Hi there! I am Katie, a mom of 4 boys, Precicision Nutrition Certified Nutrition Coach and Pre/Post Natal Fitness Specialist. I specialize in nutrition while breastfeeding, and I've been helping thousands of mamas for years lose weight while breastfeeding. I've had to lose the baby weight 4 times now, and I've overcame various challenges with each pregnancy and postpartum period. With every pregnancy and breastfeeding journey I was reminded of the power of nutrition. After each birth I was able to lose the baby weight safely, without affecting my milk supply because I focused on eating clean and nutrient dense. You've probaby started dieting, but maybe experienced a drop in milk supply, or just can't seem to get any weight to come off. There are many reasons this could be happening, and I thought I would write a post on why this happens, with some solutions to help you get back to feeling good. I know it's not just about losing weight. It is so much more than that. It is about feeling yourself again after being pregnant for 9 months. It is about getting your body back, feeling good mentally, and ultimately taking care of yourself. Gradual weight loss is your best bet, and I am going to try and give you all the reasons you can't lose weight while breastfeeding, and how you can hopefully combat these road blocks to get back to feeling your best again!
So many moms are told the weight will just fall off while breastfeeding. But what happens when you can't lose the weight while breastfeeding? Weight loss is frequently mentioned as one of the awesome breastfeeding benefits for mom after gaining all that pregnancy weight. A lot of moms do lose weight while breastfeeding, but more often then not, new moms are left wondering, "why can't I lose the weight while breastfeeding?" There are MANY factors that come into play for weight loss while breastfeeding. The amount of breast milk produced, hormone levels, thyroid levels, metabolism and diet changes can significantly affect weight loss as a breastfeeding mom. Let's get into these issues, and how you can combat them to help you get back to your pre-pregnancy weight while breastfeeding.
5 Reasons You Can't Lose Weight While Breastfeeding:
Postpartum slows metabolism:
As hormones change once baby is born, so does your metabolism. Many new moms don't realize how much their metabolism has slowed after pregnancy, so they overestimate how many calories they are actually burning. Postpartum weight loss is a bit more complicated because of hormone changes, which cause metabolic changes, and of course breastfeeding and milk production. The best way to increase your metabolism is to focus on eating a healthy diet that will reduce your blood sugar and balance insulin levels (important to both metabolism and lactation!) and increase physical activity through strength training. You can read an indepth post on metabolism during breastfeeding, and how to increase your metabolism postpartum, for more specific tips, but in general you will want to increase your protein intake, reduce any processed carbohydrates and use a metabolism supplement to give your body some help.
Increased cortisol levels:
Lack of sleep and stress from a new baby is unavoidable. If you are holding onto weight, your body may be responding to the increased cortisol levels. Depending on your individual makeup, your body may prefer to hold onto weight when cortisol levels are higher. Not getting enough sleep is very normal, but the body does respond to the stress. Research is showing that it is not as simple as calories in and calories out. Hormones affect how our bodies process food, and when we store fat. Certain foods can cause spikes in insulin. Insulin promotes the storage of fat. Avoiding foods that are high in sugar or highly processed will help keep your insulin at healthy levels. Cortisol is another hormone that is a big player in the weight loss game. Cortisol is often referred to as the stress hormone. It is the rare mom who isn’t feeling stressed. Stress raises cortisol levels. Persistently high cortisol levels tell the body to make glucose. The extra glucose gets converted into fat, and the fat ends up getting stored. High cortisol levels can also result in cravings for sugary and high-calorie foods. That is why we crave comfort foods when we are stressed. They make us feel better because of hormones. There are some things to do to decrease your stress hormones. You can try to breastfeeding more, if you are breastfeeding, with skin-to-skin contact. Lactation hormones help release oxytocin, which can reduce the stress hormones. You can also take more walks with baby, rather than trying to nap and get frustrated when baby wakes you up. Also reducing coffee consumption can help reduce cortisol levels, as well as adding in strength training when you are cleared to work out.
