Gaining Weight While Breastfeeding: Can’t Lose Weight?
Are you wondering why you are gaining weight while breastfeeding? Even after intentionally starving yourself, vigorously exercising, you still can’t lose weight while breastfeeding.
You are not alone in this, mama! I was almost depressed after having my first child and found it difficult to lose weight while breastfeeding.
I know you might think about those stories you heard on how breastfeeding will help you miraculously and dramatically lose weight.
Many mothers, including me, also heard that weight loss and breastfeeding are closely linked.
And sincerely, one of the reasons I wanted to breastfeed my baby was to lose all that pregnancy fat in no time. Unfortunately, that wasn’t the case for me.
So, what happened? Is the role of breastfeeding in weight loss just a myth? Or was the hope of having our little buddy suck out our calories a scam?
While breastfeeding might be a miracle cure for weight loss for some women, it’s just the opposite for others. Unfortunately, this may result in their weight being stuck or even increasing more rapidly.
So, Why can’t most women lose weight while breastfeeding?
In this blog post, you’ll learn the following:
- Why you are gaining weight while breastfeeding,
- How you can avoid putting on extra pounds, and
- A few tips to help you lose unwanted postpartum weight.
Does Breastfeeding Burn Calories?
What you probably heard about breastfeeding burning calories is true. But the amount of calories it burns depends on certain factors.
- Your baby’s age
- How often your baby nurses
- If you breastfeed your little one exclusively or he receives donor milk/supplemental formula
- Your baby’s growth spurts
- Whether the baby is receiving solid foods,
- The amount of breast milk you produce
- And the number of calories in each ounce of your breast milk.
Each ounce of mature breast milk contains approximately 20 calories. However, these are just average values and may vary from one mother to another (mainly due to the breast milk fat content). It also differs from day to day, hour to hour, and even during feeding.
Assuming we multiply the 20 calories per ounce of milk by 25 ounces (the average amount of milk an exclusively breastfed baby consumes between 2 and 4 months daily). This means that a nursing mother burns 500 calories while breastfeeding. I mean, this huge amount of calories leaves a breastfeeding mom’s body.
Additionally, the body uses up more energy (“calories”) to make breast milk. As a result, we burn about 550 to 670 calories in total while breastfeeding, which is nearly as much as you burn during a 45-minute run.
According to most health organizations, breastfeeding moms should consume an extra 500 calories or 300 calories if breast milk is not the sole source of nutrition for the baby.
Therefore, many moms lose weight while breastfeeding as it burns a lot of calories. However, some others struggle with weight loss.
Now the question is, why are you gaining weight while breastfeeding?
Why Am I Gaining Weight While Breastfeeding?
Weight gain while breastfeeding can happen due to a combination of factors such as:
You Are Not Eating Enough
You might have heard an age-old myth that you have to eat less food or calories if you want to lose weight.
In summary, because a pound contains 3500 calories, eating 500 fewer calories each day (500 x 7 = 3500) should result in approximately one pound of weight loss per week. However, this thought is wrong!
Our body works smarter than that, particularly while breastfeeding.
The body is more than capable of accumulating those 500 calories elsewhere, especially if it feels we are in it for the long haul.
Calorie restriction will eventually trigger our body’s perception that tougher times lie ahead; better save energy somewhere else instead!
After all, it needs to maintain adequate milk production and perhaps prepare for future pregnancy.
You Are Overeating
At first, this appears like an easy task, considering how many calories breastfeeding burns. But remember, eating too little can have the opposite effect – it can slow down your metabolism and decrease your milk supply!
Your body is especially vulnerable to this compensatory mechanism during the first three months postpartum. Therefore, I don’t recommend any calorie counting or calorie-reduced diets for at least the first three months postpartum – until your milk supply is well established!
However, suppose you are not gradually getting back to your pre-pregnancy weight or are gaining weight several months after giving birth. In that case, you may want to observe how many calories you are actually eating. No doubt, breastfeeding makes us super hungry, so it’s easy to overshoot our daily calorie requirements!
Lack of Sleep
Depriving yourself of sleep plus the stress of caring for a newborn contributes to gaining weight while breastfeeding.
Because breastfeeding babies want to nurse frequently (which is wonderful!) even in the middle of the night, this is the most challenging barrier to overcome.
In some cases, mothers get lucky to have babies that adjust to sleeping in a crib all night without any struggle. However, some parents may need to co-sleep with their little ones to enjoy a peaceful night’s sleep.
Regardless of what you do, you will have nights when you don’t sleep well.
Sleep deprivation causes an increase in appetite and a craving for high-fat and high-calorie foods. We crave “feel-good” foods even more when we are struggling mentally and emotionally.
When we turn to food for temporary relief from fatigue, it quickly becomes a habit that we don’t even acknowledge.
As you are so tired, you are likely to grab handfuls of chips or even “healthy” snacks such as nuts (which are not healthy when used to fix exhaustion), which add up fast, and it goes unnoticed.
You Are Struggling with Milk Supply
The breastfeeding journey isn’t always easy or “natural” for most women, and many turn to medications and supplements to increase their milk supply.
Moms often take prescription drugs like metoclopramide (Reglan) and domperidone (Motilium) as off-label lactation aids. However, the general population uses these drugs for delayed gastric emptying.
Sadly, taking these medications without gastric emptying issues causes you to become really hungry in a short period.
It is no surprise that taking any of these medications will cause you to gain weight as a common side effect. Moreover, most women claim they can’t lose any baby weight until they wean themselves off the medications.
You Are Stressed
There is no doubt that the “fourth trimester” can be stressful given the lack of sleep, postpartum pain, newborn challenges, hormone shifts, and the steep slope of breastfeeding learning.
As expected, researchers found that overall life stress, and especially maternal stress, significantly contributed to weight retention after birth.
