Andrea Tran RN, BSN, MA, IBCLC

Weight loss is frequently mentioned as one of the awesome breastfeeding benefits for mom. What sleep deprived new mom wouldn’t want an easy way to shed those pregnancy pounds? It often comes as a rude reality check that it’s not always as easy as it sounds. For some moms, breastfeeding can make weight loss hard.

If you know what the potential roadblocks are, you can make a plan to overcome them.

How Many Calories Does Breastfeeding Burn?

It is standard advice for a new mom is to eat 500 calories more each day than she was eating before she got pregnant. Breastfeeding is estimated to burn an average of 500 calories a day. If you do the math, you realize there will not be much of a calorie deficit if you are eating the same amount that breastfeeding is burning. If you don’t want to lose any weight, then by all means eat the extra 500 calories, but in order to lose the pregnancy pounds, you need to eat an appropriate amount of calories to support breastfeeding and healing, and to allow your body to use the stored fat as fuel for breast milk. 

Why Is It So Hard To Lose Weight When Breastfeeding?

Several factors come into play when a breastfeeding mom is trying to make the needle on the scale move. 

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. 

Exercise

Increased activity levels will burn calories. In the early months of breastfeeding, a new mom is probably not getting more than a few hours of sleep at a time. Feeling tired all the time definitely makes it more challenging to commit to regular workout sessions.

Moms who choose running or jogging as their exercise of choice may find that their larger breasts make it uncomfortable to run. Wearing a tight fitting sports bra will help with unwanted bounce, but it can put a mom at risk for developing clogged ducts. And it probably isn’t very comfortable.

Dance classes and aerobic activity classes present a similar problem. 

Walking is an excellent form of exercise and a great place to start getting back into a workout routine. Getting outside and in the fresh air is beneficial for a new mom’s mental health as well. Walking is also easy to do with a newborn either in a carrier or the stroller. 

Skip the stroller. Putting your baby in a front carrier for your walks is beneficial for the calorie burning. A bonus is that the extra weight from your baby means a few extra calories burned. You can throw in some squats and lunges with baby in the carrier too. 

Also read: How To Protect Your Milk Supply When Starting To Workout Postpartum

Yoga classes can provide a challenging, calorie burning work out. Yoga is definitely not just for stretching. It is a great way to tone up. 

Biking is another low impact way to get some exercise. It can put pressure on your lady parts, so make sure you’ve completely healed and gotten clearance from your doctor before doing any hard core biking. 

Diet

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! 

The Real Reasons You Aren’t Losing Weight While Breastfeeding

Mixed Feeding

A study published in 2014 showed that women who did not exclusively breastfeed did not see any weight loss benefit (Source).

While some of the breastfeeding benefits for baby are present even with mixed feeding, it does appear that for weight loss, exclusive breastfeeding is the way to go.

Hormones and Weight Loss

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.

Popular Dieting Methods That Are Off Limits

Intermittent fasting is gaining in popularity as a way to lose weight as well as having a long list of health benefits. However, a breastfeeding mama is making milk all the time. Having long stretches of time where she is having absolutely no caloric intake whatsoever can tank her milk supply. If you’ve practiced intermittent fasting before, and your body is accostomed to it, there could be no issues. But, if you’ve never done fasting, it may be a good idea to try when you are done breastfeeding. 

If you find that your weight loss efforts have resulted in you making less milk, the good news is that once your milk supply is established, it should come back if you make some adjustments. This post is a great read if you need to get your milk supply back up again. 

Be patient with your weight loss goals. It took nine months to gain the weight. It will take time to lose it.