Why You Might Have Difficulty Losing Weight While Breastfeeding

A woman sitting at a table eating a meal for why you might have difficulty losing weight while breastfeeding main header image.

Breastfeeding promises optimal nutrition for your baby, while also being cost-effective, convenient and supposedly weight-loss inducing. Sounds promising, right? Many moms strive to breastfeed their babies to provide them with all its’ benefits and the promise of losing those pounds quickly- but come to realize they have difficulty losing weight while breastfeeding.

Sadly, this is not always the case! In fact, it wasn’t the case for me with my first child.

Let’s discuss why that might be, with strategies to try to get the weight off while still continuing to breastfeed.

How Can BreastFeeding Promote Weight Loss?

First and foremost, let’s try to understand why breastfeeding is said to promote faster weight loss. 

This comes from the fact that our body burns extra calories to produce breastmilk. Research shows that the body requires an additional 250-500 calories per day to produce 25-35 ounces of breastmilk. 

Here’s the thing, though: the amount of breastmilk you produce correlates with how many additional calories are required. 

Therefore, an exclusively breastfeeding or pumping mama would be on the higher end of the calories required to produce milk. 

What Does The Research Say About Breastfeeding and Weight Loss?

A national cohort study evaluated women who were exclusively and non-exclusively breastfeeding and determined that breastfeeding for at least three months has a small effect on post-partum weight loss among women.

The International Journal of Obesity published an article evaluating multiple studies regarding the effect of breastfeeding on postpartum weight loss, and concluded that it remains unclear if breastfeeding really does promote faster weight loss. 

And for a little better news – a recent 2019 study found that breastfeeding for at least 3 months is associated with significantly less pregnancy weight retention during the postpartum period.

So to summarize…

We’ve got studies that show a small difference, a significant difference, and none at all when it comes to losing weight while breastfeeding. 

All the stories you’ve heard about how breastfeeding can increase weight loss aren’t necessarily true – and more research is needed.

Reasons You Might Have Difficulty Losing Weight While Breastfeeding

Let’s explore some common reasons you might not be losing weight while breastfeeding, and discuss what you can do about it!

You’re Over/Underestimating Caloric Intake

Determining calorie needs while breastfeeding can be quite tricky! On one hand, our body needs more calories to produce milk – and therefore, being too restrictive is not ideal. On the other hand, most moms are eager to get the postpartum weight off.

You also have to think about how much milk you’re producing – and if you’re not pumping, it’s hard to say!

Most experts agree that consuming anything lower than 1500 calories is not recommended while breastfeeding. That being said, a common reason you might not be losing weight during breastfeeding is you’re consuming too many calories.

It is recommended to consume at least 1500 calories daily to ensure adequate milk supply and prevent the body from holding onto fat stores to preserve supply. Therefore, if you’re not eating enough calories to maintain the milk supply you’re producing – your body may hold onto your fat stores and cause a decrease in your metabolism (which may negatively impact your weight loss goals in the long run). 

Hormone Fluctuations

Those first few weeks with a new baby and the struggles that present can be stressful. Additional stress can then increase your cortisol levels, which then increases your appetite! 

Plus add in the poor sleep quality which comes with a new baby and the body has a hard time regulating the hormones ghrelin and leptin.  

Leptin is responsible for regulating your appetite by increasing satiation, or the sensation of feeling full. Ghrelin does the opposite by stimulating your appetite and promoting fat storage along with Prolactin (the milk producing hormone).

So What Can I Do About Losing Weight While Breastfeeding?

As a dietitian and mother of two, I have a lot of experience (both personal and professional) with weight management. With my first child, I really struggled getting the weight off. 

With my second, it was a lot easier! Below is a list of evidence-based strategies to help you with losing weight. That being said, everyone’s postpartum weight loss journey is different – and not all of these may work for you.

Prioritize Meals with Protein and Fiber

An infographic comparing different foods and their protein content per serving.

Both protein and fiber help to slow down digestion, keeping us fuller for a longer period of time and helping to stabilize blood sugars.

Protein needs are increased significantly when breastfeeding to preserve lean muscle mass. 

So, to summarize, meals high in protein and fiber have the potential to be more satiating, decreasing mindless snacking n and lowering overall caloric intake. While a higher protein diet ensures we maintain our muscle mass, which correlates with how many calories we burn at rest. 

Resources to Get You Started:

High Protein High Fiber Meal Plans
7-Day Breastfeeding Meal Plan
120 Grams of Protein Per Day Meal Plans

Meal Prep and Planning

An infographic of batch cooking tips, a helpful meal strategy for busy moms.

It’s no secret that meal prep can help you prioritize healthy meals (that are high in protein and fiber) – which allows us to control ingredients and portion sizes. 

Eating more home-cooked meals is an effective strategy for weight loss. It can be difficult to find the time when you’re a breastfeeding mother, so think about batch cooking or simple, one-pot meals that can be thrown together.

If you feel like this is impossible, I promise it’s not! Use the resources below to find some ideas that might work for you. Meal tracking apps can be helpful for accountability, as well.

Meal Prep Ideas and Strategies

Low Calorie Lunch Meal Prep
92 Lazy Sunday Dinner Recipes
High Protein Bowl Recipes

Manage Sleep, Stress and Self-Care

self-care as a mom quote - prioritizing ourselves to be better moms

The hormones that work against us when trying to lose weight increase when we are stressed, or getting little sleep. Practice mindfulness, and figure out strategies to help manage the stress. 

Work on getting your baby to fall asleep independently, so they will hopefully sleep better at night! Check out my post on solutions for helping your child to sleep if you need some help!

Self-care is also important in managing stress. It’s important to remember that self-care isn’t selfish! It’s a necessity- and it just makes us better moms. 

Self-Care Resources

10 Valuable Solutions for Helping Children to Sleep
Prioritizing Self-Care as a Mom
Managing the Mental Load of Motherhood

Find a Workout Routine You Can Stick To

It’s all about finding a workout routine that works for YOU, and that you can stick to long-term. Working out hours in the gym for a week won’t lead to long-term weight loss- but you know what will? A consistent fitness routine – whether it’s a 30-minute at home workout or short, mini-workouts throughout the day.

I am all about at-home, convenient workouts – so explore the posts below if you need some ideas!

At-Home Fitness Workout

Summary

In all honesty, this post was very difficult to write due to the complexity of the breastfeeding and weight loss relationship. The link between the two is not completely understood. The research shows that some studies have reported a positive association with breastfeeding and weight loss, while others have shown no significant association at all.

My whole site is designed to help moms prioritize THEIR health – so keep this post on hand because it is full of resources to help you with your weight loss journey!

Give yourself grace! I have breastfed two babies, and even with the research I reviewed, I still don’t completely understand how to lose weight while breastfeeding. 

It is easier said than done but try not to obsess about your weight while you’re on your post-partum breastfeeding journey. Figure out a plan that works for you, be consistent – and it will happen in time.

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