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.
- Breastfeeding can help with weight loss, but factors like hormones, diet, and adrenal fatigue may slow the process.
- Maintain a healthy diet full of nutrient-rich foods, including fruits, vegetables, complex carbs, and lean proteins.
- Stay hydrated, aiming for an ounce of water per pound you weigh, and limit sugary drinks.
- Get enough sleep, exercise regularly, and avoid extreme diets while breastfeeding to support gradual, healthy weight loss.
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 (1). 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 (2). 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 (3).
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.
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 (4). 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.
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.
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 (9).
- 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.