How To Lose Weight While Breastfeeding From an Expert Dietitian
One of the biggest misconceptions about breastfeeding is that it’ll help you shed all of your baby weight in a matter of weeks. Yet, being able to lose weight while breastfeeding isn’t as easy as it sounds.
While it’s true that nursing a baby does burn extra calories, many mothers are surprised to learn that losing weight while feeding a mini-human isn’t always an easy feat.
Don’t get me wrong — some mothers will have no trouble shedding weight while nursing their little ones. If this applies to you, thank your lucky star because not all mamas have it this easy!
Feeding a baby requires a lot from your body, and can leave you ready to eat everything within sight and then some. This level of hunger can make it challenging to lose weight.
And that’s without factoring in the sleep deprivation (and resulting cravings) likely to accompany welcoming a little one into your life.
So how can a nursing mother lose weight? Here are 12 dietitian-approved tips worth trying out!
1. Wait Until the First 8 Weeks Have Gone by Before Starting
After giving birth to your sweet baby, you may be surprised to look in the mirror and be greeted by a reflection of yourself still looking about 6 months pregnant.
At this point, many new mothers are itching to regain their pre-pregnancy figure.
However, it’s best not to rush into dieting right away. Waiting a while before actively trying to lose weight is beneficial because it’ll give your body enough time to recover from childbirth and establish a healthy milk supply.
Both can be difficult to achieve if you cut calories too much. Cutting calories too drastically will also make it difficult to get enough nutrients from your diet to support both your and your baby’s needs (1).
Plus, eating enough will contribute to you feeling energized despite the expected sleep deprivation.
2. Aim for a Steady Weight Loss
You’re probably familiar with the saying “slow and steady wins the race”. This truly does apply to losing weight while breastfeeding your little one.
Restricting your daily intake below 1500-1800 calories in an attempt to shed more weight can lower your milk supply. As can a dropping your calorie intake too suddenly (2).
So how much weight can you lose while breastfeeding without losing your milk?
That said, the effects of weight loss near the higher end of this range were only studied on the short-term. So aiming for the lower end of the range may be the safest way to lose weight without losing your milk.
3. Focus on Nutrient-Density
If you’re like me and don’t like counting calories — or weighing food or measuring portions for that matter — then this tip is for you.
It encourages you to focus on filling your plate with minimally-processed foods rich in vitamins and minerals; also known as nutrient-dense foods.
Focussing on filling your plate with nutrient-dense foods will help you naturally eat fewer calories while still feeling full and satisfied.
To make this work for you, start by filling half of your plate with vegetables at each meal.
Then fill one quarter or your plate with a source of protein such as beans, peas, tofu, tempeh or seitan and the other quarter with a source of complex carbs such as whole grains, fruit or starchy vegetables.
Top it all up with a touch of healthy fats, such as olives, avocados, nuts, seeds, a dollop of hummus or a sprinkle of shredded coconut.
4. Eat Smaller, More Frequent Meals
As a new mama, you’re likely seesawing between monumental joy and pure exhaustion. And with exhaustion comes cravings — generally for carb-rich, processed foods, not broccoli!
One way to combat these cravings is to eat smaller, more frequent meals.
Having built-in eating moments spread out throughout the day will also help keep your energy levels stable. Plus, it will prevent you from getting so hungry that you’re ready to eat whatever you can get your hands on!
5. Remain Hydrated
Breastfeeding a baby increases your liquid requirements. Which is only natural, since part of the fluids you drink will go towards producing milk for your little one.
Drinking enough throughout the day can help contribute to a strong milk supply. Plus, staying hydrated can help you feel more energized and may help some mamas lose weight by reducing appetite (6, 7, 8).
That said, there’s no need to force yourself to drink large quantities of fluids. Most women will do just fine by simply listening to their thirst.
But if remembering to drink is a daily struggle for you, try keeping fluids easily available and within view. For instance, place a water bottle next to your nursing station and keep another one on your kitchen counter in plain sight.
If you find water boring, you can flavor it with herbs such as basil or mint, lime, lemon or frozen fruit.
Or simply switch water for a cup of warm tea, or homemade iced tea. Soup, milk, and smoothies also count towards your total daily fluid intake, so work these in whenever possible as well.
You’ll know you’re drinking enough when the color of your urine is closer to that of lemonade than apple juice.
