For most moms, there was at least one moment after giving birth when they caught a glimpse in the mirror of their postpartum body in all its stretched-out, bulbous glory and felt a wave of shock. Most would want their pre-pregnancy body back as quickly as possible, but dropping those pounds postpartum, especially losing weight while breastfeeding, when you’re hungry all the time isn’t always an easy feat, nor should it be rushed.
Many new moms mistakenly believe that breastfeeding helps with weight loss after giving birth. However, while breastfeeding does burn a large number of calories, it also requires a daily intake of approximately 500 more calories than a pre-pregnancy diet.
This leads many moms to ask, “What steps can I take to lose pregnancy weight while also ensuring that my baby gets the nutrients she needs to be healthy?”
Read on to learn more about postpartum weight loss while breastfeeding.
How Many Calories is Needed While Breastfeeding?
Based on daily calorie intake recommendations for women aged 19 to 50, based on your lifestyle, you may need to consume the following number of calories per day while breastfeeding (1):
- Sedentary lifestyle: 2,250 to 2,500 calories per day
- Moderately active lifestyle: 2,450 to 2,700 calories per day
- Active lifestyle: 2,650 to 2,900 calories per day
To maintain your current weight while breastfeeding, and keep up your milk production and energy levels, you’ll need to consume an additional 450 to 500 calories per day (2).
Once you’ve identified the total amount of calories you should be eating daily, try to make sure the majority of your calories are coming from nutrient-rich foods, including whole grains, fruits, vegetables, and lean protein.
If you’re trying to lose weight, avoid empty-calorie foods such as white bread, pasta, cookies, baked goods, and other junk or fast food.
You may also need to take a multivitamin or you may continue taking your prenatal vitamin while breastfeeding. Ask your doctor which supplements they recommend.
Can You Diet Safely While Breastfeeding?
Most experts don’t advocate dieting while breastfeeding. That’s because your body needs extra fuel to make breast milk about 500 or so additional calories a day.
It is certainly not recommended for mothers to go on a particularly restrictive diet, nothing that’s lower than 1,500 calories a day, which wouldn’t permit a robust milk supply. Breastfeeding mothers should consume at least 1800 calories a day. Again, it is important to aim to eat a diet rich in fruits and vegetables while minimizing empty carbohydrates and junk food. For some, consuming 1800 calories daily does not allow much room for weight loss by cutting calories however, you can pair dieting with exercise to promote weight loss at a safe pace.
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 insure sufficient nutrition. Eliminating unhealthy carbs 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. But again, at least 1800 calories a day is recommended to fuel your body.
How Fast Can You Lose Pregnancy Weight?
Several factors will affect how quickly you lose the weight you gained during pregnancy, including your diet, metabolism, lifestyle, exercise, and the amount of weight you gained during pregnancy. Depending on how much weight you gained during pregnancy, it may take six to nine months, or up to a year or longer to lose the weight you gained. Some women never lose all of it.
It’s common to lose around 13 pounds shortly following delivery (3). This quick weight loss is from the baby, placenta, and amniotic fluid. This amount could vary depending on the size of your baby or whether you retained a lot of fluid during pregnancy.
Following this initial weight loss, you’ll need to take in fewer calories than you burn off to lose more weight. But for health and safety reasons, you’ll want to lose weight gradually and consume at least 1,800 calories each day while breastfeeding. This will keep your milk supply high and give you enough energy.
You can safely aim to lose around 1 to 2 pounds per week. You may find you’re back at your pre-pregnancy weight after breastfeeding for six months. For some women, it may take a year or two.
It may take longer to lose weight if you’ve been pregnant before or if you gained more than the 30 to 35 pounds during pregnancy.
9 Tips to Help You Lose Weight While Breastfeeding
It’s important to maintain a healthy diet while breastfeeding so that you can produce nutritious milk for your baby. That means cutting calories may not always be a safe option.
While these tips may sound familiar to anyone who has tried to lose weight before, there are a number of additional considerations you’ll need to keep in mind while trying to lose weight and breastfeeding.
We have put together 9 tips to help you achieve sustainable weight loss while maintaining your body’s ability to produce healthy, nutrient-rich milk.
1. Drink At Least 8 Cups of Water Daily
Drinking plenty of water every day is one of the best things you can do for the overall health of your body, whether you’re trying to lose weight or not. And it’s especially important for breastfeeding moms.
