for 10 weeks. The other 20 women didn't change their diet or exercise.
  • The women who dieted and exercised lost one-half to one pound a week; the others maintained their weight.
  • More important, the babies in both groups grew and gained weight as expected, showing that they continued to receive adequate nutrition from their mothers who dieted.

What we know about breastfeeding and weight loss

We don't have all the answers, but the research seems clear in these areas:

  • The primary goal should be optimum weight gain during pregnancy. Women who gain more weight while pregnant tend to hang onto that weight longer.
  • If you want to lose weight while nursing your baby, wait until four weeks after birth to give your body a chance to recover and your baby a good start on growth.
  • The key here is moderation. That means no fad diets, no eliminating entire food groups, no starvation plans. Good nutrition for mom means good nutrition for baby, since what you eat directly affects both the quantity and the quality of your breast milk. If you cut back too far, your baby won't be getting the nutrition she needs to grow and thrive.
  • About 1,800-2,000 calories a day is appropriate for both gradual weight loss and adequate breast milk production. Forget about 1,200-calorie plans.
  • Look for a weight loss of no more than five pounds a month or you're losing too fast and can jeopardize your baby's health.
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