Many new moms mistakenly believe that breastfeeding helps with weight loss after giving birth. However, while breastfeeding does burn a large number of calories, it also requires a daily intake of approximately 500 more calories than a pre-pregnancy diet.
This leads many moms to wonder, “What steps can I take to lose pregnancy weight while also ensuring that my baby gets the nutrients she needs to be happy and healthy?”
In this article, we’ll discuss healthy habits, such as:
- Drinking plenty of water every day
- Getting as much sleep as you can
- Eating a balanced diet including fruits, vegetables, lean protein, and healthy fats
- Incorporating moderate exercise into your daily routine
While these tips may sound familiar to anyone who has tried to lose weight before, there are a number of additional considerations you’ll need to keep in mind while trying to lose weight and breastfeeding.
For this reason, the experts at Mustela have put together eight tips to help you achieve sustainable weight loss while maintaining your body’s ability to produce healthy, nutrient-rich milk.
As a bonus, we’ll also show you how you can tighten your skin from the outside-in with a firming and toning product from Mustela.
8 Top Tips To Lose Weight While Breastfeeding
1) Drink At Least 8 Cups Of Water Every Day
Drinking plenty of water every day is one of the best things you can do for the overall health of your body — whether you’re trying to lose weight or not. And it's especially important for breastfeeding moms.
Water helps your body naturally shed unwanted pounds because water:
- Contributes to regular body functions, like circulation, digestion, regulation of body temperature, transportation of nutrients, and milk production
- Assists your kidneys and makes it easier to keep your body toxin-free
- Helps you feel fuller longer and prevents overeating
- Keeps your muscles working at 100%
- Combines with the oil on your skin to form a protective barrier against the sun’s harmful UV rays and other environmental toxins
We recommend drinking at least eight cups of water every day. Sound like too much to ask from a busy mom?
- Start by drinking two cups first thing in the morning
- Next, drink two cups each at lunch and dinner — that’s six cups
- Then, to get the last two cups, fill a water bottle with 16 ounces of water and sip on it throughout the day
If you're "not a water drinker," try an infusion bottle that will allow you to add a hint of fruit. Seltzer works just as well and is especially good for those of you who like to drink soda.
Just make sure whichever drink you choose doesn’t have added sugar because it can make its way to your baby through your breast milk.
Added sugar can have another negative effect: It can undermine all your hard work to lose weight by adding extra calories where you really don’t need them. For example, an average can of soda contains about 150-180 calories and almost 40 grams of sugar/carbohydrates.
2) Eat A Healthy Diet To Lose Weight While Breastfeeding
We’ll give you some ideas about maintaining a healthy diet, but first, you need to make sure you’re getting enough calories. You’re already burning plenty of calories while breastfeeding, and when you throw in exercising, it could lead to problems if you’re not careful.
You will need to add an additional 300 to 500 calories per day to your diet when breastfeeding, bringing your total daily consumption to between 2,200 and 2,800 calories.
This compares to the 1,600 to 2,400 calories you would typically need if you weren’t nursing and were moderately active. However, everyone is different.
The amount of calories you actually need can vary based on your age, activity level, body mass index, and if you’re only breastfeeding versus supplementing your baby’s intake with formula. Your healthcare professional can help you fine-tune your caloric target.
Following these guidelines for healthy eating will ensure you’re consuming the right kind of calories. After all, it’s completely normal to get extra hungry — and stay hungry! — while you’re breastfeeding.
Fruits & Vegetables
Fruits and vegetables should make up a large portion of your caloric intake.
Why? Fruits can be an excellent source of vitamins, minerals, and other key nutrients. They also tend to contain lots of fiber, which can help nurture gut bacteria to keep your digestive tract healthy and avoid constipation and its side effects.
Vegetables can play a similar role, and many are also a great source of antioxidants. They also have the additional benefit of generally being lower in sugar.
A simple way to get a healthy dose of these foods is to start your day with a fruit and vegetable smoothie. A banana, some strawberries, and blueberries combined with almond milk and two handfuls of spinach make for a healthy and delicious breakfast.
Beyond that, try to include a serving of vegetables with both lunch and dinner to complete your day. If you get hungry between meals, munch on a carrot, an orange, an apple, or another raw vegetable instead of something processed.
Protein can be obtained from a variety of different foods, but you should aim for “lean” protein. Lean protein can be found in foods like chicken, fish, beans, and protein powders. Adding a scoop of the latter to your morning smoothie can help round out your healthy breakfast.
