How To Lose Weight While Breastfeeding Safely In 2023?

Paige Anderson, CRDH
Dr. Kimberly Langdon, MD
Gradual weight loss is a good approach for how to lose weight while breastfeeding without affecting milk supply.
How To Safely Lose Weight While Breastfeeding
Learn how to lose weight while breastfeeding. Photo: Shutterstock & Team Design

Many women feel pressure to lose pregnancy weight as quickly as possible. While there are many health benefits to returning to pre-pregnancy weight, such as preventing long-term metabolic changes[1] and increased risks for problems like insulin resistance, losing weight too fast can have a negative impact on your breast milk.

If you want to know how to lose weight postpartum while breastfeeding, here are six tips for breastfeeding mothers.

How To Lose Weight While Breastfeeding?

Breastfeeding moms often want to get back to their pre-baby weight as quickly as possible. The good news is that breastfeeding for at least three months may help you lose the baby weight! Other good methods for how to lose weight while breastfeeding without affecting milk supply include:

  • Eating a healthy diet and not restricting your calories too much.
  • Avoiding empty-calorie foods.
  • Drinking plenty of water.
  • Avoid skipping meals.
  • Doing moderate exercise.
  • Get as much sleep as you can.
  • Aiming for slow and steady weight loss.

How To Safely Lose Weight While Breastfeeding?

How To Safely Lose Weight While Breastfeeding
How to lose weight safely and effectively while breastfeeding? Photo: Shutterstock

The good news is that breastfeeding for at least three months has been shown[2] to help you return to your baseline body composition faster. Breastfeeding women who want to start their weight loss journey while nursing can safely reach their weight loss goals with a slow and steady, nutritionally-minded approach that will benefit both you and your growing baby.

Consult with your healthcare provider or a registered dietitian to be sure you’re getting enough calories and key nutrients to help you build healthy habits and lose weight breastfeeding safely.

Here are a few recommendations for losing weight while breastfeeding.

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Drink Lots Of Water

Breastfeeding puts an extra strain on the body in terms of fluid loss.[3] Drinking water helps support milk production by helping you stay hydrated. 

Drinking plenty of water can also help you shed extra pounds of water weight. Postpartum, we tend to retain water, which can make us feel puffy. Ironically, retaining water is frequently the result of being under hydrated!

Eat A Healthy Diet Including Whole Grains, Lean Protein & Healthy Fats

A balanced diet including plenty of complex carbohydrates, lean proteins, and healthy fats can help you maintain your energy levels and your milk supply while you restrict calories.

Remember that if you’re exclusively breastfeeding, your baby only gets nutrients from the milk you supply. Eating a good variety of healthy foods will support your baby’s growth by providing them the nutrients they need.

Healthy fats are essential for good brain, eye, and cardiovascular development. Walnuts are an incredible source of good fats, omegas, and vitamins. Olive oil is another key source of fats that support healthy milk production. In many countries, women also use it to treat sore nipples[4] from lactation.

Avoid Empty-Calorie Foods 

Sometimes we need a little comfort food, especially in the stressful first months after giving birth. Occasionally indulging in some empty calories isn’t the end of the world, and can help reduce stress for a moment.

If you’re asking yourself “How many calories should I eat while breastfeeding to lose weight,” the best food groups to cut first are those empty-calorie snacks. Highly processed foods, and especially processed meats and fried foods, can put a strain on your body as well cause bloating, and don’t support healthy lactation. 

Where possible, choosing healthy snacks and aiming for nutrient-dense food groups will help you and your baby get the nutrients you need and avoid the temptation to skip meals to cut calories.

Avoid Losing Weight By Skipping Meals

It’s essential to resist the urge to skip meals to try and cut calories, especially after giving birth. Lactation puts extra metabolic strain on our bodies. That means we’re using more calories as a baseline than we usually do. Skipping meals can put our bodies into starvation mode, actually slowing down our metabolism and sabotaging our weight loss efforts.

Nursing mothers who skip meals may experience dangerous side effects like lightheadedness or fainting. Since you may also not be sleeping well, your body needs as much help maintaining normal energy as possible. 

Do Moderate Exercise

In addition to eating a good diet and reducing your calorie intake, moving your body will help you lose body fat, burn calories, maintain lean body mass, keep your energy up, and reduce your stress levels.

Start with something simple like a brisk walk with the stroller every morning. Getting the baby out in the sunshine during morning hours can help with good sleep hygiene.

As you start to recover from giving birth (and once your doctor approves you for more activity), you can incorporate more activities you enjoy. Getting back to old hobbies and getting postpartum exercise are both great for your mental health and your weight loss journey.

Get Lots Of Sleep 

This can be one of the most frustrating recommendations for new parents. Get more sleep? I’d love to. Care to convince the baby?

Unfortunately, sleep deprivation can significantly undercut our efforts[5] to lose that baby weight. There are many ways sleep affects our ability to lose weight and maintain previous weight loss.

Getting enough sleep isn’t always in the cards for new moms, especially if you’re exclusively breastfeeding. Breast milk is more easily digestible than formula, which is great for your baby in some ways, but they may feel more hungry and need more feedings overnight.

Don’t stress too much about trying to get sleep. Do what you can and remember that this phase of parenthood is ultimately temporary. You will get back to full nights of sleep eventually. 

Is Weight Loss While Breastfeeding Safe?

