I’ve always heard breastfeeding burns something like 500 calories per day. That’s comparable to exercising for an hour every day! I’ll take it! However, in reality, I’m about 6 months into this exclusively breastfeeding gig, which is not easy might I add, and I’m slightly disappointed in something…the pregnancy weight isn’t melting right off as promised. Grrrr! I lost weight initially, but am still holding onto 10-12 pounds that just won’t budge.
What is going on? Is the weight loss promise a big ‘ol myth?
I did some digging to get to the bottom of this and found...
9 interesting tidbits about the impact of breastfeeding on mom's weight loss:
1. Research on this topic varies, but the one thing it has in common…the relationship between breastfeeding and losing the weight gained while pregnant remains unclear.
2. The results from a review of 35+ studies about breastfeeding and weight loss found the available evidence challenges the widely held belief that breastfeeding promotes weight loss. (1)
3. On the other hand, according to the La Leche League, breastfeeding women who eat to appetite lose weight at the rate of 1.3 to 1.6 pounds per month in the first 4 to 6 months, but there is a wide variation in the weight loss experience of lactating women (some women gain weight during lactation). Women who continue breastfeeding beyond 4 to 6 months ordinarily continue to lose weight, but at a slower rate than during the first 4 to 6 months. (2)
4. Moms who exclusively breastfed lost more weight than moms who did not exclusively breastfeed. (3, 4)
5. Breastfeeding mothers tend to lose more weight when their babies are three to six months old than formula-feeding mothers who consume fewer calories. (5) 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. (6)
6. Frequency and duration matter. The more frequent you breastfeed and the longer you breastfeed (ie: number of months) is associated with more postpartum weight loss. (7)
7. Just exercising while breastfeeding does not promote weight loss as effectively as the combination of exercise plus decreasing calorie intake. (8)
8. Good news, gradual weight loss does not negatively affect milk production and exercise has little effect on breast milk composition. In fact, one study showed exercising women having a slightly higher milk volume. (9)
9. Losing weight quickly is not ideal anyway. According to Breastfeeding and Human Lactation, rapid weight loss should be avoided because fat-soluble environmental contaminants and toxins stored in body fat are released into the milk when caloric intake is severely restricted. I certainly don’t want that! (10)
Bottom Line: Breastfeeding does help you lose the weight you gained during pregnancy, but breastfeeding in itself is not a weight loss program. Our bodies are not all equal and some breastfeeding women will respond differently to nursing than others. Losing weight will also require healthy eating and some exercise.
What about other moms out there...did breastfeeding help you lose weight? I’d love to hear your story.
In Health and Happiness,
Kelly Harrington, MS, RDN
Registered Dietitian Nutritionist for Healthy Goods
1. Neville CE et al. The relationship between breastfeeding and postpartum weight change-a systematic review and critical evaluation. Int J Obes (Lond). 2013 Jul 29.
2. Subcommittee on Nutrition during Lactation, Food and Nutrition Board, Institute of Medicine, National Academy of Sciences, Nutrition During Lactation Washington, DC: National Academy Press, 1991 p.15, 74, 140.
3. Samano R, et al. Effects of breastfeeding on weight loss and recovery of pregestational weight in adolescent and adult mothers. Food Nutr Bull. 2013 Jun;34(2): 123-30.
4. Baker JL et al. Breastfeeding reduces postpartum weight retention. Am J Clin Nutr. 2008 Dec;88(6): 1543-1551.
5. Dewey et al. Maternal weight-loss patterns during prolonged lactation. Am J Clin Nutr. 1993;58: 162-6.
6. Kramer, F. et al. Breastfeeding reduces maternal lower-body fat J Am Diet Assoc. 1993;93(4):429-33.
7. Da Silva MD, et al. Breastfeeding and maternal weight changes during 24 months post-partum: a cohort study. Matern Child Nutr. 2013 Aug 14.
8. Lovelady C, et al. Balancing exercise and food intake with lactation to promote post-partum weight loss. Proc Nutr Soc. 2011 May;70(2):181-4.
9. Lovelady C. et al. Lactation performance of exercising women. Am J Clin Nutr 1990; 52: 103-1.
10. Breastfeeding and Human Lactation. 3rd Edition, Riordan, p. 440.