Editor's Note: This is the second of a two-part series on fitness and nutrition for new mothers. This column is about nutrition and weight loss.
According to Dr. Jennifer Wider, author of "The New Mom's Survival Guide" (Random House, 2008), women should gain 25 to 35 pounds (including weight of baby, placenta, etc.). However, the reality is that women are lucky if they put on only 30 pounds, says Erin O'Brien, creator of the exercise DVD Postnatal Rescue.
"You're supposed to consume no more than 300 extra calories per day when pregnant ... that's a banana with peanut butter on it," she adds.
Unfortunately many women see pregnancy as a license to eat.
What's the best way to lose weight after giving birth?
A recent study from the Harvard School of Public Health found that women who were most likely to lose those birth pounds walked at least 30 minutes per day, avoided trans fats and watched less than two hours of television daily.
How can I eat healthy when I have no time to cook?
"Your free time is scarce, and you are too sleepy to fuss with gourmet meals, but you can still eat well and lose weight by following these two rules," suggests Elizabeth Somer, M.A., R.D., author of "Nutrition for a Healthy Pregnancy" (Holt, 2002). "Stock the kitchen with ready-made quick fixes (baby carrots, sliced oranges, tubs of low-fat yogurt, bagged lettuce, etc.) and always take food with you when you leave the house (apple slices, string cheese, etc.). In addition, include two fruits or vegetables at every meal and one at every snack." Keep in mind that the important nutrients needed postpartum are calcium, folate, iron and protein.
How many more calories do I need each day if I'm breastfeeding?
An additional 200 to 300 calories per day.
What about hydration?
"Breastfeeding requires roughly two additional quarts of water per day, and exercise increases this need. Avoiding dehydration is very important in breastfeeding women, as it can decrease the volume of milk produced," Druxman says. She recommends that breastfeeding moms drink at least 4 ounces of water for every 20 minutes of exercise and grab a big glass of water every time they nurse their baby. Also you should note the color of your urine -- the paler, the better.
What are good foods to help your energy level after being up all night with a newborn?
"Not sugar or coffee. I found eggs and whole-wheat toast really picked me up in the morning. I also made sure I ate small meals throughout the day so I could keep up my energy levels," O'Brien says. Also try nuts, they're easy and quick to eat and are a good source of protein.
Is there any particular vitamin I may be lacking after pregnancy?
"A 2007 study published in the Journal of Nutrition found that vitamin D deficiency was widespread among new mothers, even when they had been taking a prenatal supplement. Lack of vitamin D is associated not only with poor bone health but also with multiple sclerosis and depression. New mothers should ask their doctor about vitamin D testing," says Eileen Behan, R.D., L.D., author of the best-selling "Eat Well, Lose Weight While Breastfeeding." Also, once they begin to menstruate again they need to be sure they're getting enough iron to ensure blood health and prevent iron deficiency anemia, she adds.
I heard giving birth and breastfeeding depletes your calcium.
Both strain a woman's calcium levels. "In fact, if you don't get enough calcium in your diet during pregnancy, the growing fetus may take what it needs from your bones. Unfortunately, far too many women are not getting enough calcium, whether they're pregnant or not," Wider says. To be sure they're getting enough women should eat plenty of low-fat calcium-rich foods such as low-fat milk, yogurt, cheese and foods such as kale, bok choy and broccoli, and/or take a calcium supplement if they need it.
How do I balance weight loss versus milk-production requirements?
According to Somer the key here is doing it gradually. "Prior to pregnancy the weight-loss goal could be as high as 2 pounds a week. After pregnancy, your weight loss goal should be only 2 pounds per month (for most women who have gained the recommended 25 pounds during pregnancy and who were at their desirable weight prior to pregnancy) and no more than 1 pound a week for overweight nursing mothers who use a combination of diet and exercise to shed pounds (by exercising, the woman doesn't need to cut calories as severely, so loses weight without jeopardizing her health.). Whatever your weight goal, add 5+ pounds for the extra tissue your body retains while breastfeeding. So, if you ultimately want to lose 20 pounds, aim for no more than 15 pounds for now. The final 5 pounds usually drop off when you stop nursing."
Does exercise affect milk production?
According to Lisa Druxman, creator of Stroller Strides and author of "Lean Mommy" (Center Street, 2007): "Regular, sustained, moderate-to-high-intensity exercise does not impair the quality or quantity of breast milk. There are a small number of cases of exercise-induced increases in the lactic acid concentration of breast milk resulting in decreased infant suckling due to a sour taste. However, feeding the baby prior to exercise should negate any potential problem, as any lactic acid that does accumulate in the breast milk should clear in 30 to 60 minutes post-exercise."
How many calories do I burn carrying my child around?
About 211 calories per hour (if you weigh 155 pounds).
The opinions expressed are solely those of the writer. Charles Stuart Platkin is a nutrition and public health advocate, founder of DietDetective.com, the health and fitness network and author of "The Diet Detective's Calorie Bargain Bible" (Simon & Schuster, 2007). Sign up for the free Diet Detective newsletter and iTunes podcast at www.DietDetective.com.