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Why Can't I Lose Weight While Breastfeeding?

Medically Reviewed by Michelle Roth, BA, IBCLC
Updated
We cover 3 reasons you're not losing weight while breastfeeding.

Were you hoping that breastfeeding would make the baby weight fly off? It’s not always as easy as people make it sound. 

I found I had to do more than just feed my baby to burn that excess weight. Breastfeeding helped kick-start the process, but I needed to help it along a little. With some minor changes and a little time, I was well on my way.

To help you boost your progress, our medical team will share everything we know about why you might not be losing weight while breastfeeding. We’ll offer tips for increasing your metabolism and burning those extra calories while you enjoy the benefits of breastfeeding your little one.  

Why Breastfeeding Helps Some Women Lose Weight

Your body uses the calories you eat, plus your stored fat cells, to produce the milk that feeds your baby (source). The utilization of stored fat cells is what can lead to weight loss. This can occur even if you’re eating extra calories for breastfeeding.

Many women lose around 10–15 pounds immediately after giving birth. Then the loss becomes more gradual, to about one pound per month. It can take time (on average, six to nine months) to lose the baby weight, so it’s important that you’re gentle and patient with yourself. Remember, it took nine months to put it on, so it can take at least that long to get it off.

Reasons You Can’t Lose Weight While Breastfeeding

You might think you’re doing something wrong since everyone seems to think breastfeeding should melt away the pounds. There are some real reasons, however, why it may not be working for you.

1. Your Hormones

Hormones are extremely active while you’re pregnant, and they’re still active when breastfeeding. During this time, prolactin is the catalyst for most of the changes in your body.

Your prolactin increases throughout your pregnancy until it’s 10 to 20 times higher than normal. Prolactin is the hormone that tells your body to make milk (source). It will also increase your appetite.

This increase may cause you to eat more calories than you need for milk production. Those extra calories could cause you to gain weight instead of losing it.

2. Your Diet

You burn a lot of calories while breastfeeding. If you’re responsible for producing your baby’s sole food source, you’re likely burning somewhere between 300 and 400 calories in food production alone (source).

While this might seem like a lot, it’s still easy to eat more calories than you need daily, especially if you’re juggling new motherhood responsibilities or haven’t found time to be as active as usual.

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3. Your Adrenals

The two main causes of adrenal insufficiency are stress and lack of sleep, which all new mothers can relate to.

The adrenal gland produces and regulates hormones (source). The stressed-out mode of motherhood can keep your body in a constant state of “fight or flight.” So, your adrenal glands may have difficulty keeping up with your body’s needs.

These glands are responsible for cortisol production, an essential hormone in regulating the conversion of fats and proteins to energy (as well as a stress hormone). When the glands are fatigued, you may feel tired, sluggish, and achy. Plus, your metabolism might take a dip.

These symptoms are common in most new mothers, but if your adrenals are playing a role, your doctor should be able to determine that through testing.

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Tips for Losing Weight When Breastfeeding

Now that you know what may be holding you back from losing those unwanted pounds, what can you do about it? Here are a few ideas that may help you out.

A Healthy Diet

While breastfeeding, you need to ensure you get enough of the good stuff for yourself and your baby. By that, we mean nutrient-rich foods.

Pack in your daily servings of fruits and vegetables to get plenty of vitamins and minerals. If you can cut the excess sugar, it will benefit you and your baby as well. Complex carbohydrates and lean proteins are important during this time.

Being a new mom can be demanding. It may be easier to eat healthy if you do weekly meal planning and prep your snacks ahead of time. Here’s an example of a healthy diet for breastfeeding (source):

Breakfast

  • An omelet with feta cheese, spinach, and kalamata olives.
  • Half a grapefruit.
  • One slice of whole-grain toast.

Lunch

  • A burrito bowl with brown rice, chicken, cheese, avocado, and bell peppers.
  • A side of fresh pico de gallo and whole wheat tortilla chips.

Dinner

  • Baked salmon with roasted asparagus in lemon sauce.
  • Side salad with walnuts, dried cranberries, and blue cheese.

Snack

  • Yogurt parfait with granola and fresh berries.

Dont’s

  • Don’t skip meals: Skipping meals can mean you’re more likely to overeat at the next meal or opt for unhealthy convenience foods because you’re super hungry.
  • Don’t forget to add some healthy fats: Your baby needs those vital fatty acids for their development. A bonus is that fats help you feel fuller for longer. Healthy fats include avocados, nuts, and seeds.

Do’s

  • Try to eat at regular intervals: Being consistent with your eating habits will help you stay energized and keep your sugar levels stable. It’s better to eat often to maintain your energy levels than to only eat once per day.
  • Keep an eye on your total intake: We all wish it weren’t true, but calories matter. The good news is that tracking your energy intake these days is simpler than ever with tracking apps and plenty of information online.

Water Intake

As a human, your body is up to 70% water. When you’re a breastfeeding mother, your milk supply sucks up a lot of the water you consume, so you need to keep a steady supply coming in.

Aim to drink around an ounce of water for every pound you weigh. But also, use the weather, your activity levels, and your thirst to guide how much you drink (source).

  • Limit your fruit juice and soda intake: These can contain loads of extra sugar and calories but very little nutrition.
  • A go-to water flask may be a good option: Find one that suits your style. This fun bottle is geared toward breastfeeding moms. Keep it full and at your side, especially when you sit down to breastfeed.

Your Sleep Schedule

It may be easier said than done, but your body needs rest. Being well-rested helps all your hormonal and metabolic systems run more efficiently (source). With your body working optimally, you’re more likely to find that healthy weight.

Another benefit of being well-rested is that it can help curb junk food cravings.

Your Exercise Routine

A combination of cardio with some strength training will keep things running nicely. While cardio exercise will boost heart health and help you burn off excess fat, don’t neglect weight-bearing exercises, which are necessary for bone health and developing and maintaining muscle tone.

Muscles use more energy than fat stores, meaning you’ll burn more energy the greater your muscle mass (source). So, not only will you look lean and toned and feel great, you may lose weight just by being more muscular.

Aim to be active for at least 30 minutes every day, even if all you can manage is a brisk walk with your baby in a stroller. However, vigorous exercise can be uncomfortable when your breasts are swollen with milk. To avoid this feeling, work out after feeding or pumping.

Can I Diet While Breastfeeding?

While going on a calorie restriction diet is probably not a good idea, here are some tips if you decide to diet while breastfeeding:

  • Wait until after the first two months so you can build up a good milk supply.
  • Nurse your baby frequently, as this seems to burn more calories (source).
  • Aim for moderate weight loss, not more than 1.5 pounds per week.
  • Be sure you’re getting enough calories. Women who consume fewer than 1,800 calories per day have trouble maintaining a good milk supply. Decrease calories gradually, or opt for a diet that simply changes the foods you eat without vastly limiting your calories.

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Medically Reviewed by

Michelle Roth, BA, IBCLC

Michelle Roth, BA, IBCLC is a writer, editor, and board-certified lactation consultant for two busy pediatric practices. She is a former La Leche League Leader, Lamaze Certified Childbirth Educator, and Certified Infant Massage Instructor.