5 Myths About Losing Weight While Breastfeeding
When I was pregnant with my son, I remember reading blogs and group forums that said “the weight will fall off” when you start breastfeeding. You’re using so many calories, after all, right? Why wouldn’t losing weight while breastfeeding be that easy? And truth be told, I even used that reasoning to consume more calories when I was pregnant and put on more weight than I planned as a result. Average healthy weight gain should be about 25-35 pounds when you’re pregnant according to Dr. Sears, and that includes the baby!
So please tell me you can relate?! Somewhere along the way you heard that losing weight while breastfeeding will be a cinch. Unfortunately, that’s just not the case for most mamas. There are a few mothers that lose drastic amounts of weight while breastfeeding, but I think that has more to do with not making time to eat and not feeling hungry, which could be due to unbalanced hormones.
In my experience supporting my breastfeeding clients as a Certified Lactation Counselor and Health Coach, most mothers either feel more hungry or have intense cravings, so they gain weight, or they have to be conscious of their food choices to lose or maintain weight while breastfeeding. I think this also has to do with some myths that I want to uncover in this post about breastfeeding nutrition, calories needed versus consumed, and cravings.
Myth 1: You can eat whatever you want when breastfeeding
Although this sounds great, it isn’t true. You can’t eat whatever you want while breastfeeding and expect to lose weight. The quality of the foods you eat when breastfeeding will impact your weight loss. It’s not a calories in, calories out game. your body needs more nutrients when you breastfeed and will pass them on to your baby.
Vitamins and nutrients like the following are important to get through the foods you eat.
- Vitamin D
- Vitamin K
- Vitamin A
- B Vitamins
- Fatty Acids (Omegas)
- Amino Acids
- Phytonutrients for oxidants and anti-inflammatory benefits
- Probiotics for gut health
If you’re not consuming them through the food you eat, your body will pull them from your maternal stores, and/or they will be in lesser quantity in your milk. The best breastmilk is the most nutrient-dense breastmilk. The foods that contain these are simple: vegetables, fruits, whole grains, nuts, seeds, wild-caught fish, pasture-raised meats, and poultry. When you eat these types of foods, you’ll feel more satisfied for longer periods of time. Your body is able to process real food much easier than it can processed foods, like chips, cookies, white flour bread, white flour pasta, etc. When you fuel your body properly, you will likely notice your clothes fitting looser too!
Your body will use about 300-500 calories per day to produce milk for your baby. That amount depends on whether you’re exclusively breastfeeding or partially breastfeeding. This does not mean you have to consume that many extra calories. If your goal is losing weight while breastfeeding, you can easily start around 2,000 calories and see how your body responds.
Myth 2: You Can Cut Calories and You Won’t Lose Milk Supply
This is a big fat myth for sure. The last thing you want to do is go on a low-calorie diet. Your body needs healthy calories to produce the best milk possible for your baby.
If you notice you aren’t losing weight while breastfeeding, or your weight has plateaued, try these things:
-Listen to your body’s physical hunger cues to eat when you’re hungry.
-Incorporate movement into your routine once you’re cleared by your doctor to exercise. Anything will help.
-Only cut calories about 100 calories at a time for a week to see how your milk production responds.
-Keep a balanced proportion of healthy fats, protein, and carbs as part of your diet. Don’t go below 50 carbs, especially initially, if you’re trying to do a ketogenic diet. You may lose supply otherwise.
-Reducing calories should be a gradual process. Don’t expect to lose more than a pound a week. Your milk will be a source of detox excretion, so if you are detoxing, or dropping your calories, resulting in detoxing, it will end up in your milk. Another reason to take it slow.
Myth 3: You Only Experience Cravings When Pregnant
This is another one that I find interesting. Most moms have more cravings while breastfeeding than they do pregnant! Some cravings during breastfeeding is normal. Your body is craving nutrients in the postpartum phase. Your hormones are rebuilding. It’s more important now than ever to focus on YOUR health as much as it is your baby’s. Eat balanced, nutrient-dense meals, lots of fresh or lightly cooked vegetables, bone broth, soups, fruits, proteins, and healthy omega 3 fats. Even if you are craving chocolate or other comfort foods, try to also include more nutrients in your diet too or opt for healthier alternatives, rather than deprive yourself or take them away. You’ll feel more satisfied.
Stress, tiredness, emotions…all of these things can lead to cravings too. Research has also found that elevated cortisol levels (the hormone associated with stress) have been associated with weight retention in the first 12 months postpartum.
Try to get plenty of sleep so you can best take care of yourself and your baby. Use your support system during this critical time too. The 4th trimester is so important for your healing journey. Here are ways your partner can help you with your baby – How Your Partner Can Help You After Birth
Give yourself some grace during this time. As an article from John Hopkins University points out,
The best breastfeeding diet? Balanced meals packed with nutrient-rich foods and reasonable portions. “Eat in a way that makes you feel energized and helps you gradually lose weight,” advises Vizthum. “It took nine months to gain the weight, so it’ll take time to get back to your pre-pregnancy weight.”
Myth 4: My Milk Supply Won’t Be Affected
WRONG. Here’s the thing…if you drastically cut calories or macronutrients out of your diet, it will be affected. Use a more gentle approach by slowly cutting down on these things if necessary. But here’s an even better approach, don’t stress about calories or macros while you’re breastfeeding. Focus on the types and quality of foods you’re eating instead. If you just did this latter tip, you’d likely feel lighter and more confident in your clothes.
The only type of “diet” should be even considering the first three months postpartum, is simply switching to better quality foods; swapping out the processed/packaged junk foods for fresh foods. Don’t try to start any sort of “diet” or you could risk losing your supply, or not having an established supply in the first several months. When your milk supply doesn’t properly regulate in that time, it can affect your supply in the future.
Myth 5: Sleep Deprivation Won’t Affect My Ability to Lose Weight While Breastfeeding
So if you’re a new mom, you know that sleep deprivation is REAL in the first 3 months (or maybe the first 9 months). So, keep in mind that this can affect your ability to lose weight. According to an article on Healthline,
Researchhas consistently shown that when we skimp on shut-eye, we see a boost in our hunger hormone (ghrelin) and a dip in our satiety hormone (leptin), causing appetites to surge.
To add insult to injury, scientists at the University of California also found that people who are sleep deprived tend to reach for higher-calories foods compared to their well-rested counterparts.
- Give yourself grace, enjoy this time with your sweet new babe.
- Don’t try to lose weight in the first 3 months after your baby’s birth.
- Focus on nutrient-dense balanced meals to keep you full and satisfied
- Don’t drastically reduce calories or macronutrients
- Stress less, make time for yourself and sleep more.
I hope these myths helped you learn more about losing weight while breastfeeding. Were you able to drop the weight, or did your body store it while breastfeeding? Share your story in the comments.