There’s a myth that breastfeeding your little one practically takes the extra baby weight right off your body. That’s why so many breastfeeding mamas will quickly find themselves upset when unwanted weight tends to linger.
So what gives? Doesn’t breastfeeding burn calories?
Yes, it does. And there’s study after study to show us that on average, you can expect to burn 200-500 calories per day.
Despite the fact that you are burning a lot of calories when you breastfeed your baby, you body also needs to take in additional calories to meet the demands– and this is why it’s hard to lose weight while breastfeeding.
You can safely lose weight while breastfeeding without compromising your milk supply if you follow some simple guidelines, which I’ll cover in-depth below.
To bring you the best resource possible, I’ve taken my own personal experience with this subject and coupled that with the knowledge of my friend, Sarah Petty, who is a certified personal trainer and nutritionist expert.
As a bonus for my readers, Sarah also provided me with sample meal plans designed to help you shed the weight fast! (you can find those towards the end of the article).
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Does breastfeeding make it hard to lose weight?
Essentially, when you’re actively breastfeeding, you’ll need to take in more calories than you did pre-pregnancy to maintain your milk supply. Unfortunately, most mothers hear this and feel like it’s a blank check to eat whatever they want, rather than focusing on adding two to three healthy snacks to their diet.
To add insult to injury, breastfeeding around the clock will unquestionably make you hungry. And many times ravenous moms reach for whatever sounds appealing to them, and it’s usually in the starch, sugary or junk food category.
Additionally, when you’re breastfeeding, your hormones are a bit out of whack. I asked Sarah her thoughts on this subject, and she had this to say:
“Oxytocin is released more frequently when lactating due to the “let down” reflex that occurs every time you breastfeed or pump. This “happiness” hormone improves the use of glucose and fat use for fuel, and can support weight loss.
However, if stress is high, oxytocin will not be adequately released. Not only can this inhibit milk supply, but it can make lactation-induced weight loss impossible.
And when isn’t stress high as a new mother?!
How many calories should I eat to lose weight while breastfeeding?
While you don’t need to track each and every calorie that goes into your mouth while nursing your baby, research does show that, on average, your milk supply remains abundant when you’re consuming between 1800-2200 calories each day.
And consuming less than 1500-1800 calories per day can put you at risk for having your milk production decrease.(source).
Will exercise reduce my milk supply?
There are no studies to support that moderate exercise will reduce milk supply.
When you exercise vigorously your muscles make a substance called lactic acid. This is a completely harmless substance and is fine for your baby to ingest while breastfeeding. Research has show that moderate exercise does not produce lactic acid.
Lactic acid has only been found when exhaustive or intense exercise is performed. Because of this fact, some mothers may worry that their milk might taste sour after exercising.
Keep in mind that moderate exercise won’t produce this substance. If you do perform intense exercise, and are worried that your baby might not like the taste of your milk afterwards, wait 90 minutes after working out before you breastfeed.
7 tips to help a nursing mother lose weight without losing milk supply
1. Don’t try to lose weight before your milk supply is established
Breastfeeding is a supply and demand game. The more you nurse your baby, the more milk you’ll make. That’s why it’s always best to chuck the schedule and nurse your baby on demand as your milk supply is establishing.
Once your supply is fully developed, which happens around the 2 month mark for most mamas, it’s fine to begin dieting while breastfeeding.
2. Keep healthy snacks on hand (that work to boost milk supply, too)
Breastfeeding makes you hungry, there’s no doubt about that. When hunger strikes you can make smart choices if you prepare ahead and have healthy snacks on hand.
Satisfy cravings with some of these healthy pick-me-ups that also work to build milk production through incorporating lactogenic foods:
- Overnight oats: Oats are a known lactogenic food (food that naturally increases breast production). Make overnight oats ahead of time and so you can have something when a mid-morning craving strikes.
- Greek yogurt and apricots: Greek yogurt has tons of protein to help keep you full longer. Make sure to grab a container that has a low amount of sugar, though as some brands have high amounts of sugar. Pair the yogurt with apricots– another food that increases breast milk supply.
- Smoothies: Smoothies are some of my favorite snacks; they work well to quell hunger and are jam-packed with good-for-you-foods. I use frozen berries, fresh bananas, greek yogurt, kale, and chia seeds to make mine. To avoid having to make these every day, I make a huge batch and freeze in four oz containers. Just pop a container in the fridge 24 hours before you want to eat so it has time to thaw. Throw in some brewer’s yeast (a known lactogen) and you’ve got a healthy snack that also increases milk supply.
- Carrots and hummus: Carrots are another lactogenic food, so make sure to keep these in your fridge. Pair them with hummus for a filling snack.
- Almonds: Almonds are full of healthy fats are a great snack that can be grabbed in a pinch. Just make sure to watch your portion with almonds, as more than a handful is too much. Bonus: almonds also work to improve your milk supply.
