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How to Lose Weight While Breastfeeding



Breastfeeding is not only great for your baby, but for most women it also has the advantage of burning some extra calories, which can help to shed extra pounds gained during pregnancy. Losing weight while breastfeeding should be approached with care and caution. However, by eating the right types of foods, exercising, and taking good care of yourself, you can help support up your postpartum weight loss. Breastfeeding and taking care of a baby are extremely time-consuming, and losing weight might feel like an impossible task. With a few adjustments to your daily routine, however, you can find a safe and reasonable weight loss regimen that works with your schedule and your baby’s needs. Just keep in mind that your body will need to hold on to some extra weight while you are breastfeeding (around 5 to 10 pounds), so you may not get back to your pre-pregnancy weight until after you finish breastfeeding.

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Eating Regular Meals and Healthy Snacks

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    Try to eat every three hours. It may seem counterintuitive, but it is important to eat regularly to lose weight. While nursing, you should never eat fewer than 1,500-1,800 calories daily, and most women require much more than this. Starving yourself is never a good idea, and is particularly dangerous when recovering from childbirth and nursing your baby. Too few calories can also be counterproductive to your weight loss goals.

    • Breastfeeding burns an additional 300-500 calories per day, and has been shown to reduce postpartum weight retention overall for most women even without caloric restriction.[1] You should eat enough to satisfy that calorie requirement in addition to that of a healthy diet.
    • While studies have not shown that there is a significant relationship between reduced maternal intake of calories and milk production, eating too few calories can put your health at risk and increase fatigue.[2]
    • Eating regular meals and snacks will take the edge off of your hunger and allow you to more easily manage what you eat. If you allow yourself to get too hungry, you will end up reaching for the most convenient food available, rather than the healthiest option.
    • When you don’t take in enough calories, your body enters a “starvation mode” known as adaptive thermogenesis in order to reduce the amount of energy you are expending, including burning calories. This can function as a type of weight loss sabotage.[3]
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    Keep healthy snacks handy. Eating a treat such as nuts, apple slices, or carrot sticks between meals is an excellent way to keep hunger at bay. Whether working at home or outside of it, nursing moms don’t have a lot of free time. Prepare healthy snacks in advance when you have a spare moment.

    • Keep healthy snacks within reach while you are nursing your baby. Nursing forces you to sit still for a moment and rest, the perfect time to grab a bite.
    • Try keeping nonperishable snacks, like nuts or dried fruit, in your purse or diaper bag, or in your car for easy access on the go.
    • Make sure to wash all fruits and vegetables. The FDA recommends washing fresh produce under running water just before eating, cutting or cooking. Using soap or commercial produce washes is unnecessary.[4]
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    Aim to lose the weight slowly. It’s advisable to wait a minimum of a full 2 months after childbearing prior to actively attempting to slim down. But during this time, you can be eating healthy and avoid junk food as much as possible. After that period has passed, try to lose weight at a slow, but steady, pace, rather than all at once. A pound and a half a week is a reasonable goal.[5]

    • Avoid trend diet plans, cleanses, promises of rapid weight loss, fat burning medicines, diet plan tablets and natural supplements. These things might possibly be risky for anybody, and are especially high-risk while nursing.
    • Studies show that losing weight too quickly puts additional stress on your cardiovascular system. Childbirth and nursing put enough stress on your body, you don’t need to add more.[6]
    • When you go on a crash diet, your body tends to burn muscle and lose water weight, instead of burning fat. This makes keeping the weight off a lot more difficult than if you had lost weight over a more extended period of time.[7]
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    Give it time. Not all women experience postpartum weight loss during breastfeeding the same way. You should think about your weight loss plan as a long term, healthy lifestyle, rather than an immediate goal. Don’t get discouraged if your weight loss doesn’t go exactly as you hoped.

    • You may drop some weight quickly in the first few weeks after you deliver, but keep in mind that it will not all come off that quickly.
    • Don’t expect results overnight. It might take a year or more to lose the additional weight you have acquired while pregnant. Unless you’re a celebrity with a personal trainer, nutritionist, and live-in nanny, losing your baby weight takes time.
    • Some women find it very difficult to lose weight while breastfeeding and experience a greater loss in weight after they wean their baby. This may be due to lack of routine and sleep, which can contribute to overeating.
    • Your body also releases the hormone prolactin during pregnancy and breastfeeding, which triggers milk production. Some research suggests that if you have a higher level of prolactin, it can suppress your metabolism.[8]
    • When taking stock of your weight loss goals, remember that you will usually keep about three pounds of extra tissue in your breasts as long as you are nursing. [9]



Making Healthy Choices

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    Select foods high in nutrients. Choose foods rich in iron, protein, and calcium, as opposed to foods with empty calories or those high in fats or sugars. High protein foods are especially important because they will keep you feeling full for longer. Try to avoid foods that are highly processed or that are simple carbs, like white bread, white rice, cookies, and candy. This will help you lose weight without sacrificing your nutritional health.

