There are many benefits to breastfeeding your baby from birth up until 12 months. Breast milk is known to carry the necessary vitamins, fats, and proteins that are needed to promote a strong immune system and healthy development and growth.

That means breastfed babies may be calmer, experience fewer colds and illnesses, and have better digestive systems, among other longer-term effects.

Moms also benefit from breastfeeding their babies. It can help reduce your risk of type 2 diabetes, certain types of breast cancer, and ovarian cancer. And your uterus can shrink down to its normal size quicker because of the hormone oxytocin, which is released during breastfeeding.

In order to produce breast milk, your body will burn extra calories.

Breastfeeding 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.

Although that doesn’t mean breastfeeding is a weight loss miracle, it can jumpstart the process.

If you’re new to breastfeeding, you may have concerns about how many calories burned, and how many calories you should be taking in.

According to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG), moms secrete 450 to 500 calories into breast milk daily.

That means that for moms with a normal body weight on a 2,000 calorie-a-day diet, calorie intake should include around 500 extra calories a day, bringing their daily calorie intake up to 2,500 calories.

Of course, how many added calories you need depends on your age, your activity level, and how often you’re breastfeeding.

The La Leche League says that consuming only 1,800 calories a day should help fuel gradual weight loss (about 1 pound a week) while giving you energy. Just make sure that you continue to support your body with healthy foods to maintain energy and promote milk production.

Try to fill your extra calorie intake with healthy meals or snacks, like peanut butter, bananas, and yogurt.

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

La Leche League has found that women who partially or exclusively breastfeed tend to lose more weight during the three to six months after birth than someone who only feeds their baby formula.

If you’re planning to lose weight, you’ll want to follow a healthy diet and exercise routine in addition to breastfeeding. The combination should result in a quicker slim down than breastfeeding alone.

Talk with your doctor first, if you want to get started on a special diet and exercise plan.

Eating a healthy, balanced diet will give you and your baby many of the nutrients that promote strong growth and development.

Breastfeeding moms should also drink water frequently. If your urine is a dark yellow, you may not be taking in enough fluids. It might help to think about drinking a glass of water every time you breastfeed.

Juices and sugary drinks can lead to weight gain, so avoid these if you’re trying to lose weight. Sugary drinks also don’t offer you or your baby any nutritional value.

Limit caffeine intake to about 200 milligrams (mg) — about two to three cups — a day. Drinking too much caffeine 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 their sleep.

Foods rich in protein, iron, and calcium are known to help stimulate breast milk production. Try eating foods such as:

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

If you notice your baby has fussiness, a rash, diarrhea, or congestion after breastfeeding, talk to your baby’s doctor. They may be having an allergic reaction to one of the foods in your diet.

Even though they’re healthy, you might want to avoid Brussels sprouts, cabbage, and cauliflower because these foods can produce gas. High-mercury fish, like swordfish, king mackerel, and tilefish, should be avoided to limit your baby’s exposure to the chemical element.

Breastfeeding moms should always avoid smoking, using illegal drugs, and drinking alcohol. These substances can pass through your breastmilk to the baby and cause harm.

If you plan to drink alcohol, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists recommends that breastfeeding moms wait 2 hours after having a single alcoholic drink before breastfeeding. Larger amounts of alcohol may take longer to clear from your body.

Breastfeeding has lots of benefits for both you and your baby. Because you’ll burn extra calories, it’s important to eat a healthy diet and drink plenty of water.

You may even find that breastfeeding helps with postpartum weight loss. But you’ll still want to practice healthy eating habits and regular exercise if you’re trying to lose weight.