One of the benefits of breastfeeding that catches women’s attention is that it burns baby weight faster. For some women, the pounds seem to melt away when breastfeeding; but for others, the extra weight just stays put. So what gives? Is breastfeeding really a way to lose that extra pregnancy weight?
During pregnancy, your weight gain will include not only the baby, uterus, placenta, fluid, and extra blood volume, but also extra fat. These seven or eight pounds of fat are added for breastfeeding – a built in energy source your body can tap to make milk.
Breastfeeding is a lot of work for your body. It takes about 500 to 800 calories per day just to make and deliver milk (depending on how old your baby is and how frequently he is nursing). The recommendation, then, is breastfeeding moms should consume around 500 extra calories each day. If you’re consuming fewer than that, your body is going to use your fat stores for milk production. If you’re consuming lots more, your body is just going to store those extra calories and you may even gain weight.
But what if you’re not consuming tons of extra calories but you don’t see the numbers on the scale decreasing? Some moms will hold on to extra pounds as insurance during their entire breastfeeding gig, and will only lose those final pounds once baby weans.
Your hormones come into play here, too. Prolactin, the milk-making hormone, increases your appetite, ensuring you have a steady source of incoming energy to make milk.
Anything that affects metabolism will affect whether or not you lose weight, including stress and lack of sleep (two hallmarks of life with a baby!). Strangely, if you’re not eating enough calories, your metabolism will slow down to conserve energy, and your body will hold onto fat as ready fuel in case of starvation – your body knows how to survive!
Metabolic problems, like hypothyroid for example, have the potential to cause unwanted weight gain or difficulty losing weight. If you seem unable to lose any weight, a visit with your healthcare provider may help you rule out any physical causes.
Here are some additional tips for weight loss during breastfeeding:
- Talk to your doctor before you start any weight loss plan.
- Don’t gain too much during pregnancy. A healthy pregnancy weight gain means less you’ll need to lose after the birth.
- Keep in mind every body is different. While your best friend may be back into her skinny jeans 2 weeks after birth, your metabolism, pre-pregnancy weight and body type may be vastly different from hers.
- Set realistic goals and avoid crash or fad diets. Weight loss of 1-2 pounds per week is normal.
- Wait until breastfeeding is well established and you’re recovered from birth (4-8 weeks) before starting any type of dieting.
- Consume around 1800 calories per day - severe calorie restriction can inhibit milk production.
- Eat a variety of healthy, natural foods, and limit processed foods. Make every meal and snack complete by combining a protein, a carbohydrate and a fat. This will keep you feeling fuller longer.
- Exercise - 30 minutes of moderate exercise every day is recommended. Start slowly and build up.
- Breastfeed often and for a long time. Research shows that frequent breastfeeding and breastfeeding past age six months will help with weight loss for mom.
Even if you don’t lose weight while breastfeeding, you’ll be healthier overall. The oxytocin released during breastfeeding will lessen postpartum bleeding (decreasing mom’s risk of anemia), and will help to shrink your uterus back to pre-pregnancy size by about 6 weeks postpartum. Breastfeeding moms have a decreased risk of breast and other reproductive cancers, as well as lower risk of heart disease and diabetes. Perhaps instead of worrying about weight loss, you can change your thinking to appreciate the wonders of how your healthy body works.