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Ask Dr. Sears: Dieting Questions

Q Is it okay to diet while breastfeeding? Can I at least reduce carbs?

A: When you breastfeed, those extra pounds melt away without drastic dieting. You may be happy to know that compared to formula-feeding mothers, breastfeeding moms show more fat loss by one month postpartum and tend to loose more weight from three to six months postpartum. Even though breastfeeding mothers consume more calories, the energy used in making milk uses up some extra fat stores. In fact, to produce enough milk for your baby you use up an extra 500 calories a day. If these weight-loss benefits of breastfeeding are not enough, it is safe to diet, as long as you make sure you and your baby receive proper nourishment. You should not lose more than a pound a week. Here are some ways to lose weight safely:

Exercise a lot. In my experience with postpartum weight loss, dieting without exercise rarely keeps the weight off and may deprive you and your new baby of needed nutrients. Crash diets and fad diets often lead to water and muscle loss instead of fat loss, while exercise burns fat and increases your basal metabolic rate (BMR). To burn an extra 300 calories a day, put your baby in a carrier and take a brisk walk for at least an hour every day. Put on some music and dance while you hold your baby in your arms or in a sling, or if you prefer the atmosphere of a gym or a day spa, reserve this as a special outing just for you. With postpartum exercise you can enjoy a couple of extra perks: Exercise produces the body's natural "feel-good hormones" called endorphins, which lessen the severity of postpartum depression, and exercise also elevates production of the milk-making hormone, prolactin.

Eat the right food rather than less food. Go through your present diet and figure out how you can whittle away 200 calories a day of junk food. This would be the equivalent of two chocolate-chip cookies. Eat nutrient-dense foods such as fresh fruits, whole grain cereals, wild rice, non-fat yogurt, non-fat cottage cheese, white-meat chicken or turkey (without skin), salmon, tuna, sweet potatoes, all vegetables, and legumes. Avoid calorie-dense foods like high-fat, high-sugar, packaged foods. I advise all postpartum mothers: Don't go down the aisle in the supermarket that sells package goods (which should be called "packaged bads") like chips, cookies, and snack foods high in junk carbs and unhealthy fats. And stay away from anything with the word "hydrogenated" on the label.