Supplements and Breastfeeding

breastfeeding supplements May 21, 2018

Many local Denver moms, albeit the more “crunchy” variety, know of me on Facebook. They know that I have kids, that I’m still breastfeeding my 3-year-old, and that I have a background and health and fitness. Some even know about my classes and services, but most just know my name. I get it a lot - “Oh, you’re THAT Beth Rees Jones”. That’s me! :) And my name is synonymous with being the chick who gets tagged on questions about exercise and nutrition while breastfeeding. I’m honored.

I’m not an IBCLC (that may come eventually), but I am have run the gamut in breastfeeding issues with my kids, have nutrition and weight loss education and certifications, and know a thing or two about exercise. And so I get tagged in posts asking for my thoughts. And I have a lot of them - especially when it comes to the supplement questions. Now, I’m not talking about the questions regarding Fenugreek or other herbal supplements to increase supply. If that comes up, I refer them to a local IBCLC or herbalist and possibly share my experience with those kinds (which were recommended to me by my IBCLC).

No, I’m talking about the weight loss supplements and protein powders, specifically the amped-up pills and drinks marketed towards weight loss and increased metabolism.

There are so many of them out there. In fact, in 2009, the supplement category help 61% of the direct sales in that year. We can only imagine that it’s increased with the number of direct sales/MLM companies that are out there. I’m not saying these products are bad, unnecessary most of the time, but not evil. I’m more concerned about the lack of knowledge and education from those selling the products. In the case of weight loss and metabolism-boosting products, they just aren’t made with the breastfeeding woman in mind. They are not regulated by the USDA and can make marketing statements that have absolutely no truth to them. If you look on 99% of these products, you’ll see a disclaimer recommending against their use for pregnant and breastfeeding women. Why? Because no one knows their effect on breast milk and the baby. Why? Because no one is going to fund that study. No one is going to put a baby at risk of poison or developmental issues for the sake of a weight loss product that may not work. 

I would argue that the same holds true for pre & post supplements. I usually don't recommend "pre" workouts to my clients because most of them have caffeine or other stimulants in them. Each baby is going to react differently, but again, do you want to risk the transfer of that stimulant to your kid? Probably not. That being said, a cup of coffee about an hour before working out is proven to help boost your training and should be safe for baby.

For post workout - what's in it and why are you taking it? These products are designed to help with muscle recovery after extreme training. So, unless you're doing some heavy endurance training (we're talking half marathon plus distances), or really pushing your PR on weights, the post is more than you need. A good, balance postpartum meal is usually adequate for the repair for most of our workout. Make sure to have some dairy or meat, as they are a  natural source of amino acid which is essential for repair.

Let's chat about product education

I used to sell a direct-entry nutrition product and went through the training. There is absolutely nothing covered on basic nutrition, let alone considerations for breastfeeding and pregnant women. Usually it’s an online, maybe week long training about the products and their promoted benefits. And a lot of marketing education on how to get clients, how to make more money, etc.

Next, let’s look at a personal trainer who endorses a particular product. Again, neither my college nutrition courses, the exercise science courses, or my personal trainers certification class ever touched on breastfeeding nutrition and supplement considerations. While a personal trainer might have more education than your typical direct marketing “coach”, that education did not take pregnancy or breastfeeding into account. You also need to ensure that the personal trainer you're working with (or taking advice from online) has some kind of nutrition certification along with their personal trainer certification. Otherwise, it's probably a lot of hearsay and personal experience.

But what about the pre/postnatal health and wellness specialist. Nope. I have a certification in pre/postnatal exercise and pre/post natal health and wellness, and neither discussed weight loss supplements.

Probably because they aren’t recommended for those who fall into this demographic.

What about doctors?

I hate to say it, but probably not. You might find a doc or naturopath who is more educated in this area, but the majority don’t get more than a basic nutrition course during the years of study. Some have gone on to earn the additional education in nutrition, so be sure to ask. Also, there are physician "MLM" program. Doctors can get kickbacks from selling a particular brand of product. Usually, these are much higher grade than the basic MLM, but just make do your research and make sure the doctor, chiropractor, or physical therapist is knowledgeable about using these products while breastfeeding.

Does this mean that breastfeeding women are doomed to not lose weight during their breastfeeding years? Absolutely not. And I hope you would never choose to stop breastfeeding just so you can take one of these supplements. There are healthier ways. There are cheaper ways. And there are ways that make it more likely for you to keep the weight off. Instead of spending your hard-earned money on supplements and fancy programs, why not invest in yourself and schedule a consultation with a dietitian or clinical nutritionist? Possibly even a health coach, if you just have basic questions and needs.

Let’s looks at some numbers:

  • 30-Day Supply of Plexus Slim/”The Pink Drink” (at retail): $85
  • 30 Servings of Beach Body Shakeology (at retail): $129
  • 14 Servings of Isagenix IsaLean shake (at retail): $52
  • 14 Servings of AdvoCare Meal Replacement shake (at retail): $45
  • Consultation with a Registered Dietitian (no insurance)*: ~ $100
  • Consultation with a Nutritional Therapist: ~ $125 for 1-hour consultation
  • Health Coaching Bundle: 3-month, with 6, 1-hour sessions: $300
It should be noted that both the Dietitian and Nutritional Therapist will probably require follow up visits and possibly offer a package at a greater price.
*Dietitians are often covered by insurance. Check with your insurance company to find a qualified RD in your plan, and also your personal benefits.

So if we do the math, you could spend up to $100+ per month on supplements that might work. As long as you also follow their “fitness and nutrition” plan along with the supplements (note- this nutrition plan most likely is too low in calories for your to sustain your supply). OR you could invest in your ongoing health by seeing a professional for about the same amount. Someone who is licensed by the state and/or certified by an accredited agency, and learn the tools to really thrive in your post-baby transformation.

If you're looking to fuel your workouts and transform your body, please be sure that you have your base nutrition in check first - whether or not you're currently working. Supplements are not a replacement - they are there to supplement the whole-food fuel we give our bodies and not to make up for poor decisions in food and lifestyle. If your diet isn't in check, your sleep isn't good, and your training isn't balanced, then no amount of supplementation is going to help. Got it?

Check out the podcast interview with Mike Dulce, one of the premier sports nutritionist out there, for an excellent explanation of how to eat to fuel your training and weight loss goals.

Remember that we choose to breastfeed our babies because we want to give them excellent and pure nutrition, and everything that we put into our bodies changes what goes into our babies. The first year postpartum is an insane time. Our crazy hormonal bodies and erratic schedules are a huge factor in getting rid of our extra cushioning. But it’s ok, because, for now, it gives our babies something warm and cozy to snuggle into as we feed, love, and nurture them. Remember to embrace this time. Work on yourself, but embrace this time -- it’s really all too short in the long run.


Looking for a safe way to lose the weight while breastfeeding?

Download my FREE "Breastfeeding Athlete's Playbook" for tips and tricks to help you reach those goals, or take the next step and jump into the 6-Week Breastfeeding Athlete Training Plan

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