Your mom friends may swear that breastfeeding helped them shed the baby weight without any changes to their diet or exercise routines. Still waiting to see these magical results? It’s not just you.
Not all women experience weight loss with breastfeeding. In fact, some may even retain weight until weaning — talk about frustrating!
If you’re looking for other ways to lose weight, you may have run into the idea of intermittent fasting. But is this popular method healthy for you and your precious little one?
Here’s more about what it means to fast intermittently, what it may do for your health and your body, and whether or not it’s safe for you and baby while you’re breastfeeding.
Related: Breastfeeding made me gain weight
Intermittent fasting is a way of eating where you consume foods in a specific window of time.
There are a variety of ways to approach fasting. Some people eat every day and do the bulk of their fasting at night. For example, you might eat for 8 hours of the day, say between 12 p.m. and 8 p.m., and fast or the other 16. Others choose to eat a regular diet some days of the week and fast or only eat a set number of calories on other days.
Why deprive yourself? There are a few reasons people give for intermittent fasting.
And, of course, there’s a lot of
The idea is that when you don’t eat, the body dips into fat stores for energy. Fasting for certain periods of time may also lower your overall calorie consumption, leading to weight loss.
The idea of women fasting while breastfeeding isn’t entirely new. In fact, some women fast as part of the Muslim holiday, Ramadan. This involves not consuming food from dawn to sunset for nearly a month’s time. Some women
Why might this happen? Well, other research suggests that women may not be taking in proper amounts of macro- and micronutrients to support milk production.
Researchers concluded that lactating women who normally fast during Ramadan should take the allowance to not fast, as they are technically exempt from the practice.
Traditional advice surrounding nutrition in breastfeeding explains that women need an additional 330 to 600 calories a day to support milk production.
Beyond that, it’s important to eat a variety of foods and focus specifically on foods that contain solid amounts of protein, iron, and calcium. Eating enough — and enough of the right foods — ensures that you stay healthy and that your milk contains enough of what your baby needs to thrive.
Also worth noting: Much of our daily fluid comes from the food we eat. If fasting lowers your fluid intake, it might also lower your supply.
Unfortunately, there aren’t really any studies you’ll find on intermittent fasting and breastfeeding women purely for weight loss reasons.
Most of what you’ll discover in a quick internet search is anecdotal. And for all the positive stories you’ll hear, there are likely as many other different experiences.
In other words: This is something you should chat with your doctor about. Ultimately, it may not cause harm, but it may not be worth the potential risks, like losing your milk supply.
Current research suggests that fasting doesn’t necessarily impact the macronutrients in breast milk. However, some micronutrients in breast milk may be “significantly” affected.
In women fasting for Ramadan, one
These changes aren’t necessarily good for baby — and researchers who focused on this topic concluded that women should work closely with their healthcare providers when it comes to fasting and its potential risks.
Perhaps what’s most important to note is that no two women are the same. The way fasting may impact nutrients in breast milk and the overall supply of milk may be considerably different depending on the individual.
How will you know if baby is getting what he needs? Pro-breastfeeding group La Leche League outlines a few things that may indicate there’s an issue:
- Your baby is lethargic or overly sleepy.
- Your baby either takes too much or too little time at the breast. A “normal” feeding session may vary in time, but see if you notice a marked difference.
- Your baby isn’t pooping enough. Again, your baby’s stooling pattern may be individual — so note any differences.
- Your baby is dehydrated. You may notice diapers are dry or you might see dark or reddish-brown urine in his diaper.
- Your baby isn’t gaining weight or staying on their growth curve.
Related: Guide to breastfeeding: Benefits, how to, diet, and more
Always speak with your doctor before making big changes to your diet. They may even have suggestions or guidelines to share with you or things to watch out for when it comes to your health and milk supply.
If you do want to give intermittent fasting a try, chat with your doctor about a more mild approach. There are no specific guidelines for breastfeeding women as there is no data on breastfeeding women to make these recommendations from.
Nutrition researcher Kris Gunnars explains that — in general — women may benefit from shorter fasting windows of 14 to 15 hours versus other methods of intermittent fasting.
And it may be more about what you eat versus when you eat it. So work closely with a healthcare professional to ensure you’re meeting your nutritional needs.
Some experts share that low food intake while breastfeeding may negatively impact the nutrients your baby gets in your milk, specifically iron, iodine and vitamin B-12.
Of course, it’s possible to eat a healthy, balanced diet within your eating window — but it may take some hard work to ensure you’re getting enough on the daily.
Again, another risk is low milk supply. The idea is that low calorie diets and gaps in nutrition — or in fluid intake — may suppress milk production.
You may or may not experience this potential complication. But if you do, it can take some work getting your milk supply back up to levels that support your growing baby.
If your nutrition is impacted enough to change the composition of your milk and lower your milk supply, this may also have implications for your own health as well.
Nutritional gaps can lead to things like vitamin deficiency anemia. Symptoms include anything from fatigue and shortness of breath to weight loss and muscle weakness.
Related: 8 signs you’re deficient in vitamins
While certainly not as exciting or intriguing as intermittent fasting, you may want to try to lose weight the old-fashioned way while breastfeeding. Doctors recommend aiming to lose slowly and steadily, no more than around a pound a week.
This may mean making some small tweaks to your daily routine, like:
- Serving your meals on smaller plates to cut portion sizes.
- Skipping processed foods, especially those high in sugar and fat.
- Slowing down your eating process to allow your brain to catch up to your stomach’s fullness signals.
- Eating whole foods, like fresh fruits, vegetables, and whole grains.
- Increasing your weekly exercise to the recommended 150 minutes of moderate activity (like walking or swimming) or 75 minutes of vigorous activity (like running or Zumba).
- Add strength training to your workout twice a week with either weight machines, free weights, or body weight workouts.
You’ve probably heard that it took 9 months to grow your baby (and put on the weight) and that it will take 9 (or more) to lose it. Yes, hearing us say that this may be true won’t make that statement any less cliché.
But try not to fret if you’ve recently delivered a baby and have a few extra pounds hanging around. Be gentle with yourself. Growing and birthing a baby is an incredible feat.
If you’re still interested in intermittent fasting, consider making an appointment with your doctor to discuss the pros and cons.
It’s possible to use this method and still meet your nutritional goals, but the way it affects your health and your milk supply may not be the same as what other women in your life have experienced.
No matter what you do, try to make good food choices and move your body — trust us, this latter one won’t be hard with your growing baby — and eventually your hard work should pay off.