6. Avoid Crash Diets
Nursing is not an appropriate time to try liquid diets, low-carb diets, keto-diets, juice fasts or any other “lose weight fast” schemes.
As I mentioned earlier, cutting calories too drastically while breastfeeding will most likely cause your milk supply to drop. It will also make it near impossible for you to meet your daily nutrient recommendations (1).
In most cases, the amount of vitamins and minerals in your diet will directly determine their levels in your milk. So a nutrient-poor diet is likely to result in a nutrient-poor milk for your baby (9).
In other cases, your body will go dig into your stores to make sure your milk remains rich in certain nutrients for your baby. So failing to get enough nutrients from your diet can leave your own nutrient stores depleted — and you feeling tired, weak or sick.
7. Nurse for Longer
Breastfeeding burns on average 500 extra calories per day.
That’s about the same amount of calories you’d burn after one forty-five minutes to an hour of moderate intensity running or swimming. And the longer you nurse, the longer you maintain this additional energy expenditure, which may help you lose more weight (9).
In fact, research shows that breastfeeding frequently and for longer than six months may be linked to a higher amount of weight loss in mothers (10).
Breastfeeding for longer may also have long-term effects on your weight.
For instance, in one study, women who breastfed for more than 12 weeks were on average 5.7-7.5 pounds (2.6-3.4 kg) lighter a decade after their pregnancy than those who nursed for shorter periods of time or not at all (11).
That said, only you and your little one can determine how long to maintain your breastfeeding relationship for. So do what feels right to you.
Although your diet will likely have the biggest impact on the amount of weight you can lose while breastfeeding, exercise can definitely help too!
Research shows that losing weight from a combination of diet and exercise is preferable over dieting alone because it helps preserve your muscles (4).
Your muscle mass can help you burn more calories on a daily basis and is also handy to help you carry your little one around.
Despite the common thought that exercise may reduce milk production or cause babies to refuse breastmilk due to higher levels of lactic acid, research shows this is not likely a problem in most cases (12, 13).
In some cases, exercising may even help slightly increase the amount of breastmilk produced (13).
9. Combat Cravings Effectively
Some women experience intense cravings while breastfeeding.
These are likely caused by a combination of the extra energy burned by nursing, together with the sleep deprivation that comes with caring for a newborn.
Falling prey to these cravings can definitely make it challenging to shed the baby weight.
Adding a source of protein and fiber at each meal and snack is one way to combat cravings effectively.
Protein-rich foods include beans, peas, tofu, tempeh, seitan, mock meats, soy milk, nuts and seeds while fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nut, seeds and legumes also tend to be rich in fiber.
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10. Set Yourself up for Success
Remember the saying “out of sight, out of mind?” The opposite also seems to ring true.
Studies show that we tend to eat what’s most visible or easily accessible (16).
You can make this work to your advantage by stocking up on enough nutritious snacks to last you the week and keep them well within eyesight. And by hiding those that you’d rather not eat too much of in a less visible and difficult-to-reach area of your kitchen or pantry.
It’s also worth taking a few minutes to prep your foods as soon as you bring them home. For instance, wash your fruits and pre-cut your veggies before storing them in the fridge.
Or sprinkle a batch of chickpeas with your favorite spices and place them in the oven for 20 minutes so you can snack on the roasted deliciousness throughout the week.
Having pre-prepped healthy snack options on hand (instead of less nutritious ones) will make it much easier for you to eat well when short on time.
Other good options of nutritious easy-to-grab snacks include plant yoghurts, nuts, fresh and frozen fruit, oats, milk, hummus and veggies.
11. Have a Game Plan
The first few months with a baby can be pretty hectic. And depending on how smoothly breastfeeding goes for you, you may find yourself with little time over for routine activities such as cooking.
At this point, many mamas end-up relying on takeout as a quick and convenient meal option. But since restaurant meals tend to be richer in calories, fat and sugar than homemade ones, relying on them too often can definitely stifle your weight loss efforts.
So it’s worth organizing alternative options.
For starters, determine how often it may be realistic for you or your partner to cook each week. Can you enlist friends or relatives for help with the other meals? Could you perhaps start a mama meal train?
Getting your weekly groceries delivered and using a slow-cooker are other ways to save time without compromising nutrition or weight-loss efforts.