Overestimating calories for breastfeeding:
Breastfeeding does burn extra calories, but these are calories are meant to be taken from fat stores during pregnancy. If you eat extra calories to "keep up your supply" then you will not lose any weight. Your calorie intake is really important because too much will keep you from losing any weight at all, but too little could affect your milk supply. Estabolishing a nutrient-dense diet will protect your milk supply on lower calories, so your body can use the stored fat as fuel. Essentially, eating less calories than you burn every day shouldn't affect your milk supply at all if you have extra fat stored. It is when you eat too little, and don't have extra fat stores that milk supply may dip. That being said, some experience a dip in supply as they transition to a lower calorie diet. Many moms forget their weight loss goals if they think their supply is dropping, but their supply may not be affected much at all. It is really important to focus on a healthy diet, and if you notice a slight drop in supply, that may only be one or two pumping sessions until your body shifts gears. Don't give up, and rather focus on your nutritional needs, so your body can balance out hormones and blood sugar to keep supply up and also burn fat.
Remember, a mother puts on weight during pregnancy to have a safety of nutrient stores for breastfeeding. The body assumes there could be a lack of food available, so there needs to be extra stored for the baby. The times we live in now, there isn't a lack of food available at all, but the body doesn't know that times have changed. If you want to get to a healthy weight, and not lose any milk supply, proper nutrition is the key. You can read this breastfeeding diet guide and meal plan, to help with knowing exactly how to eat, so you don't lose milk supply, but your body still uses fat as fuel to lose weight postpartum. Healthy eating while breastfeeding involves eating just enough nutrients and enough calories, but also just few enough to lose the extra pounds and not a drop of supply. Focusing on whole grains, lean proteins and minimal healthy fats is really important to keeping calories low, but nutrients high.
Reduced activity postpartum:
Most doctors don't clear a mother for exercise until 6 weeks postpartum. This means that your activity level may have decreased quite a bit even from being pregnant. Lack of sleep can also reduce energy levels, and feeding a baby, whether a bottle or breast, requires a lot of sitting and holding. Sleep deprivation in addition to no exercise program can actually reduce energy levels and increase cortisol. If your caloric intake stays relatively the same, or you start eating more because you think you need to for breastfeeding, you are not helping your body utlize stored fat. Because you aren't moving as much as before, your metabolism slows down, and you lose muscle mass. Safe postpartum exercise, that helps increase metabolism is strength training and Pilates. You can start with gentle Pilates to build strength, then add reps and weights to bring muscle back. Once you've built some strength, and heald any diastasis recti through healing your abdominal muscles, you can add cardio to help burn extra calories.
Possible medical condition:
There are some medical conditions that could also cause weight to stick after having a baby. Some moms experience postpartum thyroiditis, where their thyroid can't function properly. Other moms have various hormonal issues like polycystic ovary syndrome that cause weight gain, in addition to postpartum depression. Weight gain, low energy levels and exhaustion that can't be helped with regular exercise and sleep are signs of postpartum depression in new mothers. If you think you have something more serious going on, and even experience postpartum weight gain, you must ask your healthcare provider for advise. Also, a lactation consultant is a great resource if you think baby may be having trouble breastfeeding, which may be keeping your supply down and burning less calories.
Simple steps to help you jump start weight loss while breastfeeding:
- Track your calorie consumption for at least three days. See where you may be eating more calories than you think
- Add in more steps/walking to increase activity and daily calorie burn (walking is safe after birth for most women)
- Eat more lean protein and less carbohydrates (AKA have a Milk Dust smoothie as one meal each day!)
- Focus on nutrient dense foods for every meal and snack, rather than sugar or processed snacks
- Have a fruit/veggie and lean protein at every meal or snack
- Lift weights a few times a week to help maintain muscle and promote metabolism
- Take a metabolism supplement to help your metabolism get back on track faster
How many calories are burned while breastfeeding?
