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Does breastfeeding help you lose weight?

The science behind breastfeeding and weight loss

Breastfeeding is often considered nature’s way of helping new moms lose their baby weight, though not every woman notices an effect. This article looks at the science behind breastfeeding and weight loss.

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This article is based on scientific evidence, written by experts, and fact-checked by experts.
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Last updated on June 17, 2022, and last reviewed by an expert on June 7, 2022.

Breastfeeding offers many benefits for mothers — including the potential to lose weight more quickly after having a baby.

Many women seem to consider this an important perk.

The time needed to lose weight postpartum varies from woman to woman, but many nursing mothers report that breastfeeding helped them regain their pre-baby figure more quickly.

However, many others either notice no effect or even gain weight while breastfeeding.

This article looks at the science behind breastfeeding and weight loss.

How breastfeeding may help you lose weight

Breastfeeding is often considered nature’s way of helping new moms lose their baby weight.

In part, this may be because nursing mothers burn more calories each day.

Research shows that exclusively breastfeeding mothers tend to burn on average 500 additional calories daily — the equivalent of cutting out a small meal, large snack, or performing 45–60 minutes of medium-intensity physical exercise.

Nursing moms may also be more conscious of what they eat. This may contribute to weight loss through a lower intake of processed foods and higher consumption of lean protein, fiber-rich fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and legumes.

Both of these factors may explain why studies consistently show that breastfeeding mothers tend to lose their baby weight faster than women who don’t.

For instance, in one study, women who breastfed exclusively for at least three months lost 3.2 pounds (1.5 kg) more in the first year than those who formula-fed or supplemented with formula. What’s more, the longer the mother breastfed, the stronger the effect.

Breastfeeding women were also 6% more likely to return to or dip below their pre-pregnancy weight than non-exclusively breastfeeding women.

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Other studies report similar results, adding that breastfeeding mothers appear to achieve their pre-pregnancy weight on average six months earlier than those who formula-feed.

Breastfeeding may also have positive long-term effects on your weight. In one study, women who breastfed for 6–12 months had lower overall body fat percentages 5 years after giving birth than those who didn’t.

Another study found that women who exclusively breastfed for more than 12 weeks postpartum were on average 7.5 pounds (3.4 kg) lighter 10 years following their pregnancy than those who never breastfed.

These mothers also remained 5.7 pounds (2.6 kg) lighter than those who breastfed for fewer than 12 weeks.

This suggests that both the duration and frequency of breastfeeding can influence how much weight you may lose after giving birth. However, not all studies find a strong link, so more research is needed.

Summary: Exclusively breastfeeding for at least 3–6 months may help you lose more weight than formula-feeding or a combination of the two. Breastfeeding may also have lasting effects on your weight — years after giving birth.

Why some women don’t lose weight while breastfeeding

Losing weight while breastfeeding may not be equally easy for all mothers.

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A deficit of 500 calories per day may theoretically help breastfeeding mothers lose around 1 pound (0.45 kg) per week for a total of about 4 pounds (1.8 kg) per month.

Therefore, breastfeeding mothers who gained the recommended 25–35 pounds (11.5–16 kg) during pregnancy should be able to lose this weight within the first 6–8 months postpartum.

However, many nursing mothers take longer than this interval to shed their baby weight. Research shows that many women only lose up to 86% of the weight gained during pregnancy within the first 6 months after giving birth.

What’s more, some studies find no difference in weight loss between breastfeeding and non-breastfeeding mothers altogether.

The reasons why some women may have a harder time losing their baby weight while breastfeeding can be diverse.

For one, breastfeeding tends to increase hunger. Studies show that some women eat more and move less while nursing — compensating for the extra calorie burn of breastfeeding.

New mothers also tend to have irregular and interrupted periods of sleep. Sleep deprivation is another known factor for increased hunger and appetite — both of which may make it harder to lose weight.

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Summary: Not all breastfeeding mothers lose weight easily. Increased hunger and sleep deprivation may be two factors that can make it harder for you to naturally lose your baby weight.

Healthy ways to lose weight while breastfeeding

Losing weight while breastfeeding is a delicate balancing act.

You need to create a calorie deficit to lose weight, but cutting calories too drastically can make it difficult to get enough nutrients and leave you feeling tired and hungry. Plus, eating too little may make it hard to produce enough milk.

Here are some tips to help you lose your baby weight in a healthy and nutritious way:

Summary: The tips above may help you lose weight while breastfeeding — yet still provide you and your baby with the nutrients you need.

Other breastfeeding benefits for the mom and the baby

Breastfeeding offers several other benefits:

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Summary: Breastfeeding offers many additional benefits for mother and baby, ranging from brain development and faster postpartum recovery to protection against obesity and disease.

Summary

Breastfeeding may contribute to postpartum weight loss in some women, though not all nursing mothers notice an effect.

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To lose your baby weight, eat protein- and fiber-rich whole foods, stay hydrated, and exercise. Also, avoid eating fewer than 1500–1800 calories per day, as this may affect your milk supply.

Most importantly, keep in mind that breastfeeding offers many other benefits – for both you and your child.

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