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Lose Post-pregnancy Weight While Breastfeeding

by Dianna Graveman | June 18, 2012
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During pregnancy, you needed to gain an appropriate amount of weight based on your body type and pre-pregnancy weight in order to grow and deliver a healthy baby. Now that your little one is here, you are understandably anxious to shed some of that weight. You've heard that breastfeeding helps with post-pregnancy weight loss, and you planned to breastfeed anyway. But what other things can you do to help the process of shedding pregnancy weight, without jeopardizing your health or your baby's nutrition?

Now is not the time to diet. However, you can plan to avoid fatty foods and sugar. It is important to avoid diet fads and pills or liquid diets while nursing your baby. Experts suggest a nursing mother consume 200 to 500 calories more than she did before she was pregnant to maintain her weight. Since your healthcare professional probably recommended an increase of about 300 calories per day during pregnancy, this means you will want to continue adding those additional calories or more to your post-pregnancy diet if you are nursing. However, remember that you burn calories by breastfeeding, so it is still possible to lose weight--probably more quickly than the new mom who doesn't nurse. In fact, breastfeeding burns on average 200 to 500 calories per day. So even if you don't exercise, you'll burn calories. In fact, the La Leche League website cites a study that says, "Breastfeeding mothers tend to lose more weight when their babies are three to six months old than formula-feeding mothers who consume fewer calories."

Will weight loss and exercise affect my breast milk production?

No, unless you drop weight or reduce caloric intake suddenly. A sudden decrease in calories can cause your body to act as if it is starving and stop producing milk in order to store nutrients for your own body. However, moderate exercise does not negatively affect milk production. Studies have even shown that some mothers who exercise show an increase in milk production.

Do keep in mind that breast milk is about half water, so drink an eight-ounce glass each time you nurse to help boost production.

Tips for healthy weight loss while breastfeeding:

- Snack. Your new baby will probably nurse every two to four hours, and your body will use energy to produce milk each time. Keeping your hunger at bay will help you avoid overeating at mealtime.

- Check with your health care provider to determine when you can safely resume exercise. Try to set up a routine, even if it involves just a 10-minute walk a few times each day. If the weather is pleasant, take your child for a walk in his stroller or carry him in a front carrier or sling. The added weight will burn more calories than walking alone.

- With your doctor's approval, consider resistance/weight training. People with muscle mass burn more calories.

- Don't get discouraged: Post-pregnancy weight loss is not always quick. Experts recommend you do not diet at all during the first two months postpartum, in order to give your body time to get back to normal and establish milk production. After two months, you should not plan to lose more than one or two pounds per week.

- Consider breastfeeding longer: Research has shown that mothers who breastfeed frequently lose more weight than those who don't breastfeed as often, and that mothers who breastfeed for more than six months continue to more effectively manage their weight.

- Watch the fat: Read food labels and try to keep your total calorie intake of fats to 25% or less.

For more information, the La Leche League recommends the following books by Eileen Behan, Rd: The Womanly Art of Breastfeeding ("Nutritional Know How" chapter) and Eat Well, Lose Weight While Breastfeeding.


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