Are you feeling stuck in your postpartum body because you can’t lose weight while breastfeeding? Are you experiencing cravings worse now that you’re breastfeeding than in pregnancy? You’re not alone! It is common for breastfeeding moms to feel stuck at a weight or even gain weight while breastfeeding.
There are many factors at play when you have a new baby and you are breastfeeding. You are their sole source of food- which means lots of sleepless nights and other factors affecting your hormones and your ability to lose weight.
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Should I Gain or Lose Weight While Breastfeeding?
For many moms that have a baby and start breastfeeding, they lose weight in the first three to four months following the birth of their baby. Sometimes it can take up to nine months to get the baby weight off.
Every woman is different and their results depend on many factors such as how much they gained during pregnancy, the types of foods their eating, activity level, how often they’re breastfeeding, if they’re able to sleep well, and more. Your body does use energy to make breast milk for your baby.
On average, it takes 250-500 calories to make breast milk for your baby on any given day depending on how often you’re nursing- exclusively or partially. This also applies if you’re pumping for your baby- either way your body is producing milk.
Although more factors go into weight loss, if you are in a calorie deficit overall, you should lose weight while breastfeeding. Other factors that may affect your results include the types of foods you’re eating, whether you’re craving foods and eating more as a result, how often you’re able to exercise, if you have a lot of stress in your life, and if you’re able to get adequate sleep.
Why Am I So Hungry As a Breastfeeding Mom?
It is common and expected to feel hungry as a breastfeeding mom. Sometimes you may feel like you eat all day long and never feel satisfied. This is why it is really important to focus on the types of foods you’re eating.
I spend a lot of time teaching on this topic inside my program L.E.A.N. Mamas because it is such an important aspect of trying to lose weight while breastfeeding. This is also the biggest factor that helped me lose over fifty pounds after having my son.
I was able to get back below my pre-pregnancy weight before getting pregnant with my daughter (all while nursing my son still). You are using energy to make breast milk (about 250-500 calories per day). While this is an amazing experience and so miraculous- it also takes a lot of work for your body.
You utilize two main hormones to make milk- oxytocin, and prolactin. Both of these work together to produce milk and release milk. They are equally important in the process of milk making. Your body requires energy to do this, which means you will feel hungry (and thirsty) to meet those energy requirements.
Why Am I Gaining Weight While Nursing?
Another complaint I hear often is moms actually start gaining weight while nursing. Some aren’t able to get back to their pre-pregnancy weight and start craving foods and feel so hungry all the time they start gaining weight.
If this is you, you may be eating more calories than what you’re using, you’re not eating enough calories, or you’re eating unhealthy foods that your body can’t process and use as easily. Unless there is a bigger underlying health issue that needs to be further evaluated like a thyroid issue, for example, gaining weight while nursing can be helped through proper nutrition and exercise.
I know, I know we don’t like hearing that solution since that is often the answer to weight loss and may seem hard, but if you want to accomplish it, you can totally do it. You’ll need discipline, accountability, and most importantly a plan, but reversing this course of gaining weight while nursing is doable.
I’ve seen many moms accomplish it- all while maintaining their milk supply.
Reasons You Can’t Lose Weight While Breastfeeding
There are many reasons why you may be struggling to lose weight while breastfeeding. From nursing around the clock to stressing about going back to work, all of those factors play into your overall health and your ability to feel healthy in your body.
Let’s take a look at some of the reasons you may be struggling to lose weight while breastfeeding.
Newborn exhaustion is indescribable. Nothing can prepare you for the sleep deprivation that comes with having a new baby. I can recall trying to “rest up” before my son was born, but tiredness took over as soon as he was born and we started our nursing relationship.
Even if you are pumping and providing your baby milk through bottles and expressed milk, it is still exhausting. You’re basically in survival mode for the first several weeks as you establish a new routine. If you have other little ones at home, you may find yourself even more exhausted caring for them also.
Using your support system and establishing some sort of plan to get sleep is really important. When you’re exhausted, you may find yourself with breastfeeding cravings and reaching for unhealthy foods, or just eating more in general. All of these things can keep the weight on while you’re breastfeeding.
When you have your baby, you will have experienced the most dramatic shift in hormones you will ever experience in your life. In a matter of a few minutes to hours, your hormones shift, causing lots of feelings and changes in all your bodily functions.
Hormones aren’t a bad thing- in fact, we need prolactin and oxytocin to make milk. Both of these are hormones. Prolactin may contribute to weight gain or keeping on weight through the suppression of another hormone called Adiponectin which helps us burn fat.
We need Prolactin to make more milk though, so you can help increase your Adiponectin levels by eating a healthy diet, including lots of fibrous fruits and vegetables, staying active, and consuming omega-3s from fish. Nutrition plays the single most important role in regulating hormones.
Opt for healthy, fresh foods as much as you can and avoid highly processed foods that contain preservatives and other ingredients that aren’t as healthy for your body. Don’t starve your body during this time – track your food if it helps you recognize what you’re eating. Be sure you’re eating enough calories also.
Cravings while breastfeeding aren’t a bad thing. It’s how you respond to the cravings that can impact your weight loss results.
Cravings are your body’s way of telling you it needs something. Oftentimes, we reach for the closest or tastiest food to satisfy that craving. For breastfeeding moms, I find that they crave sugar mostly.
