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Home > Learn > Postpartum > >How to Lose Weight While Breastfeeding (Safely!)

How to Lose Weight While Breastfeeding (Safely!)

Sep 11, 23 11 min

By OBGYN Dr. Kenosha Gleaton

It’s common for many newly postpartum moms to want to return to their pre-pregnancy weight as soon as possible. After nine months of giving in to pregnancy nausea, weight gain, cramping, and other symptoms, it’s normal to want to feel healthy and strong. There are many benefits to maintaining a healthy weight, but losing weight in an unsafe manner may cause harm to your health or your baby’s health. [1-2] Here’s what you need to know about losing weight safely while breastfeeding. 

Embracing Your Postpartum Body

First things first, it’s extremely important to have a body positive or body neutral mindset. Even if losing weight is your goal, try to embrace the body you have in the moment. Your body helped you carry and grow a child for many months and is now helping you feed your child. No matter what shape you’re in or what you weigh, having the right mindset can really improve your postpartum recovery and weight loss journey. Keep in mind that even though weight loss is possible, there are many parts of the body that may never return to their pre-pregnancy state. Try to accept and embrace what you can’t change, and give yourself grace while moving forward. 

The Natural Changes After Giving Birth

Pregnancy and childbirth can lead to lasting changes in the body. It’s normal to have a softer stomach, wider hips, and a larger waistline after a pregnancy. [3] It’s also healthy to put on weight during pregnancy that will gradually begin to come off as the months go by.  Remember that you only have control over so much, and your expectation shouldn’t be to have the same body you had prior to getting pregnant. 

The Importance of Patience and Self-Love

Many people feel the need to “bounce back” quickly after giving birth, but there is no specific timeline you should worry about when attempting to lose weight. In fact, it is often much more helpful to lose weight steadily and slowly. [3] 

The priority after giving birth should be to keep yourself and your baby healthy and happy. Ensure that you’re following your healthcare provider’s instructions for diet and exercise and allow yourself plenty of time to heal. It’s recommended that you give yourself at least six weeks to heal and recover without the added pressure of losing weight. [1-3] When you do begin taking steps to lose weight, losing under a pound and a half per week should be your goal. [3] 

The Science Behind Breastfeeding and Weight Loss

Many people will lose half of their baby weight by 6 weeks postpartum and will slowly lose the remaining weight over the next few months. [3] According to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG), breastfeeding can make it easier to lose the weight you gained during pregnancy. [4] 

Calories Burned During Breastfeeding

Breastfeeding actually causes the body to burn calories, which can aid in weight loss. It’s estimated that breastfeeding burns up to 500 additional calories a day, which should be replenished through a healthy diet. [4] It’s important to drink plenty of fluids and eat enough calories to promote healthy milk production. Cutting back on calories or not getting enough nutrients can be dangerous for both your health and your child’s health. [1] 

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Dieting Considerations While Breastfeeding

There are a lot of fad diets out there that claim to help you shed weight while breastfeeding. You should always speak to your healthcare provider about your nutritional needs and eating habits to ensure you’re keeping yourself and your child healthy. 

Why Extreme Dieting Isn't Recommended

The most sustainable and healthy form of weight loss is slow and steady. [3] Adding in healthy food options, more exercise, and slightly reducing your caloric intake is the best way to encourage weight loss. [1,3] Extreme dieting such as missing meals, significantly reducing your calories, and cutting out entire food groups is not going to be the best option for you. If you’re exclusively breastfeeding, your baby is relying on your diet for their nutritional needs. Having a well-rounded diet is beneficial for your recovery and your child’s development, including brain health, eye health, cardiovascular development, and more. [4] 

The Balance Between Caloric Intake and Milk Production

It’s vital that anyone breastfeeding consumes at least the minimum amount of calories needed to sustain proper bodily function and milk production. You should speak with your healthcare provider directly when deciding how many calories you should consume to support necessary functions. For context, the average breastfeeding person should consume about 2,500 total calories per day when maintaining their weight. [1,3,4]  If you are hoping to lose weight, you should aim to move a little bit more and eat a little bit less in order to support a calorie deficit. Not eating enough can lead to diminished milk production, which can impact your baby’s weight and development. [4]  Learn what foods increase milk supply → 

Nutrient-Rich Foods to Prioritize

One of the most important things you can do when breastfeeding (and when trying to lose weight) is to ensure that you’re eating nutrient-rich foods. Getting plenty of nutrients will help you stay full longer while encouraging the health and development of yourself and your baby. 

Whole Grains, Fruits, and Vegetables

Whole grains are often great sources of different vitamins and minerals needed for a healthy diet, such as magnesium, selenium, vitamins A, B, E, and iron. Fruits and vegetables are also great sources of nutrients that are often low in calories. Some sources of whole grains include whole wheat toast, quinoa, rice, oatmeal, and others. Fruits and vegetables high in nutrients include sweet potatoes, bell peppers, leafy green vegetables, tomatoes, berries, and many others. It’s best to choose whole fruit over fruit juices or canned fruits. 

Lean Proteins for Tissue Repair

Protein is used by the body for repairing, building, and creating muscle, bones, hormones, and enzymes. Eating protein can also help you feel full for longer, which can be helpful when trying to diet. Lean protein foods include chicken, eggs, greek yogurt, tofu, turkey, pork, and low fat cheese. 

Healthy Fats for Baby's Brain Development

Many people are scared of fats, especially when trying to lose weight. It’s important to remember there are many different kinds of fats, and healthy fats are actually an important part of brain, eye, and cardiovascular development. [3] To prioritize the intake of healthy fats, try eating foods such as nuts, olive oil, fish, seeds, and avocados.

Foods and Habits to Avoid

Just as there are foods and nutrients to prioritize, there are some foods and drinks that you may want to cut back on to aid in your weight loss journey. 

