The societal pressure for women to lose weight after pregnancy is increasing by the day. Post-baby ‘snapback’ pictures and hashtags that are littered all over social media put additional stress on women. In light of this, it is no wonder that many women are left searching on ways on how to lose weight while breastfeeding.
In this article, we are going to take a look at questions such as ‘what is ideal breastfeeding diet’, ‘how to lose weight after pregnancy while breastfeeding’, ‘how to safely lose weight while breastfeeding’, and ‘how much weight is safe to lose in a week while breastfeeding’ among other popular questions.
Why Do Women Gain Weight In Pregnancy And How Much Weight Gain Is “Normal”?
While many women try and limit weight gain while they are pregnant, but weight gain during pregnancy is a normal thing that should be embraced. Weight gain in pregnancy starts slowly in early pregnancy but only increases and becomes more noticeable as time goes on. This weight gain is not just from the weight of the baby, much of it comes from extra water in the body that is needed for things like the baby’s circulation, placenta and the amniotic fluid (14).
But how much weight gain is considered normal? This all depends on the relationship between your weight and height, aka, your Body Mass Index (BMI) before you got pregnant. The heavier you were the less weight you are recommended to gain and vice versa.
- Underweight women (BMI less than 18.5) should gain 12.7 to 18.1 kilograms (28 to 40 pounds) during pregnancy.
- Those who were at a normal weight (BMI that is between 18.5 and 24.9) should gain 11.3 to 16 kg (25 to 35 lbs) during pregnancy.
- Overweight women (BMI that is between 25 and 29.9) should gain 6.8 to 11.3 kg (15 to 25 lbs).
- Obese women who had a BMI that was greater than 30 should only gain 5 to 9 kgs (11 to 20 lbs) during their pregnancy (10).
How Much Weight Is Healthy To Lose In A Week While Breastfeeding?
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, people should aim to lose 1 to 2 pounds a week (0.5 to 1 kg). This loss is considered as a safe and gradual weight loss that is sustainable in the long-term. This number does not change for breastfeeding mothers.
By losing 1 to 2 pounds a week, you may get back to your pre-pregnancy weight in about six months. It is important to note, however, that some women may take longer (up to 2 years) to lose the baby weight. If this is not your first baby or if you gained 13.6 to 15.8 kilograms (30 to 35 lbs) in the 9 months that you were pregnant, your weight loss may take longer than 6 months (12).
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How Many Calories Should You Eat To Lose Weight While Breastfeeding?
Depending on who you ask, the recommended calorie intake for breastfeeding women can vary. Some say that breastfeeding women should not consume less than 1800 calories a day (12), while others suggest that women breastfeeding only one child should have a food energy intake of anywhere between 2200 to 2500 calories a day (4).
For normal women to lose weight, they need to consume 500 to 1000 fewer calories a day (8). However, breastfeeding women, unless told so by a doctor should not reduce the number of calories they consume a day. So, how to lose weight while breastfeeding if you cannot cut calories?
Luckily, the act of breastfeeding your child alone will help you burn any excess calories and lose weight. The average number of calories burned in a single sitting while nursing your child is about 200 to 500 calories. The specific number depends on factors such as:
- How often you suckle your child. Please note that combining nursing and using baby formula will result in less calories burned.
- How much milk the mother produces. Those with a low milk supply burn significantly less calories that those with more milk.
- Your baby’s age. Newborns breastfeed at least every two to three hours throughout the day and night, which means that you will be nursing for about 8 to 12 times a day. Babies who are 1 to 2 months old will nurse 7 to 9 times a day (6) while toddlers (1 to 2 years old) who have not been weaned yet will suckle even less times (11) since they are also eating solid foods.
- Growth spurts. Whenever your baby is going through a growth spurt, they will feed more than they normally would.
How To Lose Weight Quickly While Breastfeeding?
Instead of wondering “how to lose weight quickly while breastfeeding”, your question should be “how to safely lose weight while breastfeeding”. Breastfeeding and weight loss is possible but it should be approached in a safe and conscious manner.
In the first week after giving birth new mothers may lose up to 17 pounds (7.7 kilograms). However, this is not weight from fat. 10 to 12 pounds of the weight lost are exclusively from the weight of your new baby, the placenta and amniotic fluid. In the next few days you will gradually lose about 5 pounds of water weight before the extreme weight loss stops (3).
So how can you safely lose weight while breastfeeding?
Drink more water
A myth that many people believe is that more water equals a higher milk supply. This is not true. However, while water may not give you more milk to give to your child, it has been known to help with weight loss (7).
- It is a natural appetite suppressant and thus will keep you from overeating.
- It increases calorie burning for about 90 minutes after drinking it.
- Helps burn fat as it helps metabolize stored fat or carbohydrates.
- More water intake prevents you from consuming high-calorie drinks like store bought fruit and vegetable juices that are full of sugar.
Eat smaller meals, frequently
According to WebMD, eating more frequently, every 3 to 4 hours helps crank up your metabolism and thus you burn more calories during the day (16). Metabolism, according to Harvard Medical School, is the series of chemical reactions in your body that creates and breaks down the energy necessary for life.
Those with a high/fast metabolism will burn more calories at rest and during activity, while those with a slow metabolism burn fewer calories at rest and during activity (like workouts or while doing normal chores) (9). When you eat just 3 large meals a day, your metabolism slows down in the hours that you are not eating. However, eating small and frequent meals (or eating healthy snacks) will keep your metabolism on high thus burning more calories.
Sleep as much as you can
Finding time to sleep with a newborn or an infant can be quite hard for a new breastfeeding mom. However, you should try to sleep as much as you can even then. Sleep when your baby sleeps or ask for help whenever you feel overwhelmed.
If you are wondering how to lose weight while breastfeeding using sleep, here is how (15):
1. A sleepy brain makes poor decisions
When you are alert, you are more likely to make healthy food choices, however, when you are sleep deprived, you are more likely to consume more high-carb and fatty foods that will result in weight gain in the long run. Sleep deprivation also makes you more likely to snack late in the night, something that too will make you gain weight.
This is your body’s main stress hormone. Some of its major functions include regulating blood pressure, controlling your sleep-wake cycle, increasing blood sugar and how your body uses macronutrients. When you do not get enough sleep, your body produces more cortisol than it needs to. This then leads your body to hang on to extra fat instead of expanding it.
3. Sleep deprivation = A slower metabolism
As mentioned above, an elevated metabolism means that you will end up burning more calories thus leading to weight loss. When you do not sleep enough, your metabolism slows down. Your insulin sensitivity could also drop by up to 30% making your body unable to turn foods into energy. When food is not used up as energy it is stored as fat in the body.
Do not skip meals
Many people erroneously think that skipping meals is a safe way to lose some pounds. However, despite how many people do it, as a new mom, meal skipping should not be on your list of how to lose weight while breastfeeding ideas.
Meal skipping will not only slow down your metabolism, and cause a weight plateau, but it also increases your chances of binging, impairs concentration, increases your risk of diabetes, and causes fatigue, dizziness or fainting (17). Meal skipping will also lead to nutrient deficiencies. None of these factors are good for your weight loss plans or your health or that of your baby.
Meal or food prepping
Choose a day and time when your baby is asleep and prepare as much food as you can. Having meals at the ready will prevent you from reaching for unhealthy food and snack options when you are too tired to cook thus furthering your losing weight while breastfeeding plans.
Working out should definitely be on top of your how to lose weight while breastfeeding plans. However, nursing moms should not be quick to attempt HIIT workouts or spend endless hours at the gym. The best way to do this is by slowly easing into your exercise routine. Try doing simple workouts such as Pilates, water aerobics, yoga or circuit training (1). Some safety guidelines for breastfeeding include (2):
- Be sure to first seek advice from your doctor before starting a workout routine.
- Stop working out if you feel dizzy, experience vaginal bleeding, palpitations, or shortness of breath.
- Drink a lot of water to prevent dehydration.
- Be sure to breastfeed or pump your breast milk before you begin your workout.
Please remember that losing too much weight too quickly will lead to exhaustion, a low breast milk supply, or breast milk that’s lacking in the nutrients that your baby needs.
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A Healthy Breastfeeding Diet For You And Your Baby
What is a breastfeeding diet? This is an eating plan that new and nursing mothers follow to ensure that they have enough nutrients not only for themselves, but also for their milk supply to keep their babies healthy.
Should you eat more calories on a breastfeeding diet? Yes, you should. According to MayoClinic, new nursing moms should add about 300 to 400 extra calories a day to their normal intake to ensure that their bodies have enough nutrients and energy to provide plenty and nutritional milk for their infants (2). This is roughly similar to the amount of extra calories required in the second and third trimesters of pregnancy. Breastfeeding mothers are advised to consume more protein, vitamin D, vitamin A, vitamin E, vitamin C, B12, selenium, and zinc in their diets (5).
Here are some healthy foods to include in your breastfeeding diet:
Nursing mothers should try and consume 3 cups of vegetables a day while those using formula for their babies should aim for 2.5 cups a day. The vegetables that they should consume include leafy greens – like spinach, kale, collard greens, and broccoli – carrots, bell peppers, peas, and pumpkin.
2. Whole grains
Nursing moms are advised to have at least a cup of whole grains a day. Wholegrains are packed full of protein, fiber, B vitamins, antioxidants, and trace minerals like iron, zinc, copper, and magnesium. Examples of whole grains include quinoa, oatmeal, whole-wheat flour, bulgur, and brown rice.
When breastfeeding, the body requires 25 g to 65 g more of protein a day. This means that you should make sure to consume some protein with each meal of the day. Sources of protein include, beans, chicken, beef, turkey, lentils, pork, and seafood. Seafood such as fatty fish, oysters and crab are rich in omega-3 fatty acids which are incredibly good for your child’s brain development.
Unless the mother is a vegan or a vegetarian (branches that do not consume milk and its products), nursing mothers should aim to consume at least 3 cups of dairy products a day. Dairy and its products provide you and your body with calcium and Vitamin D, which will help prevent rickets and helps build strong bones and teeth – later in life. Be sure to consume milk and fat-free or low-fat dairy products like cheese, yogurt, and cottage cheese.
