Why can I not lose weight while breastfeeding?
You knew it’d happen. That “eating for two” shtick you lived by when you were pregnant was bound to catch up with you, someday. At the time you may have thought, “I’ll worry about losing the weight once the baby is here.” Now that the baby is here, however, you are dieting, exercising and doing all you can to get back to your pre-pregnancy weight, but nothing is working. So, what gives? Not losing weight breastfeeding, or losing too much weight? The reason is a complex matter that takes a little science to understand. So, if you’ve got a minute, join us in discovering why you may have reached that dreadful weight-loss, or weight-gain, plateau, as well as what you can do to make it better.
What’s Happening to Your Body Whilst Breastfeeding
Wondering what is happening to your body while you breastfeed? Though it may come as a shock, there is quite a bit more going on with your body as you feed your baby than what meets the naked eye.
For starters, your body is releasing hormones that are responsible for keeping your milk flowing and your baby satiated. The main hormones released are oxytocin and prolactin.
While you may already be familiar with oxytocin, often coined as the “love hormone”, you may not be as familiar with prolactin. Prolactin is what causes your body to produce milk in the first place, and is released as soon as your baby latches. Thereby, these two hormones work synonymously to provide your baby with the nutrient-rich and nourishing milk your little one needs!
So, what else is your body up to? Well, in order to keep up with the milk flow needed to keep your baby healthy and alive, your body was designed with safeguards in place to ensure that your little angel gets what he or she needs, despite your current situation.
Current situation? What situation?
Well, it depends. You could be dieting, starving, going through a hard time financially… honestly though, your body won’t be able to tell the difference. The point is that anytime your caloric intake dramatically decreases your body will begin to depend on fat stores already established in the body to keep your baby fed.
Does Breastfeeding Affect Your Weight?
So, what does all of this have to do with losing weight, or lack thereof?
First of all, if you are not losing weight breastfeeding, the aforementioned point about caloric intake could be the answer to all your burning questions.
Let us explain.
Although you may think that a decrease in calories would speed up your weight loss, and in many cases it will, it remains true that your body will assume that a reduction in the amount of food you are eating is a signal that you are going through hard times. Your body doesn’t know the difference between you dieting and you starving, but it does know that it has a tiny mouth to feed. As such, your body will actually hold on to your fat deposits, rather than let them go, as a means of food insurance in case your baby needs it in the future.
But wait, there’s more. Feeling tired and unmotivated to work out? Well, remember the prolactin hormone we discussed earlier? Studies show that an increase in prolactin makes individuals feel more tired and less energetic. Moreover, it has the ability to suppress other hormones known for giving you energy.
But what about those friends of your that shed all of their pregnancy weight and then some, even before their baby turned 9 months? Does breastfeeding make you lose weight, as well?
Turns out it can. But it totally depends on the person!
Actually, breastfeeding can burn up to 300-500 calories or more per day, which is the equivalent to spending a half an hour of strength training, with little to no rest! Therefore, for some women, breastfeeding causes them to lose weight even to the point of weighing less than they weighed before pregnancy.
So, could this be why is it that some mamas lose weight and others gain additional weight after pregnancy? Yep, it sure can. And it all comes down to each person’s own physical makeup, their overall diet, their body type, their lifestyle and their metabolism rate. Add to it increases in stress-induced cortisol levels, lack of sleep, lack of exercise and the like, and it becomes near impossible to predict who will and won’t lose weight immediately post-pregnancy. There are way too many factors to consider!
How to Lose Weight Whilst Breastfeeding
- Make Sure You’re Getting Enough to Eat: As counter-intuitive as it might be, making sure that you’re getting enough to eat is crucial. Whether you feel that breastfeeding is wasting you away, or is causing you to hold on to unnecessary weight, eating more, not less, might be the key to your success. So, go ahead, nosh on, but make sure to nosh on the right things, and not the wrong ones.
- Eat For Nourishment: And that brings us to our next point. You should never load your diet full of empty and junky calories, as doing so isn’t good for you or for your baby. Instead, try reaching for fibre and protein rich healthy substitutes of the things you love. For example, you can sub creamy yogurt topped with fresh fruit for ice cream, organic salted popcorn for greasy potato chips and a bowl of oatmeal with a drizzle of honey and some nut-butter for sugar-laden cereals. You may even find that you like the alternatives a lot more!
- Exercise: It may sound like a drag, but exercise can get your body out of the gutter and give your attitude a much needed boost, too. Just be sure that while you are exercising you are also compensating for calories lost. Yes, you want to create a caloric deficit, but remember, a loss of too many calories and your body will start to hold on to fat, rather than to let it go. Can’t seem to find the time to exercise? Throw your baby in the stroller and get out every morning for a stroll, or check out this awesome mummy and baby exercise video to get an older baby, 6 months and up, in on the fun! Have other children? Throw your youngest in a baby carrier and head outside for some fun outdoor activities, like gardening or anything else that’ll get your body moving (don’t forget your gardening safety kit)!