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12. Listen to Your Hunger and Satiety Signals
As a registered dietitian, this last tip is probably one of the most important tips I can share with you.
Our bodies are naturally designed to know how much they need to eat. Think of your breastfed baby; given they have no health or feeding issues, it’s near impossible to overfeed them.
Unfortunately, with time, most of us lose touch with these internal hunger and satiety. New moms are particularly at risk of over-eating because they tend to eat quickly, often between two tasks, or while doing something else.
What’s more, taking fewer than 20-30 minutes to finish a meal doesn’t allow enough time for your body to release the hormones needed to help you feel full. So it’s definitely worth trying to tune into the food you’re putting into your mouth come mealtimes (21).
I suggest you make mealtimes as restful of an affair as possible. Turn the T.V. or computer off and sit at the dinner table to eat.
Try your best to avoid eating while also feeding your little one. Instead, reserve some time either before or after your baby eats for you to focus fully on your own meal.
If you don’t have 20-30 minutes to eat, try eating slowly in 5-10 minutes increments, taking a break to do other stuff in between sessions if needed.
Eating slowly and fully focussing on your food while you are seated will help keep overeating from messing with your weight loss efforts.
Frequently Asked Questions
Below, you’ll find a list of the most frequently asked questions regarding how to lose weight while breastfeeding. If you have a question that hasn’t been answered, feel free to send it to me. I’ll do my best to provide you with a science-based answer!
Can I Take a Weight Loss Supplement While Breastfeeding?
Weightloss supplements may be a tempting way to shed your baby weight more quickly. But if you’re breastfeeding, it’s a particularly good idea to avoid them.
Such supplements aren’t regulated like medications, and they may contain compounds that can leach into your milk and have negative effects on your baby. What’s more, their safety usually hasn’t been evaluated in nursing mothers.
On top of that, many of them act as a diuretic, which makes you lose water weight. They also often also contain laxatives or stimulants like caffeine, ginseng or yerba maté.
Laxatives and diuretics may cause you to become dehydrated, making it more difficult to produce enough milk. On the other hand, stimulants can make it more difficult for you to get the restorative sleep you need.
A nutritious diet based on minimally-processed foods and exercise remains your best bet when it comes to losing weight while breastfeeding.
Can Exercise Affect Milk Supply?
Many mamas wonder whether working out will cause them to lose their milk.
Research also shows that losing weight from a combination of diet and exercise is preferable over dieting alone because it helps preserve your muscle mass (4).
How Many Calories Should You Eat to Lose Weight While Breastfeeding?
Losing weight while breastfeeding is a fine balancing act.
You need to create a calorie deficit for the weight to come off. But cut calories too drastically and you’ll be left with no energy, cravings, insufficient nutrients and risk not producing enough milk for your little one (1, 2).
Breastfeeding mamas wanting to lose weight should do their best to avoid eating fewer than 1800 calories per day (2).
This amount should allow for a gradual weight loss while still providing enough vitamins, minerals and other beneficial compounds for them and their babies.
Why Am I Gaining Weight While Breastfeeding and Exercising?
So you’re nursing, exercising and still not losing any weight?
There are a few reasons this may be happening. For one, breastfeeding tends to make mamas feel more hungry, which can naturally lead you to increase your portion sizes.
Practically-speaking, this may look like filling at least half of your plate with veggies at meals and opting for whole rather than processed grains throughout the day.
You could also aim to include fruits into your snacks and eat at least one protein-rich food at each meal and snack.
Breastfeeding can also increase the frequency at which you feel hunger, causing you to mindlessly graze throughout the day. If you notice this happening, try scheduling some time to have a nutritious snack in-between your meals.
Finally, your inability to lose weight may also have a medical cause, for instance, unbalanced thyroid hormones.
So if you feel you’ve tried everything but all has failed, I encourage you to discuss getting some bloodwork done with your healthcare professional.
Losing weight while breastfeeding is definitely possible, but not equally easy for every mama.
Eating less but not too little, not trying to lose weight too quickly and adding some exercise to the mix can definitely help. As can having the right foods on hand and the right game-plan when it comes to mealtimes and combating cravings.
If you’re still struggling to lose weight despite giving the tips above a try, I encourage you to download a free copy of my e-book on how to lose the baby weight without dieting or to get in touch with a nutrition professional for more in-depth guidance.
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