In addition, studies discovered that increased cortisol levels (a stress-related hormone) link to weight retention in the first year following childbirth.
During those first few months, relaxing is harder to find, but you will have to find ways to deal with the stress.
One of the various things you can do to curb the stress is to create some “you” time. You can seek assistance with the house and baby from your partner, family, or friend. Always remember that it’s going to get better – there’s a light at the end of the tunnel.
Having an Extreme Hunger While Breastfeeding
Does breastfeeding make you hungry? Although breastfeeding burns some additional calories, it may not be as much as you would hope.
This can depend on several important factors, including genetics, your body’s metabolism, and its need for nutrients and calories.
Breastfeeding hunger is quite tricky to fight as it seems so intense and can leave you feeling tired or uninterested in the happenings around you.
Some ways to deal with this hunger are to keep healthy snacks close by and try not to skip meals.
If you are not cool with eating large meals, you can combine snacks with smaller meals to energize throughout the day, especially when breastfeeding.
Instead of going for carbohydrate snacks and foods alone, focus on consuming high-fiber/water content foods containing protein. These will help you to stay full for a longer period.
Check out an extensive article on breastfeeding hunger.
Your Sensitivity to Prolactin Hormone
You may experience various hormonal changes postpartum that can impact your appetite and the way your body uses energy.
After childbirth, the hormone prolactin stimulates the production of breast milk. In addition, it increases appetite and makes you super hungry. Hence, appetite and breastfeeding are closely linked together chemically.
In addition, prolactin plays a significant role in reducing fat metabolism and prevents your body from breaking down and utilizing fat cells.
However, some people don’t experience this problem. Perhaps these women have naturally low levels of prolactin. Therefore, they may not react to the higher levels when breastfeeding.
On the other hand, women with naturally high levels (results of genetics) may have a significant reaction when those prolactin levels are further increased.
Furthermore, it might be natural for some mothers to respond more sensitively to prolactin than others. It, therefore, means that no matter what you do, if you are genetically predisposed to having an increase in Prolactin levels (and other hormones), weight loss will be even more difficult.
7 Ways To Lose Weight While Breastfeeding
If you find yourself gaining weight while breastfeeding, do these five things.
Gaining Weight While Breastfeeding: Evaluate What You Eat
While breastfeeding, include whole foods into your diet. Consume vegetables, fruits, proteins, and foods high in fiber. You can also eat healthy fats like coconut oil, avocado, etc.
Also, you can take supplements that can help improve weight loss. A common weight loss supplement to include in your diet is Omega-3. Research shows that Omega-3 helps to reduce abdominal fat.
Drink More Water
Water is essential for normal body metabolism and function.
A certain fact says drinking 0.5 liters of water can promote the calories amount burned for at least one hour. Research shows that water results in modest weight loss.
Avoid Junk and Processed Foods
Junk food contains sugar, starches, or white flour, e.g., cookies, bread, fast food, pastry, refined foods, etc.
These sugary or processed foods include a high glycemic index, causing blood-sugar fluctuations.
So when your blood sugar peaks and drops drastically, you are most likely to get extremely hungry, causing overeating.
In addition, these foods can pack up in the body leading to weight gain, cellulite, and fluid retention.
Gaining Weight While Breastfeeding: Avoid Overeating
Instead of eating a big bowl of food at once, try to consume smaller food portions all day.
If you respond to how your prolactin controls your hunger state, you will end up eating additional calories than what your body needs and can burn.
Therefore, your body keeps the excess calories in the fat tissues.
To avoid gaining weight while breastfeeding, steer clear of overeating.
By exercising daily, I don’t mean spending an entire day working out or doing vigorous physical tasks. This will cause you to lose too many calories and increase your hunger.
The goal is to always stay active all through the day. You can do about 15 minutes of indoor or outdoor workouts, take a stroller walk, etc.
Gaining Weight While Breastfeeding: Eat Enough Calories
You think cutting calories will stop you from gaining weight while breastfeeding, right? No, you may end up achieving the opposite, particularly since you are breastfeeding.
In addition, cutting down on your required daily calories can affect your breast milk supply.
Furthermore, it can cause you to get tired and hungry, therefore, overfeeding easily.
Gaining Weight While Breastfeeding: Identify Your Stress Reliever
From experience, pregnancy and postpartum changes and phases are some of the most challenging moments in a woman’s life.
However, you have to identify the things that contribute to your stress and find ways to manage them.
Like I stated earlier, get help from friends and family or pay a babysitter. This will allow you the time to sleep well or pamper yourself.
Final Words On Gaining Weight While Breastfeeding
Here it is!
Now you know why you are gaining weight while breastfeeding. So, instead of being depressed that you can’t lose weight while breastfeeding; turn things around with our tips above.
Ensure you consume the right calories,
But don’t be hard on yourself when it seems like nothing is working. Give it time and find ways to practice self-care. With courage and determination, you will turn things around.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) on Gaining Weight While Breastfeeding
Will I lose weight after I stop breastfeeding?
Losing weight after stopping breastfeeding is possible but not guaranteed. The quality and amount of calories you consume will have a significant impact on your weight.
Despite this, most women usually lose weight when they stop breastfeeding since they won’t need as much energy to produce milk.
However, you will not lose weight if you keep overeating low-quality calories.
How do you lose belly fat while breastfeeding?
Unfortunately, there are no proven methods to reduce belly fat while breastfeeding.
Most women lose weight from other parts of their bodies before their belly.
However, if you follow a breastfeeding meal plan that is specially designed for women like you, accompanied by the best abdominal exercises, you can strengthen your abdominal muscles.
Let me know what you think about gaining weight while breastfeeding in the comment below.
Check out other similar articles you might find helpful below: