After nine long months of waddling around in maternity clothes and not being able to see their toes, many new moms are eager to start breastfeeding, which is often touted as nature’s way of helping moms return to their pre-pregnancy weights.
And while breastfeeding does burn a lot of calories, many moms will also tell you that losing the baby weight is not as easy as it sounds.
How Many Calories Does Breastfeeding Burn?
Breastfeeding and breast pumping burn plenty of calories. According to the CDC, breastfeeding mothers need to consume an additional 450 to 500 calories a day compared to what they ate before they were pregnant, for a total of about 2,300 to 2,500 calories per day. However, each person’s caloric needs can differ based on their age, BMI, activity level and other factors.
According to La Leche League, breastfeeding moms should eat about 1,800 calories a day, and can safely lose about one pound per week.
Here are four tips for how to lose weight while you’re breastfeeding:
- Eat a Healthy Diet
Unfortunately, as any breastfeeding mom can attest to, breastfeeding makes you hungry. All. Of. The. Time. That’s because every time you breastfeed or pump, your body produces a hormone called prolactin, which stimulates your appetite.
But just because you’re allowed to eat an extra 500 calories a day doesn’t give you license to eat whatever you want. (After all, one slice of Starbucks’ lemon loaf is 470 calories — just saying).
In order to help your body lose weight, it’s important to avoid snacking on sugary, processed foods and instead load up on nutrient-dense, whole foods, such as fruits, vegetables, nuts, meat, poultry and fiber-rich starches like sweet potatoes, beans, lentils and oats. Those foods will not only keep you feeling full longer, but they’ll also help provide all of the nutrients your baby needs to say healthy, too, through your breastmilk.
- Drink Enough Water
Just as breastfeeding produces a hormone that makes you feel hungrier, your body also releases a hormone during breastfeeding called oxytocin that makes you feel thirstier. It’s your body’s natural way of making sure you are drinking enough water to produce breastmilk.
There are no set guidelines for exactly how much water you need to consume a day. Instead, experts generally recommend drinking to thirst. If your urine looks clear instead of yellow, you’re probably getting enough.
But what does this have to do with weight loss? Well, even though you can quench your thirst with liquid other than water, drinks like juices and soft drinks have added calories, and those will make it harder for you to lose weight.
Plus, some studies have shown that drinking water can help you burn more calories, and it can also make you feel more full, reducing your need for unnecessary snacking.
- Get Some Exercise
In addition to eating a healthy diet, it’s also important to try to build some exercise back into your routine. Not only will exercise help you burn calories, but it can also boost endorphins, which are critical in boosting your mental health and fighting off post-partum depression.
If you’ve had an uncomplicated, vaginal birth, you can start gentle, moderate exercise as soon as a few days after giving birth. If you’ve had a C-section, you’ll probably need to wait at least eight to 10 weeks before trying any vigorous exercise. But in either case, it’s important to start slow and listen to your body.
Of course, just because you can start to exercise again doesn’t mean it’s easy to find the time to do it. Some great options are to sign up for a mommy and me class, go walking or running with your stroller, or do some streaming yoga or workout videos at home so you’ll never be far away from your newborn.
This is also a good reason to start breast pumping, so you can let your partner or another caregiver feed your baby while you get a little time all to yourself to exercise. And you can try using a wearable breast pump so you can exercise and pump at the same time.
- Get More Sleep
Have you ever noticed that when you’re more tired, you’re more likely to reach for unhealthy snacks like chips and sweets? So, it’s no wonder that sleep-deprived new moms are especially susceptible to unhealthy snacking.
When you are sleep deprived, your appetite hormones (gherlin and leptin) get out of balance, causing you to eat more. And many studies have linked lack of sleep to weight gain.
Although having your baby wake up during the night is inevitable, some ways to try to maximize your sleep is by having your baby sleep in a bassinet next to your bed, taking naps during the day, or breast pumping before you go to bed and having your partner feed the baby a bottle in the middle of the night.