Can Breast-Feeding Help You Lose Baby Weight?

A look at the science behind lactation and what it means for your waistline


Susan Rinkunas |

The conversation surrounding breast-feeding versus bottle-feeding usually pegs health benefits against convenience. A less common talking point? The reported pound-shedding effect of nursing your baby.

Model Alessandra Ambrosio, who had her second child in May 2012, told US Weekly that she attributes her postpartum slim-down to Pilates, spinning, surfing, and…breast-feeding.

So is breastfeeding the sure-fire way to fit back into your regular clothes? Yes… and no. Research does support that breastfeeding can help new moms lose weight, says registered dietician Tanya Zuckerbrot, author of The F-Factor Diet. But it’s not the only way to slim down. Here’s a science primer.

Why Breastfeeding Can Make You Slimmer

“As far as a kilojoule burn, it’s true that breastfeeding moms do burn 1200-2000 kilojoules a day,” Zuckerbrot says. But your body requires energy (read: kilojoules) to create breast milk, she says, so doctors typically recommend women eat a few hundred extra kilojoules a day. If a breast-feeding woman loses weight rapidly, it’s usually because she’s not taking in any extra kilojoules.

But Zuckerbrot says that nursing isn’t the golden ticket to a pre-baby body. “A lot of women say it helps with a lot of the weight up front, but the last five kilos, if you’re breastfeeding, are very hard to lose.”

The Weight-Gain Equation

What else will help new moms slim down? Not gaining too much weight during pregnancy. Doctors recommend gaining only 11 to 13 kilograms, she says, and after childbirth, moms will lose six kilograms (the weight of the baby, placenta, blood, and fluids).

“It’s understandable for women who only gain those 11 kilos to be back in their skinny jeans two months later because you can lose five kilos in two months, whether you’re breastfeeding or not,” Zuckerbrot says.

It’s a lot harder to lose baby weight when women use pregnancy as an opportunity to think that they can eat whatever they want, she says. For instance, if an expectant mom gains 20 or 30 kilos, she’ll have 15 to 20 kilos to lose after childbirth. That’s a tall order—and a poor health choice.

“That weight was not beneficial to a healthy pregnancy,” Zuckerbrot says. “If anything, gaining too much weight could put you at risk for gestational diabetes, an extra large baby—which can lead to complications during delivery—and preeclampsia.”

The New Mommy Eating Plan

Whether you choose to feed your baby by breast or bottle, chances are that you’ll be desperate for energy and maybe you’ll be looking to drop some extra weight. The dietician’s prescription? A high-fibre, high-protein diet.

By combining those two nutrients in every meal, you’ll be using food to stabilise your blood sugar, which will also help stabilise your mood and give you consistent energy throughout the day, she says.

Protein is essential to satiety, it will ensure that if you’re losing weight, you’re not losing muscle mass to boot. Since fibre is indigestible, it adds bulk to foods but has no kilojoules. So you can eat a lot of food (specifically, nutrient-rich foods like fruits, vegetables, and whole grains) and feel full without taking in a lot of kilojoules. “If you’re feeling fuller longer, you’re doing less unnecessary snacking between meals and less overeating at the next meal,” Zuckerbrot says.

A note on water: Drinking plenty of water will also help you feel full, and it can help sidestep G.I. issues that might arise with eating a lot of fibre. Plus, breast milk is 50 percent water, so nursing moms need to make sure they’re not getting dehydrated.

Looking for more info on you and your baby? Did you know that the way you give birth could actually affect your baby’s weight? Plus, here are six things you need to know if you’re pregnant and exercisingWant to kickstart your own weight-loss journey for summer and beyond? Get our Lean Body Blitz 12-week meal and fitness plan to turbo-charge your slim-down.

This article was originally published on www.womenshealthmag.com

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