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Does Breastfeeding Really Help You Lose Weight?

By Monica Bielanko |

How many calories have I burned now? How about now? And now?

If I’ve heard it once, I’ve heard it dozens of times.  “I plan to lose weight by breastfeeding”.

As if breastfeeding is some magic diet pill that will melt the pounds from your body at every feeding.  I’m even guilty of saying it even though I don’t really know what the hell I’m talking about.

Is breastfeeding weight loss as real as the sixty pounds I packed on or is it a figment of the imaginations of postpartum women desperate to lose weight the world over?  I figured I’d do a little research on the matter and let you know what I come up with.

A study published in the Journal of American Dietician Association shows breastfeeding burns over 600 calories for women who don’t supplement with formula.  Okay, I can dig that.  That’s way more than I’d burn in an hour on the treadmill.  The study also shows mothers who breastfeed had significantly larger reductions in hip circumference and were less above their pre-pregnancy weights at one month postpartum than mothers who fed formula exclusively.

Excellent.  But one study wasn’t doing it for me.  And then I found this:

This is an area that has not been well studied, though in the book, “Nutrition during Lactation,” by the Institute of Medicine at the National Academy of Sciences (1991) this topic is briefly addressed, but no conclusions are drawn. Though most women do lose weight gradually during lactation, it was noted that one study showed that 22 percent of women actually experienced weight gain. The authors of this study concluded that breastfeeding alone does not guarantee weight loss. (Manning-Dalton & Allen 1983).

In the book, “Eat Well, Lose Weight While Breastfeeding,” author Eileen Behan, RD, shares the results of a study of 1,423 women presented at the First European Congress on Obesity (1988). Behan states, “The strongest predictor for weight retention was how much mothers gained while pregnant; women who gained more than the recommended amount had a harder time getting it off. Older mothers retained more weight than younger moms. There were larger variations in weight gains and loses, but the bottom line was that breastfeeding alone does not guarantee weight loss.”

If that’s true I am certainly screwed.  I gained sixty pounds, y’all.  SIXTY POUNDS.  Have you heard of anyone gaining more than that?  I’ve lost about twenty-five pounds and I seem to have stalled at a weight of 159 pounds.  My usual weight is 125-ish.  While I don’t expect to sit around breastfeeding and lose weight, I wanted to know if there really was something to all this talk of magical weight loss while breastfeeding.

After reading hundreds of comments from women all over the web I have concluded that while breastfeeding does help burn calories, it also keeps a little bit of fat on your body because, while you’re pregnant, your body automatically layers on extra fatty tissue so you’ll have enough fat stores to begin and support breastfeeding.  So whether or not breastfeeding makes a big difference for you is debatable.  In the same way every single pregnancy is completely different, I think every mother’s breastfeeding experience varies.  We all have different metabolisms and body types so who knows?

I’m interested in hearing your experience and what you think.  I’m trying to eat right, walk a couple miles a week and I’m still breastfeeding so I wonder when I can realistically expect to get back to my pre-baby weight?  Six months?  A year?  I guess I need to take my age into account as well.  34 is no spring chicken for having babies.  Hell, it ain’t even a summer chicken, is it?  So tell me!  What is your breastfeeding weight gain, weight loss story.

 

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About Monica Bielanko

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Monica Bielanko

Monica Bielanko was raised on the wild frontier of late 1970's Utah. She is a recovering Mormon who married the guitar player of an unknown band. She's been married to her Babble Voices writing partner, Serge Bielanko, for the past nine years. Her personal blog, The Girl Who was in the top ten of last year's Top 50 list. Read bio and latest posts → Read Monica's latest posts →

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36 thoughts on “Does Breastfeeding Really Help You Lose Weight?

  1. Meagan says:

    My mom gained more than 80 lbs. She never lost it all, but she’s not particularly overweight either (she was a stick before she had me).

