5 Weight Loss Tips for Breastfeeding Moms

By , SparkPeople Blogger
Breastmilk is the ideal first food for your baby. Breastfeeding had been found to help speed recovery after labor for the mom and assists in losing weight gained during pregnancy.

While there are many things moms wish they had known about breastfeeding, one of the most common concerns relates to frustration at not losing all their pregnancy weight. Not eating enough calories is the biggest barrier to weight loss success during breastfeeding. Many times moms incorrectly believe that cutting calories is the key to weight loss after pregnancy. Unfortunately, they forget the human body is designed to protect itself from starvation during times when food isn't readily available. The body burns calories all day long as part of your basal metabolic rate (BMR), because it takes energy (calories) for your body to perform basic physiological functions that are necessary for life—breathing, digesting, circulating, thinking and more. Add to that, normal daily physical activity (bathing, walking, typing and exercising) and you have the energy needs the body requires each day to function normally.

Maternal fat stores serve as a wonderful and constant source of available energy to ensure the body always has the energy it needs to produce milk at the rate and amount a little one requests. The goal in post-pregnancy nutrition is to encourage the body to slightly dip into maternal energy stores each day to meet the increased energy needs. To promote this process, breastfeeding moms should increase their daily calorie intake after delivery by about 500 calories over their pre-pregnancy needs. When you do this, your metabolism can work efficiently and will rely on approximately 250 additional calories each day from the maternal fat stores. This is about the same amount of energy as if you participated in 30 minutes of mild to moderate cardio activity and will ensure a slow, steady weight loss back to your pre-pregnancy weight.

Here are five principles that can help you return to your pre-pregnancy weight after delivery while making sure you are producing adequate milk to meet your little one's needs.

  1. Eat balanced meals and snacks every few hours. Newborns generally eat every few hours, which means your body is using energy to produce milk that often too. Keeping the body supplied with energy and nutrients helps ensure that it never perceives it is "starving" and can continually burn maternal fat stores.
  2. Drink plenty of water. Breastmilk is 50% water, and water is also an important part of the metabolic process. A good rule of thumb is to drink at least eight ounces of water or another healthy beverage after every nursing session around the clock. If you are exercising or it is extremely hot, more will likely be needed to maintain proper hydration levels.
  3. Hunger cues are the way the body communicates its need for more energy. Do not ignore hunger cues or delay responding, even if you only ate a short time before. Since the body will burn carbohydrates quickly, make sure you also have protein or a serving of healthy fats with your carbohydrates to keep you satisfied.
  4. Remember that you gained weight slowly and you should lose weight slowly. Don't try to do anything drastic to lose weight faster. Instead, work on establishing healthy eating and fitness habits that will allow you to maintain a healthy rate of weight loss without dieting or feeling hungry or deprived.
  5. If you are exercising, have a physically demanding or active job, or spend much of your day running around after other children and caring for your home, you may need even more calories than you think. Most times, hunger will help guide your intake to meet these increased needs as you work or care for your family. As long as you are listening to your hunger cues and eating enough to satisfy those cues, you should be meeting your body's needs. If you are not seeing slow, steady weight loss and you are eating more than you did during pregnancy but are also exercising and active, try adding several hundred more nutrient-rich calories for a couple weeks and see how your body responds. We know it seems backwards but with breastfeeding many times, more is less in that more calories consumed means less maternal fat stores needed.
It is important to remember that the goal is to lose the weight gained during pregnancy. If you want to drop below your pre-pregnancy weight, realize that your body may or may not cooperate. If weight loss was difficult before pregnancy, more than likely, you will have trouble both losing additional weight and providing an increasing milk supply as baby grows and demands more. Instead of focusing on losing more weight, consider your return to a pre-pregnancy weight a great success and focus on strength training to increase muscle strength and definition. The added muscle will also help boost your metabolism.

You can learn more about getting back to your pre-pregnancy weight while breastfeeding at Babyfit.com.

Did you have trouble losing pregnancy weight? Was not eating enough a contributing factor?

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RYCGIRL 5/31/2021
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VAYALEF726 1/31/2021
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thanks Report
This one brought back memories! I have 3 children and breast fed all of them. Report
Thanks for sharing Report
Most sources put calories used for breastfeeding in the 300-600 range, so upping calls by 500 is unlikely to have you using 250 from fat stores, as this suggests.

