Does Breastfeeding Really Help You Lose Weight? 5 Things to Consider About Breastfeeding and Weight Loss

Does Breastfeeding Really Help You Lose Weight? 5 Things to Consider About Breastfeeding and Weight Loss

When I was pregnant with my 1st, I was led to believe that breastfeeding was going to just melt all the baby weight off me. Some moms go home from the hospital in their skinny jeans. Other moms, like me, have bodies that like to hold onto the weight. If you’re struggling with trying to lose weight after you’ve had a baby, I hope you can find encouragement here.

1. The Fat Hoarding Hormone Called Prolactin

Prolactin is the hormone in your body responsible for milk production. Every time you nurse, it signals your body to make more prolactin so the more frequently you nurse, the higher your prolactin levels. It’s also been shown that your body makes the most prolactin during those middle-of-the-night feeds.

Prolactin has also been called the “fat hoarding hormone”. That’s because it causes your body to hold onto fat stores. When you’re breastfeeding, you’re at the mercy of this little hormone. For most women, your body will cling to fat until your prolactin levels drop. This happens with sudden changes in nursing frequency such as baby sleeping through the night.

A sudden drop in the hormone also triggers your period to return, which is why many breastfeeding moms start to lose a lot of weight when they get their first postpartum period. As eager as you are to get back to your pre-pregnancy weight, it’s important to be patient. You can see below how much of an impact prolonged breastfeeding has on long-term fat loss.

2. Slow and Steady Wins the Race

I understand how hard it is to be patient to get back to not feeling so fluffy after you have a baby. I know what to expect and I still find myself getting so impatient to lose the weight that I can find myself not just enjoying my baby. But what I have seen in the women around me is that those who lose the weight slowly keep the weight off.

I would feel so defeated when my friends around me would lose all the baby weight in the first few weeks while here I was feeling like a beached whale. Fast forward to a year later and they would be struggling with weight gain while I was back in my pre-pregnancy jeans. If it’s taking longer for you to start losing the weight, take comfort in the knowledge that you’ll be more likely to keep the weight off.

3. Long Term Fat Loss

Breastfeeding for any amount of time is going to have a positive impact in long-term weight loss. However, research shows that mothers who breastfeed for at least one year are much more likely to keep the fat off. They are also more likely to lose more weight than mothers who don’t breastfeed.

4. Don’t Severely Restrict Calories

When I was pregnant with my 2nd, I gained over 50 lbs. (I say over 50 because I stopped looking at the scale). I didn’t exercise during my pregnancy and indulged way too much. After he was born, I felt like an insecure blob of fat. When he was only 7 weeks old, I discovered Zumba and quickly became addicted. I rapidly lost the weight and then some. By the time he was 9 months old, I was 2 sizes smaller than the day I got married, but I also had been severely struggling with my milk supply.

 

No one ever told me that if I didn’t consume enough calories, my body wouldn’t make enough milk. You see, when you’re pregnant and you don’t get enough calories, your body “feeds” your baby first and then you. However, when you’re breastfeeding, if you severely restrict your calories, your body just doesn’t make enough milk. This is because your body will go into what’s called “starvation mode” where it stops all nonessential functions for survival such as producing milk.

I don’t think there’s a one-size-fits-all when it comes to how many calories you should eat while breastfeeding. And, truthfully, if you’re exercising and making healthy food choices and you stop eating when you’re full, then I would just wait for your prolactin levels to drop.

5. Realize that Every Woman is Different

The experts say that you should aim to lose about 1-1.5 lbs./week if you’re breastfeeding. This ensures that you’re getting enough calories to make milk, etc. However, my body was entirely different. I kept track of the calories I ate when I was breastfeeding my 3rd, mainly out of curiosity.

I ate the 1,800 calories/day as recommended plus an additional 800-1,000 calories for what I burned at the gym. My weight stayed the same until I hit 6 months postpartum and then the weight seemed to be melting off me. I would lose 5 pounds a week without any changes to my calorie intake and I continued to make enough milk.

I noticed this same pattern when I breastfeed my 4th and 5th and it doesn’t really fit into what the “experts” say should happen. Your breastfeeding and weight loss journey will be different too because our bodies are different. That’s why it’s so important to avoid comparing yourself to others.

Remember that your body has done an incredible thing – held, grown and delivered a beautiful baby. Give yourself grace and know that you’ll get there one day! Enjoy every bit of those baby snuggles and know you’re exactly what that precious baby needs – no matter how you look or what you weigh.

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