This is mainly in response to a blog reader’s (Becca) inquiry regarding breastfeeding and weight loss.
I’ve said this many times, while I’m not an RD or other professional, I feel like an “expert” on the breastfeeding, weight loss issue since I’ve done it four times now, three times on a vegan diet, with great success.
Here’s the scoop.
You can lose weight while breastfeeding.
Some women find it easy (yah, we’re all jealous)–the weight just “slips off,” with very little attention paid to diet or exercise. This is mainly to due with the fact that breastfeeding can burn anywhere from 300-700 calories a day. Number depends on weight and age of baby, and whether or not they are exclusively breast fed or not. Breast milk ranges from approximately 20-25 or so calories an ounce, do the math.
If your baby is consuming 30 ounces a day, that’s more or less 600 calories. A significant amount for doing nothing but sitting and letting your wee one latch on. Nice, but….there is a caveat. A lot of women, however, find it very difficult to lose weight. Part of this is that yes, you’re burning a boat load of calories just breastfeeding but your appetite is kicked into FULL gear. It would be nice if you could just eat like a normal person. But you’re not a normal person. You’re a lactating mama and all sorts of complex and intricate biological processes are at work making sure that you EAT. Not only that, but that you want to eat everything in sight. Cravings are worse than when you were pregnant. Okay, not necessarily for ALL women, but nature’s put things into place so that we are motivated to eat to insure a healthy milk supply for growing babes.
Other than the appetite issue, there are a few other factors here. One that I see is a huge issue is the fact that once you have a baby and possibly multiple children to care for, it becomes a challenge to prepare healthy foods and make time to exercise (which is less important in terms of weight loss, but that’s for another day). Stress, interrupted and less than ideal sleep, piles of laundry and dishes (that just keep piling up, mind you), it all adds up and before you know it, you’re eating cold cereal, frozen burritos, or fast food for every meal, because you “just don’t have time.” Yes, I know, I’ve been there.
So is it dangerous to lose weight while breastfeeding? You might get that feeling after reading some of what’s out there–don’t lose too much weight, too quickly! Fat stores carry toxins (which they do…more on this later), so don’t lose weight. Ect. So you may be worried about losing weight, even considering healthy not to lose the weight until after you have the baby. I think these worries/fears are rather unfounded.
I lost about a pound a week.
Sometimes a little more, sometimes a little less. This is a calorie deficit of about 250-750 calories a day, the average being about 500 calories a day I’m burning above my consumption. Having tracked my nutrient intake, including calories in various stages of my weight loss, I was always above 2,000 calories a day. My range was somewhere between 2,000-2,500 calories a day, which is a lot of food, and I still lost weight. 2,000 calories coming from mostly whole plant foods is more than enough nutrients to support me and ensure a healthy milk supply. For example, in this range, my average protein intake was 70-90 grams (most sources say aim for 65, but I’m active, so I get a bit more calories to spend), 80+ grams of fiber (yes, I said fiber, it’s in the plants I tell ya), and so on.
Reputable sources state that on a diet, a breastfeeding mom should be in the 1500-1800 calorie range. I can’t imagine getting only 1500 calories a day nursing (I’d be scratching my walls with hunger). There is nothing drastic with this approach, and creating a consistent calorie deficit of 250-500 below your calorie needs, will NOT adversely affect your milk supply. You need a base amount of nutrients from real food and just as important, if not more so, is to drink PLENTY of water (I don’t count, I just drink all day long).
Hopefully that answers some of your questions.
For now, trust your body, it’s an amazing thing!