Meal Plans for Breastfeeding Moms: Can I Eat Healthy, Breastfeed and Lose Weight?

For many women, one of the main concerns after pregnancy is the weight gained, and the main interrogation is “how to” get back to (at least) the pre-pregnancy weight. Let’s start with the basics…

Where Does the Pregnancy Weight Come From?

During pregnancy, the main contributor to weight gain is clearly the baby (with an average birth weight of around 3.5 kg). Afterwards, around 2.0-3.0 kg will be from the mother´s stores of fat, protein and some other nutrients (which will vary depending on the pre-pregnancy weight of the mother). Then, around 2.0 kg would correspond to an increase in the fluid volume in the bodies, and an extra 4.0-5.0 kg can be attributed to the weight of the uterus, breast tissue, amniotic fluids and placenta. This gives roughly and increase of around 12.5 kg of total weight gained.

This, as already said, can change depending on the pre-pregnancy weight. If the woman is underweighted before pregnancy, a higher increase in weight will be expected. On the contrary, if the woman has excess weight, a lower gain would be likely.

After Delivery: Where Does the Weight Go?

The fastest weight you may lose in your life is the one right after giving birth. Between the baby, the placenta and some liquids, you may lose something around 5.0 kg. In the next first weeks you will probably lose an extra couple of kilos. The rest of the weight can be lost in the next 6-12 months after delivery.

However, this is not an exact science. Going back to the pre-pregnancy weight, or even a bit less (if it is your goal), is not easy for many women. How “fast” and how healthy you lose this weight will depend on your eating habits, physical activity, and your breastfeeding practices (if you have).

How Can Breastfeed Help Me Lose Weight?

One of the many benefits of breastfeeding is that it helps the uterus return to its normal size faster. This is due to the liberation of the hormone “oxytocin”. Another benefit is that it may promote weight loss since it is a high energy demanding activity, which will make you burn extra calories.

Where Does the Energy To Breastfeed Come From?

There are two sources of energy when you breastfeed: one comes from the reserves of fat that were “created” during pregnancy, and the other one comes from the daily food you eat. If you breastfeed exclusively (meaning that your baby is only drinking breast milk), your body will require somewhere around 600 calories only to breastfeed.

From these 600 calories, around ¼ will come from the body stores of fat, and the rest (around 400-500 calories) would come from the food you eat. For this you should consume around 400-500 calories extra to your energy needs (according to different variables like size, weight, physical activity).

How to Lose Weight “Quick” Or “Fast” While Breastfeeding?

“Quick” weight-loss and healthy weight-loss are not friends. A gradual weight-loss is healthier and more likely to be durable. Though you can find hundreds of diet plans that promise to make you lose weight super-fast, chances are that they bring unpleasant side effects, such as reboot effect, malnutrition and muscle-mass loss.

While breastfeeding, having restrictive weight-loss regimens can affect the amount of milk you produce, and can also affect your overall nutritional status. Losing around 1.0-2.0 kg per month could be a healthy reference. How to achieve this goal? Keep on reading.

Physical Activity While Breastfeeding: Can You (And Should You) Workout?

Yes! Working out is great at any stage of life. Clearly you should not start working out until you are fully recovered from the delivery and feel like you have “enough” energy to hit the routine. Usually this is around the 6th-8th week postpartum.

Start with some walking or swimming, or Yoga/Pilates/Body Balance classes if you can. You can even create your own studio/gym at home with online working out videos. Week after week try to incorporate more vigorous routines that fit your time and preferences. Remember that working out should not be a punishment.

Other tip that can help you move more includes active pauses every hour, walking, stretching, dancing or marching around the house several times per day. Any activity that gets you moving can help you burn extra calories.

And about food… what should you be eating?

While breastfeeding, your energy requirements are higher, meaning you need more protein, essential fatty acids, carbohydrates, vitamins and minerals.  

Protein

Protein sources that I would recommend include eggs, beans, peas, tofu, nuts, seeds, fish, poultry (such as chicken and turkey) and very lean red meats (like beef, veal or pork). However, and following different recommendations by the main health entities around the world, you should lean towards more plant-based proteins, fish and maybe some poultry instead of red meats.

In general, avoid processed meats and processed poultry, since they are high in sodium and fat. This also applies to vegetarian highly-processed derivatives.

Yogurts are also a source of protein (and probiotics, too). If you eat dairy, plain Greek yogurt is a good alternative. If you do not eat cow milk´s derivatives, you can look for sheep or goat alternatives. If you do not eat any animal derivative, try with a plant-based yogurt. However, keep far from the very sugary type of yogurts.

Essential Fatty Acids – Omega-3

As for the essential fatty acids, the recommendation is to include foods with healthy oils in your meals, such as olive oil, olives, avocados, nuts and seeds. Get creative with egg/avocado toast for breakfast. Sprinkle chia seeds, flaxseeds, hempseeds, sesame seeds or pumpkin seeds in some yogurt. Nib on some walnuts or cashews as a snack.

