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breastfeeding and losing weight

The Skinny on Breastfeeding and Losing Weight: What Really Happens

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breastfeeding and losing weight

This article is part of a series on weight loss using European approaches to losing weight and staying fit. This latest article highlights my personal experience with breastfeeding my four children. Would love your opinion! Let me know how you are doing with your weight goals or if you have a question about breastfeeding.

The Real Skinny On Breastfeeding and Losing That Post-Baby Weight


There comes a point in your pregnancy when you think about how you will feed your baby. Breast or bottle? There are many benefits of breastfeeding, and one big benefit for mom: if you breastfeed, you have the potential to zip back to your pre-pregnancy weight and body.

But the term zip back might be a tad too optimistic. 

You do eventually lose the weight, but the weight doesn’t just fall from you, just because you are breastfeeding. I will tell you here what really happens, for most women, and from my experiences. And it is all good.

Memories of graduate school and fat layered hips

Back way-too-long-ago when I was a student at Colorado State University I remember a course I took on “Pregnancy and Nutrition.” Our professor, (we adored her), didn’t have any children but she was a whiz at delivering these informative lectures on maternal nutrition, pregnancy and breastfeeding.

I still remember her lessons, and here in this article on breastfeeding, I am reminded of what she taught us on breastfeeding and nutrition (paraphrasing here):

  • You burn 700 calories a day to make breast-milk (WOW!)
  • You put fat cells on your hips and upper thighs during pregnancy that are used for ‘fuel to make breast milk’ during breastfeeding
  • It is the perfect and best milk for the baby (of course).
  • Breastfeeding helps your uterus (and thus your stomach) to return to its pre-pregnant shape because of the hormones released during breastfeeding

Well, there was more in those lectures. A lot more. Enough to make me convinced that if (one day) I was to have a child, I would breastfeed. And it would be easy because breastfeeding is so natural. And my stomach would shrink back in (like magic). And those (not too wanted) fatty hips that were there for a reason would magically be burnt off from needing ‘fuel’ calories. Plus, (oh la la), 700 calories a day burnt away from making breast milk? That is a lot of calories. It would be easy to lose weight.

What do scientists say about breastfeeding and weight?

Researchers point to two factors on breastfeeding and weight. First has to do with prolactin, the hormone that is released during breastfeeding. Prolactin stimulates milk production, but it also stimulates your hunger. Prolactin=hunger. So it is normal to be hungry during breastfeeding. And if you are (ravenously) hungry you might eat the wrong foods that will not only encourage weight gain but will make it happen.

The longer time a mother breastfeeds the more weight she loses post birth. So what does that mean to the average breastfeeding mother? This means that you should breastfeed longer than the average mom, and this means to breastfeed at least three months  and ideally six months (or more).

What really happened with my first child’s breastfeeding experience

So, I had my first baby about 15 years ago. (Her birthday is coming up-cannot believe she will soon be 15!) And I made the decision to breastfeed my baby. Luckily when I was working for WIC (Women, Infant, Children Program) because at my job I was trained to counsel women to breastfeed, so I knew what to expect. Breastfeeding wasn’t as ‘au naturale’ as I would have thought, but all was going well.

Except I was like crazy hungry. And so what do you do when you are crazy hungry? You eat. and eat more. and more.

For the first three months of breastfeeding I was hungry and my weight didn’t go down.

And then, just from one day to the next, my crazy hunger just slowed down

And the weight started coming off gradually.

Right around the beginning of the fourth month of breastfeeding I noticed that my baby was spacing out her breastfeeding sessions and also she was taking more breast milk in at a time. And I wasn’t as hungry as before. In fact, my appetite felt like before my pregnancy, I wasn’t crazy hungry, just normal hungry.

And when I started eating less, the weight just came off gradually. I also felt better. I was sleeping more and was starting to go out for long walks and going to the gym. It was all good. And best of all, my baby was doing great from breastfeeding and I didn’t have to worry about bottles.

And with each pregnancy there after, (and I had four babies) all breastfed, all for quite a long time each, (at least a year or more) , the story was the same: breastfeeding in the beginning didn’t help me to lose weight because I was crazy hungry. I was sitting a lot (quite sedentary) because  the baby was asking for milk often (at night too-of course). and was tired and recovering and I wasn’t back into a major exercise regime yet.

And sometimes, your weight can even increase the first few months after baby is born while breastfeeding. Maybe. Each person is different. To gain weight during the first month of breastfeeding can happen, and with longer breastfeeding time the weight eventually comes off.

And when the weight starts to comes off, it just keeps falling

I breastfed all four babies for a year each (my son for 15 months). And from the fourth month onwards the weight does come off (sometimes too much weight can come off too quickly if you don’t have much of an appetite and you are exclusively breastfeeding).

In other words, don’t stop breastfeeding at three months (the common period where  women stop). In general, the weight loss benefits start from three months onwards and by exclusively breastfeeding six months or more (weaning starts at six months with the introduction of food), everyone benefits.

So what’s the skinny on breastfeeding and weight?

