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When my daughter Willa was an infant, she loved to nurse. Every hour on the hour. And never more than a nip at a time. She also hated to nurse in public, preferring a quiet room alone with me.
With my second baby, I was luckier and smarter. I nursed my son at coffee houses, bookstores, even the beach. I also bought an electric breast pump, so I could go to the gym without worrying that he would starve. Because I had more of a life the second time around, I felt better about breastfeeding and was proud of what I had done for both children. Breastfeeding created an intimate bond, and breast milk — with its perfect balance of protein, fats, carbs, vitamins and minerals — gave them the best possible nutritional start. I also passed along a healthy dose of immunities and disease-fighting agents that, studies show, can result in fewer ear infections, allergies and diarrhea.
If you’re a new mom, you probably have a lot of questions about breastfeeding. Here are some common ones with answers from the experts.
If I breastfeed, do I have to eat all the time? Nursing mothers need to drink more fluids and eat about 200 more calories a day than pregnant women — or about 500 more than nonpregnant women. But all that eating doesn’t mean you’ll gain weight. Betty Crase, B.A., I.B.C.L.C., director of the La Leche League’s International Center for Breastfeeding Information, says the opposite is often true. Breastfeeding not only helps women shed postpartum pounds, says Crase, but it also chews up the fat that accumulated in their hips and thighs late in pregnancy.
The best way to lose weight, Crase advises, is to make every bite count: If you eat nutritiously — fresh fruits, grains and greens, calcium-rich snacks like frozen yogurt and fruit shakes with milk — everything will help produce milk for your baby and energy for you. And make sure you’re consuming eight glasses of water and sufficient calories to maintain the weight you need. Keep in mind La Leche League’s guide: “Eat to hunger, drink to thirst.” If you’re losing more than a pound or pound-and-a-half a week after the initial loss, you’re losing too much to breastfeed successfully.
Can breastfeeding moms exercise? Yes, but you need to plan your workout around your baby. “Nurse before you leave so your breasts won’t feel full and you won’t leak,” says Jeanne Wilton, R.N., M.S., I.B.C.L.C., an obstetrician-gynecologist nurse-practitioner at All Saints Medical Center in Racine, Wis. Be sure to wear a supportive bra, but not one that binds the breasts so tightly that milk ducts become clogged, causing painful infection. If you wear a sports bra to work out, take it off when you are finished. And don’t worry if your baby shuns the breast after you exercise: Although one study found that babies turned up their noses at the “lactic acid taste” of post-exercise milk, the link is unproven; just wait awhile and try again.