Last Updated on February 8, 2023 by Jada Glover
I often hear moms say they crave more sweets while breastfeeding than they did when they were pregnant (that was me!). Or, they suddenly weigh more while breastfeeding than they did pre-pregnancy or even at nine months pregnant.
Don’t worry, mama! You’re not the only one gaining weight while breastfeeding. It is actually not uncommon. But, it is something you want to monitor to figure out why it is happening.
Is It Normal To Gain Weight After Pregnancy While Breastfeeding?
It is normal for some moms to gain weight after pregnancy while breastfeeding depending on where you started pre-pregnancy. However, it may not be healthy to maintain that weight long term for your overall health.
After you deliver your baby your hormones are very unbalanced, but don’t forget that’s normal. You just had a baby and experienced a sudden drop in progesterone and estrogen, and an increase in prolactin and oxytocin to produce milk.
It takes a few months for your hormones to balance out whether you are breastfeeding or not. Nutrition plays a vital role in this healing process.
We can usually balance out our hormones through good, quality whole food nutrition. And sometimes we need additional supplementation as well.
Omega 3s are especially important to help prevent postpartum depression and anxiety, which can oftentimes lead to unwanted weight gain. Stress, depression, and anxiety often leave us feeling unsatisfied which can cause us to crave foods that are unhealthy for us.
You can get enough Omega 3s by eating wild salmon twice a week or supplementing. It may also be a good idea for you to ask your primary care provider to do a Vitamin D and Thyroid level panel check through blood work at your 6 week appointment to ensure nothing looks off.
You can always request these at different times after delivery, such as at 6 weeks and again at 3-6 months after your hormones have had a chance to reset and rebalance naturally after pregnancy.
Reasons You Are Gaining Weight While Breastfeeding
If you are gaining weight while breastfeeding, there could be one reason why, or many reasons why. From cravings caused by hormone imbalances or nutrient deficiencies to not getting enough sleep, all of these things can influence our weight while breastfeeding.
Let’s take a closer look at each of these factors.
Although we may often think of cravings as only a bad thing, they can actually be helpful in identifying what our body may need. For example, if we are craving chocolate, sometimes that means our body is deficient in magnesium.
So, we can choose high magnesium whole foods to fill that void. You may also supplement in this particular case.
When we eat because we are craving certain foods, salty or sweet, sometimes that can lead to overeating or eating mindlessly. This even applies to whole foods.
Sometimes we can eat too many dried figs, which are high in magnesium. But too many can lead to excess calories, or calories that our body doesn’t use and then stores as excess fat.
The below chart is helpful in identifying foods that we can eat if we are experiencing cravings. But remember, everything in moderation.
After having your baby, you will experience a significant change in hormones. In fact, this is the greatest change you’ll likely experience in your lifetime as it happens so suddenly.
While this is normal, this can leave you feeling depleted and worn out. This has a domino effect in terms of your diet typically.
When you’re feeling depleted, you want to eat more, leading to excess calories and weight gain while breastfeeding. After your baby is born and when your placenta is delivered, you’ll experience a drop in progesterone and estrogen and an increase in oxytocin and prolactin which help you produce milk.
Again, while these hormone shifts are normal, you want to take extra care of your body. You can do this by eating healthy, whole foods to give your body what it needs in terms of nutrients and vitamins.
This is especially important if you’re breastfeeding. Your body will provide for your baby and pull from your maternal stores.
The first several weeks after having a baby are survival mode, but then you get into a routine and can fit in healthy meals most of the time. Sometimes I’m not always hungry for lunch, but I know that while my daughter is napping, I need to at least prepare my lunch so it is healthy and ready to go when I am hungry.
Otherwise, I reach for less healthy snacks that are easier to eat because I didn’t have anything prepared.
Eating Too Many Calories
Even if you are eating a strictly whole foods diet, eating too many calories can still lead to gaining weight or not losing weight while breastfeeding. When nursing my son, this is exactly what I experienced.
I’ve been eating a relatively healthy diet with lots of whole foods for at least ten years now. But after having my son I started experiencing cravings due to the dramatic shift in hormones.
