You heard it over and over during pregnancy; “Eat whatever you want honey, breastfeeding will make the weight melt off,” which likey justified a few too many late-night milkshake runs.
Now you are breastfeeding and wondering why you aren’t losing weight?!
No, you haven’t been lied too.
Breastfeeding does indeed make you lose weight but it isn’t necessarily nature’s most powerful or permanent form of liposuction.
There is likely more than one reason you aren’t losing weight while breastfeeding and in this post we will go over the most common ones.
I hope after reading this you will either figure out what to change to increase your weight loss or accept your body the way that it is and give your pre-pregnancy weight goal some more time to achieve.
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Breastfeeding is complicated. If you didn’t know this going into it then you most likely do by now. Everything from the nipple pain, the engorgement, to what foods you should eat to keep up your supply.
And in the back of my mind, it was still so important for me to lose weight. I wanted to look good and let me tell you, right after I had my son I did NOT look good.
In fact let me show you even though it’s embarrassing…
There I was, all 185 pounds of me, on my first walk with my son as a new mom, swollen as all get out.
I was so very hopeful that I would lose weight and get back to my normal 135 pound self quickly with the help of breastfeeding.
Guess what, it took me 2 years to get back to my pre-pregnancy weight!
Mic drop. 🎤
Now that I am on the other side I have a pretty good reason why breastfeeding didn’t help me shrivel back up quickly and I wanted to share what I have learned so I can hopefully help you have realistic expectations about postpartum weight loss.
You can and will get back to your pre-pregnancy weight. It just might not be as quickly as you wish and it may not be from breastfeeding alone, even though breastfeeding will help the process along faster.
4 Reasons You Are Not Losing Weight From Breastfeeding
1. You have a lot of cards stacked against you when it comes to postpartum weight loss
Weight loss is a complicated mathematical equation that relies on your body burning more calories than it takes in, so it can convert your fat stores to energy.
However, it isn’t as simple as calories in calories out because your metabolic output is based off of so many factors including how much sleep you get (uhm hello, like none?), if you are getting enough nutrients for proper cell function, and your hormones play a role (which are all over the place postpartum).
Studies have proven that sleep deprivation decreases glucose sensitivity, which can increase the risk for obesity, type 2 diabetes, and alters your hormone balance so you are more likely to secrete extra cortisol (the stress hormone responsible for more belly fat). (1,2)
We also have a much greater appetite when we don’t sleep enough.
Considering most new moms are lucky to get 4 hours of broken sleep a night, it’s no wonder so many of us have trouble dropping the pregnancy lbs.
Your metabolism is a chemical machine that will slow down if it doesn’t get enough fuel.
It is so easy to forget to eat yourself when you are busy feeding a baby all day long but doing so could be detrimental to your metabolism. (source)
Your mammary glands will make nutritionally perfect breastmilk whether or not you getting enough nutrients in your diet. (source) That doesn’t mean there aren’t consequences to a crappy diet and it’s you who will likely suffer.
It is so tempting to think about restricting your diet to lose weight faster but during breastfeeding it isn’t the best time to do this.
On the other end of the spectrum you can’t overeat just because your are breastfeeding.
Breastfeeding burns up to 500 extra calories a day so the average woman will need somewhere between 2000-2500 calories to be healthy. That is really just enough to get a wide variety of vitamins, fats, proteins, and carbs so it’s almost impossible to calorie restrict and remain nourished.
We will go over some tips to look better and increase weight loss each day without effecting your milk supply later on in this article but for now, let’s continue to evaluate what could be preventing you from losing weight while your are breastfeeding.
The female body goes through an amazing transformation hormonally through pregnancy, birth, and breastfeeding.
When you were pregnant you had high levels of estrogen and progesterone but they drop off immediately after you deliver the placenta.
This creates a major imbalance which can cause you to feel down in the dumps. (source) It is so much harder to get the motivation to walk or exercise when you are sleep deprived and depressed.
There is also a rare autoimmune condition called postpartum thyroiditis which affects 8% of pregnant women that can show up during the first year postpartum. (source)
Your thyroid gland plays an important role in many body functions including metabolism so if you have other symptoms such as chronic fatigue, dry skin, constipation, and weight gain, head back to your provider to get your thyroid levels checked.
Even if you don’t have this extreme condition, 7% of women have decreased thyroid function postpartum which can make it a lot harder to lose weight. (source)
Lastly, high prolactin levels, the hormone responsible for stimulating your body to make breast milk, is also associated with weight retention. (source)
To sum it up, our hormones are completely against us in the immediate postpartum period, making weight loss more difficult than ever!
2. You didn’t breastfeed long enough
I read a statistic the other day that 4 out of 5 mothers start breastfeeding but by 3 months 50% have quit. (source)
That number gets even worse when you look at the statistics at 6 months out: only 25% of mothers are still exclusively breastfeeding.
You, my dear reader, are not a statistic to me and I care not only about your baby getting breastmilk, but also that you get back to the body you want for yourself.
