Today’s question comes from a breastfeeding mama…why am I not losing weight while breastfeeding?
This is a great question! Aside from the plethora of health benefits for baby, we’ve all heard that breastfeeding is great for weight loss. It’s suggested as a way to get your body back to “normal” quicker; but, for some moms, this isn’t even close to what happens. Many new moms struggle with those last few pounds while breastfeeding and some even experience weight gain around six months postpartum even though they’re exercising.
So, why does this happen and does breastfeeding really aid in weight loss? The answer is actually yes and no. Breastfeeding definitely helps speed up the weight loss process during those initial 4 to 6 weeks postpartum and it also helps the uterus to contract more quickly to return to its original size. The reason weight loss slows or shifts after the initial postnatal period is: Hormones and Diet.
Hormone levels are changed during breastfeeding and will affect each woman differently. There isn’t a whole lot you can do about hormone levels during lactation unless you stop breastfeeding, which I wouldn’t recommend doing just to lose weight or gain muscle mass. Those stubborn last few pounds will come off with a carefully planned diet and exercise program once your baby is fully weaned.
Now, while you can’t control your hormone levels, you can control your diet. There are many dietary factors during lactation that contribute to weight gain and lack of weight loss. The first one being the notion that you should consume approximately 500 additional calories per day to sustain breastfeeding. Yes, breastfeeding requires this many calories, but if you’re already overweight, your body will begin to use its storage reserve to make breast milk. I’ve seen too many women take this idea of an additional 500 calories to an extreme and use it as an excuse to eat cookies, cakes, and pastries because “it’s being burned off through milk production.” Not true! Think quality over quantity.
Now, on the other hand, this doesn’t mean you should go on an extreme calorie restricted diet because what your body does need you to consume is healthy fats and proteins. Your body requires additional fat and protein to make quality milk for your baby. You should be consuming additional healthy fats like avocados, nuts, and seeds as well as additional lean protein sources. Healthy fat sources are very calorie dense, so if you’re eating an extra serving of nuts per day, you’ve made up those extra calories that you need for breastfeeding. Also, if you aren’t consuming enough fats in your diet, there is some research evidence to suggest that your body will hold on to current fat stores while breastfeeding “just in case” it needs them later to feed the baby.
Most importantly, you NEED to make sure you’re consuming enough water! Your water requirements increase dramatically while you’re breastfeeding. Breast milk is made up of mostly water. That water is coming from your body. If you aren’t consuming enough water, you’re body is going to begin to hold on to as much water as possible in order to make more milk later. Carry water with you throughout the day and drink it often. Another great way to make sure you’re getting enough water, is to drink an 8-ounce glass each time you breastfeed as well as continuing to drink throughout the day.
Bottom line, hormones have a huge affect on your body while breastfeeding. They may cause you to hold on to or gain weight. They also may make it more difficult to increase muscle mass or change body composition. While you can’t do much to control them, you can control your diet – which also plays a huge role in postnatal weight loss and fitness levels.
Our culture focuses too much on counting calories; don’t focus on needing additional calories for breast milk production, instead focus on eating additional healthy fats, lean proteins, and plenty of water. This will help you get any extra healthy calories you need, while cutting out those unhealthy foods that you don’t need.