Can Breastfeeding Help You Lose Weight?

Mom kissing baby
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One of the benefits of breastfeeding that many mothers appreciate has nothing to do with babies. Breastfeeding can help you lose weight and get back your pre-pregnancy body faster, but it's important to know that this perk isn't a sure thing. For some moms, losing baby weight isn't a fast process and it takes more than just nursing.

The amount of weight that you'll 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
  • Your overall health

Calorie Burn and Weight Loss

Breastfeeding will not initially help you lose any additional weight than is normal from loss of the placenta, amniotic fluid, and excess water (which accounts for about 15 to 17 pounds in the first few weeks, all told), but it will help to contract your uterus and shrink it back down to its pre-pregnancy size much more quickly. While breastfeeding, your belly should look much slimmer by the time you're six weeks postpartum.

Thereafter, 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.

Breastfeeding burns up to 500 calories a day. This means that even though you are probably eating more to sustain breastfeeding, you can still lose weight.

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.

Is It Safe to Diet While Breastfeeding?

You may be enticed to ramp up your weight loss efforts by doing more than just breastfeeding, especially if it's not helping you reach your goal in the way you hoped it might.

But 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. In fact, while you're breastfeeding, it's best if you don't take any medications or supplements or go on any special diets unless approved by your doctor.

Tips for Losing Weight While Breastfeeding

While some women lose weight while breastfeeding, there is no guarantee that nursing will simply melt away the pounds gained during pregnancy. However, there are some things that you can do to increase your chances of losing weight during the postnatal period:

  • Start slow. After your postpartum checkup 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, and/or a nutritionist to help you plan a healthy weight loss program that includes enough nutrition for both you and your baby.
  • Eat healthy 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.
  • 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 should be able to begin doing some light or moderate exercise. If you've had a Cesarean section, it will take longer to heal, so you will have to wait a little longer to begin an exercise program.
  • Get enough sleep. It might be hard for a new breastfeeding mom, but try to rest when you can. Lack of sleep can lead to difficulty losing weight and weight gain.

If you are still having trouble losing weight three to six months after the birth of your baby, take a closer look at your diet, adjust your workout plan (light to moderate exercise doesn't interfere with breastfeeding), and consider reducing your caloric intake.

Once your baby is over 6 months old and begins to eat solid foods, you don't need as many calories each day. You may need to re-evaluate your diet and reduce the amount of food you're eating.

Talk to Your Doctor

If you're still struggling with postpartum weight loss after trying the above, it may be time to see the doctor. There could be a medical reason behind your difficulty to lose weight such as stress, depression, an underactive thyroid, or another hormone imbalance. Once you treat the underlying issues, you may be able to lose the weight more quickly.

A Word From Verywell

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 the delivery and build up a healthy supply of breast milk for your baby.

After you've healed from childbirth and established your breast milk supply, you can begin to think about getting your body back. Go slow, do what you can, and don't be so hard on yourself if you aren't at your goal in six months. Remember, it took you nine months to gain the extra weight, so give yourself some time. You can always continue to work on your weight loss goals long after breastfeeding ends.

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