The Downside of Empty-Calorie Snacks

Eating frequent snacks throughout the day may help you feel full, but it’s important to keep an eye on how many calories you’re consuming and what benefit the food is actually providing. Eating snacks like chips or candy is not going to fill you up or give you much nutritional value, but it will cause you to consume empty calories.  Snacking is definitely encouraged when you’re hungry, but try to opt for foods with fiber or protein to keep you full while providing some important nutrients. Healthier options include nuts, vegetables, fruit, peanut butter, whole-wheat products, hard-boiled eggs, etc. [3] 

Limiting Sugary Foods and Beverages

Sugary foods and drinks don’t provide much nutritional value, nor are they helpful when attempting to lose weight. Snacks or drinks like sodas, juices, baked goods, candy, etc. can increase your calorie intake without providing enough protein, carbohydrates, or healthy fats to keep you satisfied and fuel your body. Opt for water, tea, electrolyte drinks, or other drinks that don’t include added sugars

Alcohol and Its Impact on Breastfeeding

Alcohol is another beverage you should try to limit. Alcohol is full of empty calories, meaning you will be consuming calories that aren’t actually helpful for fueling your body. Not only that, but drinking too much alcohol while breastfeeding can be harmful to your baby and may lead to drowsiness, weakness, and abnormal weight gain. [4] If you do want to have the occasional alcoholic drink, wait at least two hours after one drink to breastfeed. [4] 

Incorporating Safe Postpartum Exercises

Make sure you speak to a healthcare provider about exercising postpartum before you begin any new physical activity. It’s important to ensure you are healing properly and helping your body more than harming it. Once you are cleared to begin more physical activity, daily exercise in combination with a healthy diet is the best way to begin losing weight. [3] 

The Benefits of Gentle Workouts

Once you have been given the green light to begin working out, you may want to start slow and gentle with activities like walking, swimming, gardening, etc. This is especially important if you’re still newly postpartum, as internal healing and changes are often still occurring for months after giving birth. [5] Moving your body at all is going to help you burn off calories and regain your strength. Pushing yourself to complete strenuous workouts can actually be really hard on your body, so start off slow and gentle and gradually work up to more difficult workouts if your body allows. 

The Importance of Staying Hydrated

Fluids are extremely important while breastfeeding, especially when increasing your physical activity. It’s recommended that those breastfeeding attempt to drink 12 cups of fluids a day. [3] Ensuring adequate hydration is helpful for replacing any fluid lost in breast milk and sweat and can reduce the risk of heat stress. Drinking plenty of water may also help shed any retained water weight, helping to depuff and potentially lose a few pounds. [1] If you get tired of drinking water, add in electrolytes through drink packets, coconut water, or other hydrating liquids (just keep an eye on the sugar content). Natalist offers a pregnancy and breastfeeding safe electrolyte drink mix packet that also supports energy levels. 

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Tips for a Healthy Weight Loss Journey

In general, losing weight or maintaining a healthy weight can be difficult. Committing to regular exercise and eating a healthy, balanced diet can be hard, especially when you’re raising a newborn. Remember that losing weight after giving birth isn’t a race and that your priority should be keeping yourself and your baby healthy. Remember that your goal body or goal weight isn’t the only version of yourself that you should love and embrace. Our bodies do amazing things for us every day, and it’s important that we treat ourselves with kindness always.  

Listening to Your Body's Needs

Make sure you’re listening to your body and providing it with what it needs. Feeling especially fatigued after a workout? Take it easy for a day or two and make sure you’re eating enough. Listen to your hunger cues and allow yourself to eat until you feel satisfied without overindulging. 

The Role of Rest and Recovery

Exercise is a great way to support your health and weight loss goals and should always be accompanied by appropriate rest and recovery time. Never push yourself too much, and be sure to check in with your healthcare provider about your exercise habits to make sure you aren’t overdoing it. Additionally, sleep plays an important role in many facets of our lives, including health and weight management. [6] Lack of sleep isn’t always in our control, especially when you’re waking up to breastfeed regularly, but do what you can to catch up on zzz’s and allow yourself plenty of time to rest and relax. 

Setting Realistic Goals and Expectations

Slow and steady wins the race! While you may be eager to lose the baby weight and get back to your previous exercise routine, slow and steady weight loss is more sustainable and healthy for you. You shouldn’t be hard on yourself if you’re not seeing the progress you’d hoped for or if you experience some setbacks. Recovering from childbirth takes time and patience, and everyone’s experience is different. 

Natalist: Supporting You Through Every Stage

Navigating the postpartum period isn’t always easy. At Natalist, we’ve experienced the many highs and lows that come with parenting. 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 Nip & Lip Balm, Magnesium Plus, and more. We are in awe of you and your body, and you should be too! 


References:

  1. Anderson, P. Langdon, K. How To Lose Weight While Breastfeeding Safely In 2023? National Coalition on Health Care. August 2023. URL
  2. Aim for a Healthy Weight. Health.gov. Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion, Office of the Assistant Secretary for Health, Office of the Secretary, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. August 2023. URL
  3. Dugdale, D. Zieve, D. Losing weight after pregnancy. Medline Plus. October 2021. URL
  4. Breastfeeding Your Baby. American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. FAQ029. July 2023. URL.
  5. Romano M, Cacciatore A, Giordano R, La Rosa B. Postpartum period: three distinct but continuous phases. J Prenat Med. 2010;4(2):22-25.
  6. Papatriantafyllou, E., Efthymiou, D., Zoumbaneas, E., Popescu, C. A., & Vassilopoulou, E. (2022). Sleep Deprivation: Effects on Weight Loss and Weight Loss Maintenance. Nutrients, 14(8), 1549. https://doi.org/10.3390/nu14081549
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