It is normal to store extra fat during pregnancy to be used up while breastfeeding in post natal period. Mothers vary in when they lose this extra weight: some in the early weeks, some later and some not until after they have stopped breastfeeding. It is important to lose this extra weight and thus losing this extra weight is a concern for many mothers after the birth of a baby. Breastfeeding makes it easier to lose weight since additional calories are used. Diet and exercise also plays a very important role in losing weight during post-natal period. A ‘perfect’ diet and major changes are not required to be made in the normal schedule in post-natal period. It is best to lose the extra weight gradually using healthy eating principles and adding in some extra exercise. A loss of up to about half a kilo per week is safe for breastfeeding mothers. Opting for crash or fad diets during post natal is not a good choice to make as these diets don’t have a good balance of important nutrients needed for both mother and the baby. Mother’s diet also has a profound effect on her baby. A good rule of thumb to keep in mind is that whatever mother’s eat, baby eats, too. Healthy nutrients pass from breast milk to baby.
Eat a well-balanced diet: A well balanced diet is very essential to meet the nutrients of the mother in post natal period. Balanced diet will not only provide the mother and baby with proper nutrition but also helps in losing those extra kgs of the mother. Also, it gives strength and stamina to meet the physical demands of caring for a new baby.
Eat small meals frequently: Many moms feel extra hungry. This is because the body is working around the clock to make breast milk for the baby along with other physiological and bio-chemical functioning of the body. Eating small meals with healthy snacks in between is a good way to keep hunger in check and energy level high. This also helps in meeting nutritional needs and aids in healthy weight loss during post-natal period.
Choose foods rich in iron, protein and calcium: The requirement of calories, protein, iron and calcium increases during post-natal period to meet the extra needs for breast milk production and other changes during post-natal period. Thus, good amounts of these nutrients should be provided with the diet. Good sources of iron include lentils, enriched cereals, whole-grain products, peas, dark leafy green vegetables and dried fruit. To help your body absorb iron, eat iron-rich foods with foods high in vitamin C such as citrus fruits. For protein, include eggs and dairy products or plant sources such as soy products and meat substitutes, legumes, lentils, nuts, seeds, and whole grains. Good sources of calcium include dairy products and dark green vegetables.
Include Vitamin-B-12 & Vitamin-D sources in diet: Vitamin B-12 is essential for your baby’s brain development. Vitamin B-12 is found in almost all animal products and in vegetarian foods as well. Baby needs vitamin D to absorb calcium and phosphorus. Too little vitamin D can cause rickets, a softening and weakening of bones. Sun exposure is the best source of Vit-D. Vit-D is also found in cow’s milk and some cereals.
Aim for slow and steady weight loss: Some women lose weight fast during post-natal period while others don’t lose much. It all depends from body to body, food choices, activity level and metabolism. Most women can safely lose 1 pound each week by combining a healthy diet with moderate exercise. A sudden, large drop in calorie intake can affect milk supply, so crash diets are not advised to lose weight quickly.
Include a variety of healthy foods: Variety and balance are keys to a healthy diet. Eating a mix of carbohydrates, protein and fat at meals keeps feeling full longer and supplies the nutrients the body needs. Complex carbohydrates like whole grains and cereals and fresh fruits and vegetables not only provide more nutrition than processed starches and sugars, they provide longer-lasting energy. And choosing from all food groups is important so that one can get the vitamins for herself and her baby.
Choose good fats: When it comes to fat, choose monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats. Sources of these “healthy fats” include canola oil, olive oil and fatty fish (like salmon) as well as avocados, olives, nuts, and seeds. Limit saturated fats and avoid trans fats both of which are considered unhealthy. Saturated fats show up in high-fat meats, whole milk, tropical oils (such as palm kernel and coconut), butter, and lard. Partially hydrogenated oils contain trans fats. In addition to being bad for your diet, getting too much of these unhealthy fats can alter the fat composition of breast milk, which isn’t good for baby’s health also.
Take extra steps to avoid contaminants: Try to minimize exposure to contaminants in food and environment during post-natal period. Pesticides, insecticides, and other chemicals that we ingest can make their way into the breast milk. Environmental chemicals could affect your baby’s long-term health. To avoid contamination, choose seasonal products. Produce that travels long distances often have more pesticides. Choose lean meats, and remove the skin and extra fat before cooking. Chemicals are stored in fat. Consider drinking filtered water in post-natal.
Avoid alcohol: There’s no level of alcohol in breast milk that’s considered safe for a baby. Alcohol enters breast milk and having as little as one drink may affect your milk letdown reflex. So, alcohol should be completed avoided during this period. It takes two to three hours for the body to eliminate the alcohol of one serving of beer or wine. Specific time frames depend on how much you drink, but the more you drink the longer it takes the body to get rid of it. Alcohol isn’t stored in breast milk instead the level increases and decreases just as it does in your bloodstream. After having an alcoholic drink, wait at least two hours before breastfeeding the baby.
Drink plenty of water and limit caffeine: When breastfeeding, body needs a lot of water and fluids to avoid the risk for energy-draining dehydration. To keep energy levels and milk production up, make sure to drink a lot of water and stay well-hydrated. Having a cup of coffee in morning while breastfeeding if you like is ok but don’t overdo it. A small amount of caffeine winds up in breast milk and it can accumulate in baby’s system because baby can’t easily break it down and excrete it. Caffeine in breast milk might also agitate baby or interfere with baby’s sleep. Thus, consumption of caffeine (including coffee, tea, soft drinks, energy drinks, chocolates, coffee and ice cream) should only be in moderate quantities.
Avoid seafood due to mercury levels: Most seafood contains mercury or other contaminants. Exposure to excessive amounts of mercury through breast milk can pose a risk to a baby’s developing nervous system. To limit baby’s exposure, avoid seafood that’s high in mercury including swordfish, king mackerel and tilefish.
Add different flavours to the food to be eaten and drink: Eat a wide variety of foods in post natal period including spicy foods. Eating favourite foods while breastfeeding gives baby a “taste” of the diet and may help him accept different foods once he starts eating solids. If baby seems consistently uncomfortable after mother eats a particular food, then by all means avoid it to see if baby is happier.
There’s no need to go on a special diet during post-natal period. Simply focus on making healthy choices. Healthy diet combined with simple exercises such as brisk walking or yoga along with plenty of rest. This will help new mothers feel fit and energetic. This will also help in meeting those extra nutrient needs and losing those extra kgs gained during pregnancy. Sometimes even when women do everything right, they still do not lose their weight during post-natal period. This may be related to hormones, medical conditions or a combination of the two. Under this condition, just focus on maintaining weight, making healthy food choices and exercising for good health. After breastfeeding is stopped, start your weight loss regime again and you will surely get results. Don’t give up in frustration. Always stay focused on what you are doing right and trust that your body will respond as it should to nourish your baby and yourself.