Lose Weight Through Breast Feeding: 7 Great Tips

It’s kind of amazing how people assume that when you’re pregnant or just had a baby they can ask you anything and give you all sorts of “advice” that they think is helpful, regardless of whether or not you actually know the person—actually, if it comes from someone you know it could be even worse, because then they might constantly ask you follow up questions later on to make sure you paid attention and are doing what they told you. 

Weight-loss is not excused from these overly personal questions. So once you’re walking around with your new child, be prepared to field all sorts of questions about your weight and whether you’ve gotten your pre-baby body back. While getting asked about it, might drive you nuts, chances are you do actually want to lose the excess weight. 

If you’re breastfeeding you might be concerned about losing the weight and still providing your child with all of the nutrients he or she needs. Well you can relax. Many studies have shown that women who breastfeed are more likely to lose their baby weight faster than women who feed their child formula. 

Why is that? Well, your body is designed to give the baby all of the nutrients it needs during pregnancy and after the baby is born. With that in mind, there are a couple of things you need to remember when you’re trying to lose weight while breastfeeding.

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7  Set the Right Goals

When it comes to setting goals about losing weight, eating healthier, or exercising more, the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute suggests that you set goals that focus on the changes you intend to make in your exercise routine or on your eating habits instead of simply saying that your goal is to lose weight. Doing it this way is important because the first two goals are ones that you can control. 

You can choose to take the stairs or park further away from the store, and you can choose to eat a homemade meal instead of fast food. But, as much as you might wish otherwise, you can’t simply decide to lose weight and then have it instantly happen.

To help you set good goals, the Institute provides these guidelines: “useful goals should be (1) specific; (2) attainable (doable); and (3) forgiving (less than perfect).” The example goal they give is that you intend to "Walk 30 minutes, 5 days each week." They explain that this is a good goal because you know exactly what you intend to do, you will be able to do that even when you’re starting out, and there’s room for you to forget or for the weather to be too miserable to make it out of the house.

Focus on what you can control from the get go

The National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute also suggests that you set a series of smaller goals that will act as stepping stones to your ultimate goal. This is called “shaping.” The institute explains that “shaping uses two important behavioral principles: (1) consecutive goals that move you ahead in small steps are the best way to reach a distant point; and (2) consecutive rewards keep the overall effort invigorated.” 

That second point leads us right into the next tip for losing your baby-weight: celebrating the small successes you achieve along the way.

6  Celebrate Small Successes

In their article “Postpartum Body Image and Weight Loss” Marie Zahorick and Valeri Webber discuss the importance of recording everything you achieve and all of the milestones you meet no matter how small the accomplishment is. Like the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute, Zahorick and Webber suggest that you look to things beyond your weight loss to measure your success. 

Instead they suggest you focus on things like how well your clothes fit you or what your resting heart rate is or if you’re blood pressure has gone down. Sometimes your weight loss will either stop or slow down on your journey to your pre-pregnancy weight. This is completely normal, it doesn’t mean you’re doing something wrong. 

Celebrate your successes

When this happens you can do a couple of things, you can either change up your exercise routine, or you can do what Zahorick and Webber suggest: pay attention to different objectives. They recommend concentrating on different goals for a bit, because meeting those other goals will help you stay motivated to meet your ultimate goal.

One last thing about rewarding yourself for the small accomplishments: avoid using food as a reward. Instead of celebrating by grabbing a cookie, try buying yourself a new outfit or spending the afternoon playing in the park with your little one or going on a baby-free date with your significant other. If you’re like most new parents, that last one probably hasn’t happened in a while.

5  Gradually Cut Calories

If you’ve reached the dreaded plateau in your weight loss and aren’t content to simply focus on other goals for the time-being, La Leche League International suggests that you “check with your doctor about increasing your activity level and reducing your intake by about 100 calories per day.” When you decide to decrease your caloric intake, it’s important that you‘re still eating between 1500 and 1800 calories a day. 

As a new mother you’ll need that amount to keep your energy levels up and to be able to breastfeed your child. Another article on the League’s website stresses that 1800 calories is technically the minimum amount of daily caloric intake that’s suggested for mothers who are breastfeeding their children. 

It's all about those calories

So if you chose, after speaking to your healthcare provider, to lower the amounts of calories you’re consuming everyday then you need to make sure that the calories you are taking are full of nutrients and you might want to also speak to your healthcare provider about adding in vitamin and mineral supplements to make up for the rest of the nutrients you’ll need. It’s also important that you don’t decrease the amounts of calories you’re taking too quickly. 

