I have had so many requests for my postpartum fitness and eating plan. The secret here is to find balance between fat loss and maintaining your milk supply. I’ve always had trouble losing fat while breastfeeding (read this if you do too!), and so the first thing I needed to do was to accept that this might be it for now – I won’t endanger the baby’s milk supply to fit into my old clothes, my priority is mine and baby’s health. Here is what I’m doing to slowly try to drop extra fat while staying healthy and keeping up my milk supply. Be sure and stick around to the end of the article for a bonus.
Nutrition and Diet
When I first left the birth center after giving birth I was so hungry I thought I’d eat my own arm before we made it home. The appetite has not let up since then and I decided to listen to my body and EAT! When breastfeeding, the average mom burns an additional 500 calories a day – that’s like a high intensity workout!
The first several weeks were all about establishing my milk supply, so I did not cut calories at all. When I was hungry, I ate. At about 5 weeks postpartum, I reached a plateau and decided to start adding up the calories to give myself a starting point.
Calories, Macronutrients, and Nutrition
I don’t normally like calorie counting, in fact I hate it. However, I do recognize that calorie counting can be an extremely useful tool in special situations like this. I added up what I was currently eating, which was about 2400 calories per day.
Next, I checked my macronutrient intake using the app LoseIt (after simply logging what you eat, LoseIt adds the calories and breaks down the macronutrients for you).
- The number one macro I am keeping an eye on is protein. Without adequate protein, my milk supply will suffer, my body will shed muscle, and I won’t feel my best. The absolute minimum protein intake I want each day is 80 grams, but I aim for 100+ grams, even more now that I’m strength training again.
- Next, I made sure I’m getting enough healthy fat, about 30% of my total calorie intake.
- And last, I filled in the remaining calories with healthy carbohydrates. This is a MUCH higher number than I am used to, but with the amount I am moving, not sleeping, and energy it takes to keep a high milk supply, healthy carbohydrates are a must!
As far as nutrients, 80-90% of my calories consist of lean protein (3-5 servings), fruits (2-3 servings), vegetables (at least 2 leafy greens per day and 4-5 servings total), a variety of healthy fats (2-3 servings), and whole grains (1-2 servings). The other 10-20% of my calories I save for “fun foods” – as long as they are whole foods free of preservatives, chemicals, trans fats, artificial sugars and sweeteners, food dyes, etc, I eat what I want. For example, homemade blueberry muffins, organic tater tots, Amy’s Pizza Roll Snacks, or dinner at a local restaurant (with a little research on ingredients first).
So here is what my typical day looked like at 2400 calories:
- Breakfast – 2 scrambled eggs with spinach and onions, 1 sprouted grain english muffin with a tablespoon of cream cheese and a little raw organic honey
- Snack 1 – Larabar
- Lunch – chicken breast, spinach, red peppers, cucumber slices, and homemade guacamole on 2 pieces of toasted sprouted grain bread, 2 clementines
- Snack 2 – Smoothie with greek yogurt, spinach, 1 cup of mixed frozen fruit (cherries, strawberries, blueberries, bananas, etc), and chia seeds
- Dinner – Beef and Broccoli over cauliflower “rice”, fruit
- Snack 3 – sliced banana, raw organic honey, greek yogurt, and walnuts mixed together
- plus 1 teaspoon of cod liver oil daily
I eat the same thing for breakfast, lunch, and snacks every day, so I know what my base calorie intake will be. Depending on the calories of my dinner, which varies each night, I may or may not have a few hundred calories left over that I will then fill with my fun foods. I plan this out at the beginning of the day using LoseIt, then decide what to add in, like tater tots with my lunch or even a couple of tablespoons of Justin’s Chocolate Hazelnut Butter in my greek yogurt snack.
Typically I hit a macronutrient ratio of 25% protein (about 130g), 45% carbohydrates, and 30% fat.
When I hit a plateau, I drop 50 calories per day, one week at a time. Yes, this is a much slower way than the typical recommendation of 500 calorie deficits, but with the milk supply at risk, it’s better to take it slow. This will also help your metabolism to adjust so that it’s not adapting to the lower calorie range.
Are you overwhelmed with your own postpartum plan? You don’t have to do this alone, I can help.
Measuring Body Composition
If you’re going to weigh yourself, do yourself a huge favor and take your body fat composition reading as well. This is especially true if you are strength training. I have been 135 pounds and a size 8, and I’ve also been 135 pounds and a size 2 – the first I was a much higher body fat, the second I was very lean with more muscle. Personally, if I’m not trying to reach a specific body fat % goal, I just go by how my clothes are fitting. You can pick up a pair of calipers to measure your body composition here, or have a personal trainer take the measurements for you. For me, I want to increase my muscle mass and decrease my body fat. More muscle means more strength, higher metabolism (muscle requires more calories for upkeep than fat), and a more athletic look.