For lunch and dinner, include a piece of chicken or fish, or a cup of your favorite beans, to gain the health benefits of these protein-packed foods.
Overall, you’ll need to add about 25g of protein a day to your diet — your baby needs lots of protein to build all those muscles! — shooting for a total of 65g per day.
It may seem counterintuitive to purposely add fat to your diet while trying to lose weight, but healthy fats are important for both you and your baby when you’re breastfeeding.
In fact, fats have gotten an unwarranted bad rap. But many are essential to good overall health and brain function. Omega-3s, in particular, can contribute directly to your baby’s eye and brain development.
What’s important is choosing the right kind. For example, some saturated fats are still somewhat suspect, but monounsaturated fats, such as those found in olive oil, are healthy. And fat found in cold water fish — like salmon or trout — can provide mega doses of Omega 3s.
You can find these beneficial fats in foods such as:
- Hemp seeds
- Chia seeds
- Olive oil
- Coconut oil
There are plenty of simple ways to work healthy fats into your diet. One way is by measuring a tablespoon of hemp seeds and a tablespoon of chia seeds into your morning smoothie.
Fruits, vegetables, protein, and healthy fat in one easy-to-eat meal? You really can’t ask for a better breakfast.
For lunch, try adding some olives to your midday salad or topping it with an olive oil-based dressing. Come dinner time, cook your chicken or fish with a dollop of coconut oil. It tastes great and is good for you.
And if you find yourself hungry between meals, try snacking on a handful of nuts to keep your energy up.
Planning your meals in advance is not only a good idea in relation to saving time, but it’s also a good idea for the sake of your health. When you plan and prepare your meals ahead of time, you won't be tempted to eat more than you have.
Meal planning also cuts out the need to stop for something quick to eat because you’re too tired or don’t have enough time to cook. Your meal will already be prepared. With a future mindset in place with meal prepping, you are more likely to consume healthier calories.
3) Incorporate Moderate Exercise
Maintaining control of your diet is only half the battle. To lose weight while breastfeeding, you’ll also need to exercise.
Exercise has been shown to reduce stress, improve circulation, build physical strength, and improve mental well-being. But isn’t exercise almost impossible while you’re nursing and caring for your little one?
When we think of exercise, we too often picture ourselves going to the gym or running long distances. With a breastfeeding infant, though, those activities can be all but impossible.
In fact, it's important that you wait at least six to eight weeks before starting or restarting a serious exercise regimen. Extreme dieting and exercise can impact your body’s ability to produce healthy milk — so be careful.
Typically, postpartum exercise can be divided into two basic categories:
- Cardiovascular (cardio)
Each type of activity has its own distinct benefit for your body. Cardio (anything that gets your pulse rate up for 15 to 20 minutes) is great for the health of your heart, lungs, and circulation.
Weight-bearing exercise, on the other hand, helps strengthen your muscles and bones.
Once you begin a workout regimen, you may need to increase your calorie consumption to ensure that your body has the nutrients it needs to support milk production. If you’re planning a particularly strenuous workout, eat a healthy carb about a half-hour beforehand.
Healthy carbs can include whole grains (they contain complex carbohydrates and lots of nutrients), beans and other legumes (chickpeas, lentils, and peas), as well as fruit.
Thankfully, exercise doesn’t have to be difficult or intense to produce real results. Cardio can be as simple as going for a brisk walk while pushing your baby in a stroller. Walking is a low-impact exercise that can raise your heart rate without negatively impacting your knees or joints.
4) Get As Much Sleep As You Can
Sleep is just as vital to post-pregnancy weight loss as exercise and diet, but getting adequate sleep can be difficult when you’re breastfeeding a newborn. However, the importance of sleep cannot be overstated.
Why? Because when you’re asleep, your body repairs itself and returns to a healthier state. Here’s how your body becomes healthier while you sleep:
- Blood pressure returns to its normal level (if elevated during the day by stressors)
- Muscles relax
- Blood supply to organs and muscles increases
- Growth hormone is released
- Breathing and heart rate stabilize and become more consistent
And that’s just the tip of the healthy iceberg. In fact, weight gain has been linked to lack of sleep. To add insult to injury, hungry, sleep-deprived new moms tend to satisfy their cravings with simple carbohydrates, which often result in weight gain (not weight loss).