Dropping 100 calories per day is a good amount, and it will likely help you lose weight without harming yourself or impacting your child’s health and weight gain. If you want to figure out what 100 calories looks like, than you can use Calorie Count. You search for the foods you want to eat, and it’ll tell you how many calories are in it.

4  Work In Exercise

The other half of weight loss is exercise. Zahorick and Webber point out that “exercise does more than help burn fat. It also increases your energy level and boosts your sense of well-being while reducing stress, and symptoms of premenstrual syndrome.” If you exercise in addition to dieting, you’re more likely to see results sooner, and the results will likely last longer than if you lost the weight simply by cutting calories.

You don’t even need to try and figure out how you’ll make it to the gym with a newborn at home, because there are lots of ways that new moms can work exercise into their daily routines. 

You can go for a walk with your sweet bundle of joy, and as Anne Smith points out in her article “Nutrition, Exercise and Weight Loss While Breastfeeding” “if you carry him in a sling or backpack, his extra weight will use up even more calories.” You can even wear your child around the house as you make yourself a coffee or tea.

Every added bit you do during the day counts

Kurt Neilson, who works as a personal trainer when he’s not being a stay-at-home dad, suggests the following exercises that you can do at home with your child: push-ups, planks, and squats. For the push-ups and the planks, place your baby on the floor in between your arms. 

As an added incentive, you can give your baby a little kiss each time you go down for the push-ups. Just make sure that you don’t fall on your child when you get tired. You can also do squats with your baby. Just give him or her a hug nice and close to your body as you bend down.

Lastly, you can also burn energy by playing with your child.

3  Be Patient

When you were pregnant, your body set aside some fat to use while you are breastfeeding. So you’ll likely lose most or all of that weight in the first six months without trying. Because your body needs that fat in the beginning, and because your body needs time to heal, it’s important to not try and lose weight right after the baby’s birth. As La Leche League International points out in Breastfeeding Answer Book

The book also discusses several studies that prove how mothers who are breastfeeding their children generally lose more weight than those who simply use formula to feed their children. 

Furthermore, “another study of mothers at one month postpartum found that mothers who breastfed (either exclusively or partially) had slimmer hips and weighed less than women whose babies received only formula" (Kramer 1993).” With that in mind, they recommend waiting a minimum of two months after the baby is born before you actively try to lose the baby weight.

2  “Drink to Thirst” and “Eat to Hunger”

The Canadian La Leche League’s website explains that drinking more water or other fluids doesn’t actually increase your milk supply. In fact a small study suggests that it might actually decrease it. So it’s all right, and better for you and your baby if you only drink to satisfy your thirst. Now, you might find that you’re thirstier than normal, so have bottles of water near the places you commonly nurse so you can have something to drink without having to try and get up to get something.

Also, it’s fine to just eat until you are full, and if you eat slowly, your body will be able to tell you that it’s full before you overeat. While what you eat won’t impact the nutritional quality of your milk, choosing healthier foods will help you lose weight sooner. One way to help you pick better foods is by creating a snack drawer in your fridge. You can fill it will all sorts of prepared healthy snacks in snack sized portions so when you’re hungry you can just grab a package or container and go.

Don't eat more than normal just because you're breastfeeding

Another way is preparing meals and freezing them ahead of time. That way, when you’re super tired from not having slept well the night before and all of the other energy sucks that new mom’s face you’ll at least be able to have a healthy meal to finish the day with.

Finally, Zahorick and Webber point out that a common problem people have is they mix up their hunger and thirst signals. So next time you’re feeling peckish, perhaps you can grab a glass of water instead.

1  Avoid Fad Diets

Right up there with being patient with yourself is to avoid fad diets. As Zahorick and Webber point out “It took nine months to put the weight on, and during that time, you probably weren't responsible for the care of a totally dependent human being. Give yourself some time to make life-altering changes. 

Getting fit and staying fit requires a lifetime commitment to healthful eating and exercise, and this kind of change doesn't happen overnight. People who lose weight rapidly are less likely to maintain the loss for life.” Losing one pound a week is plenty.

Another problem with fad diets is that they tend to be low in calories. As mentioned previously, as a breastfeeding mother you need between 1500 and 1800 calories a day. If you’ve already started dieting and cut out more calories than you should have, La Leche Leage points out, “The composition of your milk really does not vary much with your diet. (Mothers in famine conditions can produce milk that is nutritionally perfect for their babies.)” 

Fad diets usually cause people to gain weight, not lose it

This is because your body will take what you need and give it to your child, which means you’ll be more tired, and more likely to get sick.

Finally, don’t give up. It will take time, but if you keep eating healthy foods, exercising regularly, and celebrating the small achievements along the way, you will eventually get back to the weight you were before you became pregnant.

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