  2. Snarky Mama says:

    I was tempted to post this under “anon” but in the vein of not making weight a shameful topic here goes: With my first two sons, I gained about 50-60 lbs each. After my first I lost all of the weight, and then some (hence, getting pregnant with #2), within about a year. After #2, even after 2+ years, I still was about 20lbs up from my pre-pregnancy weight. Then #3–so not only did I start 20lbs heavier, I gained a million pounds. Not really, but close. I started at about 197 and gave birth at 304lbs (and now you know something about me my husband does not–I never told him that number!). After a year of nursing, I only lost about 40 lbs (most of which happened in the first month or so). But after we stopped nursing, the weight dropped like crazy. I don’t own a scale, but I have gone from a size 24 to a size 10 since then. The last time I weighed myself (Dec 2010) I had lost 132 lbs (and I was a size 14 then).

  3. Anna says:

    I gained about 35. I lost all but a couple pounds by 6 months (with almost no exercise or dieting because my baby is very high need). Now I’ve been coasting for a few months at a few pounds (5ish) about my pre-pregnancy weight and plan on exercising more aggressively now and dieting more aggressively once I’ve weaned my daughter.

    Good luck to you.

  4. Steph says:

    I think I put on about 30lbs. I was less than my pre-pregnancy weight at 4 months, and for me, it was all about breastfeeding. I know this because I wasn’t being strict about what I ate (as in I was eating A LOT of chocolate) and when I travelled home and stayed at my parents house with my baby back in my room (I had just moved her out and had been feeding her only once overnight by this stage), she was waking every 3 or so hours for a feed so I was feeding more than usual, but also as I was home I was eating all my favourite junk food that I don’t get where I live and I still lost a further 10lbs over those few weeks. I gained those 10lbs back but I didn’t make a particular effort to keep it off. I was pretty much at my normal weight 2-3 months post-partum, which I was totally shocked about as my mum is overweight and I just assumed it was because of having us kids (she now tells me she snapped back each time but doesn’t eat very well and isn’t active). I can’t say it will work for anyone else, but that’s my experience, which is how I hope it goes again this time! Good luck with your weight loss!

  5. Shannon says:

    I’m 30. I gained 40 lbs. with my first, lost it all by 4 months but didn’t fit into my jeans like before until 6 months. with my second i gained 35 lbs. and I have lost about 30 of it so far in just under 3 months. Breastfeeding both times.

  6. Tia says:

    I gained 50 with my first and exclusively bf him. I slowly lost the weight finally hitting my pre pregnancy weight when he was about 8 months (then found out we were expecting again). I don’t think bfing helped lose the weight I worked out 4 days a week and didn’t really diet. All of my other friends lost their baby weight much faster and just bfed alone. I felt like my body was constantly storing fat for milk. My second is now 6 months and I gained a little over 40 lbs with him. Exclusively bfeeding him too and lost the weight in 3 months. However I believe it had nothing to do with bfeeding. I hit the gym 6 days a week for an hour to two hours at a time and really watched what I was eating (of course making sure I got enough calories for bfeeding) and drank lots of water. Once again other pregnant friends lost all their weight in the same amount of time as I did and only bfed and did not work out. I think it truly depends on your body and what you need to produce milk.

  7. Katie says:

    I gained 48 lbs, and at 3 months postpartum I can safely say that even though I have exclusively breastfed, I didn’t start to really shed the weight until I was strict about my diet. I’ve still got 18 lbs to go, but now that I’m losing about 2 lbs a week I’m hoping to be back in my pre-pregnancy wardrobe by summer.

  8. Meredith says:

    I gained 45 and lost 25 within 2 weeks. I was finally back to my pre-pregnancy weight when my daughter turned 9 months. She is now 14 months and I’m still breastfeeding. I’m about 6 pounds lighter now than I was before I got pregnant and I’m actually smaller everywhere except my stomach (she is my 3rd so I guess that just takes more time). I bf exclusively the first 6 months, and she has still never had any other milk but mine. I honestly feel that breastfeeding helped me, but I did cut back some. If I would be strict I could lose more, but I like to eat to much!

  9. Jeannie says:

    I gained 60-70 pounds with my son, and between breastfeeding, a mostly healthy diet and moderate exercise I was down to within 5-10 pounds a year later. I think the last few pounds didn’t really come off until he was 2 or so. It takes a while for sure, if you gain a lot. I think if you just keep eating well and getting exercise when you can it will all come off!

