Breastfeeding has several benefits for the baby and the nursing mother. It can lower the risk of infections in babies while reducing the risk of certain illnesses, such as type-2 diabetes, for nursing mothers (1). Exclusive breastfeeding may also help a mother lose weight. But how does breastfeeding burn calories, and how much can breastfeeding contribute to postpartum weight loss?
This post answers all your queries and tells you how many calories breastfeeding burns and how it supports weight loss in nursing mothers.
Does Breastfeeding Help Lose Postpartum Weight?
Breastfeeding may help you lose excess postpartum weight (2). Research indicates that women who exclusively breastfeed for the first six months are more likely to lose weight from breastfeeding (3). Women who continue to breastfeed beyond six months may continue to lose weight.
Weight loss from breastfeeding could be influenced by other factors, such as total calorie intake, physical activity level, and overall health of the lactating woman. You may have to manage other factors to attain optimal weight loss from breastfeeding while also keeping the baby nourished. If you plan for weight loss, it is advisable to observe a healthy diet and a daily exercise routine along with breastfeeding. You may consult a certified nutritionist to plan a well-balanced diet and exercise plan to go along with lactation.
How Does Breastfeeding Burn Calories?
The production of breast milk involves the use of extra calories. The body may tap into the fat reserves from pregnancy to fulfill the demand for extra energy. Exclusive breastfeeding for the six months and continuance of breastfeeding after six months, along with adequate exercise and appropriate diet, could cause sustained use of extra calories and may help in long-term weight loss through lactation.
How Many Calories Can You Burn While Breastfeeding?
A healthy breastfeeding mother burns around 300 to 500 kilocalories (Kcal) per day by producing milk (4). This calorie expenditure could contribute to postpartum weight loss but may also be influenced by other factors, such as postpartum weight, physical activity levels, and diet of a woman.
How Many Calories Should Breastfeeding Moms Consume?
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends healthy lactating women to consume an additional 450 to 500Kcal per day beyond the calorie recommendation for non-pregnant women (5).
For instance, a moderately active, lactating woman should consume about 2500Kcal each day when compared to the 2000Kcal for a non-lactating woman (6). However, calorie intake for a breastfeeding mother could significantly depend on several factors, including the frequency of feeding, postpartum weight, and whether she is breastfeeding twins. You may consult a lactation consultant or certified nutritionist to know your personalized calorie intake.
Can Extra Calories Cause Weight Gain?
If your doctor considers your postpartum weight to be within the normal range, consuming extra calories during lactation usually does not cause weight gain. Experts recommend an extra 450 to 500Kcal per day to support breast milk production in women with postpartum weight within normal weight range (7).
If your postpartum weight is in the higher range, you may discuss your calorie intake with your doctor or a certified nutritionist for optimal weight loss. Do note consuming high-fat, high-sugar, and processed foods could cause weight gain even if your postpartum weight is within the normal range. Therefore, it’s important to eat healthy wholesome foods. This way, even if you add additional calories, it would be in a form of healthy fruits, vegetables, and whole grains.
Once your baby starts solids, you can re-plan your calorie intake. Nursing mothers usually need extra calories during exclusive breastfeeding. The calorie demand could change as the baby shifts to solids and breastfeeding becomes less frequent.
Healthy Breastfeeding Diet For Postpartum Weight Loss
The CDC recommends lactating women aim at gradual and consistent weight loss (8). Losing weight too fast mayaffect breast milk supply. Here are some diet tips to help achieve a healthy weight loss while breastfeeding (9).
- Do not skip meals. Instead, plan five to six small meals across the day.
- Eat whole grains and cereals, such as whole-wheat bread, multigrain pasta, and oatmeal, in your daily diet. You can also try adding millets, such as foxtail millet, and buckwheat to your diet.
- Include two servings of seasonal fruits and three servings of various vegetables in your daily diet.
- Add two servings of high-quality, protein-rich foods, such as low-mercury seafood, eggs, lean meat, dairy, beans, pulses, seeds, and nuts.
- Choose healthy snacking options rich in fiber and protein that could keep you full for longer and control hunger pangs. Air-popped popcorn, mixed fruit salad, and vegetable sticks with hummus are some options to try.
- Stay hydrated and drink plenty of water. Lactation experts recommend drinking to thirst and a little extra as plain water, fresh homemade lemonade, coconut water, and lemon water.
- Limit caffeine intake to no more than 200mg, that is, two to three cups of coffee a day. Drinking too much caffeine could dehydrate you and may affect breast milk production (10).
- Avoid alcohol intake as much as possible. You can read more about alcohol and breastfeeding here.
- Limit intake of high-sugar drinks, such as soda and fruit juices, as they may contribute to weight gain. Instead, eat whole fruits.
- Avoid high-fat, high-calorie processed foods, such as fast food, since it may cause excess weight gain.
You may chalk out a plan for desired weight loss after delivery after discussion with a doctor, certified nutritionist, or a lactation consultant.
Breastfeeding has several vital benefits for the baby and the mother. You can exclusively breastfeed your infant for at least six months and continue breastfeeding even beyond. Exclusive breastfeeding, along with healthy eating, an active lifestyle, and proper sleep, may help in gradual weight loss without affecting your baby’s nourishment.
2. Weight Loss While Breastfeeding; U.S. Department of Agriculture
3. G. Dewey, M.J.Heinig, and L.A.Nommsen, Maternal weight-loss patterns during prolonged lactation; The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition
4. What to Eat While Breastfeeding; Northwestern Medicine
5. Maternal Diet; Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
6. When breastfeeding, how many calories should moms and babies consume?; US Department of Health and Human Services
7. Breastfeeding Your Baby; American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists
8. Losing Weight; Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
9. Diet for Breastfeeding Mothers; Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia
10. GounJeong et al., Maternal food restrictions during breastfeeding; Korean Journal of Pediatrics; NCBI