Simply, this is one of the top reasons nursing moms can't lose weight. Experts say that on AVERAGE breastfeeding burns around 500 calories. Because this is an AVERAGE, we know that many moms burn more, and many burn less. If you aren't losing weight, you could be on the lower end of the spectrum in terms of the calories you personally burn while breastfeeding. Hunger cues and calories burned sometimes don't match up. Many breastfeeding moms experience more hunger, which is due to many things, not just the extra calories being burned. Hunger can result from lack of sleep and lack of nutrients, not just more calories being burned. If you only burn an extra 250 calories a day, and you are eating an extra 500 calories a day, you will end up gaining weight while breastfeeding. Milk Dust is a great tool for moms who are struggling to lose the baby weight because it helps with feeling full, and reducing sugar cravings that often cause many mamas to eat more than necessary. Milk Dust also provides the essential nutrients moms need to help their bodies feel fully nourished, and not need to signal for more food. Many times our bodies signal for food because of nutrient deficiencies, which Milk Dust is formulated to fight against!
What kind of diet can help weight loss while breastfeeding?
When you are breastfeeding, you have to be careful so that the rate at which you lose weight and the methods you use do not interfere with producing an adequate milk supply for your baby. The key is to ensure your body is getting the proper nutrients, through healthy whole foods, rather than just the right amount of calories. Many breastfeeding mamas focus on eating more food in general, rather than nutrient-dense foods. Sugar cravings also tend to plague breastfeeding mamas, which is why Milk Dust is an awesome nutritional support product that helps curb those sugar cravings. Milk Dust has a great, free, 10-day program to help you get off the sugar all together. Exercise and diet are the safest paths to weight loss. Breastfeeding moms have unique challenges with both. Most breastfeeding moms have more trouble fitting in exercise, than with exercise itself. That being said, there are other issues that can pop up during exercise for breastfeeding mamas. A breastfeeding mom needs to make sure she is eating nutritious foods, so she has the building blocks to produce enough milk for her baby. You should avoid diets that restrict entire groups of food. Milk Dust is an amazing nutritional supplement full of protein, vitamins and herbs to support a healthy milk supply. Smoothies are such a fast way to incorporate a fully, nutrient-dense meal in very quickly. The new Milk Dust Bars are also a great, quick snack full of nutrients, protein and healthy herbs to support milk supply. Nursing mothers also should avoid trying to restrict calories too much. That can not only result in a decreased milk supply, but it can make losing weight harder. When a person’s body thinks it is not getting enough food, it can react by slowing down the rate of metabolism. The result can be a decrease in weight loss or even weight gain. A great way to combat this is to fill your plate with fruits, veggies and lean protein. Most of these foods will give your body plenty of nutrients, so milk supply won't be a problem, but still keep your overall calorie count low enough to burn fat. Win win!
How to use exercise when you can't lose the weight while breastfeeding
Exercising is a great tool to help a breastfeeding mom who is struggling to get back to pre-pregnancy size. Exercise has a lot of benefits for breastfeeding mamas outside of weight loss. Exercise will increase total calorie burn for new moms, which is key for weight loss. Often times, a new baby and breastfeeding reduces daily activity because there is a lot of sitting and holding a newborn. Add in complete exhaustion, and many new moms end up burning less calories than when they were pregnant. Adding in daily walks, some light weight lifting and more intense workouts down the road will increase total calorie burn for the day, as well as build muscle and speed up metabolism. This can be just the boost a breastfeeding mother needs when trying to get that weight to budge! Working out with a newborn is very difficult, but you can skip the stroller and put baby in a carrier! This ads extra weight, allows baby to feel comfortable and helps keep your activity level up. Throw in some squats and lunges, and you can build some muscle at the same time. Some other great workouts are Pilates, Yoga and biking because they are low impact. Low impact is the best starting place when you are still healing from birth. Of course make sure you have clearance from your doctor.