You’re ready to start taking care of yourself after having a baby, but you’re afraid of decreasing your milk supply. What can you do to prevent your milk from dropping, and what steps should you take if it does? Here are a few tips:
Don’t start until your supply is well-established
Don’t make any changes in your eating or exercise habits until you have a well-established, predictable milk supply coming in. Also, make sure that you have plenty of back-up bottles of pumped milk, just in case.
If you’re making a decision to get back in shape after birth from a place of control rather than a place of self-care, you’re going to want to do things in an extreme way. This is counter-productive for both your adherence and also your supply.
Start slow and be patient. Keep in mind that making small, feasible changes will not only make it easier for your brain to adapt to new habits, but will prohibit your body from being shocked and your supply tanking. Add workouts in slowly, one week at a time. Start with low intensity and build up to higher intensity as your body gets used to the changes. It took me 5 weeks to work up to a full schedule of workouts again, and another 3 or 4 to get back to the intensity level I was used to.
If your supply begins to go down after you begin working out, take a few days break before trying again.
I’m getting away from calorie counting not only in my own life but with my clients. However, I think it’s a good idea to sit down once and add up about how much you’re eating on a daily basis. Make sure it is enough to be within about 50-100 calories of your maintenance (you can find that here) but still under it. This will insure that you are eating enough to keep up milk supply while also signaling to your body that you’re not starving and can let go of the fat reserves on your body. Once you have this number, plan out your daily meals with it in mind. (Use the number as a guideline, but don’t make yourself anxious and crazy trying to hit it, just eat until you’re satisfied/full.)
Understand what hunger/under-eating can look like
When most people think of hunger, they think of growling stomachs. But hunger and low blood sugar can also look like cravings and obsessing over food. This happens quite a bit when you’re nursing, because you’re burning so many more calories than normal. You may not realize that you’re under-eating because you’re eating like you always have.
Don’t take cravings as a sign that you’re weak or don’t have willpower, that’s not the case. Cravings are your body’s way of signaling to you that it needs more than what you are giving it, and usually the cravings are for fast energy like sugar and white carbs. If you recognize that your body is just trying to get more fuel, you can stop the cravings by increasing the amount of food you are eating at your main meals, or having a planned snack at the time you generally go looking for food.
Increase protein, fat, and fiber
If your supply does begin to dip, you will need to increase the amount of calories you are taking in to help it recover. To do this, increase the amount of protein, healthy fat, and fiber you’re eating. This can look like adding diced chicken to your veggie omelet, adding a serving of almonds, or adding an extra serving of veggies to your dinner. Continue adding the additional food in slowly until your supply begins to recover.
While I’ve had a few clients whose milk supplies suffered the first week of beginning workouts and healthier eating, not one of them experienced a permanent loss, and all of them recovered their supply within a week. If you can hang in there, supplement with your backup pumped milk, use the above tips to increase your supply again, and make any future changes slowly, you can recover your supply and continue to exercise and eat nutritiously.
Keep in mind that you might have trouble with slow weight loss during this time period of nursing, but that doesn’t negate the positive effects of exercise and healthy eating. You will be feeling your best as well as providing essential nutrients to your baby. Instead of thinking of exercise and healthy eating as a means to weight loss, think of it as self-care. When you think of it this way, you’ll make decisions based on what’s best for you and baby rather than punishing yourself for the sake of weight loss.