So even if you’re doing everything else on this list right but you fail to sleep enough each night, you may struggle to lose those last few pounds. For that reason, we recommend getting at least seven hours of sleep every night.
If your baby isn’t sleeping through the night just yet, make it a point to nap when she naps. This will give your body the time it needs to recover and stay as healthy as possible.
5) Apply A Firming And Toning Product
Part of the process of getting back to your pre-baby appearance is firming and toning your skin.
Exercise has a lot to do with that goal, but you can help your body from the outside by applying a moisturizing product throughout the day. We recommend our Stretch Marks Serum (to help prevent and reduce stubborn stretch marks).
Our entire product line is free of parabens, phthalates, phenoxyethanol, bisphenols A and S, caffeine, and alcohol. That makes all of Mustela’s products safe for both you and your breastfeeding baby.
So feel free to apply a moisturizing product where you need it and when you need it, without worrying about the effect it will have on your baby.
6) Breastfeed Frequently
It’s OK to feed on demand. While it may seem like your little one is getting too much, they know what they need. Remember, you actually burn calories while nursing. So if you nurse on demand, you will burn even more calories throughout the day.
If you’re starting to exercise more, you’ll obviously lose some weight. However, your body will need to know that even though some of its fat deposits are disappearing, it still needs to produce milk.
This is why breastfeeding on demand — or breastfeeding more frequently — while exercising is a great concept to put into practice.
7) Avoid Quick Fixes
With all the new dieting trends out there, it’s hard not to get sucked in. But you have to keep the most important thing in mind: your breast milk production. Many of these trends have a huge effect on your milk supply. If you’re breastfeeding, it has to be your top priority.
When you lose weight too fast, your milk supply decreases, so be cautious when presented with the opportunity for a quick-fix diet. The weight will eventually come off...in time. Just keep your eye on the prize. Remember: slow and steady wins the race!
8) Meet With A Nutritionist
Seeking out a nutritionist to lose weight while breastfeeding is a wise choice. After all, they are specialized in the area of dieting and nutrition.
You should specify to the nutritionist what your goals are. If your goal is to lose weight while breastfeeding, your nutritionist will keep in mind that you’re eating for two.
The two of you can sit down together to build a plan specifically for you. Let that sink in for a minute — building a plan specifically for you. So seek out professional help for guidance in dieting and nutrition if you need to.
The Most Important Step To Losing Weight While Breastfeeding
The most important step to losing weight while breastfeeding is being patient. Don’t pressure yourself. Your body has just gone through some major changes.
Even though you’re likely very excited to get back into your skinny jeans, it’s best to give your body the time it needs to recover. It took nine months to put that weight on, so be reasonable with your expectations for getting it back off.
If you have any questions about losing weight, maintaining a healthy diet, or exercising postpartum, be sure to ask your doctor.
Frequently Asked Questions
1) Is It Harder To Lose Weight While Breastfeeding?
Though a 2014 study found that breastfeeding for at least three months gave moms a slight advantage in postpartum weight loss, many women have not found that to be the case. Some have even found it harder to lose weight while breastfeeding.
Eating more calories than recommended, not getting enough exercise, and retaining water weight are some reasons it could be harder to lose weight while breastfeeding.
Hormone levels also play a part, especially if your monthly cycle hasn’t yet returned. The lack of estrogen and progesterone can make it harder to shed some pounds.
2) Why Do I Lose Weight While Breastfeeding?
Some women lose weight more quickly simply by breastfeeding their newborn. That's because your body uses calories to make breast milk.
According to the Office of Women's Health, you'll burn about 600 calories daily producing milk for your baby. That can help jumpstart your weight loss journey, especially if you eat only the recommended 300-500 extra calories each day.
3) Do Women Lose More Weight Breastfeeding Or Pumping?
Whether pumping your milk to feed your little one with a bottle or breastfeeding your newborn directly, your body is still producing milk. This process burns calories and can play a role in postpartum weight loss.
So no matter which method you choose, you may notice some benefits. But neither has a substantial advantage over the other.
4) How Much Weight Can I Lose Just By Breastfeeding?
It's tough to say precisely how much weight you'll lose by breastfeeding. It depends on factors like your diet, activity, and stress levels.
The scientific study linked above found that breastfeeding women lost, on average, 3.2 pounds more than their non-breastfeeding peers over three months. Of course, not every woman is going to see the same results.
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