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Why am I so hungry after breastfeeding?

It’s common for new mothers to feel hungrier than usual after breastfeeding their baby. There are several reasons why breastfeeding can increase feelings of hunger, including:

  • Making breast milk requires extra calories. When you breastfeed, your body burns calories to make the milk your baby needs. This can require an extra 400-500 calories per day compared to your pre-pregnancy needs.
  • Breastfeeding causes thirst. Nursing mothers need to stay well hydrated, which can make you feel hungry when you’re actually just thirsty. Aim for about 3 liters of fluids per day.
  • Your metabolism speeds up. Breastfeeding increases your basal metabolic rate, so your body burns more calories 24/7 while producing milk.
  • Your body wants to replenish nutrients. Breast milk contains nutrients like protein, fat, vitamins, minerals, and water. Your body signals hunger to replace what’s being lost through milk production.

While feeling hungrier is common, it’s important that breastfeeding mothers meet their increased nutritional needs without overeating. With the right diet, you can satisfy your hunger, keep up your energy, and provide quality nutrition to your baby through breast milk.

How Many Extra Calories Do Breastfeeding Moms Need?

The number of extra calories needed while breastfeeding depends on factors like:

  • Baby’s age. Calorie needs are highest when your baby is 0-6 months old.
  • Whether you’re exclusively breastfeeding. Moms who supplement with formula require fewer extra calories.
  • Your metabolism and activity level.
  • If you want to lose pregnancy weight. Eating fewer extra calories can allow gradual post-pregnancy weight loss.

Here are some general guidelines for how many extra calories are recommended:

Baby’s Age Additional Calories Recommended
0-6 months 500
7-12 months 400

As you can see, needs are highest in the first 6 months when milk production is greatest. Many women can gradually decrease extra calories as solids are introduced and their baby begins eating less breast milk.

Tips for Managing Hunger While Breastfeeding

It’s completely normal for breastfeeding to make you hungrier. Here are some tips to manage hunger:

  • Eat frequent small meals. Have about 3 meals and 2-3 light snacks per day. Skipping meals can lead to overeating later.
  • Emphasize protein and fiber. Foods like eggs, oatmeal, nuts, and yogurt help control hunger.
  • Stay hydrated. Drink when thirsty and have fluids like water, milk, and herbal tea.
  • Keep healthy snacks on hand. Good options are fruits, vegetables, cheese, and whole grain crackers.
  • Avoid empty calories. Limit sugary foods that cause spikes and crashes in blood sugar.
  • Listen to hunger cues. Eat when your body signals hunger, but stop when you feel satisfied.
  • Be active. Getting exercise helps balance your energy needs.

Making sure you eat regular well-balanced meals and snacks is key. You can also try these meal ideas:

Breakfast Ideas

  • Oatmeal with fruit, nuts, milk, and cinnamon
  • Scrambled eggs with veggies and whole grain toast
  • Greek yogurt with berry compote and granola
  • Avocado toast on whole grain bread

Lunch Ideas

  • Turkey and avocado sandwich on whole grain bread
  • Veggie and hummus whole wheat wrap
  • Tuna salad with cherry tomatoes over mixed greens
  • Lentil vegetable soup with whole grain crackers

Dinner Ideas

  • Chicken thighs with roasted vegetables and quinoa
  • Salmon with sweet potato and broccoli
  • Burrito bowls with rice, beans, salsa, cheese, and avocado
  • Tofu stir fry with brown rice

Healthy Snack Ideas

  • Fresh or dried fruit with nuts/seeds
  • Trail mix with nuts, seeds, and dried fruit
  • Smoothies made with fruit, greens, yogurt, and milk
  • Whole grain crackers with peanut butter
  • Cheese stick and grapes
  • Cottage cheese with tomato and cucumber slices

Common Reasons for Increased Appetite When Breastfeeding

Here’s more detail on some of the main reasons breastfeeding increases hunger levels:

Increased Calorie Needs

Producing breast milk requires significant energy. The components of breast milk like protein, carbohydrates, and fat require calories to make.

The exact calorie content of breast milk varies, but on average it’s about 20 calories per ounce. If you produce 25 oz (750 mL) of milk per day, that’s 500 extra calories needed just for milk production!

This is on top of the extra calories you need for basic functioning when you’re a new mother. It all adds up to greater calorie needs.