I also wanted to eat to help deal with the stress of a crying baby. So finding ways to satisfy my emotional cup was important in order to not eat too many calories.
One way you can avoid eating too many calories is to plan your day ahead of time and/or write down everything you eat during the day. This way you are tracking everything you eat so you don’t consume too much food.
Also, watch out for high calorie drinks which contain “empty” calories, or calories without much nutritional value. Switch to plain water, add some cut up fruit to infuse it, or drink electrolytes in your water (made with stevia or monk fruit extract).
Many moms like Body Armor drinks for milk supply, but they are very sugary and contain many calories. If this is you, try to drink unsweetened coconut water or flavored coconut water (without extra sugar) for a similar milk supply affect.
Not Enough Sleep
Getting enough sleep as a new mom is especially hard. Even if you want to take naps, sometimes it just doesn’t always happen when there are chores to do and other babies to care for in your home.
I experienced that this time around when my daughter was born. I was used to napping with my son, and had the option. When she was born because my son doesn’t nap anymore (he is 4 years old), I didn’t get enough sleep initially.
After the initial newborn phase, it got a lot better though. Now my son goes to bed around 7 p.m. each night, and I go to bed when my daughter goes to bed between 8-9 p.m. typically.
While this may not work for everyone, this is what works for my family. It is imperative you figure out what works for you (napping or going to bed early) to get the most amount of sleep you can.
Otherwise, you can experience cravings and high cortisol levels, leading to excess weight gain, or weight that won’t budge.
Stress and anxiety after having a baby is totally normal, especially if you are a new breastfeeding mom. However, this can often lead to gaining weight while breastfeeding because our hormones aren’t balanced.
The unbalanced hormones result in cravings for sweets as a coping mechanism. Or, sometimes it is because we are lacking in a key nutrient (see graphic above).
Recognizing your feelings and finding other ways to cope (besides eating food) is a healthy start in helping you lose weight while breastfeeding. Finding ways to deal with your stress and anxiety are important.
If you think you are experiencing an abnormal amount of anxiety, please consult your doctor or midwife especially if you are having other thoughts that you find concerning. Utilize your support system for help and always reach out to someone if you feel like you need to talk or need a moment or two for yourself.
How To Avoid Gaining Weight While Breastfeeding
As moms our goal after having a baby might be to get to a healthy weight and feel good in our new body. This looks different for everyone and may take a different amount of time for each person.
What we don’t want is to start gaining weight while breastfeeding, especially if we haven’t been able to lose any of our pregnancy weight yet. I stress a “healthy weight” because that is important in how we feel about ourselves and in maintaining a good milk supply. Here are some tips to avoid gaining weight while breastfeeding.
Fix Your Diet
The first step to fixing your diet is to monitor what you are actually eating. Oftentimes we eat without even thinking about it. After having my second baby, I found myself with a pile of snack foods next to my nursing chair.
Although they are all healthy choices, they are still nutrient and calorically dense. I still reached for them even when I wasn’t hungry.
I felt stressed and wanted to eat because my baby had gas and wouldn’t stop crying for 20 minutes. Can you relate?
So you should start a food journal so you can fix your diet. You can download My Fitness Pal, or another similar app.
Even easier for some moms, is to just write it down on a sheet of paper. Write down every single thing you put in your mouth – food and drink.
This will help you monitor your water intake as well which is equally as important especially while nursing. After keeping a food journal for a few days, you’ll start to see patterns and can look back to see what might be causing the weight gain or weight plateau.
Take Your Vitamins
The best way to get vitamins and minerals is by eating a diet full of fruits, vegetables, proteins, and healthy fats. Also, prebiotics and probiotics are important for your gut health and your baby’s gut health.
Oftentimes, our diets are not 100% (totally normal, especially in today’s society). This is where taking vitamins and supplements can really help you balance your hormones and help you regain your energy after having a baby.
Here are my top recommendations for vitamins and supplements in postpartum. These are the exact ones I took after having my daughter.
