You’ve probably heard that breastfeeding is one of the easiest ways to lose pregnancy pounds. By breastfeeding the weight will melt right off you, they say. I’ve read claims that breastfeeding burns up to an extra 850 calories a day! Unfortunately, these claims aren’t exactly the truth. Breastfeeding does burn extra calories but realistically that number is more like 300-500 calories a day. And while that extra calorie burn could help you lose weight, breastfeeding also makes you hungrier. And ravenous hunger combined with sleep deprivation can often send us new moms reaching for sugary or salty treats to satisfy our cravings. It’s not exactly easy to lose weight when you are more than making up for the extra calories breastfeeding requires by filling up on simple carbohydrates.
For every woman that is back to her pre-pregnancy weight before she leaves the hospital there is another that struggles to make the scale budge at all. One phrase I find myself repeating over and over to my clients (and to myself!) is that every woman and every pregnancy is different. Some women get lucky and drop the weight like nothing. Don’t hate them if this isn’t the case for you. Losing the pregnancy weight will take most women about as much time to take off as it took to put on. Some a little more, some a little less. You’ll only make yourself feel worse if you try to compare your weight loss to others. Try to love your body as it is in the present and accept that it’s probably going to take lot’s of time and hard work to get your body to where you want it to be and that’s ok! And definitely don’t make the mistake of reading tabloid stories about movie stars that have seemingly bounced back from having a baby overnight. Unless you also have a personal trainer, chef, and live-in nanny then more power to ya!
Sort of along the same lines of not comparing yourself to other moms, don’t put unnecessary pressure on yourself to get back to your pre-baby body. Comparing yourself to others, especially photo-shopped celebrities, certainly contributes to women’s unrealistic postpartum body expectations but women also just put a lot of pressure on themselves to be supermom. I am definitely guilty of this one. Some important things to keep in mind are that, just like during your pregnancy, your body is going through lots of changes as you transition back to a non-pregnant state. More importantly, you have a baby to take care of now and you are both adjusting to your new lives. Learning about each other and getting the hang of breastfeeding/bottle feeding/pumping just takes time but usually by about 6 weeks postpartum you will settle into a rhythm. It’s important to focus on your baby during this time and to let your body heal by taking it easy. Your efforts to lose weight will be much more successful if you take the time to recover physically and emotionally during those first few weeks. Finally, once you do start up an exercise/diet program, give yourself a break every once in a while. There will be days when all you want to do is sit on the couch and cuddle your little one. Those are precious moments that you can’t get back so give yourself permission to take a few minutes to enjoy bonding with your child. Missing one workout won’t kill you. Finding balance is essential to surviving life with a new baby!
Set yourself up for weight loss success by prepping healthy meals ahead of time and having healthy snacks on hand. Spending a little extra time one day a week planning, shopping, and cooking can help keep your eating on track for the rest of the week. Whenever you find the time to cook, make extra so you have leftovers. Put together some healthy freezer meals that you can dump in a crockpot when you need something for dinner. Fill your fridge and pantry with easy yet healthy snacks so when you need something fast you aren’t reaching for cookies and chips.
This is a good tip for anyone who is trying to lose weight, not just breastfeeding moms. If you go too long between meals and wait until you are starving before grabbing something to eat, chances are that what you end up putting in your mouth is not going to be that good for you (unless you are really good about the previous tip!). Not to mention that trying to care for a newborn and have energy to exercise is a lot harder if you are a hangry mama! Most importantly, waiting too long between meals could affect your milk supply. Basically, you can cause a hormonal chain reactions that lowers prolactin, the hormone responsible for milk production.
Don’t Restrict Too Much
It’s important to create a caloric deficit in order to lose weight but don’t go crazy. As mentioned earlier, breastfeeding requires additional calories as does exercise so keep that in mind when choosing a calorie budget. If breastfeeding is important to you, let it motivate you to fuel your body with nutritious foods so you can keep up more milk production and be healthy for your baby. (Please contact me if you have specific questions about what calorie intake is right for you as there are a number of other factors that play a role in determining this number). You should aim for no more than a 1-2 pound weight-loss per week.
Wait until you get the ok from your doctor before you begin a serious exercise program. If you are going to do a particularly long (90 minutes or more) or strenuous workout, eat some healthy carbs (i.e. not sugar) about a half hour beforehand. The carbs will give you a little energy boost to help get you through your workout and will help ensure that your milk supply doesn’t take a dip. Good carb choices would be something with whole grains (like whole wheat toast or oatmeal) or something starchy (like a potato or sweet potato).