Dear Aimee, I want to lose weight, but I’m breastfeeding and three months postpartum. I don’t want to lose my supply, but I’m tired of carrying extra weight.
The postpartum months are quite a whirlwind! You literally just grew a human from nothing, and delivery is no small feat. It’s a major physical event, and on top of that, you’re breastfeeding! The first few months of motherhood are a blur for most of us, and at some point, we re-emerge ready for our bodies to feel like “normal” again.
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In truth, your body will never fully be the same again – but this doesn’t mean you can’t feel great! In fact, your postpartum body can be better than it was before, and that’s not because you’re going to work your tail off to make it look the same.
There are lots of confusing aspects of breastfeeding, especially when it comes to weight loss. Some women lose weight quickly, while others hold on to weight or even gain it while they’re breastfeeding. It’s a complicated song and dance between hormones, fat, milk-making, inflammation, and a number of other factors.
While I always encourage plenty of vegetables, fruits, protein, and healthy fats, the last thing a new mom needs is militant requirements like skipping your favorite dessert.
It’s natural to want your body to return to its pre-pregnancy weight as quickly as possible, but keep in mind that it might take one or two years. Birth is a major event. It takes nine months to grow that baby, so it’s not unreasonable to expect it to take twice as long for your body to get back to its hormonal baseline.
So when you’re in the throes of that desperate-to-feel-like-yourself moment, take a few minutes for positive self-talk and remind yourself of how much your body has accomplished.
That being said, it’s OK to want to try to drop some weight, and if you’re breastfeeding, there’s natural concern over losing your supply.
When it comes to weight loss and breastfeeding, part of the process is listening to your body. If you change something and notice your supply takes a dip, you need to adjust accordingly. Chatting with your doctor about any changes is always recommend, too; they can help guide you towards the right diet and lifestyle choices. What’s right for you probably won’t be right for the next breastfeeding mom, which is why reading prescriptive blog posts online at 3 a.m. while you’re feeding the baby probably isn’t the best way to gauge what will work for you. (Just saying.)
Instead, consider these general concepts, and customize them for your lifestyle and health:
1. Breastfeeding burns calories
That’s right, breastfeeding can burn several hundred calories per day, but it also makes you hungrier. This is your body telling you that you need to eat in order to produce more milk. So, dieting or fasting is not the way to lose weight while breastfeeding. Breastfeeding might even increase your desire for carbohydrates, since that’s a good portion of what your milk is made of, so don’t go all low-carb or rapidly change the way you’ve been eating. Your milk will notice.
2. Don’t force it if you’re feeling fatigued
Almost every new mom is tired. If trying to lose weight becomes a mental burden on top of everything else, that means it’s not the time. You’ll feel motivated and energized when the time is right. Until then, focus on getting sleep, eating balanced meals, staying hydrated, and self-care instead of weight loss. These are the more important aspects of your health right now.
3. Go for walks
Instead of cutting back on food, start walking or try other gentle movement after you’re about 12 weeks postpartum (or when your doctor clears you for exercise). But here’s the thing: don’t turn this into a militant requirement. Your postpartum body needs time to reconfigure. Walking or gentle movements can help to encourage muscles and organs to get back to where they belong, even if it doesn’t feel like you’re accomplishing much.
4. Be mindful of your core
After having a baby, it’s common to have core issues like diastasis recti – so don’t dive into a workout program that could worsen your ab separation. This could falsely give you the impression that you’re not losing weight, when in reality, your body is struggling to get your core muscles back together. A targeted program can help to restore core and pelvic floor strength, which can make you look more like yourself, regardless of your weight.
5. Eat nourishing foods
Focus on eating healthy, comforting meals. Your body is now a calorie-burning machine, but if you don’t properly nourish it, your milk supply could take a hit. You don’t need to obsessively count calories to decide if you’re eating too much or enough. Instead, let your appetite guide you! And if you want comfort food carbs, don’t deny yourself that. While I always encourage plenty of vegetables, fruits, protein, and healthy fats, the last thing a new mom needs is militant requirements like skipping your favorite dessert. Don’t eat these for every meal, obviously, but it’s OK to indulge in comfort every now and then (we just recommend your dessert is made with real, whole foods). Just do the best you can, and what’s best for you is going to look different from someone else.
Overall, it’s important to go easy on yourself. Postpartum months are hard, and can include challenges like postpartum depression, inflammation, thyroid trouble, nerve problems, and other hormonal issues that are outside of your control. If your biggest concern is losing weight, that’s an amazing sign that your recovery has gone well!
Focus on cherishing those bonding moments with your baby right now, and give yourself time and grace.
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