As new mums start their breastfeeding journeys, they often find themselves concerned about losing the excess weight they have gained during their pregnancies. A common belief amongst many women is that breastfeeding will help lose the undesired extra pounds left after the baby. However, there are several underlying factors involved in the process of expediting or hindering the calorie-burning process and indeed, to get leaner might not be as straight forward as it may seem on paper. To help understand this process better, let’s take a look at what's the reality of the relationship between breastfeeding and losing weight.
Let’s Talk Numbers
Did you know that on average a pregnant woman will gain anywhere between 11 to 16 kilograms (25 to 45 pounds)? However, this is mostly situational. For instance, depending on their pregnancy weight, overweight women may need to gain less while underweight women may need to gain more. Similarly, if you are having more than one baby, then you need to gain substantially more (16 to 25 kilograms or 37 to 54 pounds). Most of the weight gained during pregnancy is not because of fat but it’s the baby and the organs that need to sustain the growth of the foetus, like the placenta, amniotic fluid, increased blood supply, etc. On average, post-partum weight retention is between 0.5 and 3 Kg (1 to 6 pounds). However. 14-20% of women are 5Kg (10 pounds) heavier at 6-18 months after delivery.
By this account, losing pregnancy weight would require adhering to at least a 9000 calorie deficit to lose every kilogram gained. Women breastfeeding their newborns should statistically be able to burn up to 595 calories every day for the first two months and 695 calories for the remaining breastfeeding period. When the baby grows the milk consumption will increase and so the energy expenditure will also increase. This way they should be able to achieve their pre-pregnancy body within two months, right?
While the math may appear simple and straightforward, the reality is far from it.
Yes, No, Maybe?
Like every pregnancy, the breastfeeding experience is also novel and unique to each woman. While many studies have been done to explore the effects of breastfeeding on weight, there is no concrete evidence to generalize these findings to the wider population. A review of five studies identified a small effect whereby breastfeeding mothers lost up to two kilograms of more weight in 12 months compared to non-breastfeeding mums. The problem with this topic is that the weight depends on so many things to make it difficult to understand if one specific factor, like breastfeeding, might make a huge difference.
Even though the data is still not completely clear, researchers have found some patterns:
· breastfeeding mothers shed more weights than mothers who don’t
· exclusive breastfeeding is more helpful in losing weight than mixed feeding
· the more intense and frequent is breastfeeding and more sustained is the weight loss.
· breastfeeding for more months seems to promote more weight loss than breastfeeding for a shorter amount of time
What is for sure is that breastfeeding is not some sort of magic wand against fat and to lose weight while nursing your baby is not as easy. There are few possible reasons why is difficult to lose weight while breastfeeding. One is increased appetite. For instance, prolactin, the breastfeeding hormone increases appetites while stress causes an increase in leptin and ghrelin, the hunger hormones. Ultimately, mums crave sweet, savoury, and starchy food items such as cakes and junk food. On average a sizeable slice of carrot cake with frosting contains around 650 calories which can significantly skew the calories used to breastfeed one entire day.
Another factor that needs to be taken into consideration is the considerable disruption of sleeping patterns for new mothers, which in turns increases stress and with this the appetite. Being also constantly tired makes it more difficult to have an active lifestyle. So, in the end, it’s very common to eat more and move less while breastfeeding. This might also be a comfortable thought for women who might be concerned that a healthier diet and active lifestyle might reduce breastmilk production. To make the situation even more complex, health workers have been advocates of a calm lifestyle with plenty of food for breastfeeding mothers.
Motherhood is a unique experience and that several biological and social factors can affect the weight loss journey of breastfeeding mums. Establishing healthy routines and adhering to an active lifestyle during this period can be challenging but not unachievable. While we found some mums preferring routines, others found maintaining a calorie deficit diet helpful instead.
Whether you exclusively breastfeed, adopt a mixed feeding approach, or breastfeed for longer durations, ultimately the formula that works for you may not necessarily work for the next mother. However, research shows that adopting a calorie deficit diet can help lose weight without causing any disruptions in the production of breastmilk. For instance, a research study found that breastfeeding women who limited their calorie intake to 1800 - 2000 calories per day coupled with 45 minutes of light exercise (like walking, home training, pilates, etc) at least four days a week were able to lose approximately 0.5 kilograms of excess weight per week without reducing their milk supply.
Ultimately, if you burn more calories than you consume, you will be able to lose any excess weight without fail. Breastfeeding mothers have an advantage over others as they burn a few extra calories per day while feeding their newborns.
Here are a few tips and tricks to help you achieve your pre-pregnancy body:
● Limit your calorie intake to 2000 calories per day.
● Consume foods rich in protein and fibre.
● Move your body: exercise regularly.
● Hydrate yourself with unsweetened beverages like water.
● Nutritious foods are consumed most when easily accessible hence, keep them close.
● Catch up on sleep when your baby sleeps.
There are several benefits of breastfeeding for both mom and baby. For example, breastfeeding moms are less likely to experience postpartum depression. Additionally, research has found breastfed babies with better brain development trajectories. Unfortunately, breastfeeding is not a magic wand against the fat and breastfeeding alone might not be enough to win the battle. However, if breastfeeding is paired with a healthy and active (as much as possible) lifestyle will help to regain a great shape.
One last thing.
Vanity blossoms but bears no fruit.
Maybe it doesn't matter to lose all the weight you can. It's always important to be comfortable with your weight and overall shape. In the past few years, many social campaigns have been done against body-shaming and the excessive pressure media and society puts on women's bodies. It's wrong and unfair to depict unrealistic models of beauty because it grows a great deal of insecurity in people. The only real important thing for the vast majority of people is to have a healthy weight. You might be aware that checking your BMI is a very quick way to know if your weight is healthy or not. Click here to check yours and if it's over the limit, well, time to avoid cake for a while!
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