I know what you heard. Breastfeeding and weight loss are closely connected. When you start breastfeeding, the baby weight goes away easily and pretty fast.
Well, not exactly. While for some women this might be true and breastfeeding indeed is a magic pill for weight loss, for others it’s just the other way around, and sadly, their weight is either stuck or start to climb up on a rocket speed.
So why does breastfeeding work for some women and doesn’t work for the others?
Actually, it’s a combination of many factors, that include your genetics, body type, metabolism, your pre-pregnancy body form, how often you exercised before and during pregnancy, what you eat, how many hours you sleep and a bunch of other things that may affect your postpartum weight loss or quite the opposite: contribute to weight gain.
These things are all important, yet they are still considered as minor factors that prevent you from losing weight while breastfeeding.
What are the primary ones then? We’ll get to them in just a sec.
But first, tell me is that something you are going through right now? You gave birth, you lost almost all the baby weight (or at least half of it). You started breastfeeding hoping all the excess weight will be gone in just a couple of months. Instead, your weight is stuck or you started gaining extra pounds right away. Sounds like you?
Don’t get discouraged. You are not alone! Actually, there is statistical data proving that almost half of nursing women gain weight on breastfeeding, rather than lose it. There is a study showing evidence that exclusive breastfeeding for at least three months has a small effect on postpartum weight loss among U.S. women. But don’t rush to start a low caloric diet because, obviously, it won’t do any good to your milk supply and, surprisingly, it won’t help you lose weight either.
1. Ironically, the primary factor, contributing to weight gain while breastfeeding is BREASTFEEDING ITSELF!
Our bodies release a specific hormone, called prolactin that helps with milk production and this whole breastfeeding thing.
It turns out that together with milk production, this hormone MAKES US INCREDIBLY HUNGRY (a smart mechanism to get more calories for making enough milk for your baby) while lowering our metabolism.
Do you see the connection? You EAT MORE but BURN LESS.
Well, that’s unfortunate.
Why dieting won’t help?
When you go on a diet choosing to eat less calories than you need, you cause extra stress for your body, which means you’re jeopardizing your milk supply, because a) you need to be calm and happy to produce enough milk; b) you need extra calories to have an adequate amount of milk produced for your baby.
Some women take this information too literally, and instead of eating 200-300 extra calories a day, they easily stuff themselves with 800-1000 and even more (without even noticing they are objectively overeating!).
5 Things You Can Do To Promote Weight Loss (with low metabolism and constant hunger!)
- Evaluate what you’re eating. Include more whole foods into your diet. Eat more fruits, veggies and greens. Opt for healthy fats, like avocado and coconut oil. Supplement with Omega 3 (which actually really helps with weight loss!). According to the recent research, including Omega 3 supplements into your diet may help reduce abdominal fat.
- Drink more water! I bet you already know that water is vital for the body, but here’s the cool fact: drinking 0.5 liters (17 oz) of water may increase the amount of calories burned for at least an hour. Some studies show that this can lead to modest weight loss. (Source)
- Cut off the obvious bad stuff. Fast food, pastry, refined and sugary foods are all littering your body and contribute to weight gain, fluid retention and cellulite. You body is not a garbage bin! Keep in mind: we are what we eat.
- Don’t overeat. Aim to have smaller portions more frequently throughout the day. I’m sharing some helpful tips to stop overeating below. Read on.
- Exercise every day. Now, I’m not saying you have to sweat for an hour to keep your weight under control. Go for a stroller walk and walk at a faster speed than usual. Do a 15-minute workout. Move around the house. The key is to STAY ACTIVE throughout the day.
2. The second important factor that prevents you from losing weight postpartum is ADRENAL FATIGUE
Adrenal Fatigue (which is quite common in lactating mothers) causes weight gain, fluid retention and exhaustion. To put it more bluntly, when you experience stress on a daily basis (and that is exactly what happens with new moms) your body produces too many adrenal hormones. In order not to harm your brain and body, they instead go straight into your waistline and lower body, increasing the fat tissue. Not cool, right?
What Is Adrenal Fatigue And How You Can Know If You Have One?
