For many years, we have all heard that one of the magic effects of breastfeeding is that those extra pounds you gained during your pregnancy will simply melt away. However, you may start to notice that you are not losing weight, but you actually gain weight. Or maybe you did shed some pounds, and now it is all coming back even while maintaining a healthy lifestyle.
The truth is that everybody is different, and there are a lot of myths surrounding breastfeeding—weight loss included. So let us explore this topic to understand better how to lose baby weight efficiently.
Why can’t I lose weight while breastfeeding?
1. Diet and calories
While producing breast milk does help burn calories, you will require adjusting your calorie intake to ensure a healthy milk supply. Also, breastfeeding makes a breastfeeding mother hungrier, thus creating a vicious cycle of ingesting more calories and, therefore, gaining weight. If you do not keep a healthy diet adapted to the exact amount of calories you need while breastfeeding, you will not be able to lose weight.
Don’t fall into the trap and think that if you skip meals or start a calorie-restricted diet, you will manage your weight more effectively. On the contrary, if your body notices that it is not receiving enough calories for milk production, it will create fat stores to ensure enough fat cells to produce what your baby needs to thrive. Once your body understands that you are consuming enough calories, it will let go of those stored fat cells, and you will start to lose weight.
So, if you want to shed those extra pounds while breastfeeding, then eating healthy and staying away from empty calories is the first step. You only need an average of 400 additional calories in your diet to produce breast milk, so maybe a change in your eating habits can make the difference. Make a meal plan that includes lean proteins, whole grains, and healthy fats. Steer clear from processed foods, excess fat, and junk food.
Female hormones can be affected for many reasons. Sleep deprivation is one of those reasons and the most common one among most moms. Sleep plays an essential role in regulating body weight and metabolism. Studies have found that participants with short sleep cycles had reduced leptin and elevated ghrelin (appetite regulatory hormones), which increased their appetites and body mass index (BMI). Chronic sleep restriction paired with easy food availability has been proven to contribute to obesity.
In a nutshell, if you are sleep-deprived, your hormones will be all over the place and make you hungrier, and usually, when you are that tired, you will grab whatever’s handy—usually, snacks packed full of sugar and saturated fats. So, if you want to lose weight while breastfeeding, since sleep deprivation is hard to avoid, try having healthy snacks at hand to regulate your caloric intake.
Elevated cortisol levels have been known to cause weight retention, and cortisol is known as the stress hormone. Many things can cause stress on a nursing mom, from pressure to produce milk, the changes you are experiencing, going back to work, and even having a hard time losing weight. Prolactin, the hormone that enables milk production, increases your appetite, and that is why you feel hungry while you are breastfeeding or right after you finish. Also, studies have shown that prolactin can suppress adiponectin levels.
Adiponectin is another hormone involved in glucose, lipid, and energy metabolism, and in low concentrations, it has been associated with insulin resistance, obesity, and atherosclerosis. In other words, all that hormonal imbalance can cause weight gain or retention and may be the culprit behind your situation.
3. Physical activity
During those first few months, it is normal for new mothers to feel tired because of lack of sleep and find it hard to balance their lives as they usually would. One of the first areas that tend to be forgotten is physical activity, and you will find yourself not only not working out regularly but also spending most of the time sitting or lying down with your baby.
Just thinking about working out while dealing with a breastfeeding baby makes you tired, so instead of committing to a regular pre-pregnancy exercise routine, try doing simple things like walking your baby around the block or going out to a park for a light short jogging session. You can also do exercises with your baby to achieve gradual weight loss while also bonding with them in a fun way. The point is to move around and reboot your physical activity, so you will get more energy and prevent more weight gain.
How many calories does breastfeeding burn?
Breastfeeding burns calories. That is a fact, and there is no doubt about this. But how many and why are you not losing weight? Let’s analyze this.
First, the number of calories burned will depend on the baby’s age—the number of times you nurse them in a day and the amount of breast milk you produce. Remember that a baby supplemented with formula or already taking solid foods will not be required to feed as often and as much as an exclusively breastfed baby. It is estimated that every ounce of mature breast milk contains around 20 calories, depending on the fat content.
So, if the average daily milk demand of an exclusively breastfed baby between 2–4 months old is 25 ounces per day, we could be talking about 500 calories that your body will “donate” to the baby through breast milk. Also, the process of producing breast milk demands a few hundred calories that you will need to add up to your diet, so we are looking at an average of 600–700 calories burned simply by breastfeeding.
Does pumping burn calories?
Yes, pumping burns calories, but it is due to milk production and the breast milk itself, not from the direct act of pumping. So, pumping burns calories because you are still using energy to create your milk supply, and calories are “leaving” your body with the breastmilk you pump and store.
What can I do to lose weight while breastfeeding?
We already went through the possible reasons you are either not losing weight while breastfeeding, gaining it back, or simply stuck with those few extra pounds that refuse to leave. So, here are some ideas that could help you maintain a healthy weight.
1. Eating Healthy
Calorie counting is not necessarily the path to go if it adds more stress to your life. So simply make sure that you consume nutrient-rich foods that benefit both you and the baby. Include fruits and vegetables in your diet and reduce your sugar consumption. As we said before, processed food should be a last resort, and this is not only for breastfeeding moms but for the whole family since they have so many added ingredients that simply do not provide any benefit to your bodies.
