Years ago, when I got pregnant with my daughter, I was overjoyed, excited and all the other thrilled feelings in the book. Unfortunately, 7 weeks into my pregnancy I had severe morning sickness and was unable to keep any food down.
I was losing pound after pound each week. When she was born, I chose to breastfeed, and happily I was finally able to eat normal again.
I was ready to get my weight back on track, eating almost everything in my path. But the numbers on the scale were not adding up, literally.
Instead of gaining a few pounds, I noticed I was still losing. My first thoughts were ‘this can’t be right’ or ‘maybe the scale was broken’.
So I brought this to my lactation consultant’s attention, and surprisingly she told me that this was perfectly normal. She advised that breastfeeding after childbirth makes you lose weight. I did not stop there.
Why does breastfeeding make you lose weight? I turned to my physician Dr. Mercado (a specialist in women’s health), who normally had the answers for most complex questions.
He explained that breastfeeding may help you lose weight because when mothers breastfeed, in order to fuel milk production and feed our babies, our bodies use up the fat cells stored during pregnancy as well as other calories from our daily diet. This information was well received, but I could not help the surge of questions swirling in my head.
It brought about some excitement and some concern. This was a topic for all nursing mothers, myself included.
Let’s take a closer look at this process to see what is really happening.
Summary of today’s article:
- Why does breastfeeding make you lose weight?
- Not losing enough weight while breastfeeding
- Losing too much weight while breastfeeding
- Tips to maintain a healthy weight while breastfeeding
- Word of advice from mother to mother
There is much research available that correlates breastfeeding and losing weight. ‘Very-Well Family’ highlighted a study that concluded that women who breastfeed their babies exclusively are more likely to lose the weight gained during pregnancy than women who do not breastfeed.
The main reason is that breastfeeding burns 500-750 calories per day. ‘Kelly Mom’ reminds us that more frequent breastfeeding and breastfeeding longer than six months may increase weight loss in nursing mothers.
In addition to the weight loss, when you breastfeed the hormones that your body releases cause your uterus to contract and shrink back down to its normal size prior to pregnancy. That means by 6 weeks postpartum, your stomach should be looking a lot slimmer too.
How Much Weight Will You Lose While Breastfeeding?
More mothers are opting to breastfeed, as shown by the CDC’s 2018 report that recorded 83.2% of mothers started out breastfeeding after childbirth, and 46.9% were continuing to do so exclusively by 3 months. So just how much weight do you lose while breastfeeding?
Losing weight is never the same for everyone. When it comes to breastfeeding the same is true; the weight loss is not equal among all mothers.
The amount of weight you lose may vary. Nevertheless, according to ‘Healthline’ on average, a mother may lose about 1-2 pounds per week from breastfeeding.
That’s about 4 to 8 pounds per month. Another study reported by ‘La Leche League International’ suggests that nursing mothers may lose 1 to 2 pounds per month.
This is considering that the mother is exclusively breastfeeding and is taking the recommended daily calories of about 2200 to 2500, if breastfeeding one child. This pattern of weight loss may continue for the first 6 months following childbirth, and then it slows down after that.
How Fast Will You Lose Weight While Breastfeeding
In simple terms, making breast milk requires energy. It takes about 500 calories to make breast milk.
However, how fast you lose the weight while breastfeeding will not be dependent on breastfeeding alone, but instead it includes other factors such as:
- Your metabolism
‘A definition provided by the Mayo Clinic’ defines Metabolism as the process by which your body converts what you eat and drink into energy. People with a high metabolism will burn more calories during physical activity and at rest.
- Your diet
Your eating habits will play a major role. Many foods have empty calories like white bread, pasta, junk food and fast food. Remember not all calories are equal.
- Your Activity Level
How often you move and exercise while breastfeeding counts. Baby Center recommends waiting until after your postnatal check up to get the clear from your doctor, usually 6-8 weeks, before starting exercise other than kegels and walking.
- Your weight before and during pregnancy
For mothers who have been pregnant before or who gained more than 30-35 pounds during pregnancy, it may take longer to lose weight, as stated by Heatlhline.
- Overall health
Your physical, mental and emotional health impacts your weight loss.
For many mothers, bouncing back from the weight gain of pregnancy while breastfeeding may take anywhere from six to nine months. For some it may take a year or two, and for others, they may never lose it all.
It is worth mentioning that we should not depend on breastfeeding alone to achieve our weight loss goal. Consider the factors mentioned above that could potentially be slowing your progress.
Once you identify the cause, you can create a game plan to fix it. Keep in mind that your body is unique and what is ‘not enough’ for one person, may be a different number for another.
Losing 2 pounds per month might not seem like a lot, but a gradual weight loss is healthier and proven to be more likely to keep the weight off. Choosing nutritious foods will also help.
It is not recommended to take in less than the required calories in the first few months of breastfeeding, as this can slow down your metabolism further preventing you from losing more weight. There are ways to safely reduce your calorie intake after 6 months, when your baby starts eating solid foods.
Gradual reduction is key to avoid adverse effects on mother and baby. Always check with your doctor if you are concerned about not losing enough weight while breastfeeding.
Your doctor may refer you to a nutritionist to get a customized plan based on your BMI, your diet, and current health status.
As a rule of thumb, losing one to two pounds per week is safe while breastfeeding. Excessive weight loss too quickly can leave a mother exhausted with low energy, and cause low breast milk supply or breast milk that is lacking in the nutrients that her baby needs.
Some common reasons that could cause this are:
- Not replenishing your body by eating a variety of healthy foods.
- Not eating enough or drinking enough water
- Not getting enough rest
- Medical conditions including overactive thyroid
If you are concerned about losing too much weight while breastfeeding, it is best to consult your doctor. Your doctor may be able to rule out or check for unknown medical conditions, provide treatment plans that are safe for nursing moms, as well as advise you of how much is “too much” based on your situation.
Weight might be a tricky subject for nursing mommas. Focusing on healthy choices might save the day in this instance. Let’s explore some fun tips for maintaining a healthy weight during this period.
- Opt for healthier food options. Try to get most of your calories from nutrient-rich foods. Add fruits and vegetables to your diet. Choose whole grains and lean protein.
- Drink plenty of water. Your body needs water to make breast milk. Aim for 12 cups per day.
- Add Safe and Moderate Exercise to your routine. You can start slowly after your body is healed from delivery.
- Get plenty of sleep. Rest as much as you can to help your body recover
- Avoid Sugary beverages. Most of them are filled with empty calories.
- Do Not Skip meals. A minimum of 3 meals and 2 snacks is ideal for breastfeeding mothers. The more active you are, the more meals or snacks you may need.
- Consume at least 1800 calories per day
- Eat frequently. This means more energy to support your daily activities and weight goal.
Breastfeeding, although difficult, can be a wonderful experience. Those extra calories it helps us to burn can be the icing on the cake when losing weight.
Making healthy choices in your diet and lifestyle can help you achieve your weight goals while breastfeeding. Whatever your situation, remember to be kind to yourself.
I know you’re ready to get back in top shape, but you endured changes of pregnancy for 9 long months, so be patient, as it may take time to get your body back to where you need it to be. Starting slow may give you greater results in the end.
And don’t forget, you always have this option in your pocket to reach out to your doctor for help if you are worried about your weight while breastfeeding.