Breastfeeding & Weight loss
While reading this post, please keep in mind ALL women are different. Breastfeeding will help many women drop the postpartum weight quickly. However, that was not my experience. That being said, I also want to point out that it might have taken longer to get my post pregnancy body back if I was not breastfeeding. What I do know is that it wasn't until I was done breastfeeding that I dropped the last ten pounds that my body was holding onto.
HERE IS MY STORY...
After I gave birth to my first son, Charlie, I expected to bounce back to my pre-pregnancy weight in no time at all. I figured since I had worked out my entire pregnancy and was in great shape, and even more importantly, I was now breastfeeding, those calories should have been burning away! I've heard it a million times, "Oh, you’re breastfeeding? The weight will melt off." However, that was not the case. Though I have friends that were both breastfeeding and eating whatever they wanted with weight melting off their bodies, I am not one of those mamas.
I was shocked that with all my efforts of eating right and excersizing, I was not even dropping the 1 pound a week that I was told I would. I was finding when I would compare my healthy weeks vs. my unhealthy weeks, there was no difference on the scale.
OVERVIEW OF MY POSTPARTUM BODY WITH BABY #1
Two week check up: My uterus was totally healed and back to its original size which is one of the many benefits of breastfeeding. Breastfeeding releases hormones that trigger your uterus to heal quickly and return to its pre-baby size which is the size of a pear. I got the all clear and was able to start working out. My body heals very fast since the average time for this is around 6 weeks. My first question to the doctor was, "Well, if my uterus is back to its original size, then what's this?", pointing to my stomach. He answered, “You can only get rid of that with exercise."
Five weeks: I started working out and eating healthy but nothing was excelerating my weight loss. I was dropping a few pounds here and there but still felt like I was wearing a coat of extra fat.
Five months: At the 5 month mark, I felt like myself again. I still had not dropped all of my weight since I was holding onto the last 6-10 pounds, but I felt like that coat of extra fat feeling had faded.
14 months: Interesting enough, I didn't drop that last few pounds until I stopped breastfeeding which was at 14 months. During this time, I was pregnant with my second baby and still breastfeeding Charlie. Even though I was in my first trimester, I still dropped those pesky pounds.
I was so confused. I was told all these years that breastfeeding would help me drop weight but in fact it was the exact thing that was preventing me from getting my pre pregnancy body back. So I did some research and it completely makes sense.
First, I want to point out I'm a huge supporter of breastfeeding. Having children is one of the most selfless things you will ever do and breastfeeding/pumping is as well. It's time consuming and breastfeeding really limits how much independence you will have for that first year. However, the benefits for both you and your baby are endless and well worth it. Some extra weight for some mamas during that first year really sucks, but your baby will benefit from your milk supply for the rest of their life.
WHY IS THIS HAPPENING?
"Breastfeeding Does Burn Calories, but….
If you’re a breastfeeding mom, you’ve probably heard that nursing will burn 500 calories a day. This is surely the reason the experts tell us that breastfeeding will help us lose the baby weight, that’s like a killer workout!
However, so many other factors that come into play when discussing ANYONE’S metabolism, but especially a woman during her postpartum period. Including:
- Lack of Sleep: A decrease in sleep, typical of just about every new mom, can cause metabolism to slow by causing a hormonal change that can interfere with your hunger signals, causing you to eat more than you actually need.
- Less Activity, More Eating: In the first few months postpartum, most moms are sitting with baby more and may have less time for regular activity while they adjust to a new routine (even if they’re working out). In addition, the increase in energy needs for milk production can make you feel ravenous, causing you to eat more than normal, and possibly more than needed.
- Not Enough Eating: Some moms are so busy and overwhelmed in the first months of their baby’s life or mistakenly think they need to cut calories severely to lose weight and don’t eat nearly enough, which can cause the body to believe there is famine and actually store fat as an energy reserve.
- Stress: Stress releases cortisol, which slows metabolism, and if you’re also not sleeping much, the cortisol is not being removed from the body at night during restorative sleep. I think we can all agree that even if we are blissfully joyful, most new moms are also highly stressed.
Even with all of these factors at play, studies found that breastfeeding moms tend to start to lose MORE weight around the 4 month mark, and even more when they finally wean. Why is this?
One word: HORMONES
Hormones During Breastfeeding
During breastfeeding, hormones are very different than any other time in life. Breastfeeding mothers experience a drop in testosterone and estrogen, which are both fat burning, and an increase in prolactin.
Prolactin is the hormone that causes your body to produce breastmilk (prolactin = pro-lactation). It is elevated during pregnancy, but is kept in check by progesterone and estrogen levels, which both drop right after the baby is born. This allows the effects of prolactin to begin and the milk to come in for the baby. Prolactin levels rise every single time the baby nurses, signaled by nipple stimulation. So what does this have to do with fat loss?
Prolactin hormone is also linked to fat storage. It makes sense that our bodies would put some sort of safeguard into place to protect baby’s milk supply, and it seems that prolactin may be that safety net. Prolactin seems to keep the nursing mother from mobilizing fat stores, so that there is always an energy reserve in case of famine.
Sometime between the 4-6 month postpartum mark, breastfeeding mothers experience a drop in prolactin. Suddenly, metabolism may begin to increase, and studies show that these mothers will generally start to see more fat loss at this point. Again, once the baby weans, within 24 hours prolactin levels drop again, and this might explain why those stubborn final 5-10 pounds suddenly disappear as fat metabolism returns to pre-lactation/pre-pregnancy levels.
Interestingly enough, prolactin also affects sex drive and fertility, usually causing a low libido, and cessation of periods and ovulation. After the sixth month mark, your periods may return and you might be feeling like your old sexual self – this is a sign that your fertility has returned and prolactin has dropped." - fit to be pregnant
There are so many articles written on this topic and many that contradict one another. I was specifically trying to find answers related to my personal experience. This all makes complete sense to me and aligns with my specific situation. I wrote this post for the women out there who are also struggling to lose weight while breastfeeding.
I am writing this article five weeks postpartum with baby #2 and have a fun 20 pounds to drop to get down to my pre-pregnancy size. It will be very interesting to see if I still run into the same issues with this postpartum experience.
I want to point out how important it is to relax for that first month or two after birth and just focus on enjoying your baby. Looking back, I put so much pressure on myself and had a tight timeline in mind to get the weight off. Remember, it takes 10 months for your baby to fully grow in your womb and in many cases that extra weight can take just as long to lose. As long as you are healthy and get outside and move a few times a week your body will hopefully shed the weight when ready.
15 fun facts about breastfeeding HERE
- Body Composition Changes during Lactation Are Highly Variable among Women
- Breastfeeding and Maternal and Infant Health Outcomes in Developed Countries
- Oxytocin and prolactin levels in breast-feeding women. Correlation with milk yield and duration of breast-feeding.
- Hormone Prolactin Reduces Fat Metabolism
- Energy metabolism, body composition, and milk production in healthy Swedish women during lactation.
- Breastfeeding and postpartum weight retention in a cohort of Brazilian women