Mothers with suckling babies must ensure that they consume about 2 cups of different fruits each day. Examples of fruits that a nursing mother wonders how to lose weight while breastfeeding include cantaloupe, oranges, bananas, apples, pears, peaches, a variety of berries, grapes, melons, pineapples, and grapefruits, among others. Not only are they low in calories, but they are also very nutritious.
6. Nuts and seeds
They are packed full of healthy fats and protein. Examples include peanuts, hemp seeds, almonds, pumpkin seeds, walnuts, sunflower seeds, and more.
7. Healthy fats and oils
Such as olive oil, canola oil, sunflower oil, peanut oil, and corn oil.
The Most Important Nutrients To Consume While Breastfeeding
You should endeavor to consume the following nutrients in your diet:
- Protein. It helps build and sustain your body as well as that of your infant.
- Vitamin A. It is important for healthy growth and development of your baby’s eyes and skin.
- Iron. It helps move oxygen from your baby’s lungs to the rest of his body and helps muscles store and use oxygen. It also helps the body make new red blood cells.
- Vitamin C. This nutrient supports immunity and collagen production in your child’s body. A nursing mum should consume about 120 mg of vitamin C per day, 60% more than women who are not suckling babies.
- Folic acid. Folate has many important functions in the body, including protein metabolism and helping with the formation of new red blood cells..
- Zinc. It helps with protein synthesis, cell growth and differentiation, immune function, and intestinal transport of water and electrolytes.
- Calcium and vitamin D. Calcium is necessary for healthy bones and teeth as well as muscle and blood vessel function. On the other hand, vitamin D helps the body absorb the calcium and is also important for the healthy growth of your baby’s bones and teeth.
- Omega 3 fatty acids. They are beneficial for your baby’s brain health, may aid sleep quality, and reduce symptoms of ADHD and asthma.
Foods To Avoid While Breastfeeding
Some foods are recommended for breastfeeding mothers because once she consumes them, they are processed by her body and are passed to her child through her milk. This is the same reasons why some foods and drinks are highly discouraged for nursing mothers.
Foods to avoid while breastfeeding include:
- Too much chocolate. It may cause a stomach upset in the baby which then causes irritability and insomnia.
- Alcohol. It could lead to decreased milk production in the mother and could affect your infant’s sleep patterns and early development (13).
- Caffeine. Like alcohol, it could lead to decreased milk production in the mother and when passed to the baby, it could make them jittery affecting their sleep.
- Some fish. Breastfeeding mothers, and all people should avoid fish like King mackerel, marlin, orange roughy, shark, swordfish, tilefish, ahi tuna, and bigeye tuna as they are quite high in mercury.
The Bottom Line
While the question of how to lose weight while breastfeeding could be bothering you as a new mom, please do not fall into the societal pressure of snapping back to your pre-baby weight in the shortest amount of time possible. Your main goal, during this time, should be your milk supply and your health and that of your child.
However, at the end of the day if breastfeeding and weight loss is something that you are interested in learning more about, please speak to a doctor and they can advise you on the way forward. You should also see a nutritionist to help you plan your meals better.
If you want your weight loss plan to be efficient, don’t forget to do some exercise on the regular basis. Check out this 20-min Full Body Workout at Home.
This article is intended for general informational purposes only and does not address individual circumstances. It is not a substitute for professional advice or help and should not be relied on to make decisions of any kind. A licensed physician should be consulted for diagnosis and treatment of any medical conditions. Any action you take upon the information presented in this article is strictly at your own risk and responsibility!
- 6 Exercise Tips to Keep in Mind While Breastfeeding (n.d., aaptiv.com)
- Breast-feeding nutrition: Tips for moms (2020, mayoclinic.org)
- Breastfeeding and Losing Too Much Weight (2020, verywellfamily.com)
- Breastfeeding and the Calories You Eat (2020, verywellfamily.com)
- Breastfeeding Diet 101: What to Eat While Breastfeeding (2020, healthline.com)
- Breastfeeding FAQs: How Much and How Often (2019, kidshealth.org)
- Can water help you lose weight? (2018, medicalnewstoday.com)
- Counting calories: Get back to weight-loss basics (2020, mayoclinic.org)
- Does Metabolism Matter in Weight Loss? (2015, health.harvard.edu)
- Gain Weight Safely During Your Pregnancy (2020, webmd.com)
- How Much and How Often to Breastfeed (2018, cdc.gov)
- How to Safely and Quickly Lose Weight While Breastfeeding (2019, healthline.com)
- Is it safe for mothers to breastfeed their infant if they have consumed alcohol? (2019, cdc.gov)
- Pregnancy and birth: Weight gain in pregnancy (2009, .ncbi.nlm.nih.gov)
- Sleep More, Weigh Less (2020, webmd.com)
- Slideshow: 10 Ways to Boost Your Metabolism (2019, webmd.com)
- What Effect Does Skipping Meals Have on the Body? (n.d., livestrong.com)
- Your Guide to Exercise and Breastfeeding (2020, verywellfamily.com)