Increased Hydration Needs

Breastfeeding mothers need to stay very hydrated to keep up with milk production. Dehydration can reduce milk supply.

When you don’t drink enough fluids, it’s easy to confuse thirst with hunger. Be sure to sip water regularly throughout the day. Other good options are milk, herbal tea, broth-based soups, and fruits/veggies with high water content.

Aim for about 3 liters of total fluids per day while breastfeeding. Drink extra in hot weather or when physically active.

Faster Metabolism

Breastfeeding revs up your metabolism. Your basal metabolic rate increases to provide energy for milk production.

One study found that women exclusively breastfeeding a 3-month-old baby had metabolisms 15-25% higher than normal.[1] Their bodies burned calories faster 24/7.

Having a faster metabolism means you need more food for fuel. It’s the body’s way of getting energy to support higher energy expenditure.

Nutrient Loss Through Breast Milk

Breast milk contains protein, fat, carbohydrates, vitamins, minerals, digestive enzymes, and bioactive ingredients like antibodies.

When you produce milk, your body gives these nutrients to your baby. In turn, your body signals hunger and cravings to replenish what’s being lost in breast milk.

For example, craving more protein-rich foods may be your body’s way of getting protein to make milk after feeding your baby.

Appetite-Boosting Hormones

Breastfeeding affects hormones that control appetite and food intake.

Prolactin and oxytocin levels remain high while breastfeeding. These hormones have been found to increase appetite.[2]

Higher ghrelin levels may also boost hunger. Ghrelin is called the “hunger hormone” because it stimulates appetite. One study found mothers had higher ghrelin levels while breastfeeding compared to formula feeding.[3]

These hormonal changes support the increased calorie needs during lactation. Your body knows it needs more food, so appetite-stimulating hormones are upregulated.

Tips for Weight Management While Breastfeeding

Many new moms want to manage their weight while breastfeeding. Here are some tips:

  • Focus on eating healthy, not restricting calories. Severe calorie restriction can reduce milk supply.
  • Aim to lose 1-2 pounds per month to prevent compromising milk production.
  • Eat the minimum extra calories needed for your stage of breastfeeding.
  • Load up on low calorie fruits and vegetables to feel full.
  • Increase activity with walking, postpartum core exercises, etc.
  • Join a weight loss program designed for nursing mothers.
  • Drink more water to feel full between meals.
  • Get enough sleep and relax to control cortisol levels.
  • Build muscle through strength training to boost metabolism.

Losing weight gradually while breastfeeding takes patience. Focus on healthy eating with appropriate calories and get clearance from your doctor about your weight goals.

When to See a Doctor

Increased hunger while breastfeeding is normal, but extreme hunger or failure to gain weight back after delivery should be evaluated.

See a doctor if:

  • You have no appetite or are losing weight.
  • You faint or feel ill/dizzy.
  • You have severe cravings for non-food items like dirt or chalk.
  • You feel anxious, depressed, or overwhelmed about hunger.
  • Your milk supply suddenly decreases.
  • You need to eat extremely frequently (more than 6 times per day).

These may be signs of an underlying health issue or postpartum mood disorder that requires treatment.

It’s also important to ask your doctor about any supplements or medications you take, as some can interfere with milk production or nutrition absorption. Let your doctor know if hunger is interfering with daily life.

When Does Hunger While Breastfeeding Subside?

Most women notice the most intense hunger in the early months of breastfeeding when milk supply is highest. This is especially true if you’re exclusively nursing without formula supplementation.

As solid foods are introduced around 6 months and breast milk intake decreases over time, hunger levels typically normalize. Milk production dips as nursing sessions get shorter and less frequent.

But some women do notice increased appetite throughout the entire first year or longer while nursing. Pay attention to hunger cues and don’t restrict calories unless recommended by your doctor.

With the right diet, it’s possible to meet increased needs without significant weight gain. Focus on nutrition quality, not just quantity.

The Takeaway

Feeling extra hungry after breastfeeding is a common experience. Your body needs more calories and fluids to produce nutritious breast milk for your growing baby.

Try to satisfy hunger with frequent healthy meals and snacks. Avoid restricting calories unless directed by your doctor.

With time, your appetite should balance out as breast milk needs decrease. But always pay attention to hunger signals and your energy levels. Eating enough of the right foods helps keep you healthy and energetic as a new mother.