Breastfeeding does help you to lose weight and get back to your pre-pregnancy weight and body. Hormones, prolactin and oxytoxin, are released during breastfeeding and help to get your uterus back to where it was before and to help produce milk.
You will lose weight eventually when you breastfeed, but it may not be immediate. And that is what nature intended. To hang onto some body stores to be sure that you are the baby are both on the right nutrition track.

With all this emphasis on weight, the real benefits of breastfeeding are not judged by the scale

Breastfeeding is one of the most intimate gestures between a mom and her baby. Unfortunately for some of these great dads out there, it isn’t physiologically possible to breastfeed. Breastfeeding helps bonding process with the baby. Breast milk is the easiest milk to digest. It has different flavors depending on mom’s diet. It has anti-bodies and immune boosting proteins. The baby learns about hunger and full cues because it is them that decide when they are full. And so.much.more.

I will never regret my time breastfeeding my children. They are all super healthy and I am sure the longer-term breastfeeding helps play an important factor in why.

Other ways to get back to your pre-pregnancy weight when breastfeeding

First to remember is that it takes time (and some efforts) to get your body back:

  • Don’t worry about losing weight until at least 6 weeks postpartum
  • Breastfeed exclusively
  • Walking and other exercise helps you to feel good and move your body
  • Listen to your hunger and full cues: your body knows best and will tell you what it needs
  • Drink a lot of water
  • When the hunger crazies slow down, it is time to slow down the eating
  • Breastfeed exclusively for six months at least and wean onto foods while continuing to breastfeed
  • Gain the ‘right’ amount of weight when pregnant

The last tip is one of the most critical to getting your pre-pregnancy body back

One of the ‘easier’ ways to getting your pre-pregnancy body back is to gain the right amount of weight during pregnancy. It is not always easy, but if you start breastfeeding and you are just over your normal weight, it will be easier to get that weight down to your pre-pregnancy weight.

The European culture and breastfeeding

When I had my baby we went home from the hospital with free formula samples. And I went home quickly based on European standards (back then it was four days in the hospital for a C-section, now it could even be less!).

In Europe you can stay longer at Le Clinique to have your baby, whether it is delivered naturally or by C-section (my last J-was born by C-section in France and I stayed nine days!) . This longer hospital stay helps for breastfeeding success because you can establish breastfeeding before you leave the hospital and not at home where you might not have neither the expertise nor support.

And there is no free formula or formula coupons to come home with in France. So, there is less temptation at 4 am to whip out the free formula and put it in a bottle for baby because breastfeeding is not going well and the baby is crying and you don’t know what to do.

It isn’t always easy. But it is worth it. For mom and baby.

Breast is Best.

I really encourage you to breastfeed. This article is on breastfeeding and weight, because I wanted to highlight that most women in the beginning of breastfeeding do not lose weight.

But weight is just a number. There are so many great benefits to breastfeeding.

The weight does come off. Eventually. So persevere. And breastfeed for longer than three months. You will see what happens.

If you need more information on anything in this article, you can also contact me with any questions at: mbrighton@brightonyourhealth.com.

If you are looking for one to one counseling via Skype or telephone, I also counsel private clients. Contact me and I can send you a list of my services.

Hope you enjoyed this article on using technology and weight loss. I would greatly appreciate you sharing this article to those who may benefit from the information. If you would like to subscribe to our monthly newsletter and article updates (then you won’t miss the next article in the series) why not subscribe with us? By joining you can download a free 13-page E-report on “How to Eat Like the French Without a Food Snob Attitude.”

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Warmly,

Mary

french weight loss methods

 

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11 Responses to The Skinny on Breastfeeding and Losing Weight: What Really Happens

  1. April March 15, 2017 at 21:45 #

    Thank you so much for this reminder! I got really thin after last baby without really trying, but that was not until about a year post partum . I don’t know why with this one (my 3rd) I have been so hard on myself and depressed about not getting skinny right away (exclusively breastfed all my babes). Thank you so much for this reminder that there is a reason those fat stores are stubborn and not melting away immediately. Baby is almost 4 months and breastfeeding going strong. Thank you for the encouragement and reminder to be patient!!

    • mbrighton March 20, 2017 at 09:46 #

      April! Happy First Day of Spring! Yes—-keep going, you are giving the best gift to your baby and you won’t regret this later. Now that the weather is getting warmer (unless you live in the Southern Hemisphere?) you may find yourself less hungry and moving quicker towards your pre-pregnancy body. Keep in touch, Mary

