Breastfeeding and Calories

What You Need and What You Burn

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When you're breastfeeding your body needs more energy than it does when you're not breastfeeding. You get that extra energy through the foods you eat. Calories are the energy in food. But, how many do you need? Here's what you need to know about getting enough calories each day to stay healthy and make breast milk for your child. 

How Many Calories You Need While Breastfeeding 

In general, if you are not pregnant or breastfeeding, you need between 1800 and 2000 calories each day. This number depends upon your height, weight, and activity level.

When you become pregnant, doctors recommend an additional 300 calories a day. Then, after your child is born, and you begin to breastfeed, you will need to add a little bit more because making breast milk requires extra energy.

If you're breastfeeding one child, you should take in about 2200 to 2500 calories each day.  When you're nursing a newborn 8 to 12 times a day, your body will need those extra calories. Later, when your child is older, eating solid foods, and breastfeeding less often, you will not need to eat as much.

Special Circumstances

Some breastfeeding moms need even more than 2500 calories or different needs. You may have special dietary needs if you:

If you fall into one of these categories, you should see your doctor, a nutritionist, or a registered dietitian. These healthcare providers can help you plan a diet that contains all the calories and nutrients necessary to keep you and your baby healthy.

How Many Calories Breastfeeding Burns

Making breast milk and breastfeeding burns calories. On average, breastfeeding can burn between 200-500 calories a day, but the actual amount will depend on how often you breastfeed, how much breast milk you're making, and your baby's age.

Extra Calories and Weight Gain

The extra calories that you need while you're breastfeeding should not cause weight gain as long as you're eating the right foods. As your body makes breast milk, it burns off those extra calories. If you're eating a healthy, well-balanced diet, you should gradually lose your pregnancy weight.

However, if you're adding those extra daily calories by eating junk foods, cakes, and high-fat foods, the weight will come off much more slowly. You may even gain weight. Junk foods only give you empty calories, not the nutrients that your body needs.

Can You Cut Calories To Lose Weight?

Many women worry about how they will lose weight after their baby is born. It's important to remember that while you're breastfeeding, you should not cut the number of calories that you have each day to try to lose your pregnancy weight unless you are specifically told to do so by your doctor for medical reasons. Liquid diets, weight loss pills, or going without food for long periods of time can be harmful to your health and likely cause a decrease in your milk supply.

It is much healthier to lose weight gradually. Remember, it took you nine months to gain your baby weight, so make sure you give yourself at least that much time to lose it. Be realistic with your goals. Eating healthy foods and incorporating exercise into your daily routine can help you to lose the weight and get back into shape safely. Just be sure to check with your doctor before you begin to exercise.

View Article Sources
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  • United States Department of Agriculture. Weight Loss While Breastfeeding. ChooseMyPlate.gov.
  • Whitney, E., Rolfes, S. Understanding Nutrition Edition Fourteenth Edition. Cengage Learning. 2015.