Does anyone else think it’s hard to lose weight while nursing? Do you try everything to lose baby weight only to feel sabotaged and like nothing you do makes any difference? This is exactly how I’ve felt after every one of my 7 pregnancies and I want to make sure no other woman feels alone in her struggle to get back in shape! Pregnancy can do a number on even the healthiest and strongest bodies, but it IS possible to feel normal again! Read on for my tips and tricks for how to lose weight while breastfeeding (and what to do if you can’t).
I’ve tried to be very transparent and open about my postpartum weight loss and exercise journey after giving birth to Alice last February. (See my progress posts and photos here: Before, month 1, month 2, my frustrations, month 7). It’s SO easy to drown in the sorrows of postpartum soreness, flab and low energy, all while scrolling through Instagram and staring at seemingly perfect women who show off a six-pack at 2 weeks postpartum. If you’re wondering why you have a hard time losing weight while breastfeeding, take comfort that you are not alone. It takes many of us a long time to feel some semblance of normal in our bodies.
As a new mom, I know all about struggling to both treat my body right AND love it where it is right now so I hope I can encourage other moms as well. I remember hearing all about how breastfeeding a baby was the best way to lose the extra baby weight after giving birth. And after 13 years of getting pregnant, having babies and gaining and losing a combined total of about 275 pounds (yikes!), I can assuredly say that that is most definitely NOT always true. The best thing to remember is that feeding yourself and your baby is the priority. Being a nursing mom is hard work!
I tested quite a number of ways to get fit and shed the extra weight during this past year and a half and I’m sharing them with you today. I’m going to officially call the photos below (taken at the beginning of July this year) my “after” shots. I’d love to tone up a little bit more and I generally feel most comfortable at a weight about 10 pounds less than what I am now, but to get there would take a level of exertion and self-restraint that I’m just not willing to put forth right now. That’s life as a busy mom and I’m just fine with it.
Here are a few of the things I’ve learned this time around!
- Weighing yourself is generally a terrible idea. The scale doesn’t tell you when you’re turning fat into muscle or how much good, whole food you’re eating or whether or not you hit your exercise goal. Pregnancy weight (besides what’s inside of your uterus, obviously) is generally water and fat so as you turn fat into muscle mass, you may or may not actually end up weighing less. Make small, incremental goals for yourself and if you do want to compare progress, it’s a good idea to do it with pictures and a measuring tape. That shows fat loss way better than a scale!
- Become accountable to someone! My postpartum fitness journey was full of ups and downs and hair-pulling moments but the progress was always made when I had people to rely on and use as support. Fitness Carli’s Instagram and meal plan helped me a ton, as did Clean Simple Eats plan (so yummy!) and the BBG app (done with a couple of awesome girlfriends) all helped me build muscle and make great food choices. If you’re new to exercising or nutrition, looking into a personal trainer can be well worth your time and money. They’re often a lot more affordable than you think. Please do not try a crazy crash diet or start drastically reducing calories as rapid weight loss can mess with your milk supply. Work slowly and consistently!
- Do your best to get enough sleep! I know this is a crazy concept if you’re a breastfeeding mom with a baby who is currently waking up at all hours of the night, but do everything you can to train that baby to sleep longer (a full post about that here) so you can feel better again. Sleep deprivation is literal torture and wreaks havoc on our poor bodies. They need a full night’s sleep to rest and recover from our busy days!
- Breastfeeding requires enough calories to support milk production, but probably not as much as you think (I generally factor in about 500 extra calories per day). Often, just adding in 2 or 3 healthy snacks a day is enough to account for these calories. I’ve noticed that in order to produce and keep up a good milk supply, I need lots of lean protein, healthy fats and whole grains. A huge bonus is that real foods tend to make us feel our best, especially when we’re experiencing a lack of sleep and extra stress hormones with a new baby. Pro tip: prepping healthy foods might be the only way to see success. When life gets crazy, grabbing a prepped salad out of the fridge feels so good!
- I know it can be frustrating to never see any progress because you’re giving your helpless little infant so much of your time and calories and body but breastfeeding is SUCH an amazing thing! I can’t tell you how many times in my 13 years of baby making that I’ve been tempted to wean a baby because I wasn’t losing weight fast enough. And while maybe that’s the right decision for some women, for me, that thought was a purely selfish one. It seems that some women’s bodies work very hard to maintain extra fat stores while breastfeeding. I kept nursing and loving on baby Alice as much as humanly possible, and then, when she was almost 15 months, we stopped. It was an amazing year and I don’t regret a single minute, despite my stubborn flab.
- The key to postpartum fitness and weight loss that no one wants to hear is this: the BIGGEST factor surrounding how fast you can get fit and lose weight after having a baby is how active and healthy you were BEFORE having the baby. Ergo, no “eating for two” or lying on the couch for 9 months. I know it’s crappy news and too little too late for anyone reading this after an unhealthy pregnancy full of junk food and ice cream (zero judgment as that describes about half of my pregnancies), but if another baby is in your future, do yourself a favor and take care of yourself while pregnant. That includes eating a healthy diet, maintaining a good activity level and moderating sugar and bad fats. It’s one of the hardest and most valuable things we can do as moms!
- Be PATIENT. I know, I know. I wish I could tell all the new mothers out there that their bodies are incredible, but they are not machines. If you treated it like garbage during pregnancy (or for 30 years before that – ha!) then chances are good there will be no “bouncing back” 2 weeks after giving birth. It takes a lot of time to grow a baby and a lot of time for our bodies to recover. Our ultimate goal for how we treat our bodies canNOT be to look good in a swimsuit. We have to treat our bodies well because it’s the right thing to do and because it feels amazing. The awesome side effect will often be that we look good in our clothes, but even if we don’t (because stretched out skin and cellulite will be my bosom buddies forever) we will STILL feel so much better. We will live longer, healthier lives when we eat right and stay fit and, perhaps most importantly, be great examples for the next generation.
- On a slight tangent, your mental health is just as important as your physical health! Postpartum depression is a real thing and taking care of that is, in my opinion, way more important that measuring calorie intake. Get the help you need if you’re feeling consistently unhappy or anxious.
In summary, if you watch your caloric intake eand live a generally healthy lifestyle, you will see gradual weight loss (barring any thyroid or other issues).
Eat healthy foods while avoiding fad diets, increase your physical activity and, most of all, appreciate your magnificent body that created and feeds another human being!
First photo by Christie Knight Photography