Experts Share The Best Breastfeeding Tips -Backed By Science 

Rebecca McPhee
Dietitian Member of the DAA


3 Minutes

Since the birth of your little one, you may have been thinking about starting to lose some post baby weight. First of all, congratulations for making the decision to breastfeed. The benefits of breastfeeding for at least 6 months for you and bub are enormous. Weight loss is one of those key benefits. 

Breastfeeding seems to be nature's way of helping you to get back to your pre pregnancy body. For starters, breastfeeding resets your metabolism, improving insulin sensitivity, fat metabolism and greater burning/use of visceral fat (fat around your organs. It also builds a healthy baby brain by using the fat accumulated around your bottom, hips and thighs! The fats in these areas are enriched in the essential fatty acid, DHA (docosahexaenoic acid), which is an important component in the developing a healthy brain. A 2014 study also found that women who exclusively breastfed for at least 3 months lost 3.2 pounds more than women who did not breastfeed or combined breastfeeding with formula feeding. 

Not losing your baby weight, especially between the first and second pregnancy increases your risk of Gestational Diabetes and Type 2 Diabetes in the future. The two most important things to remember when planning to lose weight is 1) Not to hit the panic button and go to extreme measures in an attempt to shed weight in record time and 2) Maintain good nutrition for the health of you and your baby. 

In fact, going on an official 'diet' could actually sabotage your attempts of trying to lose your pregnancy weight. We know from research that a large majority of dieters regain more weight than they had originally lost. The moral of the story here is that strict diets can actually make us fatter. 

If you are looking to lose weight and keep it off, a safe, post baby weight loss target is 0.5kg per week. To achieve this, the focus should be on adopting healthy habits that are sustainable for the long term. By doing this you will also set your children up with healthy habits (ever noticed that they copy everything that you do!). Ever woman's weight loss journey is different too. Some may lose their baby weight within 3 months whilst others may take 12 months.  

Breast feeding burns up a lot of your energy, it is important that to make good food choices to provide enough fuel for you and your baby. Basing your eating around the five food groups is the best thing you can do to ensure those extra calories are nutrient rich for the growth and development of your little one. When you breastfeed, you actually need an extra 500 calories each day compared to pregnancy which is only 300 calories. 

According to the findings of study in 2019, women retained less post pregnancy weight and had a lower body mass index (Body Mass index) and smaller waist circumference after following the 'DASH'(Dietary Approach to Stop Hypertension) diet. The DASH diet focuses on healthy, gradual and sustainable weight loss. The DASH diet does not cut our any foods and is based on the 5 food groups. 

 

Food Group 

Serves 

Serving Sizes 

Vegetables or legumes/beans 

7 ½  

1 serve is equal to ½ cup cooked vegetables or legumes, 1 cup of salad, or ½ potato 

Fruit 

1 serve is equal to 1 medium or 2 small pieces of fruit 

Grain foods, mostly wholegrain or high fibre varieties  

1 serve is equal to 1 slice of bread, ½ cup cooked rice or pasta (closed 'fist' size) or 2/3 cup of cereal 

Lean meats, poultry, fish, eggs, tofu, nuts/seeds or legumes/beans 

2 ½  

1 serve is equal to 65-80g cooked meat or poultry (palm size), 100g fish, 2 eggs, or 1 small handful of nuts/seeds 

Dairy foods, including milk, yoghurt, cheese or dairy alternatives (e.g. soy), mostly from reduced fat options 

2 ½  

1 serve is equal to 1 cup of milk, 1 tub of yoghurt, or 2 slices of cheese 

 

Below are 10 tips to keep in mind when aiming to lose weight safely whilst breastfeeding.  

 

1. Dial up the veg 

Not only are vegetables and salad packed with essential vitamins and minerals, they are low in calories and help you to feel full. Incorporate cooked vegetables or salad into each meal. One portion size would be two large handfuls. Aim to fill half your plate with salad or veggies.  

 

2. Pump up the protein  

During breastfeeding, the number of protein serves increases slightly. Most Australians get enough protein from their diet so there is no need to supplement. We need protein for cell growth and repair and building strong muscles. Protein will also keep you feeling fuller for longer which helps to curb the appetite. The secret is to choose protein sources that are lower in saturated fat. Choose lean cuts of meat, take the skin off chicken and include fish, eggs, tofu, tempeh, nuts, seeds and legumes for protein variety. A portion of protein is about the size of your palm.  

 

3. Count the carbs not cut the carbs  

Cutting out carbs is not the answer to losing weight. In fact, carbs are an important fuel source and make up a large part of our daily energy needs. Especially when breastfeeding. The key with carbs is choosing ones that have a low glycemic index (GI).  

Low GI carbs are higher in fibre, vitamins, minerals, keep you feeling fuller for longer and they have the added bonus of providing you with sustained energy. Good,low GI carbohydrate choices include basmati and Doongara low GI clever rice, pasta, GiLICIOUS™ potatoes, noodles, quinoa, bulghur, buckwheat, pearl barley, whole wheat pearl couscous, semolina, teff, oats, natural muesli, wholegrain bread/crispbread, fruit, milk and yoghurt. Aim to include carbohydrates with each meal and snack. Every woman is different but aiming for a fist-size portion of starchy carbohydrates with main meals is a good general rule. 

 

4. Add some good fats  

Just as there are better carb choices, there are also healthier fat options. Minimise fats that are high in saturated fat such as butter and ghee and go for good fats such as olive oil, avocado, nuts, seeds and oily fish. Adding avocado on your wholegrain toast, olive oil in your cooking and some almonds as a snack are all easy ways to include good fats in your day. An average portion of good fats is the size of your thumb.  