- Cancel Stress: Worried about not being able to lose weight? Stop it, mama, because that could be causing you to gain weight, too! Cortisol, the stress hormone, can put extra weight on your midsection when elevated chronically for long periods of time. So, let those worries go, take a bubble bath and cuddle your baby. Don’t let too much stress throw you for a loop. You’ve got this!
- Don’t Eat For Two: Remember how everyone around you encouraged you to eat all you wanted because, after all, you were eating for two? Well, they weren’t necessarily wrong. You were, in essence, feeding yourself and your baby. But how much you eat during pregnancy really does make a difference, after the fact. The truth is, the less you gain the less you have to worry about losing. In general, mums only need to eat an additional 300 calories per day when pregnant, which actually isn’t much. However, depending on the types of foods you chose while pregnant, you may have felt like you just couldn’t get enough. Similar to breastfeeding diets, you’ll want to stick to high fibre and protein rich foods, instead, to help keep you satiated. This will make losing weight easier post-birth.
- Find the Perfect Fit: Still wearing your pre-pregnancy clothes or your maternity wear? Don’t feel shamed for it, but it may be time to let those go. Treat yourself by buying beautiful clothes that are all your own. Doing so will not only make you feel great, but will boost your confidence as you embrace your new body and clothe it well in the styles and colours you love! And don’t forget that tight clothing can reveal more and can actually make you appear heavier than what you are!
- View Your Body as a Life-Giving Vessel: Okay, now that we’ve sifted through the things you can do to transform your weight, can we take a moment to stop and realise that your body has offered up one of the most precious and perfect gifts of your life? Yes, you may not love your new bod, but if you stop to think of your body as a life-giving vessel, it may just give you a completely new outlook.
- Patience: Last, but certainly not least, is to have patience with yourself. Sure, you’d love to look the way that you did before having a child, but with a little time, effort and patience, you may return, not only to your pre-pregnancy weight, but may even gain an even better, more toned body than before! Especially once you start lugging a 21 pound baby around! Talk about a strength workout!
Dieting While Breastfeeding: Is It Safe?
While you technically could diet during breastfeeding, it isn’t recommended, especially within the first 0-3 months of your baby’s life. It also depends on the type of “dieting” you’re talking about. Think about it. Do you seriously want to be restricting yourself from added nutrients that could be of benefit to both your body and your baby?
At the same time, however, it may be reasonable to consider shaving off an extra 300, or 500 at the most, calories per day to help keep weight gain in check, especially if
you’ve noticed an increase in weight post-partum.
No matter what you decide, be very careful when deciding to diet while breastfeeding and always consult a doctor before doing so. Your body desperately needs vitamins and nutrients during this time, so limiting your food intake may or may not be something you can afford.
Remember, if your body senses that you are slowing up on caloric intake, it may begin to take matters into its own hands. This could manifest itself as tiredness on your part, feeling cold or feeling sick, all because your body is doing its best to help you preserve as many precious calories as you can. So, don’t fight your body, especially if you are looking to lose weight.
Do You Lose Weight When You Stop Breastfeeding?
Now for the silver lining at the end of the tunnel. Studies and experience shows that many mums tend to lose their baby weight gain once their baby is weaned. The cause? Remember those extra stores of fat your body was keeping on lockdown just in case you were starving, or dieting, perchance? Now that you’re not breastfeeding any more, your body can finally let go of that extra roll of fat or two, with confidence.
But hold on, mama. Not so fast! Remember that your milk has the essentials that your baby needs to thrive, and thus, your little one should be given the opportunity to utilise all of the benefits your milk has to offer, whenever possible. So, while it is never our place to tell you what to do, we do strongly advise against weaning your child only for the sake of dropping a few pounds. If you do plan on weaning your little one off of nursing, learn how to safely make the transition from exclusively breastfeeding to safely supplementing with formula.
Along with that, we should also mention that none, and we mean none, of the aforementioned information about potentially dropping weight after your baby has been weaned is set in stone. There are some mamas who see the weight melt off during breastfeeding, after breastfeeding is over or even a few years down the line. Every situation is different and will depend on your unique body type, lifestyle, health and metabolism rate.
Your Body Is More Than Your Weight
All in all, if your weight is bothering you, do something about it, but not at the expense of your baby. Your body has carried a living little being inside of it for nine months, and it will take some time to readjust to the way that things used to be. Does this mean that you have to be inactive or have no control over the matter? Of course not.
The hope is that after reading this article, you’ve been equipped with several ways in which you can make smart decisions regarding your health, your weight and the nourishment of your little one. So, go ahead and enjoy a piece of cake or two, but just don’t overdo it. Your body will thank you for the extra calories, and may be willing to shed a few pounds in the process, too!
Want to know more about the science behind breastfeeding and weight loss, or the lack thereof? Check out this article comparing Serena William’s experience with post-partum weight loss and research-based scientific findings on the matter.