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Breastfeeding and Weight Loss: Separating Myth From Reality

When you’ve just had a baby, it can feel like the whole world is pressuring you to snap back to your pre-pregnancy size and shape. To be honest, that’s not always realistic, nor is it something you should feel obligated to do. Your body just did something amazing, and if it never looks exactly like it did before you got pregnant, that’s really okay. What’s important here is for you to be healthy and happy, both for your own sake and for your baby’s. That means remembering to eat, even when your baby seems to need you nonstop, and making time in your day for exercise.

If you do end up having extra pounds hanging around from your pregnancy (or even from before), what’s the most effective way to dump them? And is it true that nursing your baby will help you lose weight without trying? Just how many calories does breastfeeding burn, anyway? Here I’ll talk a little bit about breastfeeding and weight loss in the postpartum period. I’ll give you the rundown on what’s accurate and what isn’t—and how you can be your best self as you transition into life as a mother.

What’s the Deal With Breastfeeding and Weight Loss?

You may have heard moms talking about how breastfeeding can help you lose weight, whether you gained it during pregnancy or prior to conception. For some mothers, that may well be true. Breastfeeding your baby does toast an additional 300 to 500 calories per day in addition to your baseline. If that puts you in a calorie deficit, then yes, you should notice the number on the scale decreasing a little at a time. If you add extra calories to your daily diet while breastfeeding, however, you may not drop much weight, if any. In fact, if you overdo it, you may end up putting on more weight in the postpartum period. I know how hard it can be to resist snacking at midnight when you’re up with your baby for what feels like the hundredth time, but be mindful of your eating habits. If you’re trying to lose weight right now, you shouldn’t view breastfeeding as a license to eat whatever you want—it’ll backfire on you.

mom sitting on sofa bed and breastfeeding baby while holding son in arms

It’s important to eat healthy and energizing foods. (Image Source: Shutterstock)

It’s important to eat healthy and energizing foods that help you make it through each long day (and night!) and provide proper nutrition to your baby. Focus on fresh fruits and veggies (smoothies are great!), lean protein, yogurt and cheese, and whole-grain bread, cereals, and pasta. Quick and healthy snacks are your BFF right now, especially if you can eat them with one hand (new parents rarely have two free hands!). I like mixed nuts, string cheese like mozzarella or cheddar, or snack bars without any added sugar, like Larabars. With my first baby, I had a habit of eating Oreos when I was up in the middle of the night for feedings, and I don’t recommend this! Treats are fine in moderation, just as they were before you had a baby, but don’t make them a dietary staple.

Exercise for Postpartum Weight Loss

You shared your body with your baby for eight or nine months, and now that you have it back to yourself, it’s understandable to want to feel more like you. This doesn’t mean you should set unrealistic expectations for yourself, though. After all, some pregnancy changes are largely irreversible, like expanded ribs, wider hips, and bigger feet. Others, like stretch marks, sagging breasts, and C-section scarring, are only treatable with the help of a professional, such as a plastic surgeon. If that’s something you’d like to pursue, that’s up to you. If you’ve accepted these changes as part of your new life as a mom, that’s fine too. Everyone is different, but what really matters here is that you feel comfortable in your own skin.

Postpartum Cardio Workout | Postpartum Weight Loss | Pregnancy and Postpartum TV

I know that once I healed from childbirth, I was eager to get back to moving my body every day without the extra strain of a pregnant belly. Gentle postpartum exercise is one of the best strategies for weight loss, and the good news is that you can do it with your baby in tow. Go for a walk with your baby in that stroller you scored at your shower, or try an exercise program you can stream right to your living room. In your first few weeks, take it easy and stick to basic yoga poses and stretching. You can gradually work up to more strenuous workouts as you rebuild your strength and endurance.

Effective Ways to Lose a Postpartum Belly

If this is your first baby, you may be shocked by how very . . . well, pregnant you still look when you leave the hospital. That’s absolutely normal! Over the course of nine months, your ligaments and muscles relaxed to accommodate your growing baby, and it takes them time to return to their preconception state. It also takes time for your uterus to shrink back to its regular size, so don’t be too hard on yourself if your postpartum belly still looks huge.

Postpartum belly and new born baby

Maintaining a healthy diet should help you lose weight. (Image Source: Shutterstock)

Even after you’ve had time to heal, you may notice that your tummy doesn’t resemble the one you remember from before pregnancy. There’s no diet or pregnancy exercise that can guarantee you’ll return to the exact size and shape you were the day you saw those two pink lines. Carrying a baby for forty weeks can leave you with a belly that looks larger and less toned, with abdominal muscles that are looser or even separated.

Maintaining a balanced and healthy diet and committing to at least 30 minutes of daily exercise should help you lose any unwanted weight in your belly. To target your weak muscles, check out workouts like Pilates and barre, which emphasize working your core until you’re shaking like a leaf. If you’re building your own routine, focus on moves that work your abdominal muscles, like planks and leg lifts.

Be Kind to Yourself

It seems like everywhere we look, there are photos of celebrities and influencers who have miraculously snapped back to red-carpet shape just days after giving birth. Please remember that these people have personal dietitians, fitness trainers, stylists, and wardrobe consultants, not to mention Photoshop and filters. You might return to your prior weight and shape quickly and easily, but it’s not a failure on your part if you don’t. And if you find that you like your body the way it is now and don’t feel the need to set expectations for yourself, more power to you. You deserve to feel confident and happy just as you are.

Have I cleared up some of the confusion around breastfeeding and weight loss? I hope so. Beyond that, I hope I’ve empowered you to take charge of your postpartum health in a way that is realistic and sustainable. I want you to be your best self and enjoy these precious days of early new motherhood.