Breastfeeding and Weight Loss

How Much You Will Lose, Getting Your Pre-Pregnancy Body Back, and Helpful Tips

Mom kissing baby
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If you're like most new mothers, you may be worried about losing weight after pregnancy and the birth of your baby. And, maybe you've heard that breastfeeding can help with weight loss. But, is it true? Well, yes and no. It all depends on you and your situation.

Overview

Breastfeeding does help some women to lose weight and get back their pre-pregnancy body faster, but for other women losing weight is more difficult and takes longer.

The amount of weight that you'll lose while you're breastfeeding depends on many things including how much you weighed before you became pregnant, how much weight you gained while you were pregnant, your diet, your activity level, and your overall health.

The More You Gain During Pregnancy, the More You'll Have to Lose

It will be easier to lose your pregnancy weight if you can stay within the recommended guidelines for weight gain during pregnancy. For someone of average weight, based on your body mass index (BMI), you should gain about 25 to 35 pounds (12 to 16 kg) during pregnancy. If you're underweight when you conceive your child, you may be urged to gain more weight. And, if you're overweight when you become pregnant, your doctor may suggest that you gain less weight. But, the more weight you put on over the recommended amount, the more you will have to lose after your baby is born.

How Much Weight Will You Immediately Lose Once Your Baby is Born?

When your child is born, you can expect to lose about 10 to 12 pounds (4.5 to 6 kg) right away.

This amount is the approximate weight of your baby plus the placenta and the amniotic fluid. Then, over the next few days after the birth, you will lose about another 5 pounds (2.5 kg). That's the excess water weight that you were carrying.

Breastfeeding will not initially help you lose any additional weight, but it will help to contract your uterus and shrink it back down to its pre-pregnancy size much more quickly.

So, with breastfeeding, your belly should look much slimmer by the time you're six weeks postpartum.

Getting Back to Your Pre-Pregnancy Weight: Average Weight Loss

On average, if you're taking in the recommended amount of calories each day, and breastfeeding exclusively, you should lose about 1 pound every week or two. That might not sound like a lot, but a steady, gradual weight loss is safer and healthier. Plus, you're more likely to keep the weight off if you lose it gradually. 

How Many Calories Does Breastfeeding Burn?

Breastfeeding may help you to reach your weight loss goals faster because it burns calories. Breastfeeding can burn up to 500 calories a day. So, even though you are eating more, you can still lose weight. Studies show that women who exclusively breastfeed are more likely to lose their pregnancy weight by about six months after their babies are born compared to women who do not breastfeed.

Dieting While Breastfeeding

While you're nursing, it's not a good idea to try to lose weight very quickly by going on a strict low-calorie diet. Limiting the amount of food that you eat can leave your body and your breast milk lacking in important nutrients. Drastically cutting calories could also cause a drop in your breast milk supply.

You should also avoid taking any type of weight loss pills. These products contain herbs, medications, or other substances that may travel into your breast milk and harm your baby. While you're breastfeeding, it's best if you don't take any medications or go on any special diets unless you've discussed it with your doctor. 

How to Lose Weight While You're Breastfeeding: 4 Tips

  1. Begin Slowly. After your postpartum checkup at about six weeks after the birth of your baby, you can usually start to lose weight gradually at the rate of about 2 to 3 pounds per month. If you're considerably overweight, you may be able to try to lose more weight each month. Speak to your doctor, a lactation consultant, or a nutritionist to help you plan a healthy weight loss program that includes enough nutrition for both you and your baby.
  1. Try to Stay Away from Junk Foods. Junk food is full of non-nutritious, empty calories. They add to your daily calorie intake, but they don't give you any of the nutrients that you need. Eating empty calorie foods may prevent you from losing your pregnancy weight. You may even gain weight.
  2. Start Exercising. Talk to your doctor about adding exercise to your daily routine. Once you heal from delivery, usually by about six weeks postpartum if you had a normal spontaneous vaginal delivery, you should be able to begin doing some light or moderate exercise. If you've had a cesarean section, it will take longer to heal after the birth of your child, so you will have to wait a little longer to begin an exercise program.
  3. Get Enough Sleep. It might be hard for a new breastfeeding mom, but try to rest when you can. Lack of sleep can lead to difficulty losing weight, and weight gain.

What to Do if You're Having Trouble Losing Weight After 3 to 6 Months of Breastfeeding

  • Take a closer look at your diet. Large portions of food, junk foods, fried foods, and foods high in fat could be interfering with your ability to lose weight. Try switching to low-fat dairy products, eat less fatty and fried foods, add more fruits and vegetables to your diet, and watch your portion sizes.
  • If you haven't already talked to your doctor about working out, bring it up. Light to moderate exercise doesn't interfere with breastfeeding. Studies show that you're more likely to lose weight when you eat right and add exercise.
  • Once your baby is over 6 months old and begins to eat solid foods, you don't need as many calories each day. You may need to re-evaluate your diet and reduce the amount of food you're eating.
  • If you're eating a healthy diet, avoiding empty calorie foods, watching your fat intake, and exercising without any results, it may be time to see the doctor. There could be a medical reason behind your difficulty to lose weight such as stress, depression, an underactive thyroid, or other hormone imbalance. Once you treat the underlying issues, you may be able to lose the weight more quickly.

A Word From Verywell

Weight loss is different for everyone. Some women lose weight easily, and others struggle. Some women lose too much weight after the birth of their child, and others are still carrying that extra baby weight when their kids go off to college. While it would be great if we could all gain the perfect amount of weight during pregnancy then lose it all in 6 months, that's just not realistic. A busy new mom who has to return to work right away will have a different experience than a stay-at-home mom having her fourth child. Bodies are different, and situations are different. 

For the first 6 weeks after the birth of your baby, don't worry about how much you weigh. During this time, eat a well-balanced diet and try to get enough rest. Your body needs extra energy and nutrition to recover from the delivery and build up a healthy supply of breast milk for your baby. Then, after you've healed from childbirth and established your breast milk supply, you can begin to think about getting your body back. Go slow, do what you can, and don't be so hard on yourself if you aren't at your goal in six months. As anxious as you may be to return to the size you were before, try to be patient. Remember, it took you nine months to gain the extra weight, so give yourself some time. You can always continue to work on your weight loss goals long after breastfeeding ends.

Sources:

Baker, Jennifer L., Gamborg, Michael, Heitmann, Berit L, et al. Breastfeeding Reduces Postpartum Weight Retention. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. 2008; 88 (6): 1543-1551.

Edmonds, Keith. Puerperium and Lactation. Dewhurst's Textbook of Obstetrics and Gynaecology. John Wiley and Sons Ltd. The United Kingdom. 2012.

Elder, C.R, Gullion, C.M., Funk, K.L, DeBar, L.L., Lindberg, N.M., and Stevens, V.J. Impact of Sleep, Screen Time, Depression and Stress on Weight Change in the Intensive Weight Loss Phase of the LIFE Study. International Journal of Obesity. 2012; 36: 86-92.

Katrina M Krause, Cheryl A Lovelady, Bercedis L Peterson, Najmul Chowdhury and Truls Ostbye. Effect of Breast-feeding on Weight Retention at 3 and 6 Months Postpartum: Data From the North Carolina WIC Programme. Public Health Nutrition. 2010; 13: 2019-2026.

Weight Gain During Pregnancy. Committee Opinion No. 548. American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. 2013; 121:210-2.

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