Complex carbohydrates, also known as “good carbs,” provide the body with lasting energy, and can be found in legumes (lentils, kidney beans, chickpeas, split peas, soybeans, pinto beans), whole grains (buckwheat, brown rice, corn, wheat, barley, oats, sorghum, quinoa) and some fruits and vegetables (potatoes, tomatoes, onions, okra, dill pickles, carrots, and yams. Also, strawberries, peas, radishes, beans, broccoli, spinach, green beans, zucchini, apples, pears, cucumbers, asparagus, grapefruit, and prunes).
Lean protein is low in saturated fat and low in calories. Some lean proteins are white-fleshed fish such as cod, haddock, grouper, halibut, tilapia, and bass. Also, skinless white meat poultry, lean beef, pork loins, shrimp, egg whites, and bison. Other sources of lean protein include Greek yogurt, low-fat cottage cheese, tofu, and low-fat milk, among others. Remember, avoid high mercury fish such as tuna, swordfish, and tilefish.
Also, make yourself a meal plan with this in mind and have snacks on hand to satisfy your cravings without adding extra weight. Consuming fewer calories than your body requires to ensure a milk supply is not the same as achieving a calorie deficit. If your body is not receiving the right amount of calories, it will store fat, leading to postpartum weight retention.
Remember that the point is to eat healthily, not skip meals to achieve a caloric deficit. Eat smarter, and you will lose that baby weight fast. Also, increase your water intake to prevent dehydration because your milk supply will use a lot of the water in your body, so it needs a steady supply.
2. Get moving
Cardio exercises boost your energy levels while your body burns off the excess fat. Strength training is great for gaining muscle mass and tone and is also necessary for bone health. If you could manage to be active for at least 30 minutes a day with either light cardio exercises such as walking around the block with your baby or a short exercise routine, and combine it with a healthy diet, you will notice rapid weight loss in no time.
3. Good quality rest
We know it sounds easier said than done, especially during those first few months, but the truth is that your body needs to rest to function properly. A well-rested body can efficiently regulate your hormonal and metabolic systems and keep everything in check. Also, you are more likely to stick to a healthy routine and make better decisions regarding your diet, and therefore, you will lose weight while breastfeeding.
Do not be shy to accept help from other friends and relatives when they ask to carry some weight while taking care of your baby. Allow them to spend time with your little one so you can catch up with some hours of sleep. Take turns with your husband or partner so he can spend time with the baby while you enjoy some well-earned time and lower your stress levels.
There is a saying that says, “It takes a village,” and it means that raising a child requires help, and you are not expected to carry everything by yourself. So rely on those around you, people you can trust, to give some balance to your life.
Will I lose weight when I stop breastfeeding?
There is no way to know how your body will react after you stop breastfeeding, so confirming that you will lose weight is not possible. There are cases where women have lost weight quickly after stopping breastfeeding. However, many women just need to adjust to their lifestyle and routines to burn those extra calories.
After you stop breastfeeding, you will be less hungry and have decreased cravings, so you can go back to your pre-pregnancy weight. Each body and every metabolism is different, but leading a healthy lifestyle is always the best way to manage weight at every stage of your life.
Postpartum weight loss timeline
After giving birth, your body needs to recover from everything it went through, including pregnancy. So, postpartum weight loss should not be taken lightly. It has been estimated that women lose around 10 lbs immediately after birth. Still, it is generally recommended to wait until after the postpartum checkup to even attempt to lose extra weight, which happens within 12 weeks of giving birth.
During this checkup, your doctor will assess the overall wellbeing of both mom and baby, and then you can discuss weight management options with a specialist. Further weight loss should be gradual and take up to six to nine months, with a combination of healthy habits to promote weight loss.
Losing weight while breastfeeding has been widely advertised as one of the main advantages for breastfeeding moms, but the truth is that it takes a lot more than that to achieve that goal. Most women experience difficulty losing weight at every stage of their lives for many different reasons. The key to weight loss has always been eating well, exercising frequently, and having a balanced lifestyle.
Unfortunately, expecting a magic solution to get rid of pregnancy weight is not realistic. So, be patient because this is not a competition. Take your time and adapt to the many life changes you are experiencing. Enjoy every moment, with its pros and cons, because nothing lasts forever.
If tracking calories stresses you out, then do not track the calories you take daily. Pay attention to what you eat and ensure to include healthy fats instead of saturated fats, lean protein, and complex carbohydrates. Stay away from processed foods as much as possible, from sodas, or other sugary drinks, as they do not add much to you or your baby.
Think quality over quantity, so foods that fill you and leave you sated for extended periods are the best option. Remember, you need to add more calories to your regular diet to ensure a healthy milk supply. If you have the budget, it is also an option to get a nutritionist to help you create a meal plan. You can find a lot on the internet about meal plans, exercise routines, relaxation techniques, and whatever you think you need to regulate your life when control seems to elude you.
Remember always to be kind to yourself and patient. You just went through one of life’s most challenging experiences—you created a whole new human being and are still providing for them. So going back to the old you is not expected, so reduce pressure on yourself and enjoy the moments.
Do not let something such as your expectations of losing weight take you from what is important. You are that tiny human’s whole world, and they can feel every emotion you are feeling and experiencing. Take care of yourself like how you care for them because a happy momma brings joy to a happy baby.