We have all wondered, does breastfeeding make you lose weight?
Perhaps one of your motivations to breastfeed was so that your body would “bounce back” and you’d lose weight effortlessly. Whether we admit it to ourselves or not, losing weight after giving birth is on our mind mere moments after saying “all I care about is a healthy baby.” When am I going to lose the baby weight? (and yes, it is normal to still look pregnant after giving birth!)
Unfortunately, media glorifies a quick transition back to how you were before you had kids. The truth? There is no going back to how you were before. Maybe you have tiger stripes or a small scar that will forever remind you of how your baby entered the world. These are things to be proud of, not shamed. You created LIFE!
All that said, feeling good in your body is a priority. Adjusting to life as a mother can be hard on a lot of levels, you have a new identity and a whole lot more responsibility. Your body can be one way you can reconnect with your former self now that you’re not a 24/7 incubator. Breastfeeding is a beautiful thing that has many benefits for the mother, like preventing osteoporosis and ovarian cancer. But does breastfeeding help weight loss? Let’s take a deeper look.
Pregnancy is one of the most hormonally intense things a person can go through. The high levels of progesterone that have sustained the pregnancy suddenly drop and with prolactin and oxytocin coursing through your veins you can feel this adrenaline-wired-love-tired-sad-shocked roller coaster ride.
What hormone causes weight gain postpartum?
The real culprit stalling postpartum weight loss is cortisol. This may be surprising because cortisol is not a pregnancy-related hormone but one that has to do with stress. Cortisol tells our body to store more body fat and is responsible for sugar cravings.
Cortisol is high in a postpartum mother due to:
It is normal to feel stress as a new mother, of course! When this stress becomes chronic, cortisol levels rise and cause weight gain, fatigue, sugar cravings, blood sugar swings and more. Elevated cortisol is not something a new mother can avoid, but it is something a new mother can manage through a few specific avenues.
How do you manage stress & cortisol postpartum?
Proper nutrition and sleep patterns are two ways that you can help your body deal with the effects of cortisol and stress. This is a great reminder to put effort into taking care of yourself and asking for support whenever possible.
Your nutrition plays a large role in weight loss as well as managing cortisol so eating lots of veggies, including protein at every snack and meal and ensuring you eat lots of healthy fats will not only help you lose weight but can help stop sugar cravings as well. Also, if you restrict calories too much, that triggers an increase in cortisol so be sure to eat enough!
What is Prolactin?
Another hormone that plays a minor roll in weight loss is prolactin. It’s produced in high levels during pregnancy, but it’s milk-producing effects are stopped due to high levels of estrogen and progesterone. Once you’ve given birth, prolactin is able to do its duty and cue your body to make milk! Prolactin also signals your body to reduce fat metabolism, thus slowing weight loss. It does this because there is a certain amount of body fat needed to produce breastmilk.
Keeping in mind that we are wired as if it was 100,000 years ago, our primal body requires there to be adequate fuel stored (aka body fat) in order to continue to produce breastmilk. If body fat percentage goes down too quickly or to low, milk production will stop. Prolactin is one way of your body trying to ensure it will be able to feed your baby in a time that food security was non-existent. So what can you do about this today? Be sure to eat well and not restrict your calories. This helps your body feel safe and it will be more likely to release weight
Does your thyroid affect weight loss postpartum?
Up to 16% of women can experience thyroid issues in the first year postpartum. Hypothyroidism, when the thyroid is under-functioning and thus making it very difficult to lose weight. Most cases will resolve after a year postpartum but if you are not seeing the results you think you should be, or you’re gaining weight instead of losing, it’s a good idea to get your thyroid levels checked.
Losing too much weight while breastfeeding
While breastfeeding may help you lose weight, its purpose is to nourish your baby. If you don’t eat enough this can impact the quality of your milk and most of all, your supply level. Losing weight too quickly while breastfeeding will have negative effects and may hinder your ability to successfully breastfeed. What you eat does affect the quality of your milk so having a well-rounded diet is important. (link to article about this). Producing milk burns a lot of calories (more than being pregnant!) so you will still be able to eat generous amounts of food and lose weight at a healthy pace.
So with all that said, does breastfeeding help you lose weight? For most women, the answer is yes. Provided the mother is eating a healthy diet and getting adequate rest, breastfeeding can support weight loss. If there are hormonal or other deeper imbalances, slowed or no weight loss can be a good sign that further investigation is needed.
Each mother will lose weight postpartum at a different pace. Everyone has a unique experience in pregnancy and many factors determine weight loss postpartum. The biggest thing to keep in mind is that taking care of yourself with proper nutrition and rest will help your body return to its post-baby happy place. This may not look the same as pre-pregnancy, but we hope that you bare those changes proudly - you are stronger and more beautiful thank you think!
Add a serving of Majka’s Nourishing Lactation Booster to your next latte, smoothie, or meal, or check out Majka’s Lactation Bites for a quick nutritious snack! If you're looking for more information on breastfeeding and motherhood, check out these free resources and blog posts:
- 7 Important Nutrients for Breastfeeding Moms
- 5 Postpartum Fitness Tips
- Nutrition and its Effects on Postpartum Depression
- Healing Postpartum: It's Not Just About Fitness
- How to Manage Societal Pressures and Expectations as a New Mom
Be sure to follow us @lovemajka for more conversations and tips about motherhood! #lovemajka #fuelingmotherhood