Having a baby is one of the most amazing times of a woman’s life; however, if you struggle with your weight, it can also be a very stressful time. The good news is that many women experience weight loss after weaning. Find out what to expect, as well as what you can do to see even better results once you finish breastfeeding.
Will I Lose Weight After Weaning?
In addition to the myriad responsibilities of caring for a newborn, many new moms spend a lot of time thinking about how to lose the baby weight. For some, it’s easy; but for the majority of women, it takes work.
The fact is, it took you nine months to put the weight on (or more if you started your term with a little extra weight), and it will take you just as long—or longer—to get to where you started. So don’t rush the process. You don’t need that extra stress right now.
The good news is that, according to American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG), breastfeeding can make it easier for women to lose weight after giving birth. This may have to do with the fact that breastfeeding requires more energy in the form of calories to fuel milk production—as much as 500 to 700 per day, according to La Leche League International.
For some new moms, this is going to result in a calorie deficit. Weight loss works the same way for everyone—whether you’re a new mom or not. Creating a calorie deficit, in which your body uses more energy each day than you consume, helps your body to stop storing fat and start burning it. Overtime, this leads to weight loss.
When you’re breastfeeding, you actually need to eat more calories—an extra 450 to 500, recommends ACOG. This is about equivalent to your extra calorie needs during the third trimester. That’s enough calories to supply the nutrients your baby needs and provide the energy your body needs to produce milk; however, you may be using even more energy than that—in which case, you’re creating a calorie deficit.
Some new moms may not increase their calories enough after giving birth. They may not have an appetite, or they may just be too busy to think about eating. This might be one reason some women see more weight loss during breastfeeding than others.
Conversely, many new moms find themselves hungrier than normal; or, because they’re home all day with baby, they may find themselves reaching for a snack more often than they should. Even though they’re breastfeeding, these women may not see any weight loss after weaning.
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Should I Cut Calories While Breastfeeding?
This is a hard no. Now that you know how many calories breastfeeding burns, you may be thinking it would be a great time to get an edge up on weight loss. Don’t even think about it.
Your baby needs those calories to grow and develop. And eating enough calories ensures that your baby gets enough of these critical nutrients:
Calcium: Builds strong bones and teeth and aids normal circulatory, muscular, and nervous system functioning. Breastfeeding women should eat dairy products, calcium-fortified orange juice and milk-alternatives, cereals, and kale.
Carbohydrates: This is not the time to go keto. Eat plenty of whole grains, fruits, and vegetables.
Folic acid: You still have increased folic acid needs during breastfeeding, which you can get from fortified breads and cereals. The natural form of folate is found in leafy green vegetables, citrus fruits, avocados, lentils, and beans.
Iodine: Helps the thyroid gland produce hormones that aid growth and brain development. Use iodized salt when cooking, and eat seafood and dairy products.
Iron: Getting enough iron will keep you from feeling sluggish and fatigued, two things you really do not need to feel while trying to be super mom. Eat plenty of lean meats, poultry, and fish, fortified cereals, legumes, and leafy green vegetables.
Protein: Baby needs protein for strong muscles, bones, and other tissues, and you need enough protein to maintain muscle mass (which helps your metabolism!) Be careful of taking protein supplements while breastfeeding; opt instead for lean meat, poultry and fish, eggs, dairy, beans, nuts, and tofu.
Vitamin A: Helps develop your baby’s eyes, heart, and immune system. Good sources include milk, orange fruits and vegetables, and dark leafy greens.
Vitamin B12: Aids your baby’s red blood cells, and brain function and development. A B12 deficiency can also make you feel wiped out. Avoid this by eating animal products or fortified plant foods. If you don’t eat animal products, ask your doctor whether you need to take a supplement.
Vitamin D: Aids calcium absorption for healthy bones and teeth. Your skin makes vitamin D when exposed to sunlight; you can also get it from fortified milk and orange juice, eggs yolks, and salmon.
You can get all the nutrients you need for your and your baby’s health from eating a nutritious, calorie-sufficient diet of whole foods. So eat up!
What Else Can I Do To Speed Up Weight Loss After Weaning?
Now that we’ve established you’re not going to cut calories during this time—and you’re going to eat more calories if your doctor tells you you need to—we can talk about other ways you can start working on your weight loss goals. You have total control over how you move, eat, and take care of yourself during this time, even if it doesn’t feel like it.