    • Good sources of iron include whole-grain products, dark leafy vegetables, and citrus fruits.
    • Eggs and dairy products, as well as leans meats, soy products and meat substitutes, legumes, lentils, nuts, seeds and whole grains contain protein.
    • For calcium, consider dairy products or dark green vegetables. You can also find calcium-enriched products like juices, cereals, soy milk, yogurt and tofu.[10]
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    Avoid overly processed food, fatty food, sugar, and caffeine. Not only will it help you lose weight, but a healthier diet enhances the nutritional value of your breast milk. Junk foods and fast foods offer empty calories that do not offer sustained sources of energy you need to take care of yourself and your baby.

    • Avoiding the extra salt, sugar and preservatives in processed foods is better for you overall.
    • Decrease your fat intake to 20-25% or less of total calories. Replace those fat calories with foods that are lower in fat, but higher in protein.[11]
    • Watch out for hidden sugars in juices and sodas that add on additional calories without nutritional benefit. Many sodas also contain caffeine, which should be limited to less than 2 to 3 cups per day. More than that can disrupt your baby’s sleeping habits (and yours).[12]
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    Keep track of your progress. There are creative ways to chart the progress you have made in your efforts to lose weight. A weight loss chart can help you see on a daily, weekly, monthly and even yearly basis how much you have lost.

    • Make you own chart using an excel spreadsheet. This option allows you to include information that is most relevant to you.
    • Download a weight loss chart. There are many different types of weight loss charts available with just a brief online search. Many are free to download and print out.
    • There are examples of other types of body measurement charts available online as well. Get inspiration from what other people have done to create your own.
    • If you chose to chart every day, pick the same time of day in which to weigh yourself and record it. Remember that you tend to weigh the least first thing in the morning.[13]
    • It is easy to begin obsessing about your weight once you start to keep close track of it. Try to keep your charting within reason. Avoid weighing yourself more than once a day, and don’t get frustrated if your weight fluctuates both up and down.
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    Try to de-stress. The stress that comes with a new baby is difficult to handle, but try to keep stress at bay as much as you can. Stress can get in the way of your weight loss plans. When you feel stressed, your body releases cortisol, which can increase appetite and drive you to eat more. Stress can also cause you to store extra “visceral fat” in your midsection, exactly where you probably wish to slim down the most.[14]

    • To reduce stress, write down your feelings and frustrations during the day, so they don’t keep you up at night. Keep a journal of your experiences with motherhood, breastfeeding, and your efforts to lose weight.
    • Talk about how you’re feeling. Share your thoughts with your partner or a trusted friend or relative. Commiserate about the challenges that come with a new baby with other moms online or in person.
    • Try to focus on good moments with your baby, rather than the struggles that come with motherhood. Keep in mind that the time your baby is of breastfeeding age is very short.
    • Ask for help. If you’re feeling overwhelmed with the responsibilities of breastfeeding and motherhood, reach out to those around you for help. Make sure your partner is shouldering his or her share of the burden. Ask grandparents to help take care of older children or help prepare meals.



Staying Active

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    Do cardio exercises regularly. An exercise as easy as power walking can result in fast and efficient weight management all over, including your belly. There are several fun ways to stay active, even while taking care of a nursing baby. [15]

    • Power walk or run while pushing your child in a stroller around your neighborhood. This is a pleasant way to get some exercise for yourself and some fresh air for your baby.
    • There are many exercise strollers available on market. Some are designed for serious running, while others are more tailored to a brisk walk. Find one that suits your exercise needs.
    • If you dislike the bulk of pushing around a stroller, consider buying a baby carrier or sling to use on walks and outings with your baby.
    • Make your cardio workouts a social event. If you know other moms with young children in your area, invite them to go for a walk. This is a great way to get out and socialize, which can be difficult if you are staying home to care for your baby.
    • Everything in moderation. Do not exercise to the point of exhaustion, but even vigorous exercise is fine while breastfeeding (after getting the green light from your doctor post-partum of course).[16]
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    Prepare for your workouts. There are a few extra steps you as a nursing mother should take before engaging in exercise for your own comfort and the comfort of your baby. It is important to keep your body and your breasts in good shape for nursing and milk production.

    • Wear a supportive sports bra when doing vigorous activity. Supporting your breasts with a well-fitting bra reduces nipple friction and discomfort. Nursing sports bras are now available for active moms.
    • Drink some extra water before and during your workout. An extra two of three glasses of water will help ensure that you do not get dehydrated, which can affect your milk supply.
    • Try to nurse before your workout. This will settle your baby, if you are bringing him or her along, and working out without engorged breasts is much more comfortable.[17]
    • If you sweat extensively when working out, rinse your breasts before nursing. Some babies don’t like the taste of salt.[18]
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    Try some resistance/weight training. You don’t need to “bulk up” to get the benefits of weight training. Building any amount of muscle mass burns more calories, even while at rest. Building strength overall is also beneficial for carrying your baby.

    • Use elastic bands or weights for resistance training, and exercise at intervals that are high in intensity.
    • More repetitions with lower weight is just as effective at building muscle as working out with heavier weights, and less likely to cause injury.[19]
    • If you regularly lift weights or do exercises with repetitive arm movement, it is important to start slowly. If you find that your breasts become irritated or develop plugged ducts, cut back on these type of exercises for a while.[20]


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