As for the Omega-3, which is key to promote the baby´s visual and brain development, the recommendation is to eat 1-2 portions (120 g approx.) of oily fish per week, such as salmon, mackerel, sardines and trout. If you are a vegetarian or vegan, speak to your doctor to consider an Omega-3 supplement.

Carbohydrates

Carbohydrates can come from several sources. Whole grains (such as rice, oats, corn, barley, amaranth, quinoa), beans, potatoes, yams, carrots and beets should be your main sources. The ones that should be avoided include sugar, pastries, sodas, chips, fried rice/potatoes and doughnuts. If you buy grain derivatives, such as bread, tortilla, crackers or pasta, opt for the whole grain versions.

Vitamins and Minerals

All the foods mentioned before provide key nutrients. However, fruits and vegetables provide many vitamins and minerals, as well as fiber and antioxidants. My recommendation is to shop seasonally, in local markets, and preferably locally/nationally produced. Buy as much variety in size, shapes and colors. The more colors you have in your plate, the higher is the variety of vitamins and minerals that you will be eating.

Liquids

Hydration is key. Drinking lots of liquids during the day will help you in your breastfeeding practices, and may also aid in your weight-loss objective. Get 10-12 glasses of water, herbal/floral teas or natural infusions per day.

PS for Coffee Lovers: Although caffeine has shown to be safe for breastfeeding mothers, there are some babies that may react to it (unusual irritability or wakeful). You may try with small amounts of coffee and see how it goes.

From nutrients to food… Meal plan for breastfeeding mothers trying to drop some weight! ( non-vegetarian and vegetarian meal plans )

Meal Plan 1: Non-vegetarian

Breakfast

  • Scrambled egg (2 eggs)
  • “Sweet” Toast
    • Wheat bread (1 slice)
    • Peanut Butter (1 tbsp)
    • Banana (½ medium fruit)
    • Cinnamon to sprinkle!
  • Floral or herbal tea, or coffee (read my PS).

Snack 1

  • Fruit of choice (1 piece)
  • Walnuts or cashews (2 tbsp)
  • Water

Lunch

  • Chicken, Rice and Black Bean Salad
    • Shredded chicken breast – (1/2 cup)
    • Cooked Brown Rice (½ cup)
    • Cooked Black Beans (½ cup)
    • Carrots (1 medium)
    • Cucumber (¼ medium)
    • Tomato (1 small)
    • Olive oil (1 tsp)
  • Fruit of choice (1 piece)
  • Water

Snack 2

  • Greek yogurt or plant-based yogurt (1 yogurt)
  • Chia, hemp or flaxseed (2 tsp)
  • Water

Dinner

  • Salmon with sweet potatoes and “greens”
    • Baked Salmon (1 medium fillet)
    • Baked Sweet Potato (1 medium)
    • Asparagus, fava beans or string beans (5 units)
  • Water
  • Sweet treat: raisins, dates or other small dried fruit, or a square of dark chocolate (over 71% cacao).

Meal Plan 2: Vegetarian

Breakfast

  • Oatmeal with fruit and seeds
    • ½ cup dry rolled oats
    • ½ cup of berries or ½ banana
    • 1 cup of milk of choice
    • 2 tsp of chia, hemp, flax or sesame seeds.
    • Cinnamon or a drizzle of real cacao to taste
  • Floral or herbal tea, or coffee (read my PS).

Snack 1

  • Fruit of choice (1 piece)
  • Rice crackers (3 units)
  • ½ tbsp of nut butter
  • Water

Lunch

  • Hummus-Tofu Mushroom-Spinach Tortilla
    • Whole wheat tortilla (1 unit)
    • ½ cup hummus
    • Tofu (½ cup in cubes)
    • Mushrooms (1/2 cup)
    • Spinach (1 cup)
    • Lemon juice and preferred spices to taste
  • Water

Snack 2

  • Greek yogurt or plant-based yogurt (1 yogurt)
  • Fruit of choice (1 piece)
  • Water

Dinner

  • Quinoa-Lentil One-Pot
    • Cooked Quinoa (½ cup)
    • Cooked Lentils (½ cup)
    • Chopped Tomatoes (½ cup)
    • Walnuts (5 units)
    • Fresh basil (½ cup)
    • Spices and pepper to taste
  • Water
  • Sweet treat: raisins, dates or other small dried fruit, or a square of dark chocolate (over 71% cacao).

Although some of this meal ideas I share with you may seem time consuming, the fact is that you can prepare batches ahead of time and save a lot of precious minutes. Once you have the grains and beans prepared, store them in portions in the fridge or freezer. Any doubt, please ask!

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