Breastmilk takes a lot of energy to produce and this week we’re looking at how many calories it takes, what those extra calories actually look like in the context of food and why you needn’t be scared of the extra baby weight that comes with pregnancy.
Back in week 116, we took a look at the age-old pregnant excuse to overindulge in food – “I’m eating for two“. That week we took a dive into the dangers of being overweight during pregnancy, why the advice is confusing and how many extra calories a pregnant woman actually needs, at all stages of her pregnancy.
The actual amount is far, far less than many realise with current recommendations being that no extra calories are required in the first and second trimester and only 200 extra calories in the last trimester. That’s only 10% extra, and only in the last trimester.
The average mother lays down about an extra 4kg of fat in preparation for the added demands of breastfeeding. This makes biological sense because new mothers would have been less able to go out foraging and would have needed these extra stores to survive and feed their newborn.
There is mounting pressure for new mothers to shed their extra weight and get back to pre-pregnancy weight in record times. For many, this is completely unrealistic. Those celebrities that do, do so because their careers often depend upon it, as does their bank balance, and many of them will have a team behind them making it possible.
But for many, a few extra pounds makes no difference and if you choose to breastfeed, the extra calories it takes to make breastmilk will help hasten that process.
Producing breastmilk is a calorie-hungry process that requires upwards of 500 calories a day. Compared to the NICE recommendations – no extra calories in the first and second trimester and 200 extra calories in the last trimester – that makes breastfeeding’s calorific needs 250% more than those of pregnancy. Even if you consider other recommendations, the calories needed to make breastmilk are still far higher.
For some, the extra calorific needs may be used as an excuse to eat more, but before you do, remember it’s not as much as you may think.
500 calories could be; a coffee and a muffin, or a cream cheese bagel, or a big mac, or 2 packs of skittles, or 4 slices of bacon, or 5 bananas or even 6 eggs.
And the actual amount of calories that each mother uses to make breastmilk will vary, as will her circumstances –
- Breastfeeding exclusively 8-12 times a day will use more calories than if you are mixed feeding.
- An abundant supply of milk will consume more calories than a lower milk supply.
- As your baby grows their demands will increase along with your milk supply and the calories needed to meet it. As solid foods are subsequently introduced, the requirements will lessen, as will the calorific demands.
Let’s not forget that the quality of your food will be important too – making sure you are getting enough nutrients for not only your milk supply but for your own body. Just like pregnancy, when the needs of a baby are put ahead of those of the mother’s body, breastfeeding works the same way. A mother’s body will give all it needs to feed their growing newborn and their body comes second, so eating a balanced diet has more benefits for the mother than the baby.
The average woman gains 4kg of fat through pregnancy. A gram of fat contains around 9 calories, and the amount of extra calories required to breastfeed is 500. A bit of maths shows us that, if you matched your pre-pregnancy calorific needs, it would only be 72 days before you would have used those reserves. So don’t be scared of the baby weight, it’s there for a reason. Your body knows what is ahead, as well as the demands that it’s likely to encounter. It’s simply preparing to look after the needs of you and your baby.