Macros For Your Goals Part 4: Macros for Breastfeeding and the Postpartum Period
Knowing your macros for breastfeeding and the postpartum period is a complex topic because every pregnancy and baby is different. Today, I’m digging into what you need to consider from a nutrition standpoint if you’re breastfeeding your new little one.
As I write this I am nearly 33 weeks pregnant with our second child and even though this is my second time going through this process it is still hard for me to wrap my head around it all.
My body is growing, nurturing, and creating a new life without any direction from me. It knows exactly what to do and when to do it. Then when the time comes, that baby will enter this world, and this same body will feed them and help them thrive in the outside world. Isn’t that kind of wild?
When preparing for a family I read everything I could get my hands on about pregnancy and labor. But, the postpartum period was something I didn’t heavily consider. So, it was a bit jarring to be thrown into the recovery process and take care of a newborn at the same time.
I was lucky enough to be able to breastfeed my firstborn until he was one year old and hope to do the same with our new addition on the way. If you can and want to do it - breastfeeding is a beautiful thing. However, it also extends the period of time where your body is being “shared” with your baby. This means what you eat and how much needs to be kept top of mind for both mama and baby.
In this article, I’m sharing considerations to make when deciding your macros for breastfeeding and the postpartum period. I will touch on postpartum nutrition needs, calories, macro needs, and weight loss.
Calorie Requirements for Breastfeeding
When a baby breastfeeds they are taking energy from your body. This means that producing enough milk for the baby requires lactating individuals to consume extra calories to meet the baby’s needs as well as their own.
The important question then becomes — exactly how many calories do you need when you breastfeed?
Different sources will provide varying estimates for these needs — from 500 extra calories per day in the first 6 months and 400 calories afterward to over 600 cal per day.
Like most things in nutrition, making a single recommendation is unrealistic. The nuances of the postpartum period change from one person to another and can even change for one individual throughout their journey.
That being said, one thing remains the same for everyone: The immediate postpartum period is a time of heightened metabolic demand as your body works to rebuild, heal and, in some cases, breastfeed.
A safe place to start for most postpartum individuals to maintain a healthy milk supply is 400-500 additional calories (above pre-pregnancy maintenance levels) per day.
Keep in mind that a caloric intake of fewer than 1500 calories may impact milk supply. As the days pass and any changes are made in your overall nutritional status, weight, milk supply, and infant growth need to be considered.
Macronutrient Needs While Breastfeeding
Now that we’ve covered calorie requirements while breastfeeding you may be wondering, what are the needs when it comes to protein, carbs, and fats (aka, the three macronutrients)?
This is another area that is going to be tailored to each individual — in fact, it is even more individualized than calorie needs as now, individual preference comes into play.
RELATED: Nutrition as a New Mom
Protein Needs While Breastfeeding
During lactation, you must consume an appropriate amount of protein to maintain your muscle mass while also providing adequate nutrition to your infant through breast milk. Protein is considered the building block of life for a reason!
The current Dietary Reference Intakes (DRI) for protein suggest that healthy lactating individuals (0–6 mo postpartum) should consume an Estimated Average Requirement (EAR) of 1.05 g protein/kg/d.
But, some studies suggest that protein requirements may be even higher than this. There is some evidence to support a protein requirement for exclusively breastfeeding individuals (3–6 mo postpartum) closer to ∼1.7–1.9 g/kg/d. From there, needs may increase further based on training style and intensity.
Dietary Fat Needs While Breastfeeding
Fat is delicious AND nutritious — especially while breastfeeding.
Essential fatty acids are critical to infant neurological development both before and after birth, so adequate intake during pregnancy and breastfeeding is key. Your intake of fatty acids not only affects the fatty acid profile of breastmilk but is an important dietary determinant of mammary gland function (which impacts milk supply) and healthy infant body fat levels.
DHA and EPA are long-chain omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids found in foods like tuna, salmon, scallops, and clams. These omega-3 fats play a crucial role in fetal and newborn development, including neuronal, retinal, and immune functions.
Suggestions for exact intake amounts are best handled by your OBGYN or an experienced coach. But, in general, we recommend keeping total fat intake at or above a 25-30% range of total calories.
Carbohydrate Needs While Breastfeeding
Carbohydrates are important for breastfeeding as you transfer energy to your little one while facilitating your own physical recovery and milk production.
Eating carbohydrates that are high in micronutrients is ideal for the optimal health of both you and your little one. Whole grains, fruits, and vegetables are your best bet here.
In terms of carb amounts, this will vary greatly based on things like:
- Personal preference (if you enjoy higher carb foods more than higher fat foods)
- If you’re training during the postpartum period
- Bodyweight of both you and baby
We generally recommend starting by determining your protein intake, moving on to fat intake, and then filling your remaining calories with carbohydrates.
Each macronutrient carries its own importance and responsibility which means having a well-balanced diet while breastfeeding is the healthy choice for most individuals. This can look like an even calorie distribution between the three macronutrients or something close to it.
The Best Foods to Eat Postpartum
Now that we’ve covered carb, fat, and protein amounts, you may be wondering what specific foods are important to focus on in the postpartum period. Use the table below for inspiration.
Breastfeeding and Weight Loss
While baby is growing inside your body, weight gain is celebrated and encouraged. Once he or she is out in the real world, you may start noticing pressure from social media and other outlets to “get your pre-baby body back”.
The postpartum period can bring up a lot of body insecurity. Your cute belly is gone and hormones are changing day-to-day and even minute-to-minute. At WAG, we support our clients in feeling confident and comfortable in their bodies again while celebrating and appreciating the natural changes that come post-childbirth.