Breastfeeding is one of the hardest things I ever did. But if I could offer any words of encouragement it would be, just keep sticking with it!
Related: Breastfeeding tips for new moms
Even if you have to supplement some, don’t let that be a reason to completely give up on it.
The longer you breastfeed, the more weight you will lose in the long run. If you are really struggling with the whole process, I recommend checking out this online breastfeeding course to give you more insight.
3. You gained too much weight during pregnancy
A lot of us go into pregnancy hoping we won’t gain a lot of weight.
According to the American Pregnancy Association, the average pregnancy weighs about 30 pounds, and only 7 of those pounds are for maternal fat stores needed for breastfeeding.
I personally gained about 45 pounds during pregnancy. I had an extra 15 pounds above the recommended pregnancy weight gain which means if I wanted to lost weight fast by breastfeeding, I had to burn a lot more calories in a day than I likely was ever going to.
If you gained an excess amount of weight like I did during pregnancy, don’t give up yet, it will come off with some effort later down the line.
It just may not happen overnight like instagram mommies act like it does!
It’s all about the angle right?
I am over 2 years out from birth and finally back to my pre-pregnancy weight!
It really took that long for me so give yourself some more time.
4. You aren’t in your 20s anymore
If you are in your 20s you will likely lose weight easier from breastfeeding than if you are pregnant in your 30s and 40s.
The older you get, the more your metabolism slows down so it will be naturally harder to lose weight.
One of the best ways to boost your metabolism is to gain muscle mass because muscle increases your resting metabolic rate.
Even if you don’t have the time or energy for a long workout (who really does postpartum?) it will be helpful to keep a 10 pound dumbbell around. This way you can grab a moment and sneak in a few squats or arm curls to build some more muscle.
How You Can Lose Weight During Breastfeeding
Ok, so let’s say you are in your 20s, eat pretty well, take as many naps as possible, and have been breastfeeding for at least 6 months, yet you STILL don’t fit into your favorite pair of jeans.
This section is going to give some practical tips to increase your weight loss over the long term.
-Start your morning with a detox drink-
Detox drinks can wake up your metabolism and even provide a motivational placebo to help you be your best throughout the day.
Not only that but the body tends to stash toxins in adipose tissue.
Fat cells serve no purpose other than insulation and to be used later for energy when food isn’t around.
Think about fat cells as the perfect storage container for things like heavy metals and environmental pollutants like pesticides.
The body doesn’t want to release those things into the blood stream when it breaks down those cells which makes losing weight so much harder.
Here is my favorite morning detox drink recipe which contains antioxidant ingredients to help your body process the toxins as you lose weight.
-Exercise at least 3 times a week-
You don’t have to be a crossfit-obssessed-paleo-eating-calorie counter to benefit from swinging some weights around.
As we talked about earlier, the more muscle you have, the more calories your body will burn throughout the day.
If you aren’t a fitness person, make a realistic goal to do a 15 minute workout with a 10 pound dumbbell at home.
Or try some short fitness videos that require no special equipment.
You may not see a 6 pack tomorrow, but over time you will lose more weight than you would if you just sit on your butt.
– Eat a diet high in protein and raw veggies-
High protein diets make it easier to build muscle.
We want to fuel our bodies with an abundance of nutrients during this phase because we are demanding so much of it.
Not only are we trying to feed another human but we also want to heal and maintain our own health.
-Go to a Chiropractor-
You do a lot of hunching over while you are breastfeeding which can mess up your spine. Our neurologic system is behind everything we do including our metabolism.
A chiropractor is a great preventative way to keep your body functioning at it’s peak while you are breastfeeding.
– Drink a lot of water-
Drinking water will not only help you lose weight but it also keeps your milk supply up.
I personally try to drink a gallon a day.
-Wear a belly wrap-
Compression is really great for healing and you may not need to lose as much weight as you think.
It takes a long time for your stomach muscles to tone back up and some of the “fat” you may be feeling is actually lack of definition and stretched out skin.
A postpartum belly wrap can help both of these get back into place faster.
-Think about what you did to lose weight in the past-
Think about previous times you were successful in losing a few pounds.
Chances are you may have to do something along those lines again to lose all of the weight you gained in pregnancy.
My OBGYN told me that MANY women never lose the last 10 pounds. I was not happy to hear that but it was a reality check that I may not be able to soley rely on breastfeeding to help me get back where I was.
I steadily lost weight until about 6 months postpartum but like she predicted that last 10 pounds was very, very hard to get off.
It wasn’t until I completely quit breastfeeding (this was around 14 months postpartum) that I was able to safely start calorie restriction and had the energy to do more exericise.
-Give it more time-
The best advice anyone could give you to help you mentally cope with the fact that breastfeeding isn’t helping you lose the weight as fast as you want is to just be patient.
What you just accomplished with your body is a miracle and 10 years from now you want to look back and not remember obsessing over your weight but instead over your baby’s precious cheeks.
What is your biggest struggle when it comes to weight loss? Mine is loving chocolate and wine! Tell me yours in the comments 🙂