Will Breastfeeding Cause Weight Loss?

Many people believe that by breastfeeding they will be able to quickly and easily lose all of the weight that they gained during their pregnancy. When women are pregnant, their bodies will automatically start storing more fatty tissue to ensure that they will have the energy needed to breastfeed. These fat cells are used, along with other calories that you consume during the day, during breastfeeding to make the milk that you need to feed your baby.

Because women need to eat enough calories to keep their milk production high enough for their child, some women take this as a license to eat as much as they want. Further, after the birth of baby, you are in the healing stages. Your doctor tells you to rest, and not to do a lot of activity. And frankly, even walking around the house feels like a lot of work.

Thus, after the delivery of their baby, a lot of new mothers find that instead of losing weight, they actually have some significant weight gains.

Personally, I had this experience. After the birth of my first child, the parade of family coming through my house brought tons of food and constantly encouraged me to EAT and EAT to make milk for the baby. And not knowing any better, I ate everything, thinking that was what was best.

Further, I was unable to do much exercise, as I was still bleeding pretty heavily for the first few weeks. There wasn’t much I really could do, besides nurse the baby, sleep, and eat. It was pretty demoralizing about a month after my baby was born to step on a scale and realize that I weighed more than I had the day before I gave birth.

So how much extra do you need to eat to support breastfeeding?

The recommendations to support breastfeeding are to only eat between 300 and 500 extra calories a day. This is the equivalent of eating an apple with a few tablespoons of peanut butter, not several extra massive helpings at meals.

How do you lose weight then, after giving birth?

By opting for healthy food choices, working out as recommended by the doctor, and limited calories added from sugars and fried foods, new mothers will likely find that they can start losing some weight.

But you have to be careful.

Breastfeeding does burn calories on its own, but you must make sure that you are eating enough calories to support milk production to provide your child with the healthiest start possible while still monitoring what you eat to lose some weight.

If you try hard to restrict the calories that you consume while breastfeeding, you may find that you struggle to produce as much milk as you did before, and your baby may not act as satisfied as he did before after nursing.

If you want to lose weight while breastfeeding

If losing baby weight while breastfeeding is a big concern for you, I don’t recommend that you accomplish it by restricting your calorie intake significantly. Instead, I would focus on modifying the diet so that it is focused on healthy, high quality foods. And I would focus on getting lots of moderate exercise. The goal is not to shock the body into dropping a ton of weight all at once, as this will definitely impact your ability to make enough milk to support your breastfeeding baby.

Best recommendations for weight loss while breastfeeding

I wouldn’t focus on losing weight, honestly, while breastfeeding. Instead, I would focus on maintaining a healthy diet, and getting active and strong. Your body is TRASHED after giving birth, and needs your time and attention to get it strong again. That strength is a key component of being able to be a good mom to your baby as he grows. You need to be strong enough to pick him up and carry him, and in good enough shape to keep up with him. If you focus on strength and some basic endurance, some of the weight issues will resolve themselves.

Next, I think I would honestly recommend that you consider waiting to really hit the weight loss goals hard until you finish breastfeeding. It might be hard to wait, but it seems pretty clear that moms who really focus on dropping weight after the birth of their baby struggle to breastfeed as long as they would like. There is just a certain amount of body fat necessary to support breastfeeding. If your body doesn’t have enough fat around, it won’t produce milk. Period.

With my second and third babies, instead of focusing on weight loss right after baby arrived, I focused instead on just NOT gaining any MORE weight. I knew better about eating too much unhealthy food, and worked on getting my physical strength back more quickly by incorporating short walks around the neighborhood.

Most doctors suggest that you don’t start any sort of serious weight loss efforts until 6-12 months after the birth, though they definitely advocate that you eat right and exercise during the first six months after you have healed up.

Feel free to take some time to yourself after the birth, and no worry about that extra tire around your waist for a time. It’ll be there for you to worry about later. All women have weight to lose after the birth, and any woman who shows up within weeks looking fabulous is doing something that is unrealistic for the remaining 99.9% of us women out there.

When do you wean, watch out for weight gain!

What can happen when you wean is that you may experience a period of weight gain, as you work to adjust the number of calories you need to consume in a given day. You may have to do some calorie tracking to confirm how much you are eating, as your body will take some time to adjust to its new reduced caloric needs. It is fairly common (and I had this experience) for women to gain weight as they wean without even realizing it, because they do not adjust what they eat as baby does.

For more info about breastfeeding, check out our Breastfeeding FAQs post: 100 Breastfeeding Tips For New Moms.

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