  10. Natalie says:

    I gained 25 while pregnant and was back to my prepregnancy weight at my six week checkup. Since then I’ve lost an additional 10lbs, and I’m not sure how much of it is attributable to breastfeeding and what is a result of running around the city all day (the last time I lived in New York I was this weight too, so who knows?). My mom always lost a lot of weight while breastfeeding, so maybe it’s genetic. I think I’m in the “super lucky, don’t even talk about it or people will get irritated” minority, though. I have one friend who doesn’t lose a single pregnancy pound until she weans her babies off the boob.

  11. robertdenton44 says:

    Major brands giving out samples on their favorite products search online for “123 Get Samples” I received my samples. No credit card required.

  12. laura says:

    I gained a little over 40 with my first, lost 30 by my 5wk postpartum visit and was in my prepregnany jeans by 4months, while eating whatever I wanted and just taking my baby on walks when she was fussy. I gained a lot over 40 this time (closer to 50 but I avoid scales as much as possible). I’m 5wks pp now but don’t own a scale. I think I’m probably on track though with last time. My first kid was a huge eater (she also had bad reflux so it was like she was eating for 1.5 babies, if half a baby lived on my floor and clothes and could eat what she was spitting up) and I think that helped burn calories. This one not so much, so I’m curious if it will effect my weight loss that she seems to eat less. Basically, my weight loss strategy is to not think about it. Just eat when I’m hungry, walk when I can, and make peace with my body- as in I’d be ok with myself if I stayed just like this forever.

  13. Kate says:

    I’m 20 years old, so youth may be on my side..
    I gained 21lbs (was overweight to begin with), was my pre-pregnancy weight the day after giving birth, and I’ve now lost a total of 45 lbs at 2 months postpartum. I have no time to really exercise, though DS and I go for an hour long walk a few times a week. I’m not dieting in any sense of the word. Until a week ago, we were supplementing. I don’t know why this has been so easy for me!

  14. Amber @ Au Coeur says:

    I gained about 35lb by week 42. At 9 mos postpartum when I went in for a physical, I discovered that I had lost 40lbs, so I was 5lbs less than what I started at. I lost another 5-7lbs in the next two months and then settled at 10lbs less than what I was. My daughter never had formula. I eat healthy vegetarian diet but do indulge myself in home-baked good regularly. Now, I walk over a mile a day (usually 3ish) but up until 9ms, I was working full-time in a desk job and didn’t really exercise at all…maybe walking 1-2 miles per week if I was lucky.

    While completing my lactation counselor certification, one of the things I learned is that weight loss is dependent upon how breastfeeding occurs. Mothers who breastfeed more often (usually for shorter duration) than those who breastfeed at increased intervals of time. Pacifier use and decreasing night-time feedings can hinder breast feeding’s ability to impact mom’s weight (as well as milk production). The other big thing is duration of breastfeeding. In 1993, Dewey et al found that exclusive breastfeeding significantly enhanced weight loss if continued for at least 6 months, when compared to weight loss patterns of mothers who formula fed. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/8338042. Here’s another relevant study. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/10527472

    http://www.papoosenantucket.com

  15. Amanda says:

    Are there good controls for income in these studies? Because if higher income women are more likely to breastfeed than lower income women (at least in the US) and lower income women tend to be heavier than higher income women anyway, it makes me wonder.

  16. Bonnie says:

    Yeah, I know a bunch of people who gained more than 60 lbs. I know 65, 70, 85, and 110 (yes, one hundred and ten pounds). Just to make you feel better. I gained 35, lost 30 in two weeks without trying, and have since gained 3 or 4 because oh my god, my APPETITE. (Baby’s 12 weeks now.) I bet if I didn’t eat 5 meals a day plus at least a bowl of ice cream or a few cookies or something, I’d be losing weight, but I am SO HUNGRY ALL THE TIME. I guess the breastfeeding hormones can do that to you.

