How Many Calories Does Breastfeeding Burn?
By OBGYN Dr. Kenosha Gleaton
If you’re newly postpartum or planning to breastfeed, you may have heard that breastfeeding can make it easier for you to lose weight after giving birth.  While this is true, it’s important to understand the caloric intake requirements while breastfeeding to keep yourself and your baby healthy. Breastfeeding is an amazing way to encourage healthy outcomes, including immune system health, lowered risk of sudden infant death, lowered risk of various health conditions, postpartum healing, and much more. 
Many people are eager to return to their pre-pregnancy body after giving birth. It’s normal to want to feel like yourself again, but it’s also important to accept and embrace your body for what it is. There are some parts of your body that may never return to their pre-pregnancy state, even with diet and exercise.  Your body has helped you carry and grow a child for months, which is an amazing feat. Do what you can to give yourself grace and keep a positive mindset throughout your postpartum recovery.
How Many Calories Do You Burn Every Time You Breastfeed?
Creating and expressing milk for your baby requires a lot of energy, which comes in the form of calories. The American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology (ACOG) states that your body needs an additional 450 to 500 calories a day to offset the calories being burned when making breast milk for your baby.  How many calories you’re actually burning with each feed will depend on how much milk you’re expressing, how often you’re breastfeeding, the age of your baby, and more. Given that most babies feed between eight to twelve times a day in the first few weeks of life, it can be estimated that each feed is burning around 40-50 calories, give or take. 
Does Breastfeeding Burn More Calories Than Pumping?
There isn’t any research to suggest that breastfeeding burns more calories than pumping milk, or vice versa. During postpartum, it is the physiological process of lactation and the nutrients lost in the breast milk causing you to lose calories, rather than the method of expressing milk. [1,3] What it comes down to is how much milk your body is making and expressing every day. When deciding when or how often to pump, you should do whatever works best for you and your baby.
Can You Lose Weight While Breastfeeding?
It is possible to lose weight while breastfeeding, but it is extremely important that you do so safely and under the supervision of a licensed healthcare provider. [1,4] While you may be in a hurry to get back to your pre-pregnancy weight and body, the most important thing is keeping yourself and your baby healthy. You should speak to your provider about your weight loss goals to find a plan that is right for you. In most cases, weight loss can be achieved slowly and gradually by exercising more, and eating nutrient-dense, healthy foods. [1,4]
How Many Calories Do You Need to Eat If You're Breastfeeding?
As already mentioned, ACOG states that the body needs an additional 450 to 500 calories a day to make breast milk for your baby.  On top of these caloric needs for breastfeeding, there is something called basal metabolic rate (BMR) which is the number of calories your body burns when performing basic life-sustaining functions.  BMR is based on someone’s height, weight, assigned sex at birth, age, and other factors. It’s vital that anyone breastfeeding consumes at least the minimum amount of calories needed to sustain proper bodily function and milk production. [1,3,4] Someone with a weight in the normal range and hoping to maintain their weight should consume about 2,500 total calories every day.  If someone is trying to lose weight, they should speak with their provider to determine how many calories to consume. Not eating enough can lead to negative outcomes, including poor nutrition and diminished milk supply. [1,3]
What Should I Eat If I'm Breastfeeding?
A balanced diet is key for providing vitamins and minerals to yourself and your baby. While breastfeeding, many providers may recommend taking a prenatal vitamin for women or a postnatal vitamin in order to support nutrient intake. Some foods to eat include [1,3,4]:
- Protein-rich foods, such as lean meat, eggs, dairy, beans, lentils
- Seafood that is low in mercury, such as salmon, trout, tilapia, sardines, and herring.
- Whole grains, including oats, whole wheat, quinoa, and brown rice
- Fruits and vegetables
- Water: Hydration is also extremely important, especially when breastfeeding. Fuel your body with breastfeeding-safe electrolytes.
If weight loss is your goal, focus on eating healthier foods and moving your body more, rather than eating less. Your baby needs vital nutrients that are found in whole foods like grains, fruits, vegetables, and protein. Learn what foods increase milk supply →
Natalist's Role in Supporting Mothers At All Stages
Navigating the postpartum period isn’t always easy. At Natalist, we’ve experienced the many highs and lows that come with the fertility, pregnancy, and postpartum stages. If you are breastfeeding, you may want to speak to a provider about taking a postnatal vitamin to ensure you’re consuming all the necessary nutrients your baby needs. You can also support the postpartum period with Natalist products like Nipple Balm, Magnesium Plus, and our Breastfeeding Kit. We are in awe of you and your body, and you should be too!
- Breastfeeding Your Baby. American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. FAQ029. July 2023. https://www.acog.org/womens-health/faqs/breastfeeding-your-baby
- Romano M, Cacciatore A, Giordano R, La Rosa B. Postpartum period: three distinct but continuous phases. J Prenat Med. 2010;4(2):22-25.
- Breastfeeding nutrition: Tips for moms. Mayo Clinic. April 2022. https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/infant-and-toddler-health/in-depth/breastfeeding-nutrition/art-20046912
- Anderson, P. Langdon, K. How To Lose Weight While Breastfeeding Safely In 2023? National Coalition on Health Care. August 2023. https://nchc.org/health/how-to-safely-lose-weight-while-breastfeeding/
- Sabounchi NS, Rahmandad H, Ammerman A. Best-fitting prediction equations for basal metabolic rate: informing obesity interventions in diverse populations. Int J Obes (Lond). 2013;37(10):1364-1370. doi:10.1038/ijo.2012.218
Dr. Kenosha Gleaton is board-certified in gynecology and obstetrics and is the Medical Advisor of Natalist. She received her MD from MUSC and completed her residency at Carolinas Medical Center in Charlotte, NC.
Dr. Gleaton is passionate about women, health equity, and mentoring. She is the CEO of The EpiCentre, an OBGYN spa-like practice, and is a Clinical faculty member of Charleston Southern University. She is also a member of the American College of Obstetrics & Gynecology, the American Association of Gynecologic Laparoscopists, and the American Association of Professional Women