3. Incorporate your baby into your exercise routine
I had the absolute hardest time trying to fit exercise into my routine as a new mom. When my baby napped I’d scurry around trying to clean the house, answer emails or just catch up on rest. Working out was the last thing I wanted to do. I started thinking outside the box and decided that if I was going to be working out, during those first several months, I was going to have to figure out how to incorporate my little one, too.
Luckily, there are tons of things you can do to burn calories with your baby. Here are some of my favorite ways to get in some cardio with baby.
Try a baby wearing workout
Most babies are along for whatever as long as they are close, so why not use a baby carrier to shed some pounds and tone up? Here’s a great how-to:
Do a stroller workout
I tried many of these stroller workouts and loved being able to burn calories with my daughter close by. Here’s a great video to get you started:
Give Mommy and Me workouts a go
Mommy and me exercises are so fun and can be done indoors when the weather isn’t so fun to try a stroller workout. Here’s one that I really enjoyed:
Related reading: 6 essentials to ease you into postpartum exercise
4. Focus on your diet more than your workout schedule
“Research shows that exercise alone does not promote weight loss during lactation. After breastmilk production has been established (at least 4 weeks postpartum), it is safe to reduce caloric intake by up to 500 calories per day without decreasing milk production. However, it is important to know your total daily calorie burn so that you do not accidentally restrict too much. A common problem with weight loss attempts is that calories are restricted beyond a safe amount. This leads to binge eating, weight regain, and metabolic inflexibility. Work with a nutritionist or calculate your energy burn before subtracting 500 calories,” says Sarah.
Related breastfeeding resources: 11 lactation cookie recipes to boost milk production
5. Drink plenty of water
Did you know many times when you crave sweets you’re just actually really dehydrated? I seem to always crave sweets and when I was breastfeeding it was 10 times worse. Keeping water close by and making sure to sip water while I was breastfeeding really helped cut those sugar cravings in half.
Many mothers feel like they must down tons of fluids in order to keep milk supply, and while dehydrated mothers may see some decreased milk production it’s not necessary to make yourself drink fluids beyond satisfying thirst.
Kelly mom states, “Unless you are severely dehydrated, drinking extra fluids (beyond thirst) is not beneficial, may cause discomfort, and does not increase milk supply.”
Not a huge water drinker? Good news– carbonated water counts, too. You can also get creative and add fruit to your water too!
6. Eat well-balanced meals
The key to keeping your calories in check is to make sure your plate is properly portioned with protein, fruits and veggies, complex carbs and healthy fats. You’ll also need to make sure you cut out most processed and pre-packaged foods.
Did you know protein works to keep you fuller longer? Anytime you sit down for a meal or snack, lean protein should be involved.
Keep your refrigerator stocked with things like fish, greek yogurt, chicken, beans (kidney beans, lima beans, peas, green beans, etc.), nut or almond butter, lean cuts of beef, light tuna, nuts, and eggs.
Recent research indicates that you should strive for 10 portions of fruits and veggies per day.
Filling your plate with ample fruits and veggies is not only good for you and produces long-term benefits that have been proven to reduce disease, but in doing this, you’re also filling up on low calorie, healthy foods first.
Not all carbs are created equal; in fact, there’s a pretty monumental difference between simple and complex carbs. Simple carbs are things like white bread, white rice, cakes, cookies, and sugary drinks.
Essentially, simple carbs are immediately digested into your bloodstream and converted to energy, giving you an instant high followed by a sudden crash. Stay away from simple carbs while trying to lose weight.
On the other hand, complex carbs consumed in moderation work to satisfy hunger, provide the body with ample energy and maintain healthy blood sugar levels.
Complex carbs take much longer to digest and are found in foods like whole bread, oatmeal, brown rice, chickpeas, beans, sweet potatoes, and bananas.
While you want to steer clear of trans fats, and eat saturated fats in limited quantities, you can go all out with monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats.
Healthy fats are actually really good for you and help keep some of your body’s critical functions working– in other words, don’t dismiss fats.
Healthy fats are found in foods like avocado, olive oil, fish, cheese, eggs, nuts, and even dark chocolate! A word of caution with consuming healthy fats: moderation is key!
7. Get enough sleep
Would it surprise you to know that not getting enough sleep may be sabotaging your weight loss goals?
A study published recently indicates that not getting at least 7 hours of sleep each night can drastically reduce the effort you put into losing weight through diet and exercise.
The study also uncovered the fact that subjects sleeping 5.5 hours per night or less saw a 55% decrease in fat loss compared to those that had slept more.
Of course, as a new mom, getting more sleep is most definitely easier said than done, but there are things you can do to help catch some more shut eye.
- Try going to bed early. Move your bedtime up if you have to. For a while, my child was still waking up at 4 am to feed, so I tried to go to bed as early as possible so I could get 7 good hours in before she’d wake up.
- Don’t apologize for napping when your baby naps. The first six months to a year of your baby’s life is just hard, and you will probably feel tempted to use every spare moment to catch up on housework, emails, or bills– but try to remember how important sleep is.
