Post-pregnancy, losing those extra pounds might be on your mind, but you need to consider your calorie intake as the baby needs your milk. Eating right is important to get adequate energy and avoid unhealthy calories. The food you consume breaks down into carbohydrates, fats, proteins, vitamins and micronutrients, which are transferred from the blood to the breast, where milk is produced.
Breastfeeding helps mothers burn around 300-500 calories a day. When you breastfeed, your body converts the nutrients you eat into the milk your baby consumes. This is a very energy-demanding process and typically requires 750 calories a day, more than your body needs to maintain its pre-pregnancy weight. The female body was designed to produce milk to feed the baby. Breasts are an energy source which produces milk at the rate and amount required by the baby.
“To reduce weight, mothers should breastfeed babies often as this will keep their metabolism active and help burn extra calories. But it is important not to starve the body to compromise on calories. Even if you are away from your baby – you can pump away those calories using a breast pump. These days, double breast pumps help you produce more milk, saving you time. The idea is to either breastfeed or breast pump as much as possible to keep your body’s metabolism active and help you shed those kilos,” explained Dr Gayatri Uma Maheshwari, Chirayu nutrition and wellness studio.
However, Dr Gayathri Kamath, an obstetrician and gynecologist at Fortis Hospitals, Bangalore recommends that an additional 450 to 500 kcal per day as compared to others is essential for a lactating mother. “There is no need to eat more than the required quantity. New mothers need the right balance of carbohydrates, fats and proteins. It is also important to maintain good hydration as water is one of the main ingredients in human milk. Besides, lactating women tend to sweat and lose body water without their knowledge (insensible loss),” she added.
As sleep deprivation is common in the lactating period, there is a tendency to develop gastritis and acidity if the stomach is kept empty for long hours. Lactating women need to eat at regular intervals and space their meals well between the baby’s sleep cycles. Some communities believe in lactating women consuming loads of ghee in order to enhance milk production, but this fatty diet will just lead to weight gain, coupled with inactivity and being housebound.
Lactating women are advised to resume their daily routine as soon as possible. Exercise is generally recommended after six to eight weeks, which gives time to the uterus to revert to its pre-pregnancy state. Intense physical activity that involves extreme sweating needs to be refrained as it can reduce milk production.
“There are some foods that stimulate milk production and are called as ‘Galactogogues’, which are recommended for lactating woman. These include barley, dark greens leafy vegetables, fenugreek seeds, fennel seeds and dry fruits like almonds, dates, apricot, figs; green papaya, ginger and garlic, sesame seeds and garden cress seeds,” informed Dr Kamath. You also need to limit alcohol and caffeine since they are passed through your breast milk to your infant, and they may reduce your milk supply.
Lactating women may tend to feel low and depressed due to hormonal changes. This may drive some of them to binge eat or consume high-calorie foodstuffs. Support from the partner and family elders can help in overcoming these mood fluctuations. The key to successful lactation is a balanced diet, family support and a calm mind.