You are here

Here's how to safely lose weight while breastfeeding

"Can I lose weight while breastfeeding?"

This is the very question which I asked myself especially with my first baby nearly 21 years ago. At that time, I was an ortho/neuro nurse who found myself approximately 40 pounds overweight at the beginning of my pregnancy. My struggle with weight went all the way back to my early adolescence. Being overweight was always a problem both physically and emotionally. I had gained and lost weight multiple times by yo-yo dieting and not always being healthy with my choices in how I lost weight.

This time, I knew healthy was what I and my new baby would need, not only for the short term, but for the long-term ability to be the mother I wanted to be. During my pregnancy, I battled nausea and vomiting the entire nine months. At the end of this pregnancy, I had only gained 15 pounds and our daughter, Madi, weighed 7 pounds. Within 24 hours of her birth, the queasy stomach subsided. I was able to eat anything that I wanted again. But from the day she was born, I had decided this was the time to take control of my health and my weight. I tried to only eat when I was hungry four to six times each day and drank to my thirst level, keeping hydrated.                                         

After some initial breastfeeding challenges, Madi was thriving, and the amazing God-given ability to nourish her sweet little body gave me a confidence in my body that I had never experienced before. Suddenly, I wasn’t just a mother; I was the sole provider of the perfect food she needed at exactly the perfect moments.

In addition, the nutrients and immune properties were providing her a great immune system. Breastfeeding and exercise played a key role in slimming down my body. I started exercising three to four times each week, with cardio and aerobic activities. I did it one step at a time, one pound at a time.

Research shows that a mother’s metabolism uses an additional 200-500 calories per day while breastfeeding in order to make milk for her baby. I took advantage of this fact postpartum with each of my babies. Many women hear this fact and think that it allows them to overindulge, when in reality moms can lose weight safely by eating three small meals and three snacks that are well-balanced.

Portion size definitely needs to be looked at also. In the United States, we tend to eat everything that is on our plates, yet listening to our bodies about when we feel satisfied is a better option. The day our daughter turned 1 year old I was 60 pounds lighter than the day I gave birth. As a lactation nurse now, I have a lot of moms asking if it is safe to restrict calories. Research and doctors will say yes! 

The following are six practical ways to help guide in this journey while breastfeeding. 

  • During the first eight weeks, concentrate on learning to nurse and care for your baby and yourself. You are beautiful, no matter what! Remember also that your uterus is enlarged above your belly button when pregnant.  It will take more than eight weeks your uterus to return to the fist size it once was. Ask your OB/GYN at your six- or eight-week appointment about diet and exercise restrictions.
  • Breastfeed your baby often. The more you nurse the more milk you make. Nursing your baby on demand will result in an abundant supply and more weight loss over the nursing experience.
  • Never restrict calories under 1,800 calories per day. Eating less than 1,800 calories may decrease milk supply. Also, drink water when you are thirsty and eat small amounts often when you are hungry. This will fuel your metabolism to burn more calories.
  • Losing weight slowly is very important. Remember, it took nine months to gain the weight. Give yourself time and rest. Sleep is also a vital part of losing weight. Cutting calories too quickly could result in less milk production. 
  • Avoid fad diets. Eating a well-balanced, smaller portioned diet will be much better for you. Restricting certain foods or only drinking liquid nourishment is not recommended. 
  • In addition, starting exercise when your doctor allows will help you tone up and releases those feel good endorphins. Not to mention burns extra calories for optimal body changes. Find a friend who will encourage you and keep you accountable. 

More important than being thin is being healthy. Feeling good and having energy to care for your children is so important.  Making good choices today and increasing our activity as tolerated will give us and our children a brighter tomorrow.    

Remember,  you can get help and encouragement from the lactation team at Via Christi.  Talk to them about ways to help in this journey of breastfeeding, mothering and living healthy. You can call us at  316-689-5426.  

About Deb Swift RN

Deb Swift, RN, IBCLC, is a lactation nurse at the Via Christi NewLife Center in Wichita.