  17. Swissmama says:

    I am 35 and gained about 25 lbs pregnant, starting at a normal weight. I had lost a great deal of that by 2 wks if my memory serves me right and I think all of it by 6 wks but I still was thicker through the middle than usual and couldn’t fit into many of my pre-pregnancy bottoms. I have EBF all the while and DS spits up a lot. I restarted exercise around 6 wks. My skinny jeans were getting on the loose side around 4-5 mos postpartum, likely because of a very restricted diet due to what seem to be multiple food allergies in DS (allergic colitis). It seems like I eat a ton of what I can but I’m off dairy, beef, soy, citrus, nuts, etc. I think I weigh about what I normally weighed before pregnancy but my hips and thighs are a couple of inches smaller – and my bust a couple of inches larger (I am normally pear-shaped). I have heard that it’s pretty easy to pack on the pounds after weaning if you keep eating like a BFer so I guess you can’t always win… Give yourself time!

  18. CS says:

    I gained between 40-50; breastfeeding did NOT take the weight off!! It just did not do it for me. I am happy for all those who found the whole breastfeeding thing to be a magic solution, but it is not a universal truth. Especially if you ate terribly to ease nausea and heartburn during your pregnancy the way I did. Exercise and diet seem to be the only things that truly take weight off- for me.

  19. Emily says:

    I gained 25 lbs with my first baby and lost twenty of it by one week postpartum. It took another month or two to lose the other five, and by four months postpartum, I lost another 13 lbs on top of that. I will say that I had a very hard time breastfeeding, and it got a lot worse when I went back to work and had to start pumping. The stress of balancing work and life, combined with my true loathing for the pump, was what caused me to drop so much weight. What I didn’t realize at the time was that losing so much weight and not eating properly was part of the reason why breastfeeding was so stressful for me, and why my milk supply was so low. I just didn’t make the connection at the time, and unfortunately had to supplement with formula at 5.5 months. When we eventually have another child, I hope to gain the same amount of weight, but I will be much more diligent about eating healthfully (and plentifully) while I am breastfeeding. I learned my lesson the hard way.

  20. Michelle de Klerk says:

    I guess if you are a summer chicken then I am a winter chicken. LOL I had my youngest when I was 41 and tomorrow it will be 5 years. I only gained somewhere between 25 – 30 lbs, but I am only now getting it off. I did lose 20 of it within 6 months, but over the years it has slowly crept back up. The most important thing to remember is you didn’t put it all on over night so it won’t come off over night. If you watch your calorie intake and keep up with the exercise you can easily have it off within a year. A year seems to be the time frame it takes most people to lose the baby weight. You can do more than walk if you really want to get it off quicker. You don’t want to “Diet” as such because you need a certain amount of calories because you are breast feeding. You can also eat a clean diet and keep your calories to a 40% carbs, 30% protein, 30% fat ratio. Let me know if you have any questions.

  21. Kristin says:

    When my first was born, I believed the lies in “What to Expect When You’re Expecting” that said ANY woman can be back to her pre-pregnancy weight by her 6-week check-up. I was bound and determined to do it. I had gained 28 pounds so no sweat, right? Wrong. I was in good shape. I had lost a lot of the weight. People told me I looked wonderful 2 weeks, 3, 4, 5 weeks out. I’d exercised really hard and still was not able to get all the weight off by 6 weeks. I was careful not to workout ridiculously hard because of what all the books said that could do to the breastmilk, but I still probably worked out harder than recommended. By 5 MONTHS, I’d lost all of the weight, after busting my tail to do so. Then when I went back to work one (long) day per week when my daughter was 8 months old, I cut out one feeding and immediately (in about 3 days) lost 5 pounds. Just as I had almost re-gained those 5 pounds a month later, I cut out another feeding. Immediately 5 more pounds melted away. It went on like this until I stopped nursing when my daughter was 11 months old. By then, I was ridiculously skinny…and then had the “oopsie” pregnancy. Being pregnant and underweight (and therefore STARVING) and queasy was not fun, to say the least. I took a more laidback approach to taking the weight off after my 2nd and 3rd were born.

