Were you hoping that breastfeeding would make the baby weight fly off?
There are plenty of celebrity moms who claim they lost their baby weight due to breastfeeding. They show up at award shows looking sleek and toned just a couple of months after giving birth. They forget to mention the personal trainers and dieticians who helped them out, so don’t give yourself a hard time if you don’t look like they do.
You don’t have to be a celebrity to get rid of the baby weight fast, though. Breastfeeding can help kickstart the process, but you’ll need to help it along a little.
This is what you need to know about why you aren’t losing weight while breastfeeding.
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 baby weight, so it’s important that you’re gentle and patient with yourself. Remember, it took 9 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 that you’re doing something wrong, since everyone seems to think breastfeeding should be melting 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.
The level of 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 are needed 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, it’s likely you’re 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 a hard time 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.
Keep in mind these symptoms are no strangers to 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.
A Healthy Diet
While breastfeeding, you will need to make sure that you’re getting 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 make sure you get plenty of vitamins and minerals. If you can cut the excess sugar, it will be beneficial to you and the baby as well. Furthermore, 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 (5):
- An omelet containing feta cheese, spinach, and kalamata olives.
- Half a grapefruit.
- One slice of whole-grain toast.
- A burrito bowl with brown rice, chicken, cheese, avocado, and bell peppers.
- A side of fresh pico de gallo and whole wheat tortilla chips.
- Baked salmon with roasted asparagus in lemon sauce.
- Side salad with walnuts, dried cranberries, and blue cheese.
- Yogurt parfait with granola and fresh berries.
- 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 chia seeds.
- Try to eat at regular intervals: Being consistent with your eating habits will help you stay energized, and it will 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.
As a human, your body is up to 70 percent water. When you’re a breastfeeding mother, your milk supply is sucking up a lot of the water you’re consuming, so you need to keep a steady supply coming in.
- 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 just for mama may be a good option for you: Find one that suits your style. That way, you won’t have to go searching for cups when you’re thirsty. 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 rest is what your body needs. Being well-rested helps all your body’s hormonal and metabolic systems run more efficiently (7). 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 will boost heart health and help you burn off excess fat, don’t neglect weight-bearing exercises, which are necessary for your bone health and to develop and maintain muscle tone.
Muscles use more energy than fat stores, meaning that you’ll burn more energy the greater muscle mass you have (8). So, not only will you look more lean and toned and feel great, you may actually lose weight just by being more muscular.
Aim to be active at least 30 minutes every day, even if all you can manage is a brisk walk with your baby in a stoller. Vigorous exercise, however, 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?
If you’re feeling overweight, can you start dieting to lose those extra pounds that breastfeeding just isn’t taking off? 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.
- Aim for moderate weight loss, not more than 1 ½ pounds per week.
- Be sure you’re getting enough calories. Women who consume fewer than 1800 calories per day tend to have trouble maintaining a good milk supply. Decrease calories gradually or opt for a diet that simply changes the foods you eat without vasly limiting your calories.
Give Yourself Time
You just had a baby! Take a few minutes to appreciate the awesome thing that your body just did. Now, give it the time it needs to heal and get back to normal.
Try to avoid comparing yourself and your body to those of other mothers. If you find it difficult, take a break from social media or looking at fashion magazines. You can also wear clothes that flatter your new shape, as it is right now.
Being a new mom is tough, and there are so many things that can throw off your body’s balance. Give yourself a daily pep talk to keep you on the healthy track. With a little discipline and compassion, you’ll eventually reach your goals.
Another way to quit obsessing over your weight is to lose yourself in fun activities. Try to take a break and read a book, go for a walk, or spend some time on an old hobby. Focus on something you’re passionate about, instead of worrying about how your pants are fitting.