Congratulations on your little one! Your body definitely needs more energy during this phase to make breast milk. While some of that extra energy comes from the fat stores your body built up during pregnancy, the rest needs to come from food.
Prior to pregnancy, most women need between 1,800 and 2,200 calories to maintain a healthy weight depending on activity level (active women need more). While breastfeeding, the goal is to consume ~400-500 calories extra every day. So, if you’re a normal weighted woman with low to moderate activity, you will need 2,200 to 2,500 calories every day while breastfeeding.
It is important to note that this rough estimate is to support lactation and gradually lose the weight gained during pregnancy. You should not try to diet or calorie restrict while lactating unless directed by your doctor as this can interfere with milk supply. Overweight or obese women also need to support lactation with adequate calorie intake and should focus on healthy, balanced meals rather than calorie counts. No woman should aim for less than 1,800 calories per day while breastfeeding.
While eating all of these extra calories sounds like fun, remember that they should come from healthy, balanced meals and snacks. Rather than count calories (as if you need one more thing to track right now!), try listening to your hunger. Some women find they are more hungry at meals while others are hungry more frequently. If you make a healthy meal with lean proteins, whole grains and fruits/vegetables, simply increase your portions until you feel slightly full and satisfied. If you crave snacks, aim for high protein snacks paired with fruits and veggies- like Greek yogurt and bananas. Add 1-2 of these nutritious snacks per day to reach your extra calorie needs.
Even though sweets are an easy and delicious way to add 500 calories to your day (and readily available this time of year!), these foods don’t give your body all the benefits of healthier options and have less of the nutrients your body can so awesomely transfer to your baby through milk. Making a habit of eating desserts can also lead to excessive calorie intake as they are less satisfying than protein and fiber from fruits, veggies, whole grains, etc. It is also harder to kick a sweets habit once you wean off breast feeding and this can lead to rebound weight gain.