Getting rid of baby weight is often high on a new mom's priority list after giving birth. While breast milk is justifiably known as the best food for a new baby, many women who breastfeed also look forward to the added benefit of burning extra calories and boosting postpartum weight loss. Breastfeeding does burn calories, but the difference might not be as much as you think. The amount of time it takes to lose pregnancy weight will depend on how much weight you gained.
Making breast milk takes energy in the form of calories. It takes around 500 calories per day to produce milk, notes Children's Hospital of Philadelphia. That doesn't always translate into weight loss for breastfeeding moms, however; the hormone prolactin, essential for breast milk production, can also increase appetite. If you add more calories to your daily intake than you burn, you'll gain weight. If you're not breastfeeding exclusively, you'll also burn fewer calories.
It takes a deficit of 3,500 calories to lose 1 pound of body weight. If you simply eat the same number of calories needed to maintain your pre-pregnancy weight and aren't getting any more exercise than you were before you had the baby, you'll lose around 1 pound per week. Of course, adding exercise, such as taking the baby for a brisk walk every day, will increase weight loss without compromising nutrition. Ask your doctor before starting a strenuous exercise program, though. If you're 20 pounds overweight after giving birth, it could take up to five months to lose the weight.
While breastfeeding offers a prime opportunity to lose baby weight, limiting calories while breastfeeding isn't a good idea in the first two months after giving birth, nutritionist Dr. Judith Roepke, member of La Leche League International, believes. It takes time to repair tissue damaged during pregnancy and childbirth and to establish your breast milk supply. After two months, limit your calories to no less than 1,800 calories per day, advises the Institute of Medicine. While it's tempting to cut calories by more than this and lose weight faster, plan on eating enough to hold your weight loss to no more than 1 pound per week; losing more could affect your nutrition and/or milk supply.
When you're taking in fewer calories than you need while breastfeeding, making each calorie count for your nutritional benefit as well as your baby's is paramount. Foods that stay with you longer are often higher in protein and healthful fats. Fill your dinner plate with lean meats, poultry, whole grains and vegetables rather than simple sugars. Eat no more than 12 ounces of fatty fish such as salmon or tuna once a week; fatty fish provides omega-3 fatty acids but can also contain mercury. Put calorie-laden snack foods back on the shelf in favor of nuts, seeds or low-fat cheese. Get the calcium you and your baby both need for healthy bones by consuming three servings per day of low-fat dairy.
- HealthyChildren.org: How a Healthy Diet Helps You Breastfeed
- La Leche League International: Weight Loss While Breastfeeding
- Children's Hospital of Philadelphia: Maternal Nutrition and Breastfeeding
- Nutrition During Lactation; Institute of Medicine
- Nutrition Essentials for Nursing Practice; Susan G. Dudek
- WebMD: Your Guide to Breastfeeding
- The New York Times: Breast-Feed the Baby, Love the Calorie Burn
- Polka Dot Images/Polka Dot/Getty Images