How To Safely Lose Weight While Breastfeeding

If you've recently had a baby, you're probably anxious to lose the baby weight that you've accumulated over the better part of a year. Losing weight after giving birth can feel like an uphill battle, but it is possible.

In fact, about half of the weight gained in pregnancy is lost within the first six weeks post-delivery due to fluid loss, delivery of the fetus, placenta, etc. On average, even after six months, most women are 5 kg more than their prepregnancy weight.¹

While you may be eager to drop the extra pounds and fit back into your prepregnancy jeans, it's important to approach postpartum dieting and exercise in a responsible, safe way to promote you and your baby's well-being.

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How many calories do I need to breastfeed my baby?

The amount of calories you should be consuming to support a healthy milk supply for your baby depends on your activity level.

For women between the ages of 19 and 50 who live a relatively sedentary lifestyle, The Dietary Guidelines for Americans (DGA) recommends consuming between 1,800 and 2,000 calories per day. Those who live a moderately active lifestyle should consume between 2,000 and 2,200 calories per day. Finally, those who live active lifestyles should consume 2,200 to 2,400 calories per day.²

Surprisingly, consuming more calories while breastfeeding is unnecessary for most women, especially if they strive to lose weight. Women who are not interested in losing weight can increase the DGA guidelines by 450 to 500 calories per day. However, consuming the same number of calories that you did before getting pregnant may be enough for you to lose the baby weight while continuing to nurse your baby.

Can I diet while breastfeeding?

Going on a restrictive diet while breastfeeding is not recommended, particularly if the diet lowers your caloric intake to below 1,500 calories. Simply put, your body needs calories to produce an adequate breast milk supply to support your baby. Eliminating certain food groups or restricting the number of calories you take in could have a significant impact on your milk supply.

Does breastfeeding cause weight loss?

For some women, breastfeeding encourages the extra baby weight to fall off with little to no effort. Unfortunately, for others, it's not so simple.

Breastfeeding burns around 500 to 700 calories per day.³ Indeed, one study showed that mothers who breastfed for at least six months had about a 0.5 kg weight retention vs. mothers who never breastfed who had a 4.8 kg weight retention at three years.⁴ While this can certainly contribute to losing weight faster than not breastfeeding, for many women, other factors could have an impact on your weight loss journey after giving birth. Some of these include:

  • Prepregnancy obesity

  • Weight gain during pregnancy

  • Diet

  • Genetics

  • Activity level

  • Medical conditions (such as thyroid disease)

  • Maternal age: Adolescents are more likely to gain more weight and retain it. 

  • Number of previous pregnancies 

How to safely lose weight while breastfeeding

Before you make any changes to your daily routine in hopes of losing weight quickly while breastfeeding, it's important to consult your doctor. Just as every pregnancy is unique, every postpartum experience is, too, which means that what works for one woman may not be safe or effective for another. There is no definite weight loss timeframe, although generally, six to 12 months may be appropriate to try and return to pre-pregnancy weight.

Here are some simple steps most women can take to safely lose weight while breastfeeding their baby:

Choose healthy foods

Perhaps the most significant factor to consider when trying to drop baby weight is what you're eating and drinking. Instead of counting calories or putting less food on your plate, it's best to eat a variety of nutritious foods that will give you energy and help you feel full for longer while supporting your milk production. Diet alone will mainly help to reduce the amount of fat but not necessarily improve your overall fitness.

Reaching for junk food, such as chips or sweets, may seem like a convenient, easy solution for a hungry, sleep-deprived mother, but opting for healthier alternatives can make a big difference in your long-term weight loss journey.

Here are some nutritious options to help you reach your goal weight and keep your milk supply up:

  • Lean protein: Fish, nuts, and meat can help you feel full, build muscle, and repair body tissue.

  • Fruits, vegetables, and grains: Leafy greens, quinoa, and citrus fruits are just some of the options filled with vitamins and nutrients that can support a healthy immune system, increase your energy, and help you maintain a healthy weight.

  • Starches: Potatoes, beans, and whole-grain pasta can give you much-needed energy when caring for your baby.

  • Fats: Choose healthy fats, such as olive oil, avocados, eggs, and cheese. 

  • Water: Rather than sugary sodas or juices, be sure to drink plenty of water, which can help you stay hydrated, energized, and limit snacking between meals.

Eat more often

Eating more frequently when you're trying to lose weight may seem counterintuitive, but it can actually help you shed the baby weight while you're nursing. Skipping meals or only eating three meals per day can slow down your metabolism, make you feel more lethargic, and cause your weight loss to stop altogether. By eating a healthy snack twice a day between meals, such as cheese, fruit, or nuts, you can encourage your metabolism to stay active, keep your energy level up, and maintain consistent weight loss.

Avoid these foods while breastfeeding

While going on a strict diet while breastfeeding probably isn't the healthiest postpartum weight loss solution, it can be beneficial for new moms to stay away from certain foods if they're trying to look and feel their best. These include:

  • Sugary foods that can cause inflammation, such as soda, cookies, and ice cream

  • Snack foods that contain empty calories, little nutritional value, and won't fill you up, such as chips and crackers

  • Alcohol, which can have a negative impact on your baby's development if too much is passed through your breast milk

Incorporate light exercise

After your doctor has said it's safe for you to exercise, it's important to take it slow. Regardless of whether you consistently worked out before getting pregnant, your body has been through a lot over the last nine months or more. With this in mind, be sure to ease back into your workout routine. Exercise helps to improve your cardiorespiratory fitness and lose fat.

Here are some practical ways to stay active while breastfeeding without overdoing it:

  • Take your baby for a walk around the neighborhood

  • Do 20 minutes of yoga

  • Do Kegel exercises⁵ throughout the day to strengthen your pelvic muscles

  • Go to a postpartum exercise class to receive support from other new mothers

Prioritize sleep

Sleeping with a new baby at home may sound impossible, but it's important to rest as much as you can when trying to lose the baby weight. Sleeping more can lower your snack cravings, give you more energy to exercise, and can help your muscles recover from working out.⁶ One way to get the sleep you need throughout the day is to nap when your baby does.

Be patient with yourself

Remember, you didn't grow your baby overnight, so you shouldn't expect your body to bounce back overnight either. It can be difficult to give yourself the time you need to heal from childbirth, adjust to your new routine with a newborn, and gradually lose the weight you gained during pregnancy, but doing so is important for your mental and overall health. With this in mind, don't hesitate to take steps to reduce stress and enjoy your postpartum experience as much as possible. 

The lowdown

It's normal for new moms to be eager to lose weight quickly after giving birth, but the health of you and your baby is what's most important. The best way to lose weight safely and effectively while breastfeeding is to eat nutrient-rich meals throughout the day, drink plenty of water, stay active with light exercise, get enough sleep, and be patient throughout the process.

If you are concerned about not losing weight quickly or have questions about the best weight loss steps for you, be sure to consult your doctor.

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