How can I lose weight safely while breastfeeding?
You are not alone in wondering about losing weight. Many women are anxious to return to their pre-pregnancy shape and weight after childbirth. Do try to remember that your pregnancy weight wasn’t gained overnight so it won’t disappear that quickly, either.
While breastfeeding burns about 500-700 calories extra per day to fuel milk making, this may not always contribute to weight loss postpartum – many factors like pre-pregnancy weight, diet, physical activity level, etc will impact weight loss after birth (Institute of Medicine, 2002; Dewey, 1994). On average, exclusively breastfeeding mothers may see a loss of 1-2 pounds a month and over time, breastfeeding moms tend to lose more weight than mothers who do not breastfeed (Dewey, Heinig & Nommsen, 1993).
When can I start losing weight?
It is recommended that you wait at least 6-8 weeks postpartum to start to lose weight, as your body needs this time to recover from childbirth and establish a good milk supply. Many mothers lose weight in the early months by following a well-balanced diet and eating to hunger.
What are the recommended guidelines for weight loss?
Breastfeeding mothers should consume at least 1800 calories a day and can safely lose around 1 lb/week (La Leche League, 2010; Lauwers & Swisher, 2015). Aim to eat a diet rich in fruits and vegetables while minimizing empty carbohydrates and junk food. For some, consuming 1800 calories/day does not allow much room for weight loss via cutting calories however, you can pair dieting with exercise to promote weight loss at a safe pace.
Once your physician or healthcare provider has cleared you for physical activity around 6 weeks postpartum, you can try a brisk walk with your baby, going for a jog, pilates, or your favorite form of physical fitness to encourage your body to shed those extra pounds and promote a healthy lifestyle. Exercise is shown to have no negative impact on volume or quality of milk supply, infant weight or the taste of breast milk – so have fun with it (La Leche League, 2010; Lauwers & Swisher, 2015; Dewey et al., 1994; Neville et al., 2014).
Are Low Carb Diets Safe?
Low carbohydrate diets such as the Atkins or Paleo method are compatible with breastfeeding as long as you consume a variety of fruits, vegetables and proteins to ensure sufficient nutrition (Lauwers & Swisher, 2015). Eliminating unhealthy carbs like bread, pasta, sugary snacks, junk food, etc can be very helpful for many mothers. Because carbs generally cause us to feel hungrier and eat more, reducing or eliminating carbs can decrease our appetite, so it is important to remember to get a sufficient (at least 1800) calories a day to fuel your body (Lauwers & Swisher, 2015).
Anyone who wants to start a weight loss program should consult with their physician or healthcare provider to rule out any health problems that would contraindicate the diet or exercise.
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Dewey et al. (1993). Maternal weight-loss patterns during prolonged lactation. Am J Clin Nutr, 58(2), 162-166.
Dewey et al. (1994). Effects of dieting and physical activity on pregnancy and lactation. Am J Clin Nutr, 59( Suppl 2), 446s-453s.
Institute of Medicine. (2002). Dietary Reference Intakes for Energy, Carbohydrate, Fiber, Fatty Acids, Cholesterol, Protein, Amino Acids (Macronutrients). Washington, DC: National Academies Press.
Lauwers, J. & Swisher, A. (2015). Counseling the Nursing Mother: A Lactation Consultants Guide. Burlington, MA: Jones & Bartlett Learning.
Neville et al. (2014). The relationship between breastfeeding and postpartum weight change—a systematic review and critical evaluation. International Journal of Obesity, 38, 577-590.
Wiessinger, D., West, D., Pitman, T., & La Leche League International. (2010). The Womanly Art of Breastfeeding (8th ed.). New York: Ballantine Books.