How to Lose Weight While Breastfeeding

How to Drop Pounds as a Nursing Mother While Keeping You and Your Baby Healthy

Breastfeeding and weight loss are two achievements that are both quite simple in theory, yet often very difficult in reality. Combine the two challenges, along with countless other lifestyle adjustments that come with having a new baby, and it's easy for nursing mothers who want to lose weight to feel overwhelmed. The need to factor in the extra calories and nutrients needed to maintain an ample milk supply makes the usual calorie-cutting approach to weight loss more complicated. Establishing a healthy balance between calories-in and calories-out while breastfeeding does take some trial and error, along with regular adjustments as you progress with your weight-loss goals. An ideal first step is to ask your OB-GYN for safe, healthy weight-loss advice at a postpartum appointment. Also endeavor to educate yourself about diets and exercise plans that are appropriate for breastfeeding mothers.

Is It Safe to Lose Weight While Breastfeeding?

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Does Breastfeeding Help You Lose Weight Faster?

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The short answer is yes, it is safe to lose weight while breastfeeding. Many mothers do so without any deliberate effort, while others find their initial postpartum weight-loss plateaus very soon after giving birth. Purposely losing weight after this point can and should be done in a healthy way that prioritizes maintaining your milk supply and keeping yourself well-nourished with nutritious foods. Exercise should also be a part of any well-rounded weight-loss plan.

A balanced approach to postpartum weight loss will prioritize your energy levels, sleep patterns, hydration and mood. For some new mothers, sticking to a relatively strict diet and exercise plan feels empowering and proactive, while for others it can be a cause of stress. If trying to lose weight starts to trigger anxiety or affects your ability to enjoy motherhood, consider waiting a few more months to start losing weight, or pursue a slower pace of weight loss. Also talk to your doctor about any such troubling symptoms.

How Breastfeeding Affects Weight Loss

Pregnant women are often advised that the baby weight will "just drop off" as soon as they start breastfeeding. This might be true for some, but it's certainly not a universal experience. Breastfeeding does burn a significant number of calories, though—an estimated 200 to 500 per day. Given that pregnant women are advised to eat only around 300 calories more than they would pre-pregnancy, nursing mothers might find they can eat more or a similar amount of calories postpartum while still maintaining or losing weight. However, every woman's body is different, and the actual amount of calories needed for a healthy rate of weight loss is affected by many variables, among them genetics, height and build, metabolism and lifestyle.

A Safe Weight-Loss Timeline

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Meal Plan for Losing Weight While Breastfeeding

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Experts say that a healthy weight-loss goal for nursing mothers is up to 1.5 pounds per week or 6 pounds per month. However, you should not pursue this goal, or a more modest one, until your milk supply is well-established. This generally takes about two months after giving birth, but it might take longer. When your supply is well-established, your breasts will have ceased to become engorged, and your baby's feeding schedule will be somewhat regular. To maintain a steady milk supply, nursing mothers starting a weight-loss plan should reduce calories gradually over time. La Leche League recommends first cutting 100 calories a day. You should also wait for your doctor's go-ahead to start exercising postpartum.

When you feel ready to start a new diet and exercise plan with the goal of weight loss, allow room for adjustment and be aware of your milk supply. Signs of a reduced supply include a hungrier baby who wants to nurse more often and fewer wet or dirty diapers. Pay attention to your body's and your baby's cues. Babies about to go through a growth spurt will demand more milk over a few days or more, which will, in turn, cause your body to demand more calories through hunger. Heed the call by eating higher amounts of healthy foods.

How Many Calories Should You Eat?

Doctors agree that nursing mothers should eat no less than 1,500 to 1,800 calories per day; some recommend 1,800 calories as an absolute minimum. However, the ideal amount of calories you should consume and then expend through exercise to achieve a healthy rate of weight loss varies considerably from woman to woman.

Widely available online calculators and apps can determine how many calories you should eat to reach your weight-loss goals by factoring in your height, build, starting weight, activity level and other variables. If the tool you use does not allow for additional nursing calories, simply add 300 to 500 calories to the total it recommends you eat. You might need to allow fewer calories for nursing if you don't exclusively breastfeed, that is, if you supplement with formula or your baby is old enough to eat solids. If you prefer a more casual approach, just estimate your calorie intake from day to day. If you're not losing weight, simply try to eat fewer high-calorie foods and exercise more; if you are losing weight, keep on the same track. Expect fluctuations, and remember to heed your hunger cues.

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