Make no mistake: Losing the baby weight after pregnancy is hard AF for most moms.
It makes sense, then, that some new moms might look into intermittent fasting to help lose some of the baby weight—celebs like Halle Berry and Jenna Jameson swear by it, and research suggests that it can help with modest weight loss…but is it a good idea if you’re breastfeeding?
Remind me: What is intermittent fasting?
There are a few different iterations of intermittent fasting, but they all center around the same idea: You eat as you normally would during specific time periods, and fast during other time periods.
Take the 16:8 diet, for example—you eat whatever you want (within caloric reason—so if you do want to lose weight, you shouldn’t exceed 1,500 calories) for eight hours each day and you fast during the remaining 16. Another form of intermittent fasting, called the 5:2 diet, instructs you to eat normally for five days a week and then fast for two days, eating just 500 to 600 calories.
Research shows that intermittent fasting diets can have an effect on weight loss—a recent study in the journal Nutrition and Healthy Aging found that participants lost a modest amount of weight on the 16:8 diet and actually ate 350 calories fewer each day than those who didn’t do intermittent fasting.
So, should I try intermittent fasting while breastfeeding?
Honestly, it’s probably not the best idea. Torey Armul, R.D.N., a spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, says intermittent fasting is something to avoid if you’re nursing a little one.
“Intermittent fasting can be dangerous during breastfeeding because it restricts the amount of food and fluids for both mom and baby,” Armul says. “Breastfeeding requires a continuous source of fluids and calories to maintain a woman’s milk supply and meet her own body’s needs. Limiting food and fluids from any type of fasting can lead to reduced milk supply, inadequate nutritional status, low energy levels and dehydration.”
Armul points out that if, for example, a woman is exclusively breastfeeding (i.e. no formula supplementation or solid foods), then she will require approximately 500 extra calories per day, depending on her size, activity level, metabolism and breastfeeding demands. Plus, she says, even though water is allowed during intermittent fasting, restricting food can also lead to dehydration, “since food makes up approximately 20 percent of our fluid intake during the day.”
The better plan for tackling post-pregnancy weight loss? Pay attention to what different hunger cues might be telling you—sometimes, for instance, you’re just thirsty—and skip grazing in between large meals, in favor of smaller meals throughout the day.
Your breastfeeding body—and new baby—will thank you.