Breastfeeding is the best and healthiest way to feed your infant. But to ensure you’re making enough milk, eating enough is crucial. That’s because breastfeeding burns calories.
If you’re wondering how much energy breastfeeding takes, here’s what you should know about how to fuel your body.
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Why Breastfeeding Burns Calories
Breast milk is the perfect food for your baby. It provides a balanced blend of all the nutrients your baby needs from birth until they’re ready to eat solid foods.
Your body prepares for breastfeeding while pregnant, laying down extra fat, and storing nutrients. To make breast milk and feed your baby, you need to supply energy with what you eat.
Some extra calories you need to eat fuel your body’s milk-making process. Most of them go directly into the fats and sugars of your breast milk. This energy nourishes your baby and helps them grow.
The calories needed for breastfeeding can come from your existing fat stores or from extra foods you eat.
How Much Energy Does Breastfeeding Take?
Experts agree that breastfeeding uses an extra 330 to 400 calories per day. That’s over and above your pre-pregnancy diet.
That number is slightly more than the extra calories you need throughout pregnancy.
Most breastfeeding women need 2,000 to 2,800 calories each day. But each person’s calorie needs vary a bit depending on:
- Age. Younger people need more calories in general.
- Body mass index (BMI). People who are overweight or obese may need fewer calories while breastfeeding because they have more fat stores to pull from.
- Activity level. Physical activity burns calories, so you’ll need to eat more to support your activity, plus breast milk production.
- If you’re supplementing with formula. You may make less milk if your baby drinks formula for some feedings. This may not be true if you’re pumping and saving the milk from those feedings. If your milk supply drops, you’ll need to burn fewer calories.
- If you have multiples. Feeding more babies means more milk. Your body works harder to make extra milk, so you’ll need more calories.
- Your baby’s age. Newborns and infants rely entirely on milk for nutrition, so your body needs extra energy to meet their demands. As the child ages, they’ll start eating more solid foods and need less breast milk.
Breastfeeding and weight loss
Since breastfeeding burns calories, many people wonder if it’s good for weight loss. It’s best not to restrict calories or diet while breastfeeding because your body may make less milk. Dieting might also affect your milk quality, so your baby won’t get the nutrients they need to grow and develop normally.
Most people naturally lose one to two pounds per month while breastfeeding. And over time, breastfeeding mothers lose more weight than those who formula feed.
How to Know If You’re Eating Enough
Your baby’s eating pattern and growth are the best indicators that you’re eating enough calories to produce the right amount of milk. A newborn should nurse about eight times every 24 hours, for about 10 minutes each time. Their weight and height should keep increasing.
Newborns gain about one ounce of weight per day during their first month. They’ll also grow one to one and a half inches during their first month. If your baby isn’t meeting these milestones, your doctor may suggest that you eat more calories to ensure good milk production.
You can count calories if you like, but often it’s not necessary. Instead, listen to your body and eat more when you feel hungry. Adding a small snack, like a peanut butter and jelly sandwich or some fruit, cheese, and crackers provides the extra energy needed.
You should also check your weight while you’re breastfeeding. If it’s stable, you’re probably eating enough calories. But you may need more calories if you lose more than three or four pounds per month while exclusively breastfeeding.
The Best Foods for Breastfeeding
Calories count while breastfeeding, but not all calories are equal. Breastmilk provides more than just calories. Your milk also contains many essential nutrients to nourish your baby.
And the only way they get into your milk is by including them in your diet. Nutrient needs during breastfeeding are similar to those during pregnancy. In particular, you should optimize nutrients while breastfeeding:
- Folic acid.
- DHA (an omega-3 fat from fish).
A healthy diet with unprocessed, whole foods should provide these nutrients.
Doctors also suggest that you continue to take your prenatal vitamin while breastfeeding. That’s especially important if you restrict certain food groups or eat a vegan diet.
In addition, your fluid intake needs double while breastfeeding. Breast milk is primarily water, so you need to provide enough fluid to hydrate you and make milk.
The best diet to support breastfeeding should include a variety of these foods:
- Lots of fresh or frozen fruits and vegetables.
- Whole grains like oatmeal, brown rice, barley, or 100% whole wheat bread.
- Low mercury seafood, like salmon, sardines, anchovies, shrimp, scallops, tilapia, or cod.
- Chicken, turkey, or lean beef.
- Eggs and Greek yogurt.
- Tofu, tempeh, and beans, like lentils, chickpeas, kidney, black, or pinto beans.
- Nuts (or nut butter) and seeds.
- At least 16 cups of fluid from water, milk, or unsweetened herbal tea daily.
One or two small daily snacks can easily cover your extra energy needs. Good options include:
- A deviled egg with raw vegetable slices and hummus or bean dip.
- Apple slices spread with peanut or almond butter.
- A smoothie made with frozen berries and Greek yogurt.
Try to eat mostly whole foods and avoid processed, packaged, or fast food. These are usually low in nutrients and high in salt, sugar, or unhealthy fats. Also, while breastfeeding, it’s best to limit alcohol and caffeine.
Breastfeeding your baby is highly rewarding, but it’s also a big responsibility because they depend on you for their nutrition. Talk to your health care team if you have questions about what or how much to eat. They’re here to support you so you can give your baby the best start possible.
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About UPMC Magee-Womens Hospital
For more than a century, UPMC Magee-Womens Hospital has provided high-quality medical care to women at all stages of life. UPMC Magee is long-renowned for its services to women and babies but also offers a wide range of care to men as well. Our patient-first approach ensures you and your loved ones get the care you need. Nearly 10,000 babies are born each year at Magee, and our NICU is one of the largest in the country. Our network of care – from imaging centers to hospital services – provides care throughout Pennsylvania and Maryland, giving you a chance to get the expert care you need close to home. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services recognizes UPMC Magee as a National Center of Excellence in Women’s Health, and the Magee-Womens Research Institute is the largest research institute in the U.S. devoted exclusively to women’s health and reproductive biology.