Soon, your baby will be sleeping through the night and you can adjust to your new normal, but for now, use every opportunity to get some more sleep!
Lose weight while breastfeeding with these sample meal plans
Feeling stuck on what to eat to lose weight and maintain enough calories to keep your milk supply up? Here are some sample meal plans for breakfast, lunch and dinner.
- 1/2 cup old-fashioned oats cooked in milk of choice, with 2 Tbsp hemp seeds, 1 Tbsp flax seeds, 1 Tbsp nut butter, 1/2 banana or 1/2 cup berries, and 1/2 tsp cinnamon
- 2 eggs scrambled with peppers and onions, and 1 piece of seed bread with nut butter
- Smoothie with 1/2 banana, 1/2 cup frozen berries, 1 scoop vanilla protein powder OR 4 Tbsp hemp seeds, milk of choice, handful raw spinach, and 1 tsp moringa powder (supports lactation and weight loss)
- Homemade granola (store-bough granolas often have loads of sugar): handful each of sliced almonds, coconut flakes, and oats, coated in coconut oil and toasted in the oven for 7 minutes, mixed with 1 Tbsp chia seeds, 1 Tbsp hemp seeds, and 1 Tbsp flax seeds. Add cinnamon if desired and eat with milk or yogurt of choice.
- 1 slice seed bread, toasted, with avocado, hemp seeds, and a sprinkle of salt. Top with a fried egg or two.
- Big salad with at least 4 different kinds of veggies, 4 oz fish/chicken/black beans, 1 oz cheese, balsamic vinaigrette, and seed crackers on the side.
- Loaded sandwich made from seed bread, with 3 oz roasted turkey or roast beef, spinach or romaine, tomato, 1 oz goat cheese, and mustard or avocado oil mayo.
- Roasted chicken, small sweet potato, sautéed asparagus with butter, handful of almonds
- Quinoa salad with green onion, feta, olives, tomatoes, cilantro, lime juice, and topped with 4 oz chicken or chickpeas
- Spiced sweet potato and carrot soup, made with onions, broth, garlic, ginger, and coconut cream.
- Broccoli & Beef with 1 cup brown rice or quinoa
- Fish tacos with shredded carrots and cabbage/sauerkraut, salsa, and lime
- Ground turkey chili with tomatoes, pinto beans, onions, and broth
- Roasted chicken with red potatoes, carrots, with a side salad
- Nachos made with bean chips or blue corn tortilla chips, ground beef/shredded chicken, black/pinto beans, lettuce, tomatoes, sprinkle of cheese, guac, salsa, and lime
What workouts are best for fat burning to help you lose weight while breastfeeding?
Since Sarah’s the expert in this department, I asked her what she thought about this; here’s what she had to say:
“Walking is the perfect exercise during the early postpartum phase. It supports your metabolism and encourages burning body fat for fuel.”
Wait until you have the all-clear from your healthcare provider, and then start taking baby with you further and further down the block until you feel well enough to take a longer walk. Build up to 1-3 miles at a moderate pace.
Core work is essential for anyone starting a workout plan, but especially after childbirth! Start slow and focus on building strength. This will allow you to increase exercise intensity soon, and if you don’t do it, you’ll take longer to heal from childbirth.
Yoga, pilates, and short core-specific workouts are best during the first few weeks of workouts (avoid exercises contraindicated for diastasis recti if you have it).
Body weight exercises, such as squats, planks, pushups, lunges, and dips are great for building strength while your pelvic floor is still healing. Practice breathing through each repetition and notice if you put pressure on your pelvic floor. Instead, lift your pelvic floor as you exhale.
Boost your metabolism even more with weight lifting after you’ve built core strength. If you lifted weights during pregnancy, you can gradually return to these exercises with some modifications. 20-30 minutes is all you need if you’re getting your heart rate up.
Add on more core work, stretching, and long walks if you can for extra benefits. Keep a moderately elevated heart rate for up to an hour every day for maximum fat burning without stressing your nervous system and reducing milk production.
Listen to your body and stop if you feel “off” or overly fatigued.
High-intensity interval training is an excellent way to burn fat in less time, but should not be attempted in the first few months postpartum UNLESS you did HIIT training during your pregnancy, have no complications from labor, and feel completely healed in your pelvic floor.
Again, listen to your body and change to a different workout if you feel any issues during HIIT,” says Sarah.
Ready to jump into your first postpartum workout? I’ve partnered with Sarah to bring you 8 essential moves to get you started.
Closing thoughts on how to lose weight while breastfeeding
Attempting to lose weight while breastfeeding can be hard, but it’s not impossible. If you’re heavily focusing heavily on diet, making sure you are snacking on healthy foods (preferably those known to increase milk supply), getting enough sleep and squeezing in two-three workouts you should see results in one to two months.
Have a question or want to share your postpartum weight loss experience? Leave a comment below!