Here are my top suggestions:
Establish a healthy calorie balance: Talk with your doctor about how many calories you need while breastfeeding and after breastfeeding. Make sure to meet those calorie needs but not exceed them. This doesn’t mean counting calories—you don’t have time for that now (or ever). It just means sticking to healthy foods and adjusting your intake slightly up while breastfeeding and down after weaning.
Stick to healthy foods: Whether it’s just being too busy, or stressed, or because your husband does the grocery shopping, it’s easy to keep too much junk food on hand at home. This can lead to you making poor food choices when you’re exhausted. Keep the junk food out of the house. Buy fresh, whole foods and you won’t have to worry as much about what you’re putting in your mouth.
Ask family members to help with food prep: If you’re lucky, you have some loved ones who would be happy to help you out during this time. Tell them you need help preparing healthy foods, or simply shopping for healthy foods. Give them a list or a recipe; have them make extras that you can freeze and pop in the microwave.
Drink plenty of water: Thirst is often mistaken for hunger. Drinking water is one simple thing you can do to stave off cravings and feel more sated. It’s also great for your skin, digestion, energy, and mood. Keep a water bottle with you at all times and sip from it regularly. When you’re feeling a snack attack, pour a big glass and gulp it down in one go. All that water will help fill up your belly and abate the hunger pains.
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It’s Time to Start Fitting in Exercise
You might open Instagram and see super fit new moms lifting weights with their newborn on their back. This probably makes you feel guilty and like you are way behind. You’re not. Close Instagram. You’re completely normal if you’ve taken an extended break from exercise during your pregnancy and breastfeeding.
But, now that you’ve stopped breastfeeding and you’re not at baby’s beck and call every few hours, it’s time to take some time to move your body, build some muscle, and burn some calories. Adding exercise back into your life (or taking up exercise if you weren’t exercising before) is going to kickstart your metabolism and weight loss after weaning.
Don’t worry, you’re not expected to run a marathon. Start slowly and gradually. Add in a little bit more each week. Go at a pace that feels good for you. If you push yourself to do more than you’re ready for—or want to—you’re going to burn out and want to quit. That is not going to help with weight loss after weaning.
My suggestion is to start with walking, if you’re not already. Aim to take a 30-minute walk most days of the week. You can either take baby with you in the stroller to get some fresh air, or you can make this your “me-time.” Put on your headphones with your favorite tunes or podcast, and lace up your walking shoes. Aim to walk at a brisk pace, and increase the pace as you are able.
Once you’ve been consistent with the walking, start to add in some other activities, such as short at-home exercise videos and some gentle yoga. If you can, do this after your walk when your muscles are warm and you’re still in your exercise clothes.
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Get Enough Sleep, Control Stress
Lack of sleep and stress are major contributors to weight gain and an inability to lose weight after weaning that many women overlook. Feeling fatigued can cause food cravings and make you less able to deal with them in a healthy way when they arise. Stress contributes to the release of cortisol, a hormone that can increase your appetite and food cravings, according to Harvard Health.
But getting more sleep and staying calm when you’re a new mom is WAY easier said than done. So all you can do at first is try. Stay mindful of what you’re spending your time and energy on, and what you’re worrying about. Can you cut out some unnecessary (or less necessary) tasks so that you can get in bed 30 minutes or an hour earlier? Are there things you worry about (that maybe keep you up at night) that you can let go of, so you feel more at peace?
Make a list of a few things you could do to make it easier to get more sleep and reduce your stress. That might include:
- Leaving your phone in the kitchen when you go to bed at night so you’re not scrolling when you should be sleeping
- Meditating for 5 to 10 minutes first thing in the morning to start your day from a calm and grounded place
- Talking to a therapist about some of your worries
- Journaling to get your thoughts down on paper and clear your mind
- Making a list of all the things you need to do and then crossing off what’s really not necessary
- Asking your spouse, a friend, or a family member to help you with some of the tasks that make you feel overwhelmed
- Taking a break when you need to and not feeling guilty about it. Lie down for a nap in the afternoon if you want to. The world isn’t going to fall apart.
- Giving yourself permission to not be perfect. No one is perfect, not even those Insta-moms
- Making sure to laugh—with your baby, your spouse, your friends over coffee, or just by watching your favorite sitcom with a glass of wine (you can have wine now!) in the evening
I don’t know about you, but I already feel more rested and less stressed out after just writing that list. Now imagine if you just put a few of these into action in your life. It seems small, but it can make a huge difference—to your life as a whole and to your waistline!
Do you have any other ideas for how new moms can lose weight after weaning? Is there anything that worked well for you? Share your thoughts in the comments below!
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