Your adrenals are the two glands that sit on top of your kidneys. They produce over 50 different hormones with a range of functions in your body, while their most important job is to ramp up production of stress hormones when you’re under pressure. The adrenals can easily become fatigued after months of sleep deprivation and producing milk for your baby. In order to deal with excess stress you’re experiencing, they start secreting high amounts of cortisol (the stress hormone). Whereas, high cortisol levels are directly related to weight gain , , .
Nutrition Tips To Help With Adrenal Fatigue
Foods you need to cut off from your diet
1) Caffeine. It can interfere with the sleep cycle and challenge the adrenals even more.
2) Sugar and its substitutes. Eliminate artificial sweeteners, fructose, and corn syrup. Avoid any sugary products. Know the products with hidden sugars. Read the labels. If you are a sweet tooth like me and cannot imagine your life without the sweet taste, try using a bit of fresh honey or stevia.
3) Eliminate hydrogenated oils such as soybean, rapeseed, corn, and margarine. They can cause inflammation in the body, including the adrenal glands.
Healthy foods for adrenals to include into your diet
These are healthy fats and foods rich in fiber, low in sugar:
- Cruciferous veggies (cauliflower, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, etc.).
- Fatty fish that is high in Omega 3 (tuna, salmon, herring, mackerel, sword fish, trout)
- Nuts (walnuts, almonds) and seeds (flax, chia, hemp, sesame and pumpkin seeds)
- Coconut and olive oils (extra virgin and cold pressed)
Try These Supplements to Support Your Adrenals
Here are a few supplements that will help your adrenals recover:
- Vitamin C. The optimal dose of vitamin C to help relieve adrenal fatigue is 500 mg (that is approximately 550% of DV).
- Vitamin B5, or pantothenic acid, supports adrenal function. Try taking 50-150 mg per day.
- Licorice root extract reduces adrenal dysfunction and helps maintain the optimal level of hormones in the body. Licorice is also great in aiding digestion and relieving heartburn. However, you should be careful when taking licorice – a high dose of this extract may increase cortisol level and raise blood pressure. If you already have issues with blood pressure, it’s better skip taking licorice extract. A safe dose to take is 200-400 mg per day.
- Chromium helps reduce the symptoms of low blood sugar. You might wanna ask, what does blood sugar have to do with adrenal fatigue? Here’s what: hypoglycemia commonly occurs during adrenal fatigue when lowepinephrine, norepinephrine and cortisol are combined with the high insulin levels of stress. The low levels of adrenal hormones that can occur during adrenal fatigue may fail to raise blood glucose enough to meet the increased demand. (Source) The optimal dose of chromium to help the adrenals is 200-400 mcg per day.
WHAT I PERSONALLY THINK IS THE PROBLEM WITH THE WEIGHT LOSS WHILE BREASTFEEDING
Here’s the thing, I was one of these lucky women whose weight just faded when they started breastfeeding. And don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying this to brag about it. I just want you to see the real picture, why the two things mentioned above as the most common reasons for weight gain (or inability to lose weight) while breastfeeding may be just not the case.
You see, I did have the same issue with prolactin making me starving like crazy and eating almost twice as much as I used to pre-pregnancy, while lowering my metabolism at the same time.
I have a strong impression that I didn’t escape from adrenal fatigue either (I’m pretty sure I still have it!) because of months of sleepless nights, high stress, and postpartum depression issues.
So I had both major factors contributing to weight gain while breastfeeding, yet I was losing weight. Why?
BECAUSE I BELIEVE THE MOST IMPORTANT FACTORS THAT AFFECT YOUR POSTPARTUM WEIGHT ARE THESE:
- YOUR GENETICS
- YOUR BODY TYPE
Sometimes you just can’t escape from what is written in your genes. For example, if your mother had the same problem losing weight while breastfeeding, it’s leaving you with quite a high chance of battling with weight loss, too.
The body type is THE MAJOR factor ever! As you might have heard, there are three types of body: ectomorphs, mesomorphs and endomorphs.
To cut the long story short, ectomorphs are skinny and have troubles putting on weight (both in muscles and fat); mesomorphs have slender figures, easily building slimmer bodies, but as easily gaining weight; endomorphs are plump, having troubles losing weight, whereas putting on extra weight is way too easy for them.
Do you know your body type?
I’ve always been an ectomorph with low body mass index and metabolism through the roof. Even if prolactin did the trick with my metabolism, the extra effort my body was making to produce milk had me covered, so I was burning more than I was eating. Thus, I was losing weight while breastfeeding.
