Many of us have heard that “the weight of pregnancy will just melt away when you start nursing your baby,” but this is not true for many women. Although you may find on Internet that mothers who exclusively breastfeed their offspring lose up to 750 calories per day while flattening their stomach, this is usually not the case, according to a recent study. One of the leading breast-pump manufacturers has even claimed that breastfeeding reduces weight twice in the first three months compared to those who bottle feed their babies (see here). However,this is not so. Many women experience weight gain after their delivery even when they exclusively breastfeed their babies.
Following are some of the reasons for not losing weight and, in some cases, gaining weight during breastfeeding:
Hormones: Hormonal levels are very active during pregnancy and breastfeeding. One of the hormones, prolactin, is responsible for milk production and becomes very active during the first six months’ post-delivery. One of the effects of this hormone is increases in appetite. This may explain the weight gain during this period.
Metabolic rate: Metabolism is our body’s fuel burner. Around 300 to 800 calories are burned during breastfeeding (the amount depends on your baby’s age and weight). If we do not eat enough, it affects our metabolism. When our body receives less food than it needs, the metabolic rate slows down to conserve energy. This makes our body use less energy which, consequently,reduces weight loss.
Adrenal fatigue: The adrenal glands are a pair of glands located above the kidneys. These glands help the body regulate stress, metabolism, and blood sugar levels. Pregnancy and breastfeeding may add stress to the adrenal glands, causinga condition called “adrenal fatigue”. Symptoms of adrenal fatigue are tiredness and food cravings.
Lack of routine and sleep: Nursing mothers almost invariably have to sacrifice their normal sleep routine to cater to the needs of their babies. This may increase hunger and induce the nursing mother to binge. As discussed above, the increased amount of prolactin decreases the metabolic rate, which stimulates appetite. See a great system to sleep-train your baby here.
Hunger cues: Hunger cues are the body’s way of communicating the need for increased energy intake. As a result, nursing mothers feel the urge to eat more food and at various times throughout the day and night. Naturally, this translates into weight gain.
Exercise: Some women choose to exercise to lose the extra weight they gained during pregnancy. This may increase their metabolic rate, which may make them overeat and gain weight.
If you want to lose weight during breastfeeding, make sure that you eat nutritious foods that nourish you and your baby. Stay away from crash diet, liquid diet, and weight loss medications! Eat healthy foods such as fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grain bread, and foods rich in protein, calcium, magnesium, zinc, folic acid, and vitamin B6. In case of doubt, consult with a nutritionist or dietitian.