Updated: May 7
Bringing a baby into the world means bringing on board some extra weight. If you've been stuck with those extra lbs long after baby's arrival, you may wonder whether it's safe to lose weight while you're still breastfeeding. The short answer: yes, you can lose weight while breastfeeding as long as you continue eating enough calories.
As discussed in regards to establishing breastmilk supply, it's important to eat sufficient calories to support milk production (Theobald, 2007). Breastfeeding requires roughly 600 calories per day, or a quarter of a 2400 calorie daily intake (Kent, 2007). This is good news for breastfeeding mommas who are looking to lose a few pounds, as breastfeeding consumes calories and helps reabsorb fat reserves deposited during pregnancy. Therefore, it's unsurprising that breastfeeding baby for longer aids weight loss. A study comparing mothers who breastfed for 3 months compared to 12 months revealed that weight lost from 1 to 12 months postpartum was almost double in the 12 month breastfeeding group (10 lbs compared to 5 lbs; Dewey et al., 1993).
A host of human studies reveal that maternal weight loss of 1-2 lb/week does not negatively impact infant growth (McCrory 2001; Lovelady et al., 2000, McCrory et al., 1999; Dewey 1998). A more controlled study in baboons cautions against restricting calories too severely, however. While baboons who were restricted to 80% of normal calories produced adequate breastmilk, a further restriction to 60% caused a decrease in milk volume (Roberts et al., 1985).
Eating enough is obviously important for breastfeeding, so how can mommas lose weight while making sure they eat enough to feed baby? This question is especially relevant given that a study analyzing data from 44 randomized controlled trials (Spencer et al., 2015) revealed that "dietary interventions were the most effective in reducing weight", with more weight loss associated with diet than physical activity or even a mixed (diet plus physical activity) approach. This supports the adage "weight loss starts in the kitchen, not the gym". While many "diets" focus on calorie restriction, "diet intervention" often involves changing what, when, and how much you eat. Here are a few suggestions to help you lose weight while maintaining adequate caloric intake (based on Noom lifestyle approach to weight loss):
Fill up on low caloric density foods - This means foods with fewer calories per ounce which fill you up without packing in the calories. For example, one pound of grapes contains 306 calories (low caloric density) while a pound of potato chips (Party Size bag) contains over 2500 calories (high caloric density).
Drink plenty of water - The amount recommended varies based on your size and activity level, but most women should consume at least 90 oz of water per day (according to U.S. National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine).
Eat breakfast - Eating breakfast everyday causes people to be less hungry throughout the day and helps them keep weight off long term.
Eat consistently - Eating regularly helps people make healthier food choices and control portions (you'll be more likely to crush that bag of chips if you come home from work starving).
Put food on a plate - Remember that bag of chips? That's a no-no. Putting food on a plate, especially a small plate, helps control portions and causes people to eat less and feel more full.
Limit processed foods - The most successful diets focus on moderation, not deprivation. But processed foods such as prepackaged cookies, frozen pizza, candy bars, etc. should definitely be on the list to limit.
Limit sugary drinks - Sugary drinks are packed with unhealthy calories and don't fill you up. In fact, they actually make people hungrier and eat more!
Eat mindfully - People who eat with intention (not out of boredom or habit) and attention (focusing on the meal) lose more weight, develop healthier eating habits, and keep weight off long term.
Get active - While diet impacts weight loss more than physical activity, exercise is linked to a myriad of health benefits such as increasing energy levels, boosting mood, improving body composition, and reducing risk of chronic conditions. So take baby on a walk or chase your little one around the park to get moving!
Now that you know that moderate weight loss will not be detrimental to your milk supply or baby's growth, feel confident to try incorporating the suggestions above to help get your weight back where you'd like it to be!
Kent JC. How breastfeeding works. J Midwifery Womens Health. 2007 Nov-Dec;52(6):564-70.
Theobald HE. Eating for pregnancy and breast-feeding. J Fam Health Care. 2007;17(2):45-9.
Dewey KG, Heinig MJ, Nommsen LA. Maternal weight-loss patterns during prolonged lactation. Am J Clin Nutr. 1993 Aug;58(2):162-6.
McCrory MA. Does dieting during lactation put infant growth at risk? Nutr Rev. 2001 Jan;59(1 Pt 1):18-21.
Lovelady CA, Garner KE, Moreno KL, Williams JP. The effect of weight loss in overweight, lactating women on the growth of their infants. N Engl J Med. 2000 Feb 17;342(7):449-53.
McCrory MA, Nommsen-Rivers LA, Molé PA, Lönnerdal B, Dewey KG. Randomized trial of the short-term effects of dieting compared with dieting plus aerobic exercise on lactation performance. Am J Clin Nutr. 1999 May;69(5):959-67.
Dewey KG. Effects of maternal caloric restriction and exercise during lactation. J Nutr. 1998 Feb;128(2 Suppl):386S-389S.
Roberts SB, Cole TJ, Coward WA. Lactational performance in relation to energy intake in the baboon. Am J Clin Nutr. 1985 Jun;41(6):1270-6.
Spencer L, Rollo M, Hauck Y, MacDonald-Wicks L, Wood L, Hutchesson M, Giglia R, Smith R, Collins C. The effect of weight management interventions that include a diet component on weight-related outcomes in pregnant and postpartum women: a systematic review protocol. JBI Database System Rev Implement Rep. 2015 Jan;13(1):88-98.