- Postnatal vitamin: includes lots of general vitamins that will help you and your baby.
- Omega 3 supplement: important for baby’s brain health and proven to reduce postpartum anxiety and depression
- Vitamin D3+K2: important for mood and to help balance other hormones in your body
- Magnesium: Will help you sleep and works with other hormones in your body.
- Probiotic: Important for gut health for you and your baby which can help your immune system and balance your body’s systems.
Always ease back into an exercise routine after having a baby and wait until you’ve been cleared by your doctor or midwife. Start by walking and swimming, both are great exercises and you can involve your kids too.
Find ways to incorporate exercise into your day or week. It releases endorphins, will help ease stress and tension, and help you burn calories.
If you’re lifting weights, keep in mind that muscle mass is denser than fat mass. So you may gain weight from lean muscle gains.
Don’t just watch the scale, keep an eye on how your clothes fit and how you feel also. Sometimes the scale fluctuates, but our clothes are looser and we feel better.
Get Enough Sleep
Getting enough sleep is really important. Whether you are a mom, dad, or baby, that is when we repair our bodies and allow our bodies to rest and rejuvenate.
Utilize your support system to take naps or go to bed at a decent hour.
Drink More Water
Drinking more water is an easy fix, but easier said than done when you’re chasing kids, feeding them, and playing. So, my tip for drinking more water while breastfeeding is to set an alarm every hour, or “drink when the baby drinks”.
Either of these (or both!) will help you to drink more water. This will help your body flush away toxins which can prevent you from gaining weight while breastfeeding, or help you lose weight while breastfeeding!
Start slow and ease into this way of eating by reducing the number of carbs you’re eating. Keep an eye on your milk supply and your baby’s wet diapers.
If you see a drop in either, increase your carb intake again and then slowly reduce it. When I teach the keto way of eating while breastfeeding to lose weight inside my Keto While Breastfeeding guide, I suggest starting with 75-100 carbs per day and fine tuning it from there.
You also want to ensure you’re drinking plenty of water and electrolytes and eating high quality whole foods to give your body the nutrients it needs.
Gaining Weight While Breastfeeding Twins
Breastfeeding twins can seem like double the amount of energy. You are certainly burning more calories to make more milk for two babies and not just one.
Keep this in mind and give yourself grace, especially until you get a routine established. It is equally important (if not more important, when breastfeeding twins) that you’re fueling your body with whole, real foods and drinking lots of water and electrolytes to keep up with milk supply and to give your body energy.
Following the above advice related to sleep, stress, and eating well will help you address gaining weight while breastfeeding twins. If you do find yourself in this situation, though, be sure you start a food log to start assessing.
Make sure you’re eating enough calories to make up for the amount of calories it takes to make milk for two babies. This number is between 400-700 depending on the amount of breast milk you’re making or your babies need (exclusively breastfeeding, partially breastfeeding, starting solids, etc.).
Gaining Weight While Breastfeeding a Toddler
If you’re breastfeeding a toddler, he will be eating solid foods which means your toddler is getting the majority of calories from food. You are still a vital part of his overall nutrients though, so certainly you are still providing a lot of vitamins and minerals.
You may have periods of nursing aversion, or not wanting to nurse for various reasons, such as starting your period or feeling “touched out”. This is normal and usually passes in a few days.
Or, your toddler may be teething which can cause temporary nipple pain. Sometimes you may start gaining weight while breastfeeding your toddler.
If this happens to you, reevaluate the foods you’re eating. Start making a journal and get back to the basics through the tips mentioned above including eating whole foods, drinking lots of water, get adequate sleep, and reduce stress/anxiety.
All of these work in combination in your body to balance your hormone levels, which can help you maintain a healthy weight.
If you have been gaining weight after pregnancy while breastfeeding, try the tips above to stop today.
It is common for breastfeeding moms to want to get back to their pre-pregnancy weight. The last thing you want to do is gain weight.
Give yourself grace to lose weight slowly, (you didn’t gain the weight overnight). Use the tips above to maintain a healthy weight and prevent gaining weight while breastfeeding.