  2. Lindsey January 18, 2017 at 18:23 #

    I’m late to the game on this post, but I’m currently struggling with breastfeeding my 4 month old daughter. This is my third child (first two are boys) and I’ve nursed all 3. I’m struggling right now because she is waking twice a night to eat right now and I’m just anxious. About bottles mainly. I want to carry on until 6 months but i find my self googling today benefits of keeping on or quieting at 4+ months. I would love to have no fear but the whole bottle situation has me incredibly anxious. She is eating so spuratically right now and i cant pump! i have nothing left. Which means ZERO freedom. Another problem – I’m a runner and i have a stress fracture in my hip which my doctors seem to believe has happened because of nursing. Ive been down now for a little over a month (which puts her at 3 months when it happened) and I’m starting to lose pounds. Fast. Like 3 in a little over 1 week. Finding this article has been a breath of fresh air for me. I’m going through a rough patch trying to stay focused on whats best for my baby girl because of worrying if i should stop nursing her to make my hip heal fast possibly and because i was nervous those pounds i was losing were all my muscle that i’ve worked so hard to keep! through pregnancy and breastfeeding. Finding this gives me hope that its just breastfeeding making me lose these pounds. I never thought id be worried about losing weight before!!! (LOL) Anyway, this comment is probably more for me venting (lol) but there is a question here for you. And that’s about me pumping. We have a few things coming up and i just dont know what i can do to get extra milk for her. Also, the night feedings….what can i do, if anything? Help? 🙂

    • mbrighton January 19, 2017 at 11:40 #

      Dear Lindsey,
      What is best for your baby is also keeping yourself in good form. It sounds like you need a break. Normally you produce milk on demand, that means that the more your baby eats and the more you pump you ‘should’ be producing more milk. However, it sounds like you are at your limit, physically and you are not producing enough milk. Is your baby growing well? She might be hungry if you are not producing enough milk. At 4 months many babies have ‘gum’ pain because they are getting ready to push thru a tooth. This could be why she is waking up at night and needing comfort. Don’t feel guilty to give bottles if you are depleted. You don’t have to give up breastfeeding , you could give a bottle if she wakes up during the night and then breastfeed on demand during the day. At least it is a good idea to give her a bottle once in a while so if you need to go away (attend a wedding or something like this), then she is used to taking a bottle. If you are able to pump a bit, mix your breastmilk into the bottle of formula (50 %-50%) for her. You have already given your daughter so much by breastfeeding exculsively this long, you should be proud of yourself, what a gift for you both. But it sounds like you need a break to get yourself some reserves. You could also benefit from a vitamin supplement and extra calories. Lastly, for the night feedings, if you decide to give her a bottle at night, have someone else do this, if she smells you or wants to be with you, she may reject the bottle. GOOD LUCK, Let me know how things are going. WARMLY MARY

  3. Leena June 4, 2016 at 01:21 #

    Thanks so much for posting this! I have been struggling with my weight since I gave birth three months ago and have definitely found all of what you said to be true! My hunger has definitely come down and I’ve lost a kilo (I don’t count the fluctuating water-weight changes lol). I’m more motivated now to slowly start exercising and watch what I eat – I can see the light at the end of the tunnel!

  4. Rachel July 31, 2014 at 01:18 #

    Thank you for this article! I breastfeed for the benefit of my baby BUT was excited to hear the weight would come off. At one month post-partum I have lost 25 lbs. I am 5’2 and was 160 prepregnancy. My highest weight during pregnancy was 224! I am roughly 201 now. I was wondering why the weight wasn’t falling off quicker. Good to know that I may not see weight loss benefits from breastfeeding right away. All the more reason to stick to it! 🙂 Thanks for the encouragement!

    • mbrighton August 2, 2014 at 17:08 #

      Hi Rachel! Go girl! Keep sticking with the breastfeeding and eating healthy. The weight will come off, especially if you breastfeed for more than 6 months. Let me know how you are doing and wish you the best for you and your baby.

  5. Lety April 23, 2014 at 15:06 #

    Excellent article!

    In Italy you’re allowed to stay in hospital a couple of days, after child birth. Pediatricians give advices and strongly encourage breastfeeding. But at home you’re alone. I chose breastfeeding both for my daughter (until 15 months) and for my son (now 17 months and I give him my breast during night, if he wakes up). In the second case I lose weight more rapidly, maybe because my son refused formulas (Italian, French, German…) until 5 months.
    I completely agree with you about choosing breastfeeding. Although it’s not so easy and natural as pediatricians say, in the first days of baby’s life! But after a “trial stage”, maybe biting the bullet because of nipples fissures, breastfeeding is a wonderful experience, both for babies and for moms!

    • mbrighton May 1, 2014 at 14:53 #

      Thanks Lety for your comment. You are amazing, giving both your children this gift and working at the same time. But, I think that these privileged moments between you and your babies keep you bonded. And you are right, breastfeeding isn’t as easy in the beginning, but is so worth it.

  6. ~ The Lady in Red ~ April 23, 2014 at 13:31 #

    So true! Wonderful article! I wish more hospitals, especially those in the US allowed for longer hospital stays and didn’t shove formula samples at you while you were there or to take home with you. You are so right when you say that when a new mother is given time to recover post childbirth at a hospital it aids in the process of breastfeeding successfully.

    • mbrighton May 1, 2014 at 14:56 #

      Hi Lady in Red~ ! Thanks for your comment. I think that there are many barriers to breastfeeding in America: the free formula and coupons for free or reduced formula, the lack of time to stay in the hospital and establish good breastfeeding, and the lack of free support (like you get in some countries -in the UK you can have a nurse come and visit you at home after you give birth to be sure that the baby is breastfeeding well).

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