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Just how many calories do you burn while you're breastfeeding?

Celebrity magazines and online blogs are brimming with articles about the number of calories burned breastfeeding. But how many calories does a woman actually burn each day because of breastfeeding? And does this actually fuel weight loss

What's the Truth Behind Calories Burned Breastfeeding?

"If you're exclusively breastfeeding, it takes about 500 extra calories per day for your body to make milk for your baby," says Alice Callahan, author of "The Science of Mom." "These calories aren't actually burned. They're packaged into milk for your baby as fat, carbohydrates and protein." During pregnancy, your body is working hard not just to grow a baby, but to be prepared to provide your little one with the needed nutrients.

Basically, your body stores up fat during your pregnancy to provide the extra calories needed for milk production. "Some of those nutrients -- and the calories they contain -- can actually come from your body's stores," Callahan explains. "For example, most women gain a little fat during pregnancy, and that can slowly be used to make breast milk for your baby. The rest of the nutrients and calories for your breast milk will need to come from your diet."

Since your body does require energy -- and therefore calories -- to create breast milk, your body relies on the energy you bring in to keep milk production on track. Typically, doctors recommend that breastfeeding mothers consume a few hundred extra calories each day. How many calories you're consuming while you're breastfeeding really determines how much weight loss you'll experience, if any.

"You might eat about 300 extra calories and use 200 from your body's stores to make breast milk," Callahan explains. "The actual numbers will vary depending on how much your baby eats. These are just estimates." So although many might claim it's the calories burned breastfeeding that help them lose the extra pregnancy weight, that's not entirely what's happening.

How Can Moms Make the Right Choices?

You need to be making healthy choices when feeding your body to produce milk for your baby, says Colette M. Acke, a lactation consultant and founder of the Breastfeeding Resource Center. But you certainly shouldn't pile on extra calories because you're breastfeeding, since your body doesn't need more than those 500 calories burned. Rather than worrying too much about how many calories you're ingesting, just be smart about what you eat.

"Listen to your body and eat healthy foods," Acke says. "You really should just follow your appetite," adds Callahan. "It's common to feel very hungry, especially in the first few weeks of breastfeeding. Trust that your body really needs those calories to ramp up your milk supply."

Savvy moms can plan ahead and stock up on healthier options that will provide the necessary calorie boost without sabotaging a diet. That way, when you do need to refuel, you have healthy, nutrient-rich foods on hand. "Have plenty of easy meals and snacks on hand that will provide your own body with good nutrition," Callahan says.

"Eat when you're hungry and stop when you're full, and you'll be able to get the right amount of calories for your baby." The Mayo Clinic recommends opting for foods such as whole-grain bread, yogurt, peanut butter and bananas, all of which should help give you an energy boost. Drinking plenty of fluids is also important. Water is ideal, and breastfeeding moms should do their best to avoid sugary drinks that are packed with empty calories and may contribute to dehydration.

For more information about the details of breastfeeding, read Breast Milk or Formula? Which Is Right for Your Baby?

Kimberly DeMucha Kalil is a freelance journalist and software consultant living in Southern Arizona with her husband and two children. Most days you can find her on Twitter talking about how wonderful her children are.

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