Water helps your body naturally shed unwanted pounds because of water:
- Contributes to regular body functions like circulation, digestion, regulation of body temperature, transportation of nutrients, and milk production
- Assists your kidneys and makes it easier to keep your body toxin-free
- Helps you feel fuller longer and prevents overeating
- Keeps your muscles working at 100%
- Combines with the oil on your skin to form a protective barrier against the sun’s harmful UV rays and other environmental toxins
We recommend drinking at least eight cups of water every day. Sound like too much to ask from a busy mom?
- Start by drinking two cups first thing in the morning
- Next, drink two cups each at lunch and dinner
- Lastly, to get the last two cups, fill a water bottle with 16 ounces of water and sip on it throughout the day
If you’re “not a water drinker,” try an infusion bottle that will allow you to add a hint of fruit. Seltzer works just as well and is especially good for those of you who like to drink soda. Just make sure whichever drink you choose doesn’t have added sugar because it can make its way to your baby through your breast milk.
2. Eat A Healthy Diet
We’ll give you some ideas about maintaining a healthy diet, but first, you need to make sure you’re getting enough calories. Following these guidelines for healthy eating will ensure you’re consuming the right kind of calories. After all, it’s completely normal to get extra hungry and stay hungry while you’re breastfeeding.
- Fruits & Vegetables
Fruits and vegetables should make up a large portion of your caloric intake. A simple way to get a healthy dose of these foods is to start your day with a fruit and vegetable smoothie. A banana, some strawberries, and blueberries combined with almond milk and two handfuls of spinach make for a healthy and delicious breakfast.
Beyond that, try to include a serving of vegetables with both lunch and dinner to complete your day. If you get hungry between meals, munch on a carrot, an orange, an apple, or another raw vegetable instead of something processed.
- Lean Protein
Protein can be obtained from a variety of different foods, but you should aim for “lean” protein. Lean protein can be found in foods like chicken, fish, beans, and protein powders. Adding a scoop of the latter to your morning smoothie can help round out your healthy breakfast.
For lunch and dinner, including a piece of chicken or fish, or a cup of your favorite beans, to gain the health benefits of these protein-packed foods.
- Healthy Fats
It may seem counterintuitive to purposely add fat to your diet while trying to lose weight, but healthy fats are important for both you and your baby when you’re breastfeeding.
You can find these beneficial fats in foods such as almonds, walnuts, hemp seeds, chia seeds, olives, olive oil, coconut oil, and avocados.
There are plenty of simple ways to work healthy fats into your diet. One way is by measuring a tablespoon of hemp seeds and a tablespoon of chia seeds into your morning smoothie. Fruits, vegetables, protein, and healthy fat in one easy-to-eat meal? You really can’t ask for a better breakfast.
For lunch, try adding some olives to your midday salad or topping it with olive oil-based dressing. Come dinner time, cook your chicken or fish with a dollop of coconut oil. It tastes great and is good for you. And if you find yourself hungry between meals, try snacking on a handful of nuts to keep your energy up.
- Meal Preparation
Planning your meals in advance is not only a good idea in relation to saving time, but it’s also a good idea for the sake of your health. Meal planning was associated with a healthier diet and less obesity (4). When you plan and prepare your meals ahead of time, you won’t be tempted to eat more than you have.
Meal planning also cuts out the need to stop for something quick to eat because you’re too tired or don’t have enough time to cook. Your meal will already be prepared. With a future mindset in place with meal prepping, you are more likely to consume healthier calories.
3. Don’t Skip Meals
Don’t skip meals while breastfeeding, even if you’re trying to lose weight. Skipping meals can slow down your metabolism and cause your energy to drop, which can make it more difficult to be active and care for your baby. Plus, eating too few calories per day may cause your weight loss to plateau or stop.
If you don’t have a lot of time to eat, try to eat smaller snacks throughout the day. A good goal is to have a healthy snack, such as a piece of fruit, after feeding your baby to replenish calories lost.
4. Ease Into Postpartum Exercise
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. If all is well, your physical may clear you for physical activity around 6 weeks postpartum.
Being mindful of what you eat is the best way to jumpstart your metabolism and lose weight while breastfeeding without sacrificing the quality or quantity of your breast milk, but postpartum exercise should be part of your regime too. Not only will it boost your energy, but engaging in light movement as soon as you feel up to it will help get your stretched-out abdominal muscles back into shape.
It’s not just about the extra pounds; your body tissue changes too. A lot of people look at a drooping belly as fat to lose, but it’s more than the muscles need to learn to come back into a shortened position to be part of the abdominal wall again.
The natural weight-lifting program of early motherhood, which includes lifting your newborn, walking up and downstairs, and pushing the stroller is enough to get started in the first two or three weeks after giving birth. As long as you’re staying active, your body will start to change.
