The Truth About Breastfeeding and Weight Loss

If you’re a breastfeeding mother, chances are you’ve run into the myth that breastfeeding will help you drop the baby weight.  

While it’s true that breastfeeding does burn a lot of calories, approaching the breastfeeding process with the expectation that you’ll lose weight can be problematic and even harmful.  

First, understand that weight gain during pregnancy is normal and healthy. It’s an essential part of the process of growing a healthy, happy baby. Talk to your health care provider about your weight gain during pregnancy if you have concerns.  

Second, your body undergoes many changes during pregnancy. Which means you’ll lose weight differently after a pregnancy than you did before the pregnancy.  

Third, breastfeeding a baby is an amazing way to feed a newborn and bond with your baby. Your body produces milk in response to the baby’s demands and can make more or less milk depending on the baby’s habits. Breastmilk provides all the nutrition a baby needs for the first six months of life.  

But for a woman’s body to produce breastmilk, it takes a considerable amount of energy. Breastfeeding can burn an extra 500 to 700 calories a day. Sustaining that level of milk production means the body needs more nutrients and energy foods than usual – and more water. It’s not uncommon for breastfeeding mothers to feel hungry.  

If you are expecting weight loss out of breastfeeding, you might be cutting calories to try and encourage the process. This can backfire and cause your milk supply to drop.  

Instead of focusing on weight loss while breastfeeding, focus on eating a healthy, nutritious diet and drinking lots of water. The baby weight will come off in time – but you only have a short window to breastfeed your newborn and infant.  

Here are some of the key nutrients breastfeeding mothers need that can be incorporated into an everyday diet: 

Calcium:   

  • Dairy products like milk, cheese and yogurt 
  • Calcium-fortified juice  
  • Tofu  
  • Dark leafy greens like spinach or kale  
  • Broccoli  
  • Dried beans  
  • Fortified breakfast cereal 

Folic acid:   

  • Spinach and other green vegetables  
  • Citrus fruit and juices  
  • Beans  
  • Meat 
  • Poultry liver  
  • Enriched breads, cereals and grains  

Iron:   

  • Lean meats  
  • Dark leafy greens  
  • Fish  
  • Fortified breakfast cereal  

Protein:   

  • Lean meat, poultry or fish  
  • Eggs  
  • Peanut butter  
  • Nuts  
  • Dried beans  
  • Some fish including salmon, tuna and mackerel  

Vitamin D 

  • Salmon 
  • Mackerel  
  • Fortified milk  
  • Orange juice  
  • Yogurt  
  • Fortified breakfast cereal  

While there are many products and blogs that claim to help breastfeeding women boost their milk production, they aren’t backed by solid scientific research.  

It is important, however, for women to ensure they are eating enough calories from nutrient-rich and protein-rich foods to give their bodies the energy and nutrition to produce milk. For most women, that means about 330 to 400 calories more each day, as well as drinking plenty of water.  

Eating a variety of foods is also important, as research has shown different foods in a mother’s diet can change the flavor of breastmilk and expose the baby to different tastes.  

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Photo credit: Getty Images

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