Some mothers find they return to their pre pregnancy weight while they are still breastfeeding, while other mothers find it more difficult to lose weight while breastfeeding.
This might leave you wondering whether breastfeeding contributes to postpartum weight loss, or whether it’s harder to lose weight while breastfeeding.
If you wish to lose weight, it’s best to do so gradually and only once breastfeeding is established.
This article answers some common questions about weight loss while breastfeeding.
#1: Does your body store fat while breastfeeding?
When you’re pregnant, you gain extra body fat, which is beneficial for you and your baby. One of the reasons for gain weight during pregnancy is that your body builds fat stores that help fuel your breast milk supply.
Your body does not store extra weight while breastfeeding; there are factors, however, that can affect the rate at which you return to your pre pregnancy weight.
Weight gained during pregnancy
How much weight you gain during pregnancy can affect how quickly you lose weight while breastfeeding. If you gained more than your doctor recommended during pregnancy, breastfeeding might not help you get all the way back to your pre-baby weight.
If you stayed within a healthy weight range, you might find losing weight while breastfeeding less challenging.
Regardless of your actual weight gain, there are still plenty of things you can do to help you get back to your pre-baby body. See a personal trainer, an exercise physiologist, a dietitian or a physiotherapist for guidance.
Lack of sleep can cause hormone imbalances that can affect how quickly you lose weight while breastfeeding.
Observational studies found that adults who sleep 4 hours at night had increased hunger and greater daytime calorie intake, compared with adults who sleep 10 hours a night.
Sleep deprivation can also lead to low energy and less motivation to be physically active.
It’s helpful to remember that it took several months to gain weight during pregnancy, so it’s normal for it to take just as long to lose weight safely.
Although weight loss might be a long term goal for you, it’s important to prioritize sleep in the early days of parenting.
#2: Can Breastfeeding Help You Lose Weight?
It’s estimated that the process of milk production and breastfeeding can burn about 500 calories a day. This is based on a mother with an exclusively breastfed baby under six months of age.
One study on post partum weight loss found that at 12 weeks postpartum, exclusively breastfeeding mothers had lost more total body weight than mixed feeding mothers.
Another study showed that mothers who breastfeed for six months weigh 1-2kg less than mothers who formula feed.
Breastfeeding does not always contribute to weight loss postpartum.
Breastfeeding burns around 500 calories per day, but if you are consuming too many calories, then breastfeeding alone will not result in rapid weight loss.
It’s important to lose weight safely and not restrict calories while you are breastfeeding. Excessive dieting while breastfeeding can potentially affect milk supply.
Lots of breastfeeding mothers find that breastfeeding make them hungrier. This is normal. It’s still possible to lose weight while breastfeeding without without going hungry.
Instead of focusing on consuming fewer calories, you can try the following to lose weight safely while breastfeeding:
- Substitute processed foods for healthy snacks, such as fruits, vegetables and foods with whole grains
- Choose foods containing little or no added sugar. Foods labelled ‘low-fat’ are often very high in sugar
- Increase your protein intake
- Try to eat a variety of foods from the 5 healthy food groups every day, to ensure you are getting key nutrients for a healthy milk supply
- Eat slowly and avoid eating ‘on the run’
- Exercise regularly to burn extra calories. Staying physically active is important for overall health and can help promote weight loss while breastfeeding
- Avoid fad diets that claim to achieve rapid weight loss. These are not suitable for breastfeeding mothers.
#3. Can you drink weight loss shakes while breastfeeding?
It’s ideal to eat a varied diet with essential vitamins and minerals for optimal health for both you and your baby.
In reality, life with a newborn baby can be so busy that many mothers find they don’t have the time to shop for, or prepare, nutritious meals every day.
Although it might seem easier to replace meals with weight loss shakes, eating regularly is important for nursing mothers and extra calories are required for optimal milk production.
Weight loss shakes could potentially be used as an alternative snack option between meals.
If you feel you need to lose a lot of weight or lose weight quickly, be sure to seek advice from your GP for a weight loss program that is best suited to your needs.
#4. Can a breastfeeding mother do intermittent fasting?
For women who need to lose weight quickly, intermittent fasting could be an option.
If you are considering intermittent fasting while breastfeeding, it’s best to do so under the guidance of an appropriate health care provider, such as a doctor or dietician.
If fasting means you are not able to fit in the extra calories recommended for nursing mothers, then it’s safer to wait until after you have stopped breastfeeding.
#5: Can weight loss affect breast milk?
It’s important to not lose weight too quickly when breastfeeding. Doing so could mean you don’t get the nutrients you need. Also, although rapid weight loss might not affect milk supply, there is a theoretical concern that if breastfeeding mothers mobilise their fat stores too quickly by losing weight too fast, environmental toxins stored in fat could enter the breast milk.
When it comes to weight loss in the postnatal period, remember it’s important to prioritise your health and nutritional needs.
Embrace your baby and enjoy your breastfeeding journey. Not many women look back on this season of motherhood and wish that they’d lost their baby weight sooner.