 

5. Snack smarter 

There are so many calorie dense, 'grab and go' snacks in supermarkets and cafés providing little nutritional value. Stock your pantry and fridge with healthier options that are nutritious, naturally lower in calories and cheaper. Snacking is a great way to top up your energy levels between meals and will keep you satisfied until the next meal. Nutrient dense 'grab and go' snacks include fresh fruit, natural/Greek style yoghurt, wholegrain crackers with hummus, 100% nut spread or reduced fat cheese, nuts and seeds.  

 

6. Follow the 80/20 rule  

A healthy balanced diet also includes indulgences now and again. Think of it as the 80/20 rule i.e., 80% of your diet based on healthy foods from the five food groups and 20% from occasional treat foods. Treat foods or 'discretionary' foods include: soft drinks, cordial, cakes, sweets, slices, chocolate, chips and biscuits. Apart from tasting good, these foods are high in saturated fat and sugar and provide no real nutritional benefit. Limiting these foods to a social outing or event means you can enjoy a treat without feeling guilty. A good rule of thumb is limiting treats to once a week. Don't forget 'portion caution' too - choose a small chocolate bar rather than a block for example or a small piece of cake from a café intead of buying a packet of biscuits (and trying hard not to polish the whole packet off!). 

 

7. Avoid skipping meals  

Our bodies are programmed to survive. If we skip a meal and get too hungry, we will eat like food is scarce at the next meal! Being without food for long periods of time also depletes our energy so we are more likely to opt for unhealthy choices. Don't forget you are feeding your baby so it's vitally important to refuel your body with nutrient dense foods. Studies have shown that people who skip breakfast for example are more at risk of carrying extra weight. Aim for 3 meals and 2-3 snacks spread over the day.  

 

8. Consider your thinking  

How often does your thinking get in the way of trying to eat healthy or exercise? Have you intended to stop and eat your lunch yet you seem to convince yourself that you "don’t have time" or "will do it later" and end up snacking on anything you can find all afternoon? How we think influences what we do so it's a good idea to be aware of the times when our thinking gets in the way of our best intentions.  

We can't get rid of unhelpful thoughts but we can replace them with ones that are more helpful and support your health goals. For example, "You can do this", "Eating lunch is part of my weight loss strategy", "The more I look after myself, the more I am looking after the family", "I want to get into my old jeans". The options are endless! 

 

9. Make a plan  

Apart from our thinking, another common thing that gets in the way of being healthy is lack of planning. Have you ever wanted to start the week eating healthy but didn't get to the supermarket to stock up?! We all plan in some way or another in our lives and it is no different with changing heatlhy habits. A fool-proof plan includes knowing what we want and how we are going to achieve it, keeping in mind what might get in the way e.g., kids, work deadlines, bad weather.  

For example, your new healthy habit might be to eat a healthy breakfast daily. To make this happen you may need to prepare it the night before so there is no excuse in the morning when you are pressed for time. For inspiration, you might find placing a photo on the fridge of yourself looking happy and healthy. This will remind yourself of why you are doing this and what you want to achieve.   

 

10. Move more 

 

We all know the benefits of regular physical activity; the trick is trying to find time to incorporate it into our busy day. Aim for at least 30 minutes a day however you can break it up into 2 x 15-minute blocks to make it easier. Different types of exercise works for different people so think about what you like and how you can add it into your day. Not only will your body thank you but being more active also helps with your mood and sleep.  

 

In summary 

 

- Maintaining good nutrition and avoiding strict dieting are the most important points to consider when losing weight whilst breastfeeding  

- Set a realistic weight loss target of no more than 0.5kg per week 

- Focus on getting your macronutrients right at meals - carbs, protein, fat and a good amount of veg or salad 

- Avoid skipping meals and include 2-3 healthy snacks  

- Remember the 80/20 rule to eating. You can still have your cake and eat it too, 20% of the time! 

- Consider a thinking and planning strategy to help you reach your goals. 

- Incorporate at least 30 minutes of physical activity into your day for a healthy body and mind 

 

References 

  • Nguyen, B. et al. Breastfeeding and Cardiovascular Disease Hospitalization and Mortality in Parous Women: Evidence From a Large Australian Cohort Study. Journal of the American Heart Association. Volume 8, number 6, 2019. 
  • www.huffingtonpost.co.uk 
  • Jarlenski, M et al. Effects of breastfeeding on postpartum weight loss among U.S. women. Prev Med. 2014 Dec; 69: 146–150.  
  • Jing Liu et al. Weight retention at six weeks postpartum and the risk of gestational diabetes mellitus in a second pregnancy. BMC Pregnancy and Childbirth volume 19, Article number: 272 (2019) 
  • Stephanie MacNeill et al. Rates and Risk Factors for Recurrence of Gestational Diabetes. Diabetes Care 2001 Apr; 24(4): 659-662. 
  • Grodstein F1, Levine R, Troy L, Spencer T, Colditz GA, Stampfer MJ. Three-year follow-up of participants in a commercial weight loss program. Can you keep it off? Arch Intern Med. 1996 Jun 24;156(12):1302-6 
  • Lovelady CA. Balancing exercise and food intake with lactation to promote post-partum weight loss. Proc Nutr Soc. 2011;70(2):181-4. 
  • Lovelady CA, Garner KE, Moreno KL, Williams JP. The effect of weight in overweight, lactating women on the growth of their infants. N Engl J Med. 2000;342(7):449-53. 
  • Australian Government, NHMRC, Department of Health and Ageing. Eat for Health – Infant Feeding Guidelines. 2015 
  • www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health-topics/dash-eating-plan 
  • www.diabetesnswact.com.au 
  • www.gisymbol.com 

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