Many women (myself included!) really want to lose the baby weight asap after delivering our bundles of joy. When we are breastfeeding we are told to eat healthy but not to diet or cut calories in particular. At least not in the early postpartum weeks. So, if you are like me you want to know does breastfeeding burn calories? Could doing this great thing for our babies benefit me too in some way? 🙂 Well, yes breastfeeding does burn calories but the information is murky and the results seem to vary. Read on for more information.
How many calories does breastfeeding burn?
You can find out from most health related websites that breastfeeding on average burns about 300-500 calories a day. I have heard it can be even higher and up to 600. I would think if you are breastfeeding twins it would be even higher.
An ounce of breast milk is about 20 calories and calories are being used in the creation of the milk as well. Unfortunately, there is not an exact science to know how many calories you are burning by breastfeeding. This is the best breastfeeding calories burned calculator I have found and can help give you an idea how many calories you may need.
Weight loss or gain while breastfeeding
Many women find it easy to lose weight while breastfeeding. In the early postpartum days there is usually a good amount of initial weight loss from water weight and extra fluids after birth. Breastfeeding also helps the uterus shrink down quickly after birth.
Once you add in the calorie burn from breastfeeding some women continue to lose weight at a steady rate during the early postpartum period. If you think about how much cardio it would take to burn that many calories daily, this is really a great benefit for many breastfeeding moms. Many women can eat normally and lose weight without much extra effort.
On the other hand, some women find that their body seems to hold onto an extra 5-10 pounds until they wean their baby from breastfeeding. What could be the cause of this? I am not sure but it's been theorized that your body may hold onto this to make sure it has enough fat stores for continuing to produce milk. This seems annoying to me, especially if your body already had an extra 10 pounds of fat before you even got pregnant 🙂
Some women may even experience weight gain while breastfeeding. I have heard from moms that lost weight initially but then started gaining again while they breastfed their baby the first year. This may be because breastfeeding can make you hungry. When burning all those calories makes you more hungry you may end up eating more than needed. There may be other causes at work too. There does not seem to be a once size fits all when it comes to weight loss and gain while breastfeeding.
In my case I have experienced both scenarios of the weight not budging and the weight coming off fairly easily. When my daughter was born I lost the initial weight quickly and then an additional 10 pounds or so in the first two months postpartum. Once I hit the three month mark and was still about 10 pounds over pre-pregnancy weight, the weight would not budge. I could diet and exercise and lose about five pounds but it would keep coming back. I was so annoyed since all I had heard was how easy it was to lose weight while breastfeeding. It seemed it was easy at first but then it became hard and I was just stuck. Not gaining or losing but stuck, and still above the weight I was when I got pregnant with her.
Now I did not wean her till I was pregnant again so I can't tell you if the weight would have just come off after weaning, but I did notice that I easily lost about five pounds after she was one. She was also nursing a lot less at this point so I'm not sure if it's related.
I started my pregnancy with my second baby, my son, at a little higher weight but I have lost more weight, more quickly since having him. In this case I definitely think it is related to breastfeeding. I lost my initial weight with him and then continued to lose a pound a week until he was close to six months old. I did not change my eating or exercise habits at all. Other than taking long walks with my kids my exercise has been pretty lacking actually. It was great to easily lose weight this time around. The bad news is that once he hit about six months the weight loss stopped. I don't know if I started eating more or if it's because he started solids but it plateaued at this time. Now that he is nearing one I have lost another five pounds or so and I am at my pre-pregnancy weight from when I got pregnant with my daughter. I definitely attribute breastfeeding with helping me this time around.
Can I diet while breastfeeding?
In general yes, you just have to be careful. Most breastfeeding resources do not recommend dieting but I know many women do it successfully while breastfeeding. The biggest concern with dieting and breastfeeding is that it could possibly affect your supply. If you cut your calories too drastically your supply could be lowered. This is more of a concern when your baby is younger. Once your baby is older it should not be much of an issue.
It is recommended to wait until your baby is at least 8 weeks old for any diet or exercise. Use that time to rest and give your body a chance to heal. Once you do start a weight loss attempt, start slowly to make sure your body adjusts. You should continue to eat healthy foods while increasing physical activity. This may be all you need to do to lose weight with the help of breastfeeding.
Easiest way to figure out breastfeeding calories burned for you
I found it very helpful to use an activity and calorie counting app like myfitnesspal. This is the main thing I did differently after I had my second baby and I found weight loss much easier.
For the breastfeeding calories burned I entered it as an exercise that burned 500 calories a day. If you are counting calories experiment with your breastfeeding calories. Try adding 500 for breastfeeding as an exercise and if you do not see any results try lowering it to 400 or even 300. Keep track of your food calories as well. Once you notice weight loss of about a pound a week you will have an idea how many calories you are burning from breastfeeding. Aim to eat at least 1500-1800 calories a day while breastfeeding. Less than that can be unhealthy and affect your milk supply.
Always drink tons of water to keep up your milk supply and help your dieting efforts.
Breastfeeding does burn calories but it can range and there is no way to know how much you are burning for sure. The easiest way to discover the breastfeeding influence on your calorie burn is to keep a calorie count in an app along with a food diary. You can start by figuring 500 for breastfeeding and work up or down depending on what it takes to lose weight.
Please let me know if you have any questions about this technique and breastfeeding calorie burn in general. Please leave a comment or email me at email@example.com.