Tbh, it’s probably worth being forgiving of yourself at this special time and focusing on eating healthy rather than losing weight. That’s a tough enough call when sleep deprived! Report
This is a well written article. I also found the comments interesting as I would be an advocate saying how easy it is to lose weight while breastfeeding making it not only great for the baby but generally also great for the mom. I breastfed each of my three children for at least 10 - 12 months and went down to 105 - 110 pounds (I am only 5' 2" tall.) within that time. Great thing about it was that I have always been a "foodie" who loves good tasting food, but also naturally love "healthy" food. During my months breastfeeding, I could eat anything and everything I wanted. I never counted calories or otherwise worried or tracked what I ate or drank during breastfeeding. I lost at least and generally more than the approx. 40 pounds gained during pregnancy. My body is naturally pear-shaped, but my breasts were bigger during breastfeeding, so not only did I thin out but my body became more evenly proportioned during that time. Win-win! Report
This is still linked to BabyFit which doesn't exist any more. Great article just needs that removed and link to the pregnancy and post natal resources on here. Report
Thanks for sharing! Report
Great info! Thanks! Report
I breastfed my daughter until she was 2.6 years old, wonderful process. Something that helped first strait off was drinking a mixture of prune juice and pure cranberry juice, made them both more palatable and a great start on fluids for the day, both providing functions helpful to a new mother to prevent constipation and UTI Report
I gained a lot of weight during pregnancy mainly due to my eating all the things. That continued through breastfeeding. My son is now two. He's still nursing, but I'm finally starting to watch what I eat and losing weight. At this point, milk supply is not as much of a concern. Report
With all three of my children, I lost weight in the first two months of breastfeeding then started to gain weight again. The weight I regained was never lost until after I stopped breastfeeding. The last baby fed for 3.5 years. It was frustrating not to be able to lose weight in all that time. Now the weight is falling off me. Report
I'm still trying to lose my pregnancy weight, my kids are 21 and 19. I did breastfeed my youngest. Report
I don't gain a lot of weight during pregnany, so delivery and getting rid of the extra fluid build up takes care of all but a couple of pounds. I was at my pre-pregnancy weight within a couple of weeks. That being said, I wish the act of consuming enough calories and water actually works to keep me breastfeeding. Unfortunately, it doesn't. I have never been able to produce enough milk for any of my three children, and my supply dries up somewhere after six weeks. I am currently nursing my third child, who is 10 weeks old. This is the longest I have ever been able to nurse, but I can tell I'm getting ready to be done. Report
Did I have trouble losing pregnancy weight? Yes! I gained 55 pounds during pregnancy (plus another 5 on top of that) and did not lose any of it, despite breastfeeding. When my daughter was 2 I started exercising and eating healthier. I lost 50 pounds over a one year period. I maintained that loss and joined SP 5 months ago. I've lost 15 pounds (around 10 pounds had creeped back on me) and am back to my pre-baby weight. I am even the same weight it says on my driver's license! Love SP! Report
Great blog, Tanya! I trained for 2 marathons while nursing each of my kids for a year. With Tanya's help, I was able to figure out that I needed to consume 3,000-4,000 calories per day in order to keep up my milk supply. That probably isn't the norm, but it's important for active moms to experiment and figure out what works best for them. Report
I joined LaLeche League when pregnant with my first son, so I nursed him until he was 15 months old. I didn't give any of my five children solid food until they were five months old, so I lost all of my pregnancy weight within three months. You have to be very careful about what u eat during that time if u seriously want to lose the weight. I drank a LOT of water/decaf teas. Report
I gained a lot of weight whilst pregnant, and was told by everyone and their mother how weight will just "fall off" if I breastfeed. I had my baby last September, and have just stopped feeding her, but I didn't lose anything then entire time, despite eating healthily, getting a personal trainer for 12 weeks (during which time I GAINED weight, about 5lbs, and saw an increase in my fat percent), and staying active on a daily basis. While I knew it might have something to do with my calorie intake, I was too scared to eat more than 1800/2000 calories for fear that I would gain even more. I ate roughly 1400-1800 while doing intense exercise and feeding the baby, and that was when I gained some. I tried to up my intake, but that didn't seem to help either. Now I have stopped breastfeeding, I have finally started to see some weight loss - not masses but at least I am in one size smaller. I think it is important for new moms to know that breastfeeding doesn't necessarily equal weight loss, and for some it is extremely difficult to lose anything while feeding the baby. I agree that calories are important during this time, and so if I was to do it all over again, I would aim for more food throughout the day, and make sure everything was nutritious and healthy. Report
I'm breastfeeding an 11-month-old and working on losing weight. When I started on SparkPeople (he was 8 months old), I wasn't sure how many calories to eat. I started keeping track of my calories, and made sure I ate something healthy every time I felt hungry. I found that I lose weight gradually (one to one and a half pounds/week) when I add 500 to my range. I never eat less than 1800 calories a day and usually eat between 1850 and 2050. Exercise has been key in speeding up my metabolism and dropping inches off my waist. Report
A useful book I read while nursing my first child was "Eat Well, Lose Weight While Breastfeeding" by Eileen Behan. It has very sound nutritional advice for any mom, but especially those who are feeding their babe with nature's intended first food. Report
This article is correct about nutrition and breastfeeding. What this article does NOT mention, is how to eat after breastfeeding ends. With both my sons, I lost the pregnancy weight within 6 months, but after I stopped breastfeeding at about one year of age, I gained a lot of weight because I did not slow down the calories as I should have had. This is what breastfeeding moms should be cautioined for Report
It took me about 3 weeks to fit back into most pre-pregnancy clothes, and ~10 weeks to lose the last couple pounds about 4 months to get back to where I was fitness-wise. Report