Dieting and Exercise whilst Breastfeeding

Recently Rafe turned nine months old and this also marked nine whole months of breastfeeding! My initial goal was to do six months, then when six months came and everything was going so well (apart from sleep…but more on that later) I decided there was no point in switching to formula and instead to go to a full year, by which point he would be able to have cows milk. But to be completely honest I may now continue past a year if everything is still going well. The World Health Organisation recommends breastfeeding for the first two years of a child’s life, alongside solid foods, and although I cannot say whether we will go quite that long or not we will take each day as it comes.

I have been incredibly lucky with breastfeeding and apart from the initial discomfort at the start I have found it relatively easy. I love the amazing bond that being able to breastfeed your baby creates. The only downside of the experience has been our sleep situation. Rafe likes to nurse throughout the night, every two hours or so and has done since he was four months old. It’s incredibly tiring and there have been times when I have been tempted to give up and try him on formula. Something that I have found incredibly helpful is joining some breastfeeding support groups via Facebook. I am a member of the ‘UK Breastfeeding support’ and also ‘Breastfeeding yummy mummies’ groups which are fantastic. I would strongly advise any mums or mums to be who are either currently breastfeeding or planning to do so to join these groups or something similar. The advice and support that I have received from these groups has been far superior to that from my health visitors who quite frankly haven’t seemed to have a great knowledge about breastfeeding. In addition not many people who I know are still breastfeeding and it’s easy to feel a little alienated. Being able to talk to others who completely understand what you are going through really helps you feel less alone. Especially fellow sleep deprived mums, who really don’t want to give up but just need somebody to talk/rant to!

One thing that I noticed on these groups was a lot of mums posting about whether it is safe to exercise and lose weight while breastfeeding. I started exercising lightly at two weeks post partum and have gradually built my way up to kettlebell workouts, HIIT and I have just completed 1.0 of Kayla Itsines BBG programme, all whilst breastfeeding. I have managed to lose all my ‘baby weight’ without effecting my milk supplies and I thought I would just share my tips and things that I have found helpful. I have no professional qualifications in relation to diet and exercise or post partum weightloss and I am not a lactation expert. All the information in this post has simply been gathered through my own personal experience and some of the research I have done online.

Now firstly when it comes to diet and dieting while breastfeeding well I don’t really diet. I just try to eat healthy, nutrient dense foods 80% of the time, and if I am completely honest sometimes that 80% becomes 70%…or even 65%. When people say that breastfeeding makes you lose weight I’m not sure that I completely agree. Apparently you burn between 200-500 extra calories per day breastfeeding, but it does make you very hungry! So I am pretty sure I consume more extra calories than I burn off with feeding! But in terms of eating when I am on track I eat three healthy meals per day, lunch is usually meal prep which helps me stick to this. I have snacks such as fruit, nuts and protein bars or shakes and the occasional treat in the evening. I don’t count calories anymore or macros and I just try and ensure my diet includes plenty of protein rich foods as they keep me satisfied for longer and I am trying to build muscle and protein is essential for this. I take a breastfeeding supplement and drink plenty of water too. I also have porridge for breakfast every morning or ‘proats’. I don’t believe there is any scientific evidence to suggest eating oats promotes milk supply but I have eaten them everyday and have always had a good milk supply so it’s just become habit now.

My tips for exercising whilst Breastfeeding:

  • Start slow. After having a baby this is the best way to start anyway but by beginning with low intensity exercise like walking, pilates or maybe just very light weights you will be able to more easily judge whether your milk supply is being effected. Plus the body needs time to recover and breastfeeding is more work for your body. I would also say don’t get obsessed with it and rest when you need to.
  • Don’t be obsessed with the scale. Apparently we can weigh up to 3lb more when breastfeeding due to the breast tissue. Have a realistic goal taking this into account and don’t weigh yourself too often.
  • Water, water, water! I have found that I get really thirsty breastfeeding and I am always carrying a 1.5 litre bottle of water around with me. If you are exercising and losing water through sweat make sure you replenish this and stay hydrated.
  • Wear a supportive bra. I wear a nursing bra during exercise with a light impact sports bra or crop over the top, you want to support your boobs but not wear anything too restrictive as this could lead to blocked milk ducts or mastitis.
  • Feed/pump before working out. I don’t worry about this so much now my supply has regulated but in the early days working out with full boobs is not comfortable so I would recommend waiting until they are emptied before exercise.
  • Make sure you are consuming enough calories to cope with feeding and exercising. And make sure you are having enough protein to repair your muscles.

There have been studies that have suggested that babies would refuse feeds after a mother has been exercising. My baby has never refused to nurse, and aslong as you shower after exercise, before feeding  then it should not effect how the milk tastes to a baby.

The advice I would give to any nursing mums who are keen to shed any weight left over from pregnancy is to start just by having a clean, healthy diet. Then slowly start incorporating gentle exercise into your routine when your are ready/have healed/have the all clear from the doctor and work you way up from there. Don’t put unnecessary pressure on yourself, having a new baby is hard enough but when you are breastfeeding your body is working even harder and it’s likely you will have some sleep deprivation and cluster feeding to contend with in those early days/weeks. In my case the sleep deprivation has never ended but I do find that getting a half an hour workout into my day does make me feel 100% better!

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