One of the questions I am asked most is, “Can I use protein powder while I am pregnant or nursing?” One thing to remember is that unless your child has a specific allergy there is no need to go on a special diet while breastfeeding your baby. Instead, focus on making healthy choices to help fuel your milk production (I will talk about this more in a minute). According to The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists you should aim for 450-500 extra calories per day when breastfeeding. In my experience, I found that when I was exclusively breastfeeding I needed to keep that number at the high end of 500 extra calories, and as I started adding solids at six months I only needed to stay in the lower range of 400-450 extra calories. As I gradually weaned my kids and when I was only nursing them before nap and bedtime I also gradually weaned the number of extra calories I was taking in.
Here is the formula I like to follow for determining the proper amount of calorie intake. According to the American Dietetic Association, the Mifflin-St. Jeor equation has been found to be the most reliable in predicting actual resting energy expenditure within 10 percent. The Mifflin-St. Jeor equation was developed in 1990 and has been validated by more than 10 studies. The Mifflin-St. Jeor equation is gaining popularity among the nutrition professionals for accurately estimating caloric needs. The equation is as follows: for females = 10 x (Weight in kg) + 6.25 x (Height in cm) – 5 x age – 161; for males= 10 x (Weight in kg) + 6.25 x (Height in cm) – 5 x age + 5. These equations are also multiplied by the same physical activity factors to estimate daily caloric needs. If reading that made your head spin (like it did mine!) click here for a simple calculator that will help you figure out the number of calories required per day for both maintenance and weight loss.
So, with that being said, I generally aim to get .9-1g of protein per lb of body weight. I typically aim for 140g of protein per day which is roughly 25% of my total calories. Sometimes as a new, sleep exhausted mom it can be difficult to get enough protein in. I know there were so many days where my babies wouldn’t let me put them down and cooking in the kitchen seemed near impossible. This is where a protein powder can be really helpful. I view protein powder as just another lean protein source such as chicken breast, egg whites, or ground turkey. I try to get a protein source in each of my meals each day, and although I aim for whole food sources majority of the time, sometimes a quick protein shake is an easier way to get my protein in.
When I was pregnant with my daughter, I asked my doctor about using protein powder and he said that one serving per day was perfectly fine as long as it was not my only source of protein for the day (he also joked with it was much, much better than opting for the McDonald’s drive through). He suggested that I try to use protein powders that do not use artificial sweeteners (such as sucralose aka Splenda). He said that there are not any long term studies that have been done on sucralose, but that some recent studies suggest that sucralose could present some long term health risks.
Whether or not artificial sweeteners cause health risks is quite controversial, and the majority of studies on artificial sweeteners have been performed on animals. It is not known whether the same effects would be seen in humans. Click here for a recent article about this on the Huffington Post. Click here for a study released by Purdue University which has a good summary of the literature on artificial sweeteners.
So, with that being said, it is inconclusive whether or not artificial sweeteners pose a risk to your health. However, when I am nursing I tend to steer on the ultra-cautious side and so I try to stay away from things that have artificial sweeteners in them. If I eat something on occasion that has Splenda, I don’t stress too much about it, but if it is something I am eating nearly every single day (like protein powder) I would prefer to use a natural form of sweetener such as stevia or treleafia.
The whey protein I like to use is MRM’s All Natural Whey. I like it because they source their whey from cows who are not given antibiotics or growth hormones. They do not use artificial sweeteners, they keep their ingredient list very simple and straightforward, and it mixes really easily in a shaker bottle (no clumps), and it tastes awesome. My favorite flavor is their new Strawberry flavor, it honestly tastes like a strawberry milkshake to me. I also love the Rich Vanilla flavor and if I am craving a chocolate flavor I add 1 Tbsp unsweetened cocoa powder. I talked with MRM and worked out a deal with them where you guys can use the code NATALIE at checkout and get a 40% discount off your purchase price making the protein only around $.85 per serving, which is a great deal.
Here are a couple more tips to keep in mind while nursing to help with your milk supply while trying to safely shed you baby weight.
1) Stay Extra Hydrated – Make sure to drink enough water, especially if you are exercising. My general rule of thumb is to take your current body weight, divide it in half, and that is the minimum number of ounces of water to drink each day. So, if you weigh 150lbs then you will want to aim for a minimum of 75oz of water (just over a half gallon). Another good test is the urine test. If your urine is dark yellow you should be drinking more water, if your urine is light yellow or clear than you are drinking enough. In my experience, proper hydration is crucial for milk production. When I was nursing my son I was also training for a marathon. The days I had really long runs and didn’t hydrate well enough I almost always had let-down issues. I found that staying extra hydrated helped immensely. It’s a good idea to drink a glass of water every time you nurse your baby.
2) Carbs are Your Friend! – I know how frustrating it can feel when you have extra weight to lose after your baby is born. With both my pregnancies I gained 65-70lbs and it took me a really long time to lose the weight. I know a lot of people will try to cut their carbs to help with weight loss. Not only is this not a great long-term solution (for anyone, not just breastfeeding moms) but it also can hurt your milk supply. Personally, I found that if I dropped my carbohydrates below 125g per day I had a major issue with my supply. Generally I aim for 225-300g of carbohydrates each day while I am nursing (towards the higher end on the days I work out and towards the lower end on rest days). Look for whole grains such as: brown rice, whole wheat pasta, oatmeal, sweet potatoes, quinoa, etc for your carbohydrate sources. I wrote a blog post about my first workout after my baby was born and how it’s important to be kind to myself and to remind myself that the weight loss is not a race.
If you have any additional questions, below I listed some great references that can answer more and is where I gathered a lot of the data for this post. As always, if you have any questions leave them in the comments below!