    Based on pictures of yourself that you have posted, along with your height and weight (thin and fit), I am certain you will lose the weight — all of it. But I also believe that women who start out at a reasonable weight always take longer to lose the baby weight than women who are overweight. My overweight friends had no trouble getting back to their pre-pregnancy weight by the 6-week mark.

    I would bet that in the next few weeks or month, you’ll drop quite a bit more of the weight. The last 5-10 might not come off until you stop nursing. I was 35 when my 3rd was born and the final 7 pounds or so magically melted away a month or 6 weeks after I weaned her (at 12 1/2 months). Would it take longer to lose all but the last 10 pounds without breastfeeding? Probably.

  22. Katrina says:

    This definitely varies from woman to woman and depends on how much you gain. For some reason i only gained 20lbs during pregnancy. Within one week i had lost it all plus a few lbs. I was shocked. Im 5’0 and was about 20 lbs overweight pre-pregoness. I have never weighed less than 130lbs, even when i was in the best shape. Now however, i am 115lbs and i say its 100% because of breast feeding. I didnt plan on breastfeeding to lose weight, but its great that on top of all the benefits for my little girl, i get to feel good about myself!

  23. Catherine says:

    I gained forty pounds and at 2.5 months post-partum I’ve lost all but about 2-5 pounds. I contribute the weight loss to breastfeeding and loss of appetite. I don’t eat very much, much less than I did when I was pregnant, but I don’t really watch what I eat either.

  24. kat says:

    I gained 30 lbs with #1 and barely lost any weight until he was 10 months old. I nursed around the clock, and was vegan too. I was still about 15 lbs overweight when I got pregnant with #2, gained 30 lbs again and lost more weight faster but have been at the exact same “nursing weight” that I was at with #1. #2 is now 8 months and even though I bellydance, walk with the baby in a carrier and eat pretty healthy (vegetarian) I am not really losing. I noticed my thighs and hips are a lot smaller this time around. Just giant boobs and tummy!! Trying to love it while it lasts. Gonna start running now and the hubby wants me to do P90X with him.

  25. Kelly says:

    I don’t think it helps you lose weight – I think it makes you retain 5-10lb. When I was 34 I gained 50ish pounds when I was pregnant and lost 80 within the 1st year. Pre-marraige weight was size 4 – 130lb, pre-pregnancy was size 10 – 160lb, post-baby was size 16 – 220lb. Two week checkup I was down to 195lb and thrilled; six week checkup I had only lost another 5lb. When I returned to work – 12 weeks after giving birth – I was still 180-185 pounds. I continued to pump & bf when I returned to work but, only lost another 5 pounds by month 6. I couldn’t keep up my milk supply and my baby was refusing the bottle so I quit breastfeeding at 6 months. Went on Jenny Craig and lost 20lb – now 160lb (pre-pregnancy weight) – in about six weeks. Then I got laid off. In about 3 weeks I lost 15lb and another 5 over the next few months. So within the 1st year I was down to 135lb. What helped me was not having to sit behind a desk all day; not eating out/oversized lunches; etc. I walk a lot with the exception of winter months (we live in the city and don’t have a car). I don’t buy junk food; only eat when I’m hungry; dance with my child; walk the dog; walk to get groceries; run along side my child on his balance bike or scooter; etc. Sooo much better than going to the gym.

  26. Scarlett says:

    I’m a mom, a birth doula and a childbirth educator, so I’ve got my own experience plus what I’ve heard from other moms I’m in contact with. I had my first child at a few weeks shy of 24. I started out small, gained 25 lbs in pregnancy, exclusively breastfed and dropped it all by 2 months postpartum. Where it gets crazy is that I continued to drop weight, getting into early high school weights in the 115-120 range. I felt skeletal and in hindsight realize that my thyroid might have gotten into hyperactive territory. With my second child I was 28, started out a bit heavier and gained more weight (35 lbs I think) and also exclusively breastfed after he was born, but it took me much longer to lose all the weight. It was about 8 months before I was back down to my usual weight of 130-135. I imagine breastfeeding helped me drop weight, but I also just tend to have a faster metabolism. I also have met one or two other moms who told me that they kept the weight on until they stopped breastfeeding. It could very well be that some women retain weight while breastfeeding (in case baby needs the reserve calories!) and shed it easily after weening, while others fit the common stereotype of losing weight because of burning those extra breastfeeding calories.

