Can Breastfeeding Help You Lose Weight After Delivery?

Average Weight Loss, 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 you to lose weight. But, is it true? Well, it depends on the woman. 

Breastfeeding does help some women 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 will 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's 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 After You Have Your Baby?

When your baby 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

For the first six 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 delivery and build up a healthy supply of breast milk for your baby. Then, after you've healed from childbirth and your breast milk supply is established, you can begin to think about getting your body back.

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. 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. It may take six months or even longer before you return to your pre-pregnancy weight.

Breastfeeding and Weight Loss

Breastfeeding may help you to reach your weight loss goals. Since breastfeeding can burn up to 500 calories a day, 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. 

4 Tips for Losing Weight While You're Breastfeeding

  1. Begin Slowly. After your postpartum check-up 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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 will probably 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.
  4. Get Enough Sleep. It might be hard for a new breastfeeding mom, but try to rest when you can. Lack of sleep has been linked to difficulty losing weight, and weight gain.

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

Sources:

American Academy of Pediatrics. (2011). New Mother’s Guide To Breastfeeding. Bantam Books. New York. 

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

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

Elder, C.R, Gullion, C.M., Funk, K.L, DeBar, L.L., Lindberg, N.M., and Stevens, V.J. (2012). 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. 36: 86-92.

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

Lawrence, Ruth A., MD, Lawrence, Robert M., MD. (2011). Breastfeeding A Guide For The Medical Profession Seventh Edition.  Mosby.

The United States Department of Health and Human Services. Pregnancy Staying Healthy and Safe. WomensHealth.gov. Accessed June 17, 2013: http://www.womenshealth.gov/pregnancy/you-are-pregnant/staying-healthy-safe.cfm

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

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