Speaking of eating habits. With prolactin ruling your sense of hunger, eating twice as much as your body needs is a slam dunk. Let’s face it, if you eat more calories than your body is able to burn, you gain weight! Your body sends the excess right into your fat tissue. Now, we don’t need that. So here’s what you can do to avoid overeating.
13 simple ways to STOP OVEREATING
- Count calories. Why counting calories is essential? You learn how to balance your diet and how many calories you need for every meal to feel satisfied. You’ll see how surprisingly many calories there are in certain products you used to it. Thus, having this food journal will teach you not only to stay within your calorage, but also to cut off foods that are not healthy for you. If you don’t know how many calories you need to eat during the day, you can find it out here. Add extra 250-400 calories to the number you get to provide your body with energy it needs to produce an adequate amount of milk and you’re all set.
- Plan your meals and snacks ahead. This habit is extremely helpful and will safe you from unnecessary slips. Learn to plan your meals for the day (snacks included) from the previous evening.
- Eat before you’re hungry. There has been multiple times when I violated this rule ending up with eating fast carbs or other junk food that is nowhere around healthy. In order not to have these slips, you have to adhere to tip #2 from this list.
- Eat less but more often. Stick to a golden rule to eat everything that fits into your plate at a time. Usually, the size of portion won’t exceed 300 grams.
- Ditch fast carbs. The so-called “empty calories”, fast carb got this name for a reason. They make you satisfied fast, that’s true, but soon after you eat them you’ll feel even more hungry than before. They mess up with your blood sugar levels and, generally, they are not healthy.
- Put your phone down. Seriously. As soon as you do that, you’ll learn to understand exactly how much food you need to satisfy your hunger. Whereas, while we’re stuck in our devices, we get easily distracted and mindlessly stuff our stomachs with food getting far over the point of being satisfied.
- Eat foods rich in fiber. This will help you feel satisfied longer. This study has shown, if you choose to eat a bowl of oatmeal instead of cornflakes for breakfast, it is highly unlikely that you will want to overeat during the day.
- Don’t skip a meal. Especially breakfast. Why? Because it kickstarts your metabolism, gives you energy for the rest of the day and helps you stay out of overeating (if your breakfast was loaded with slow carbs, fiber, protein and healthy fats). My favorite breakfast is this: a bowl of old-fashioned oatmeal with fruits and butter (or coconut oil) and one fried egg on a side + coffee with milk. I tend to eat around 500 calories for breakfast and that keeps me full and satisfied for around four hours without having an urge to snack before lunch (which is great when you’re a mom who has no time to eat). Skipping a meal, on the other hand, will eventually lead you to overeating, because a) you will eat when you’re already hungry, b) you will want to eat fast carbs to get energy instantly (and I’m pretty sure you’ll give in and do it), c) you will eat more calories than you need but you will feel it in 15-20 minutes after you finish you meal. So, skipping a mealtime will lead you to violating 3 tips from this list in a row! (#3, #4 and #5). Which is not good, right?
- Have the snacks at hand. If you go out, make sure to pack some snacks with you to avoid becoming too hungry and eating fast carbs to get energy and satisfy your urge to eat. Studies have shown that is you choose snacks high in protein content, like greek yogurt, you will likely have no desire to overeat. My fav snacks are: nuts, berries, kale chip, greek yogurt, dark chocolate, peanut butter with apples, hard cheese, chea seed pudding and protein shake!
- Eat more protein. It’s no secret that protein makes us fuller thought the day while decreasing the desire to overeat. For example, this study shows that if you choose to eat eggs for breakfast, they will increase your satiety throughout the day and decrease the levels of ghrelin (this hormone stimulates hunger).
- Ban junk food. Junk food is everything that has sugar, white flour or starches in it (foods like cookies, sweets, fast food, white bread, milk chocolate, etc.). In other words, it’s refined foods (or carbohydrates) that has high glycemic index and cause blood sugar fluctuations. When your blood sugar reaches high levels very quickly and then falls back down, it may cause you to feel extremely hungry and you have high risks of overeating. This study shows the exact mechanism of how your body reacts to foods with high glycemic index and explains the connection between consuming these foods and having obesity.