That being said, “Can I lose weight while breastfeeding?” is a question we get a lot. Let’s dig into it.
Is It Safe to Lose Weight While Breastfeeding?
In short, the answer is yes. Some weight loss is perfectly fine and healthy for most individuals while breastfeeding.
The biggest thing to remember when considering postpartum weight loss is that recovery, healing, and milk supply (if you’ve chosen to breastfeed) are the top priority.
Here are a few weight loss considerations to make during your postpartum period:
- Changes in calorie intake to trigger weight loss (and the hormonal changes that occur when body fat is lost) can impact milk supply.
- Consider how long you’re planning on breastfeeding. For those who plan to breastfeed for as long as possible, slower, steadier weight loss is advantageous so you can ensure supply stays strong long-term.
- Overall recovery from pregnancy and delivery — and the calories needed to facilitate that recovery — change from person to person.
- Fat loss is not a linear process — especially during the postpartum period. There will almost always be times when weight goes up or down. HERE are some of the things that can impact the number you see on the scale.
Expectations around postpartum weight loss cannot be derived from societal expectations. Instead, they come with patience (with yourself), flexibility (with rate of change), awareness (of impacting factors), and a lot of grace. The pressures of caring for a new life are enough without adding stress about weight loss.
Does Weight Loss Impact Milk Supply?
A few small studies in the United States have addressed the issue of whether weight loss influences milk production. Because true experiments on breastfeeding women are unethical (understandably so!), data is dated and limited.
In a 1994 study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, researchers observed women who voluntarily reduced their energy intake to 68 percent of their estimated needs for 7 days. No differences in infant intake or milk composition were observed. In the week following the diet, women who consumed fewer than 1500 calories experienced a decrease in milk volume.
The Journal of Nutrition published an article just a few years later in 1998 where researchers ultimately found, “Gradual weight loss (≤2 kg/mo) seems to have no adverse effect on milk volume or composition, provided that the mother is not undernourished and is breast-feeding her infant on demand” and that an “energy deficit of 35%, achieved by dieting or a combination of dieting and increased exercise, results in weight loss >1 kg/wk and does not adversely affect lactation”.
But, the article also states that “further research is required on the longer-term effect of energy restriction and on the effects of energy balance in lactating women with low-fat reserves.” In other words, there may be adverse effects on milk supply in deeper deficits and/or more aggressive weight loss efforts.
With all of this in mind, we can say that weight loss is possible while breastfeeding. A modest calorie restriction combined with increases in activity may be effective at helping you lose weight while improving your metabolic profile and increasing fat losses. So yes, you CAN lose weight while breastfeeding; there are just more factors to pay attention to.
How to Lose Weight While Breastfeeding
A slow and steady approach at a small to moderate calorie deficit is the best place to start. Pair this with an exercise routine (once okayed by your OBGYN) to maintain your lean body mass and keep tabs on how your supply is doing. Then, adjust calories as necessary to ensure you and baby are getting what you need.
Keep in mind that breastfeeding itself takes energy and should be taken into account when calculating a calorie deficit. Get an outline for these calculations HERE. At WAG, recommend breastfeeding individuals start at or above 1,800 calories/day. Then, assess your progress and then individualize further.
Need more specific advice? WAG Nutrition coaches have been trained to safely and confidently help you reach your goals with personalized recommendations. We’ll help you assess the different factors that can impact milk production and the best next steps for you.
Other Factors that Impact Milk Supply
Keeping up milk supply is a dance of giving and taking (literally). Much of breastfeeding works on a supply and demand basis, especially in the first 6-10 weeks of a baby's life. Then, there are other factors that can impact milk supply besides the baby’s needs. Here are three main players outside of calorie intake that may impact your milk production.
Perhaps the most influential factor impacting milk supply is stress. The postpartum period is full of change, new routines, lack of sleep (more on that in a second), physical recovery, and more. So, it can be very tricky to manage your stress levels. Rising levels of stress hormones — like cortisol — can dramatically reduce milk supply. This means that finding ways to minimize or at least reduce your stress is extremely important.
Asking for help, getting sleep wherever you can, surrounding yourself with people you love, and participating in any activities that help calm your nervous system will be essential in this period of time.
For me, this meant asking for support in household chores like food preparation, laundry, and cleaning up plus taking a few hours for myself every other week. I loved getting my nails done.
For you, it may look like a solo walk, an hour to practice an old hobby, doing some slow flow yoga, or anything else that gives you a sense of, well, you!
Sleep is very closely related to stress. When you’re not getting enough sleep, cortisol levels rise which can drastically impact milk supply.
Because you’re taking care of a little one who is likely waking up many times throughout the night to feed, it can be nearly impossible to get the solid 7-8 hours required for healthy, happy (stress!) hormone balance.
Check out this article for some sleep tips specific to being a new parent.
Your hydration level will directly impact how much milk can be produced. Carrying a bottle of water with you, keeping one in the baby’s room (where you breastfeed), or creating milestones such as a glass of water every time you breastfeed can help with remembering to drink and stay hydrated.
HERE are a few more tips to get more water.
Wrapping Up Macros For Breastfeeding
The postpartum period is a challenging, beautiful, and rich period of life for most new parents. As I head into this stage for a second time I can’t help but reflect on how it went by so quickly with my first baby.
In the moment, it felt like a lifetime. Looking back now (while my toddler runs and jumps all over the house) I can see how quickly it all passed. My hope for myself and all new parents is to really savor those first few moments, days, and months.
Finding what works for your family, your little one, and your body is imperative in making this possible. Hopefully, these nutrition tips and clarity on macros for breastfeeding help you take on the postpartum period with confidence!
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