Other ways to help tone your muscles after giving birth and lose weight while breastfeeding:
- Do kegel exercises to help strengthen your pelvic muscles more quickly
- Pull in your stomach, which can also help toughen up muscles
- Gentle, not deep, stretching with a resistance band to work the parts of your body strained by breastfeeding, which includes your shoulders, back, and chest
- Go for a walk, even a short one, each day
- Hold baby close to your body to protect your abdominal wall
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 (5).
5. Get As Much Sleep As You Can
Sleep is just as vital to post-pregnancy weight loss as exercise and diet, but getting adequate sleep can be difficult when you’re breastfeeding a newborn. However, the importance of sleep cannot be overstated. Why? Because when you’re asleep, your body repairs itself and returns to a healthier state.
Here’s how your body becomes healthier while you sleep:
- Blood pressure returns to its normal level if elevated during the day by stressors
- Muscles relax
- Blood supply to organs and muscles increases
- Growth hormone is released
- Breathing and heart rate stabilize and become more consistent
And that’s just the tip of the healthy iceberg. In fact, weight gain has been linked to lack of sleep. Short-sleep duration is associated with a modest increase in future weight gain and incident obesity (6). To add insult to injury, hungry, sleep-deprived new moms tend to satisfy their cravings with simple carbohydrates, which often result in weight gain, not weight loss.
So even if you’re doing everything else on this list right but you fail to sleep enough each night, you may struggle to lose those last few pounds. For that reason, we recommend getting at least seven hours of sleep every night.
If your baby isn’t sleeping through the night just yet, make it a point to nap when she naps. This will give your body the time it needs to recover and stay as healthy as possible.
6. Breastfeed Frequently and Longer
It’s alright to feed on demand. While it may seem like your little one is getting too much, they know what they need. Remember, you actually burn calories while nursing. So if you nurse on demand, you will burn even more calories throughout the day.
If you’re starting to exercise more, you’ll obviously lose some weight. However, your body will need to know that even though some of its fat deposits are disappearing, it still needs to produce milk. This is why breastfeeding on-demand or breastfeeding more frequently while exercising is a great concept to put into practice.
Evidence confirms that both more frequent breastfeeding and breastfeeding for at least 3 months increases maternal weight loss (7).
7. Avoid Quick Fixes
With all the new dieting trends out there, it’s hard not to get sucked in. But you have to keep the most important thing in mind: your breast milk production. Many of these trends have a huge effect on your milk supply. If you’re breastfeeding, it has to be your top priority.
What might happen if a nursing mother loses weight too quickly? In most instances of too-rapid weight loss, it is not the breastmilk, composition or supply that would suffer, but mom’s nutrition and health.
Excessive dieting can also result in reduced milk supply. It is noted too that fad or rapid weight loss programs should be avoided because fat-soluble environmental contaminants and toxins stored in body fat are released into the milk when caloric intake is severely restricted.
Remember, slow and steady wins the race!
8. Meet with A Nutritionist
Seeking out a nutritionist to lose weight while breastfeeding is a wise choice. After all, they are specialized in the area of dieting and nutrition. You should specify to the nutritionist what your goals are. If your goal is to lose weight while breastfeeding, your nutritionist will keep in mind that you’re eating for two.
The two of you can sit down together to build a plan specifically for you. So seek out professional help for guidance in dieting and nutrition if you need to.
9. Use Firming and Toning Products
Part of the process of getting back to your pre-baby appearance is firming and toning your skin. Exercise has a lot to do with that goal, but you can help your body from the outside by applying a firming and toning product throughout the day. Body firming gels or serums and stretch marks recovery lotions are recommended.
These products are specially formulated to help reshape your body’s contours after childbirth by:
- Reinforcing skin elasticity
- Promoting collagen production
- Firming skin from within
- Relieving dry, tight, sensitive skin
Several firming and toning products help with the above through a combination of natural, hypoallergenic ingredients. Look for a brand line that is free of parabens, phthalates, phenoxyethanol, bisphenols A and S, caffeine, and alcohol to ensure that it is safe for you and your baby.
Remember that it took nine months to gain weight during pregnancy, so be kind to your body as you start your weight loss journey. Some women find it takes six to nine months to get back to their pre-pregnancy weight. For others, it can take one to two years.
The true secret to losing weight while breastfeeding is to stop comparing yourself to others! Stay away from social media feeds, magazine articles and TV shows that showcase how quickly others lost their baby weight, and focus on your own journey. Instead of obsessing over numbers on the scale, strive toward getting to a point where you feel healthy, happy and strong. Postpartum bodies all look different, but every mama is a warrior!