You can absolutely lose weight safely while nursing provided you take a gradual approach and emphasize getting enough nutrients and a variety of healthy foods. Whether you’re nursing or not, rapid weight loss is typically not as sustainable[6] as a more gradual approach.

Losing weight with healthy eating habits, regular exercise, and moderate caloric restriction can help you safely lose weight without affecting your breast milk supply.

Putting too much pressure on yourself to lose weight fast after having a baby can add to your stress. Be gentle with yourself, take it slow, and remember that this phase of your life is temporary.

How Many Calories Do You Need While Breastfeeding?

To support good milk production, the CDC recommends[7] nursing mothers eat an extra 300-400 calories per day over their usual baseline for weight maintenance. If you’re trying to lose weight, don’t limit your calories too much. Instead, aim for a slight calorie reduction and increase your physical activity.

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Other Tips For How To Lose Weight While Breastfeeding

  • Aim for a slow and steady weight loss: how long it takes to lose weight varies from person to person, but in general, studies show that gradual weight loss is more sustainable than rapid weight loss. Taking it slow is also essential to keep your milk supply up.
  • Prep your meals: If you have the support available, meals prepped in advance can prevent grabbing the fastest thing you can eat with one hand for every meal. New moms are especially prone to skipping breakfast, so having healthy breakfasts prepared in advance can help give you a good start to your day. 
  • Seek support: Being a new parent is a struggle. If you’re struggling to keep your milk supply up, talk to a lactation consultant for advice. Never hesitate to reach out to a friend, loved one, or mental health counselor if you are experiencing symptoms of postpartum depression or you just don’t feel right.

Conclusion

Many new parents want to know how to lose weight after pregnancy while breastfeeding. Taking a gradual, balanced approach will help you maintain your weight loss over time. 

Breastfeeding can help your body normalize after pregnancy. Be sure to drink plenty of water and eat a well-rounded diet to keep your supply of breastmilk sufficient and nutritious enough to support your growing baby. 

Moderate physical activity like brisk walking, weight lifting, and aerobic exercise can help you build lean body mass and burn calories while supporting your overall health and keeping stress under control.

Frequently Asked Questions

Is losing weight while breastfeeding safe?

It depends on how much weight you’re trying to lose in a short amount of time. Rapid weight loss with severe calorie restrictions can compromise the quality and volume of your milk. It’s safe to lose weight with a healthy diet and slightly reduced caloric intake while increasing physical activity.

How many extra calories should I eat while nursing?

Eating about 300-400 extra calories per day is enough to offset the calories babies consume in breast milk.

How can I accomplish sustainable weight loss after having a baby?

Research shows that slow weight loss is more sustainable than rapid weight loss, regardless of whether you’re nursing or not. But nursing also makes some major changes to the demands on your body and trying to lose weight too fast while nursing can have negative effects on your health.

Should I skip breakfast to cut calories?

No! Especially when you’re breastfeeding, it’s essential to avoid skipping meals. Keeping your energy up and milk flowing takes good nutrition. Skipping meals and prolonged fasting can lead to lightheadedness, fainting, and a slower metabolism.

Resources

  1. Stuebe, A.M. and Rich-Edwards, J.W. (2008). The Reset Hypothesis: Lactation and Maternal Metabolism. American Journal of Perinatology, [online] 26(01), pp.081–088. doi:https://doi.org/10.1055/s-0028-1103034.
  2. Tahir, M.J., Haapala, J., Foster, L., Duncan, K., Teague, A.M., Kharbanda, E.O., McGovern, P.M., Whitaker, K.M., Rasmussen, K.M., Fields, D.A., Harnack, L., Jacobs, D.R. and Demerath, E.W. (2019). Association of Full Breastfeeding Duration with Postpartum Weight Retention in a Cohort of Predominantly Breastfeeding Women. Nutrients, [online] 11(4), pp.938–938. doi:https://doi.org/10.3390/nu11040938.
  3. Zhou, Y., Zhu, X., Qin, Y., Li, Y., Zhang, M., Liu, W., Huang, H. and Xu, Y. (2019). Association between total water intake and dietary intake of pregnant and breastfeeding women in China: a cross-sectional survey. BMC Pregnancy and Childbirth, [online] 19(1). doi:https://doi.org/10.1186/s12884-019-2301-z.
  4. Derya Kaya Sağlık and Öznur Gürlek Kısacık (2020). Comparison of the effects of olive oil and breast milk on the prevention of nipple problems in primiparous breastfeeding women: a randomized controlled trial. Health Care for Women International, [online] 42(4-6), pp.877–894. doi:https://doi.org/10.1080/07399332.2020.1840570.
  5. Evangelia Papatriantafyllou, Dimitris Efthymiou, Evangelos Zoumbaneas, Codruta Alina Popescu and Vassilopoulou, E. (2022). Sleep Deprivation: Effects on Weight Loss and Weight Loss Maintenance. Nutrients, [online] 14(8), pp.1549–1549. doi:https://doi.org/10.3390/nu14081549.
  6. Hall, K.D. and Kahan, S. (2018). Maintenance of Lost Weight and Long-Term Management of Obesity. Medical Clinics of North America, [online] 102(1), pp.183–197. doi:https://doi.org/10.1016/j.mcna.2017.08.012.
  7. CDC (2023). Maternal Diet . [online] Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Available at: https://www.cdc.gov/breastfeeding/breastfeeding-special-circumstances/diet-and-micronutrients/maternal-diet.html.

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