Creating a Plan
If you have no idea where to start with your calories, first try our very helpful breastfeeding calorie calculator and subtract 15%. This is the average daily calories you want to consume. Give this number 2 weeks before you make any adjustments. Remember fat loss takes time and you have to be very patient if you want to do it right!
If calorie counting seems like a big pain, don’t do it! Just plan your meals out once and get a feeling for how many calories you’re eating, then just eat and don’t worry about it. As long as you’re dropping fat and keeping up your milk supply, don’t make a big hassle of it.
And finally, if the number this calculation puts out seems shockingly high (I have never been on a “diet” that involved me eating more than 2000 calories a day, so I was certainly shocked too!) don’t worry. If your weight starts creeping up, just lower the number a little. It won’t be anything you can’t undo quickly. Don’t underestimate the adaptability of your metabolism, and use it to yours and your baby’s advantage!
I began daily walks at 1 week postpartum. I started with just 20-30 minutes of walking and worked up to an hour (about 3 miles). I sustained only this level of activity until 5 weeks postpartum. Here is my exercise plan from here out to get me back to my intense workouts and athleticism:
- Week 5 – add in 15 minutes of light circuit training (Monday), and a 12-15 minute HIIT workout (Friday)
- Week 6 – increase circuit training to 30 minutes, add 1 more 12-15 minute HIIT workout (Wednesday)
- Week 7 – add a 30 minute cardio routine in for Thursdays (jumprope, running, trail running, kickboxing)
- Week 8 – add a track, stadium, or hill workout for Sundays (sprints, plyometrics, hill sprints, stadium runs)
This timetable gets me back to my pre-pregnancy routine by 2 months post-partum:
- Mondays – circuit training (30-45min), walk (here’s a sample of a typical circuit training workout)
- Tuesdays – walk only
- Wednesdays – HIIT (12-15min), walk (here’s a sample of a typical HIIT workout)
- Thursdays – cardio (jumprope, running, trail running, kickboxing), walk
- Fridays – HIIT (12-15min), walk
- Saturdays – walk only
- Sundays – track workout 20-30 min (sprints, plyometrics, hill sprints, stadium runs)
My focus is short, intense workouts because I have very limited time in between baby feedings and baby naps! I’ll also be continuing daily walks with the baby, probably more like 2 miles. It’s good for both of us to get out in the sun each day!
Note: if you are also choosing the intense, shorter workouts, make sure you’re feeding baby BEFORE your workout. A few small studies have found a buildup of lactic acid in breastmilk following high intensity (to the point of exhaustion) exercise, and also a small decrease in supply in the 90 minutes following the workout.
Here’s a checklist for any plateaus or problems that may come up for balancing fat loss and breastfeeding:
If milk supply begins to diminish and/or you’re losing fat too quickly (more than 1 lb per week after initial post-pregnancy weight loss):
- increase daily calorie intake by 50-100 calories with protein and/or fat, or add in 1-2 higher calorie days per week
- decrease intensity of workouts and focus on longer, less intense exercise
- make sure you’re drinking plenty of water and add an extra glass before, during, and after workouts
If fat loss plateaus:
- decrease daily calorie intake by 50-100 calories with carbohydrates (start with starches like whole grain breads, or remove a few “fun foods”)
- increase intensity of workouts, make sure you are adequately strength training
- add in a form of low-level activity, like walking, to increase activity level
It’s possible that your body may not want to drop fat while you are breastfeeding, no matter what you do. We all have different hormonal profiles. My body likes to store fat in my legs and rear when I’m breastfeeding (and pregnant), no matter what I’m eating or how much I’m exercising. It’s such a short and important time for my baby in the grand scheme of things, so I have to tell myself that some things will just have to wait. The number one priority for baby and for me is good health and feeling well.
If you need help figuring out your own postpartum plan, visit my coaching page here.
UPDATE – I am now 7 months postpartum and back to my pre-pregnancy size for the most part (update and picture here). I ended up with a daily average of about 1900-2000 calories a day after a slow decrease over several weeks. My milk supply never has suffered and I feel better than ever. The fat loss really revved up around the 4 month mark, when prolactin levels dropped, and I saw the biggest difference between the 5th and 6th month.
I’ve put together 4 of my favorite interval training workouts for you, all of which can be done in your living room with minimal equipment. Click here to download.