Can I Lose Weight While Breastfeeding?

breastfeeding

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Most pregnant people gain an average of 25-35 pounds during pregnancy, and while some of that naturally comes off after giving birth, many of us are left with extra weight we are hoping to shed. Others of us have been wanting to lose weight for some time, and feel ready to do so after pregnancy.

We know that dieting and losing weight during pregnancy is generally not a safe option, which is why many of us are eager to start losing weight after our babies arrive. But losing weight after pregnancy can get a little confusing when you add breastfeeding into the mix. You may be wondering if losing weight while breastfeeding will impact your milk supply, how quickly you can lose weight, and whether there are certain weight loss methods that are safer than others.

The good news is that losing weight while breastfeeding is an option for most of us. However, breastfeeding does require additional calories, and if weight loss is too fast, or too many calories are restricted, there is a chance that your milk supply could be impacted. As such, weight loss during breastfeeding should be done gradually, keeping in mind your increased need for calories and nutrients.

Losing Weight While Breastfeeding

Most experts agree that losing weight during breastfeeding can be safe, but that it must be done carefully and deliberately. Breastfeeding requires extra calories, and if you deprive your body of too many of those calories, there’s a chance that your milk supply could decrease, explains Dr. Sherry Ross, OB/GYN at Providence Saint John’s Health Center in Santa Monica, CA.

“While it is safe to try to lose weight after giving birth, generally this shouldn’t start too quickly and should be done in a healthy manner,” Nina Pegram, RN, PNP, and IBCLC at SimpliFed, says. “Drastically reducing calories while increasing your body’s metabolic demands (or making enough food for a small human to grow!) is never recommended.”

Generally, parents need an extra 450-500 calories while they are breastfeeding, according to the CDC. In total, most breastfeeding parents need to consume about 2,300-2,500 calories total per day, Dr. Ross says. “Some find it challenging to reach this daily calorie intake and as a result lose weight while breastfeeding,” Ross shares.

Indeed, many breastfeeding parents do find that weight loss happens naturally because of the fact that breastfeeding burns so many calories. Although unintentional weight loss during breastfeeding varies widely from one parent to another, studies have found that breastfeeding parents tend to lose more weight than their non-breastfeeding counterparts.

But intentionally losing weight through dieting or calorie restriction is something that must be done with caution. Dr. Ross recommends avoiding fad diets or any diets that promote strict calorie restriction. Pegram says that rather than dieting, breastfeeding parents should focus on eating a well-balanced diet and exercising. Additionally, the CDC says that all breastfeeding parents should talk to a medical provider before starting a diet with any sort of calorie restriction.

Every breastfeeding journey is different. Be sure to consult with a healthcare provider about your circumstances if you have any questions about losing weight while breastfeeding.

Benefits of Losing Weight While Breastfeeding

Feeling healthy and energetic is beneficial to everyone, including postpartum parents. So while you don’t want to start a highly restrictive diet while breastfeeding, making sure to eat healthily and add healthy movement is always a good idea. For example, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) says that adding exercise into your day after giving birth boosts your mood, helps you sleep better, and may help prevent postpartum depression.

But while making an effort to maintain a healthy weight after giving birth is beneficial to your overall health, there are no direct benefits of losing weight in terms of increasing your milk supply or making your milk healthier for your baby. Again, unless you are experiencing a weight issue that’s impacting your health, the focus during breastfeeding should be on healthy eating rather than drastic weight loss.

Safety Precautions

Again, losing weight while breastfeeding is not entirely “off-limits,” but must be done in a measured way. Many parents will lose weight without doing very much at all, simply because of the extra caloric demands of breastfeeding. But if you want to take a more active role in losing weight, here are some guidelines to keep in mind.

Lose Weight Gradually

Experts agree that losing weight while breastfeeding is something that should happen gradually. “Sudden and rapid weight loss will ultimately affect a good and healthy milk supply,” says Dr. Ross.

Unfortunately, there is not a lot of research about what the optimal weight loss pattern would be to maintain a good milk supply. Some experts say that losing 1-2 pounds a week while breastfeeding may be safe. A study published in Proceedings of the Nutrition Society found that breastfeeding parents who are at an unhealthy weight could lose up to 0.5 kg per week (equivalent to a little over 1 pound) without affecting breast milk volume or composition.

Make Sure You Are Getting Enough Nutrients

Besides keeping your increased caloric needs in mind, you will need to remember that you have increased nutritional needs while breastfeeding. The CDC recommends that breastfeeding parents who are vegan or on other specific dietary programs make sure that they are getting all their nutritional needs met. These parents may require DHA supplements or other vitamin and mineral supplements to stay healthy and well.

Pegram emphasizes that it’s important not to restrict healthy fats in your diet, as doing so can impact the fat content in your breastmilk. Examples of healthy fats include olive oil, foods that are rich in omega-3 fatty acids, avocados, and nuts.

Stay Away from Fad Diets

While there are healthy changes you can make to what you eat, adopting a fad diet is not one of them. “Avoid any fad diets that drastically restrict calories and over-promise quick weight loss,” says Dr. Ross. These types of diets aren’t recommended during breastfeeding, nor are they recommended in general if your goal is effective and long-lasting weight loss.

Instead, Dr. Ross recommends focusing on a “well-balanced plant-based diet, limiting red meat and high-fat dairy intake, and consuming ‘good’ fats—monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats.” Your focus should be whole foods that are fresh and unprocessed. Dr. Ross says the Mediterranean diet (which focuses on fruits, vegetables, whole grains, olive oil, and fish) is one to consider.

When Can I Resume Losing Weight?

If you are looking to take more drastic steps toward weight loss, or if you wish to follow a diet with more stringent calorie restrictions, you can do so when you are done breastfeeding, says Dr. Ross. Still, she emphasizes that even then, any extreme form of dieting can be harmful, whether you are breastfeeding or not. Healthy dietary changes should be done under the guidance of a registered dietitian or nutritionist, she advises.

A Word from Verywell

Breastfeeding parents often find the guidelines surrounding losing weight confusing. They may have heard that losing weight while breastfeeding is never okay, or they may have heard that it’s totally fine. The truth lies somewhere in the middle: losing weight while breastfeeding can be safe if it’s done gradually, with the focus on eating healthy and exercising, rather than calorie restriction.

Any questions you may have about your health and how it might affect your baby or your breastfeeding experience is something to discuss with an OBGYN or midwife. They can discuss losing weight as it pertains to your particular health status. You might also consider speaking to a lactation consultant (IBCLC) for further insight and advice.

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Article Sources
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  1. Kaiser Permanente. Breastfeeding: Exercise and Weight Loss. Updated October 8, 2020.

  2. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. When breastfeeding, how many calories should moms and babies consume? Updated January 31, 2017.

  3. Jarlenski MP, Bennett WL, Bleich SN, Barry CL, Stuart EA. Effects of breastfeeding on postpartum weight loss among U.S. women. Preventive Medicine. 2014;69:146-150. doi:10.1016/j.ypmed.2014.09.018

  4. American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. Exercise After Pregnancy. Updated July 1, 2019.

  5. Kaiser Permanente. Breastfeeding: Exercise and Weight Loss. Updated October 8, 2020.

  6. Lovelady C. Balancing exercise and food intake with lactation to promote post-partum weight loss. Proceedings of the Nutrition Society. 2011;70(2):181-4. doi:10.1017/S002966511100005X

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