- Include more healthy fats into your diet. Let’s break this “you eat fat = you become fat” kind of connection. If you still believe that, then let me just tell you, the real culprit for your weight gain is not fat (at least not the healthy fat!) but carbohydrates! There are plenty of studies showing that people on a ketogenic diet (high fat low carb) are less hungry throughout the day, don’t overeat and actually lose weight. ,  Healthy fats include: nuts and seeds, coconut and olive oils, avocado, fatty fish, etc.
- Don’t cut too many calories. Cutting calories won’t help, especially when you are breastfeeding. Because a) you put your milk supply at risk if you eat less than 1800 calories a day, b) when your body physiologically needs more calories than what you eat during the day, you will eat them anyway (usually in the evening) and oftentimes it will lead you to overeating, because, again, we go back to rule #3 from this list. You will eat when you’re hungry, meaning you won’t be able to control how much you need to eat to be satisfied. The best strategy with cutting calories (if you want to reduce them for weight loss), is to cut them gradually and never go below 1400 (if you’re not breastfeeding) and 1800 (while breastfeeding). Instead of cutting calories, I would actually advise to chose healthy products and cut off any drinks but water from your diet.
Correct me if I’m wrong, but I really believe the things I mentioned above are THE REAL factors that prevent you from losing weight (or even contribute to weight gain) while breastfeeding.
Good news is, your weight is not going to hang in there forever!
Eventually, you will stop breastfeeding and the thing with prolactin interfering with your metabolism and hunger will be gone. So your hormones will be balanced. Over time, you will learn to organize your day in a way you start having more rest and be less stressed. So the adrenal fatigue will pass, too. I’m pretty sure, you will also learn to eat more healthily and mindfully. And your weight will start to gradually go down. You will get into your pre-pregnancy slim fit jeans again. It will just take you a little longer to do that than you might have thought it would, which is TOTALLY NORMAL!
When you become a mom, what goes first is your baby and his needs. If you chose to breastfeed and started gaining weight or having troubles losing it, rest assured, this struggles will pass. Don’t be obsessed to lose weight and get your pre-pregnancy body back while breastfeeding, aim to eat healthily, rest as much as you can and include light exercises in your daily life instead. The weight will come off sooner or later. It can’t be otherwise!
Hey, Mama! Share your story of losing weight while breastfeeding
Did you struggle with weight loss? Was breastfeeding this magic pill for you that helped you to shed extra pounds? Maybe you were the one who started gaining weight while breastfeeding? Whichever it is, please, make sure to share your story and advice in comments below! Moms need feedback and support. You can give both by simply leaving a comment.
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Wow! The piece about body types is one of the greatest revelations I’ve had about myself and my struggles. It turns out that I am a mesomorph so I had lost some stubborn weight very easily (just breasfeeding) by the time my baby was 5 months old. I thought it was a miracle:) but once I stopped breastfeeding but continued eating as much this weight came back on. Now, 4 years later, I’ve learned to deal better with my body. However, knowing my body type I will be even kinder to myself from now on. So thank you for bringing this up!
Thanks for sharing your story! I’m always glad to here feedback and mamas thrive on it! We all need more knowledge and support 🙂
Good to know that my article helped you understand your body better.
I had issues with PCOS and fertility prior to becoming pregnant. I was actually able to use organic chromium yeast to help balance my blood sugar and alleviate the worst infertility from PCOS. This is fantastic advice. I can completely recommend a good chromium yeast to help with blood sugar issues. Breastfeeding was a real struggle and I most certainly developed adrenal stress from your description even though I wasn’t officially diagnosed. However, my functional MD recommended a diet high in vitamin C and with vitamin C supplements (with rose hips) and he added Celtic seasalt, pharmaceutical ubiquinone and grapefruit juice to my regimen to get me out of my fatigued self. He suggested the pharmaceutical ubiquinone to be taken with grapefruit juice to boost absorption and energy levels so I am able to exercise a little bit more. It was definitely helpful and it has helped me have a semi-decent exercise schedule and keep my weight on a satisfactory level.
Mama of two girls! Oldest is 6 and was formula fed. Youngest is 10 months and has been exclusively breast fed. I have always been thin even through pregnancies. But I am heavier than I have ever been. Nothing helps the weight come off. I hope I’m not forever doomed 🙁