  27. Rachel says:

    Well with my first i gained 50ish lbs! Once I got to 200 it frecked me out so I stopped looking!!!! I lost 25 in the first month but after that it seemed that i gained weight while breastfeeding. Being 21and 175 was sad for me! I had always stayed under 150! I got pregnant w/ # 2 and only gained 27lbs. I lost about 10 and was stuck there! My 2nd baby fat was the hardest to get off. So by the time I got pregnant w/ my 3rd, I was 191lbs. With her I lost 20 in the first 20 weeks of preg. It was so nice to have lost weight and not gained. Total for the baby was only 12lbs. Its been 11 months since she was born and I am down to 170 and counting. I have had to make a major change in how i eat. Being 27 and over weight has been hard for me to swallow but I just have to get up everyday and make good choices in food. Thank you for doing this research! It made me feel normal. Everyone told me that I would lose ALL my weight breastfeeding. That was not the case.

  28. necie says:

    I gained 16-18 lbs with both of my boys. I used a breast pump with the first and didn’t bf at all with the second. I also worked out at the gym through out my first pregnancy. With the first I lost all the weight in a week. With the second it took six months of working out at the gym and with three days a week at the gym to maintain. I lost more than my pregnancy weight doing both, so I think that it depends on your body and eating habits. Most of us can get by doing this except if we attribute any health problems to the wieght gain.

  29. dori says:

    omfg i had to blink to make sure i didn’t write this. other than that i’m 37, not 34, i also gained sixty pounds – tho i was a tad underweight when i started at 116 (and five eight). i’m also wavering around 150 or so… *sigh*

    my daughter is a constant nurser, born 1/20/11 – i am *always* hungry!

  30. Very informative website, I do agree with most of your points. I hope there will be no fat people in the world anymore. Cheers!

  31. Ida says:

    My pre-pregnancy weight was 100pounds and I gained about 30 pounds when I was pregnant. I got back to my pre-preg weight in less than 4 months, I don’t do any exercising and I breastfeed my son until today and he is now 7 months old. But the women in my family, we are small in size. So I guess the genetic factor plays a role as well. Don’t think you can solely depend on breastfeeding to lose all that weight gained.

  32. Amber says:

    When I went in for my first postpartum checkup I already lost the pregnancy weight & then some. I think breast feeding worked to my advantage. I have a sister who didn’t lose any pregnancy weight until she stopped breastfeeding her babies.

  33. Jess says:

    I’m 3 months postpartum and have about 3lbs to go. I gained 32 during my very active pregnancy. I was exercising at the gym until 2 days before I gave birth. I think that helped a lot. I think breastfeeding helps a little bit but it’s all about diet and exercise. I’m not back in my favorite jeans but I’m hoping to be in the next few months.

  34. Christina says:

    Well, with my first I gained 75lbs! I was still 10lbs shy of my pre-pregnancy weight when I stopped breastfeeding my son at 12 months. I was able to lose the rest in a couple of months with diet and (some) exercise.

    This one (my second) seems to have been harder so far. I gained 65lbs and at 7 months postpartum I still have 30lbs to go to – and I have been working out so much more than I did with my first. She just started cutting back on her nursing, so it will probably start to come off now (fingers crossed).

  35. lucy says:

    It took me a year to get back to my regular weight. A vegetarian diet (for health reasons), no white sugar, no white bread, no white rice, no junk food, and walking helped me out along with breastfeeding. Breastfeeding made me hungry all the time in the beginning when my little lady was feeding all the time. Now that she is on solids, I have a regular apetite and and I am still breastfeeding. I have maintained a healthy weight. Everyone is different. I am 4’10 and being overweight at that height is not healthy. I only gained twenty six pounds and 17 of those came off when I had the baby. I am a work in progress.

  36. shweta says:

    I was 150lbs during my pregnanc,and I have lost just 15lbs . My pre pregnancy weight was 114lbs.can’t wear my pre preg jeans, even though I am bfing my baby .

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