Breastfeeding can be an amazing, challenging, beautiful and messy (literally) time for a mama. When Mom is able and chooses to breastfeed, the benefits for baby are plentiful (that being said, we fully support the fed is best movement, and ALL. FORMS. OF. FEEDING.) You do you, Mama; we support you whether milk is coming from a bottle or your body. Check out our fed is best article here.
However, if you are able and are choosing to breastfeed your babe, we know many misconceptions about breastfeeding and exercise still exist that you may want a little more information on. We've got you, Mama...
Many new moms are anxious to start losing weight and get back into shape after having their baby; we've all been there when we've looked in the mirror, maybe shed a few tears, and missed our pre-baby bodies. First off, let's stop right there for a minute...you are strong. You are beautiful. You are incredibly amazing and so powerful. After all, you just created LIFE and birthed a baby....a tiny little human who grew from the size of a pen tip, to a grapefruit, to a watermelon, and then came out a real life baby "doll." Whether it was via C-section, VBAC, an all-natural birth, or if an epidural was your savior, we honor you and your power of MOTHERHOOD. Take a few minutes to write a mantra out to yourself. Note 5 things you love when you look in the mirror. Cherish those. Hold on to those. Still wishing you could shed a few pounds? We get it, but there is no rush, Mama. You'll get there.
That being said, breastfeeding may help you lose some of your "baby weight." While seeing a number drop on the scale might seem like a nice perk to breastfeeding, it should not be the focus or sole reason a mama chooses to breastfeed, as that can lead to major frustration and detachment if it doesn't come easily. Ever heard of tongue or lip tie? The breastfeeding piranha-latch struggle is REAL.
Q1 - Can I lose weight while breastfeeding?
Yes; losing weight while breastfeeding is possible. But, it’s important to avoid restricting calories too much during this time.
The rate at which Mom loses weight should also be monitored and expectations lowered. Studies show women who reduced overall caloric intake by 30% while breastfeeding experienced a decrease in milk production, as well as a decrease in infant weight gain. Dr. Clapp states, “There has to be a reasonable balance between a lactating woman’s energy intake and energy expenditure.”
Her weight loss might also plateau while breastfeeding. But, it’s important to remind Mom this is not necessarily a green light to push harder with exercise and start any type of restricted eating to accelerate the weight loss.
Prolactin, a hormone produced by the pituitary gland, helps make breast milk. The levels of this hormone increase by about 10-20 times during pregnancy, and levels will stay elevated if Mom is breastfeeding to help with milk supply. Prolactin is often the culprit of the plateau as it affects the body’s ability to metabolize fat. Mom might be burning major calories from breastfeeding but hold on to the last few ‘extra’ pounds due to Prolactin affecting her metabolism. As the Prolactin levels fall after months of breastfeeding, or once Mom weans, the last few pounds should be easier to lose.
Q2 - How many calories should I eat to keep my milk supply up but still lose weight if that is my goal?
As you know, Mom needs more calories when breastfeeding, and it could be more than many women require while pregnant. The ACOG recommends 450-500 extra calories a day while breastfeeding! Keep in mind, this is not 450-500 on top of the additional calories she added while pregnant; this is over base caloric needs. If Mom is exercising on top of breastfeeding, it will be important to keep up with the increased caloric demands. Now is not a time to obsess in either direction with counting calories, but a good rule of thumb: if Mom's milk supply is good, her baby is gaining weight, and she is feeling satisfied, she’s likely taking in enough calories.
Q3 - Will exercise affect my milk production?
A common concern of many women might be how exercise can affect milk production. A study published in American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that, “high-intensity running during lactation did not impair the quantity or quality of breast milk.” However, if she notices her supply decreasing as her exercise frequency, duration, and intensity increases, then she should back off the exercise a bit to see if her supply returns. As with everything, the amount of exercise mom can tolerate during breastfeeding is very individual and she should be encouraged to pay attention to her supply, how she’s feeling, and baby’s satiety.
When a breastfeeding mom is returning to exercise, the following tips may help:
- To avoid volume depletion, Mom must drink plenty of water throughout the day. Of course, this is important even when she is not exercising, but even more so as she starts to workout again. Quantity recommendations vary.
- Extremely intense anaerobic exercise (e.g. HIIT workouts or other type of interval workouts) can alter the taste of breast milk. The sour taste is due to the lactic acid build-up. She may find her baby does not like to nurse after a high-intensity workout. Consider nursing or pumping prior to the workout (which can also aid in Mom's comfort while exercising), or change the time of workout based on baby’s feeding schedule.
- Maternal odor or sweat may make baby not interested in nursing. Suggestions from #2 also apply in this situation.
- Find a good, supportive bra. It is likely Mom's breasts will still be a (much) larger size than normal. Therefore, it’s important to ensure Mom is supported and comfortable while working out. Take this as a time to invest in a few quality sport bras, even if it’s just for a few months - it's worth it!