There are many benefits to breast-feeding your baby from birth up until 12 months. A mother’s breast milk is known to carry the necessary vitamins, fat, and protein that are needed to promote a strong immune system and healthy development and growth.

That means breast-fed babies are calmer, experience fewer colds and illnesses, and have better digestive systems, among other longer-term effects.

Moms also benefit greatly from breast-feeding their babies. According to the Cleveland Clinic, not only does it save money, it can also help reduce a mom’s risk of heart disease, rheumatoid arthritis, and ovarian and breast cancers. And your uterus can shrink down to normal size quicker because of the hormone oxytocin, which is released during breast-feeding.

Breast-feeding can also help you manage or lose your postpartum weight. Moms burn about 500 extra calories a day while producing breast milk, which could lead to faster weight loss after birth, according to the Cleveland Clinic. This doesn’t mean you will lose all the weight with breast-feeding alone — after all, it took you nine months to pack it on, it won’t go away over night — but it can jump-start the process.

If you’re new to breast-feeding and have some concerns about calorie burn and how to handle it, check out the information below. It should answer all of your questions.

How Much Extra Food Should Mom Be Eating?

According to the American Pregnancy Association, moms secrete 425 to 700 calories into breast milk daily. That means moms should take in between 400 and 500 extra calories a day, bringing their daily calorie intake up to 3,000 calories. Consuming 1,500 to 1,800 calories a day should help fuel gradual weight loss (about 1 pound a week) while giving you energy.

But the extra calories shouldn’t come from unhealthy meals or snacks. Instead, breast-feeding moms should eat nutritious foods like peanut butter, bananas, and yogurt.

Will You Lose Weight Breast-Feeding?

While medical professionals agree that breast-feeding has benefits for weight loss, there are no conclusive studies that say breast-feeding alone leads to dropping the postpartum pounds.

La Leche League has found that women who partially or exclusively breast-feed tend to lose more weight during the three to six months after birth than those moms who only feed their babies formula. Still, instead of relying on breast-feeding as a method of slimming down, moms should develop a healthy diet and exercise routine that they can follow along with breast-feeding their baby. The combination should result in a quicker slim down than if you were to breast-feed and be sedentary.

However, if your weight loss has slowed or if you’ve gained weight in the first two months after childbirth, the La Leche League recommends reducing your caloric intake by 100 calories daily and increasing your level of activity. Ultimately, though, you should consult your doctor if you want to get started on a special diet and exercise plan.

What About Diet?

Moms who breast-feed should eat healthfully whether they’re hoping to lose weight or not. Eating healthy and smart will give you and your baby many of the nutrients that promote strong growth and development.

Breast-feeding moms should drink water frequently — at least 2 quarts of water a day, according to the American Pregnancy Association. If your urine is a dark yellow, your water intake should increase, so think about drinking a glass of water every time you breast-feed.

The Mayo Clinic recommends that moms stay away from juices and sugary drinks while breast-feeding, as those types of beverages can lead to weight gain. Also avoid drinking caffeine in excess, as it can cause you to urinate more often and in larger amounts, losing the valuable fluids you need. Caffeine can also disturb your baby and interrupt his or her sleep. Limit your caffeine intake to no more than 24 ounces — or three cups — a day.

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Breast-feeding moms should eat foods rich in protein, iron, and calcium, which are known to help stimulate breast milk production. That means you should incorporate foods such as:

  • whole grains
  • dried fruit
  • dark leafy greens
  • eggs
  • citrus fruits
  • seeds
  • lean meats
  • low-mercury seafood
  • eggs
  • dairy
  • beans 

But be careful to pay attention to your baby’s reactions to your breast milk. While you may be exposing your baby to new tastes and foods, they may have an allergic reaction to the things you eat. Consult your baby’s physician as soon as possible if you notice fussiness, a rash, diarrhea, or congestion after breast-feeding.

While healthy, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, and cauliflower should be avoided because these foods can produce gas. High-mercury fish like swordfish, king mackerel, and tilefish should also be avoided to limit your baby’s exposure to the chemical element.

This should go without saying, but breast-feeding moms should avoid smoking, using illegal drugs, and drinking alcohol. Smoking and illegal drug use will cause your baby great harm, although the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists says that breast-feeding moms should wait two hours after having an alcoholic drink to nurse.