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Breastfeeding is considered to be the most natural way to feed your baby. Can you think of all the assumptions you have heard about breastfeeding before you had your baby?
Like – it hurts so bad the first weeks. Or – it will change the shape of your boobs forever. Or – the widely promoted one – it will make all the extra pregnancy weight drop off of you!
But is it really that easy? Does breastfeeding help you to lose weight?
Well, yes and no. I have been through all of this two times already and let me tell you:
Breastfeeding is not a diet.
Yes, it burns calories. But that doesn’t necessarily mean it will just melt those extra pounds away.
It is more complex than that.
While some moms manage to lose weight while breastfeeding, that does not mean nursing itself should be treated like a no-effort diet.
How many calories do you burn when breastfeeding?
Breastfeeding itself can help you to lose weight provided that you don’t overeat. However, breastfeeding mothers tend to feel hungrier, which means you may end up snacking more than you actually burn by breastfeeding.
The fact is:
Breastfeeding helps you burn up to an estimated 500-800 calories a day.
Breastmilk is a unique mixture full of vitamins, fat and immunity boosters. As your body isn’t used to create this kind of fluid normally, it has to work harder to produce it.
It’s more than just counting calories
You are a new mom. Tired and sleep deprived. Your meal plan consists of leftovers from your older kids or easy-to-grab, not-very-healthy snacks. All you can think of is how to get quick energy into your exhausted body.
Sleep deprivation increases junk food cravings, so you are likely to exceed the additional calorie burn that breastfeeding provides.
Tell me about it right? When I breastfed, I was constantly hungry! All l could think of was what am I going to snack. I tend to look for a healthy snack, but I have to admit – I ate a LOT. I never found time to sit down and eat a decent meal, so I constantly snacked.
Also, little did I know about the caloric value of food or how many calories I was consuming.
Later on, I came across a Cronometer phone app that keeps track of my daily intake. I was shocked when I found out that was eating almost double of what I should be! If you realize those extra 500 calories from breastfeeding equals to e.g. 2 muffins(!) you binge before you know it.
The total caloric intake of a breastfeeding woman should not go below 1,800 calories per day.
If you lower this amount by dieting, it can affect your milk supply.
That is why it’s good to keep track of what you’re consuming – and I don’t mean in the obsessed kind of way. Just to get an idea about the caloric value of different kind of foods. Only this way you’ll be able to make savvy substitutions for your snacks.
Blame the hormones
Jenna Dalton, a fitness professional from SweetMomBod.com says: “I’m not a fan of putting the focus on fat loss – especially not in the first year postpartum as for many women, it may incredibly hard (if not impossible)”
The reason is simple: HORMONES.
Not only sleep deprivation causes your body to crave sugary foods. The stress brought on by caring for a newborn and the lack of sleep increases the level of cortisol – the hormone is responsible for weight gain.
There’s also some evidence that prolactin, the hormone responsible for the breastmilk production, affects the body’s ability to burn fat. An ongoing study suggests that “the hormone impairs the body’s ability to maintain a balanced metabolism”.
This might be the cause why most of the breastfeeding women start to benefit from their weight loss efforts only after they stopped nursing. Until then, the body just holds on to the extra weight in case it might need it to produce milk.
Weight loss tips while breastfeeding
One thing’s for sure:
Breastfeeding is a calorie-burner, and it may help you on your weight loss journey, as long as you don’t treat it as a no-effort diet.
Losing weight while breastfeeding can be tricky, as it is affected by so many factors like hormones, your activity level or weight gain during pregnancy.
But there are definitely some things that you can do to kick start the weight loss during the postpartum period.
1. STAY HYDRATED
It is recommended to drink eight 8-ounce glasses of water per day (2 liters), also known as the “8×8 rule”.
Our bodies are made 60% of water. Water is beneficial to weight loss, as well as tighter skin (goodbye, squishy tummy!). According to numerous researches and studies, drinking more water can actually help you to lose weight. Apart from all the above: increased water intake is a wonderful way to keep your breastmilk production going!
When you keep your body hydrated throughout the day, the number of calories you burn increases – also known as resting energy expenditure.
Drinking water before meals can also lead to reduced calorie intake as it takes up space in your stomach, making you feel fuller and less hungry.
2. OPT FOR HEALTHY SNACKS
Eating empty calorie foods may prevent you from losing your pregnancy weight.
Junk food and sugar are bad. We all know this.
But sometimes, we just can’t help it.
Think about it this way: You no longer fuel just your own body. Everything you eat affects your baby, as all the goodness (as well as the nasty stuff) transfers into your breastmilk.
Try to think of food as of fuel for your body. Fill up with nutrient-packed foods that will keep your body strong while you’re breastfeeding and keep your cravings on hold.
Focus on foods that are:
- high in iron like meat, dark leafy greens, broccoli, legumes
- high in fiber such as whole grains, dried fruit, vegetables, legumes
3. STRENGTHEN YOUR CORE
The core is the most important part of our bodies. Core muscles support the whole body and help us to stay upright. It involves all the muscles that surround your midsection, including your lower back and pelvic floor.
Although you might be tempted to focus mostly on toning your front abs, do not forget about strengthening your pelvic floor as well as the lower back. These are the two muscle groups are equally important and should be an inseparable part of your core training.
4. GET SOME FRESH AIR
Wondering what is the best and easiest way to lose pregnancy weight naturally? Try walking!
You don’t have to go running 10 miles to get proper fat burner cardio. As a matter of fact, there is a study that shows walking is just as good as running in terms of health effects.
There is so much more to it than just burning calories! Walking outside helps you to fight the postpartum blues by reducing your stress levels. In fact, walking an hour a day can work wonders for you!
Walking has an amazingly positive impact on your cardiovascular system, as it reduces the risk of heart disease, high blood pressure or stroke.
The last word
While breastfeeding doesn’t guarantee an effortless way to your pre-baby body, it unarguably burns calories. Hence, it can help you to lose some pregnancy weight but you have to be thoughtful about your meal plan.
Trying to get rid of those extra pounds while breastfeeding can be a tricky task. Apart from nutrition and physical activity, there are some factors like hormone imbalance you cannot influence. In many cases, the body will hold on to that baby weight as long as you are nursing.
BE PATIENT. A healthy and active lifestyle will help you to get back to your pre-pregnancy weight eventually.
However, sometimes, it is good to step back a bit to try to embrace your postpartum body and the fact that women’s bodies change after having a baby.
Did breastfeeding help you to lose weight? Or was it a struggle? Let me know in the comments below. I would love to know about your experience!