During and after pregnancy, it is very common for your weight to fluctuate. Pregnancy is extremely demanding of your body, and in many ways, weight gain is essential while growing your baby.
Breastfeeding has often been said to be the key to postpartum weight loss, and while some people can say that they lost weight once they started, this is not the case for everyone and it is not as simple as it sounds.
In this article, we’ll dive into the conceptions and misconceptions of weight loss through breastfeeding with the help of Kin Fertility GP, Dr Kirsty Wallace-Hor.
Do you need to increase your calorie intake when breastfeeding?
In a word, YES, it is recommended that breastfeeding mums increase their daily calories by around 450 to 500 calories. Things like weight, age, and BMI should also be considered when determining how many calories you should be consuming while breastfeeding.
Additionally, it is fairly common to actually feel hungrier and thirstier than usual, so increasing the amount of calories and water you consume should feel like a natural thing to do because as you feed your baby, you are burning energy at a faster rate than previously.
Consuming extra calories while breastfeeding is essential to ensure that your body’s stores of carbohydrates, protein, fats, and other nutrients are used to create and maintain high-quality milk for your baby.
“Whilst research has shown that mild to moderate changes in diet and aerobic exercise don’t jeopardise milk production, one short-term study showed that dietary restriction to less than 1500kcal/day dropped daily milk volume by 15%. I’ve also found that some people can be quite sensitive to calorie restriction and can have dramatic reductions in supply with only little changes to their diet,” Dr Kirsty explains.
If you are low in critical nutrients, your baby will take from your own supplies, leaving you with low immunity and low energy.
It’s important to keep in mind that as your thirst increases while breastfeeding, this can deplete your body of certain nutrients including vitamin D, zinc, and DHA and B vitamins.
As you know, making sure that you’re eating enough nourishing foods is crucial, but as expected, it can be difficult to think about your diet when you are busy with a new baby. This is why it is important for new mums to be taking postpartum supplements, so they can ensure that they are getting the nutrients they need to stay healthy for themselves and for their baby.
So does breastfeeding make you lose weight?
Although breastfeeding actively burns calories – which can help you lose weight – it will not make the weight that you gained during pregnancy just fall off without effort. It’s important to keep in mind that expectations must be managed, and everyone’s experience will be different.
Dr Kirsty says, “Yes, many women will lose weight (usually gradually) in the first 6 months after having a baby. However, many won’t. Some women will find that their appetite and weight increases – this is not surprising given that your caloric requirements are higher when you’re breastfeeding.”
Eating processed or sugary foods is great for an instant energy burst, but it is an easy way to “gain” back calories that you burnt while breastfeeding. However, if you are in a caloric deficit, you will lose weight.
But generally speaking, the amount of weight that breastfeeding mothers lose from breastfeeding alone is quite small.
Right after birth, some weight loss will gradually occur as your body adjusts to its postpartum state.
In addition to the weight loss that comes from the relief of no longer carrying a baby inside of you, the retention of extra water and blood that your body accumulates to support the baby throughout pregnancy (an incredible 50% more than normal) is released in the weeks after you give birth through sweating and urination.
To speed up the fluid loss, stay hydrated, do light exercise (once cleared by your GP), and reduce salt intake.
In a nutshell, breastfeeding women burn more calories, and the combination of fluid loss, a healthy diet, and light exercise all contribute to postpartum weight loss.
Can I go on a diet while breastfeeding?
While it is understandable to want to get back to your pre-pregnancy size after birth, dieting can get in the way of milk production. Your body wants to consume more calories so it is able to continuously make a steady supply of nutritious milk for your newborn.
Dr Kirsty explains, “Instead of concentrating on weight loss after pregnancy, it’s better to ensure that you’re eating healthily and meeting your nutritional needs. Pregnancy is a demanding time for the body and your need for most vitamins increases when breastfeeding.”
Following fad diets and cutting precious calories would interfere with your ability to get all the nutrients that you need not only for milk production but for a healthy recovery as well. Instead, focus on incorporating gentle movement that feels good and follow a balanced diet to support weight loss.
Also, because you will likely be experiencing some level of sleep deprivation, pushing yourself to vigorously exercise is not recommended.
“It’s also important that you wait until your milk supply is well established before you make any significant changes to your diet or physical activity. You may also want to avoid changing your diet or physical activity levels when there are other factors that could impact on supply, such as smoking, stress, fatigue, and illness.”
Why do some people experience weight loss when breastfeeding and others don’t?
Some people will experience weight loss while breastfeeding while others will experience weight gain. Your weight is not only impacted by your diet and exercise, but your BMI, metabolism, genetics, and other environmental and physical factors.
Also, breastfeeding mums produce a high level of prolactin – a critical hormone needed for milk production and also existent in non-breastfeeding people and men.
Various studies have shown that non-breastfeeding people who have high levels of prolactin are often sluggish, gain weight, and have little energy. Since breastfeeding people have high levels of this hormone, this will also impact their weight.
“If you have concerns about your weight or nutritional needs after giving birth, I recommend seeing your GP or a dietitian.”