Looking inward to figure out why they may be craving sugar is important- it is likely a mineral or vitamin deficiency, like magnesium. Be sure you’re taking your prenatal or postnatal vitamins to help balance your hormones and get those extra nutrients in your body that it is really craving.
If you’re chronically stressed, your cortisol hormone could be elevated causing you to gain weight or hold on to weight. Sometimes our bodies go into “fight or flight” mode, which can cause stress on our hormones and cause us to want to eat more food or crave unhealthy foods.
Sometimes we just need a reset, or to focus on self-care to be able to manage stress effectively. Pick a few of your favorite activities that relax you and make time for them. Examples include walking, reading, taking a bath, getting a pedicure, etc.
You’re Not Eating Enough
This is a common factor I see among breastfeeding moms. Like I mentioned earlier, there is more to this than just eating fewer calories. Your body will recognize that you are depleting it (or using more calories to make milk) and therefore, hold on to more fat if you aren’t giving it ample calories to use and consume.
So, be sure you are eating enough. Tracking your diet for a few days can really help. Use a mobile app like My Fitness Pal to see what you’re truly putting in your body and evaluate if you should be eating more.
You’re Not Eating Healthy
Many moms struggle to lose weight while breastfeeding simply because the foods they are choosing to eat are not healthy. The postpartum period is a critical time that requires nourishment and healing.
Therefore, the foods you eat can really make a big difference in not just losing weight, but your overall health and healing after having a baby. Eating processed foods causes your body to not respond the way it should, and may even upset your baby’s stomach along the way.
Avoid excess sugar, white flour, food dyes, and foods with hydrogenated oils, just to name a few. Eating healthy has many benefits for you and your baby.
Do I Need To Stop Breastfeeding If I Want To Lose Weight?
No, absolutely not! You do not need to stop breastfeeding if you want to lose weight.
It is important that you exhaust all options to help you in this process and have grace on your body during this time. You may decide to stop trying to lose weight and focus more on eating healthy, so you feel healthier.
Sometimes we just need a change in perspective.
How To Start Losing Weight While Breastfeeding
If so far you haven’t been able to lose weight while breastfeeding then try some of the items below to see if they help. Just remember, it is a process and it will not happen overnight – so you need to stick with your plan.
Even if you are still in the tired newborn phase, eating healthy will have the greatest benefit for your body. The foods we put in our body have a tremendous impact on the way we feel and think. In fact, postpartum depression is linked to a deficiency in omega-3s, so be sure you’re eating salmon once or twice a week or taking a supplement to get this important nutrient.
Real foods like fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, pasture-raised beef and poultry, and whole grains are much easier for our bodies to digest and consume. We can get the most nutrition from these real foods because our body recognizes them as food.
If you’re looking for a complete list of foods to help you jumpstart your weight loss while breastfeeding, be sure to download my free breastfeeding foods list.
Breast milk is made up of vitamins, minerals, fats, and other important nutrients, but water is also a huge component. Drinking water is crucial for every cell in your body to stay hydrated and function at its best.
Be sure you’re adding healthy electrolytes to your water to replenish lost minerals like potassium, magnesium, sodium, and others. You can use a dash of Himalayan Salt and a squeeze of lemon, or opt for an unsweetened beverage like coconut water. Try to avoid sugary drinks as those just add in extra calories that aren’t necessary.
I know it is hard in the beginning- I’ve been there too. Once you establish a routine, try to ensure you’re including naps or early bedtimes in your schedule.
It will really help make you feel better, more energized, and help you take care of your baby even better. Adequate rest will also help you eat better and reduce those sugar cravings.
Activity is important, and every activity counts. Even if you’re walking around the playground while your kids play. Or, doing yoga with your baby- all those things count.
You can make activities fun and exciting for you and your family. If you like swimming, try swimming. Aim for at least 30 minutes a few times a week. It will not only help you feel better, but you’ll burn more calories too!
A few tips when you’re exercising:
- Don’t wear a bra that is too restrictive, that can cause blocked milk ducts
- Increase your electrolytes and drink more water
- Replenish with healthy foods and snacks
Find An Accountability Partner
Sometimes we just need a partner to help us be more accountable to the choices that we’re making. Talk to your best friend, sister, spouse, or another support person to let them know of your plans to make healthier choices and check in with them often.
You can also utilize a mobile app like My Fitness Pal to track your food. This can be tedious and time-consuming so I don’t recommend it often for new moms. You could also keep a journal to write down your feelings and hold yourself accountable that way.
Setting small goals with little rewards along the way is another way to help you keep yourself accountable.
If You Can’t Lose Weight While Breastfeeding Try L.E.A.N. Mamas
If you’re struggling to lose weight while breastfeeding and want a plan to kickstart your journey, I have the perfect program for you. L.E.A.N. Mamas is designed for breastfeeding moms that want to feel healthy and lose weight while breastfeeding without sacrificing their milk supply.
With a 21-day breastfeeding meal plan to get you started, along with other healthy recipes, and a guide to teach you the types of foods to eat (and how much), L.E.A.N. Mamas is the perfect solution for breastfeeding moms that want a plan.
If you haven’t been able to lose weight while breastfeeding, now you have some tools at your disposal to try out.
Trying to lose weight while breastfeeding can seem overwhelming and impossible. But, I’m here to tell you it is totally doable when you have the right plan and focus on healing your body with real, whole foods that give your body the energy and nourishment it needs.
Just remember all the amazing things your body did to nourish a baby and have grace on yourself as you navigate this journey.