Breastfeeding and Burning Fat
Fat Burning & Breastfeeding
LAST UPDATED: November 2018.
Author: Nicola Joyce is a multi-discipline athlete representing her country in bodybuilding and achieving many accolades.
Can breast feeding boost weight loss? How many calories does breastfeeding burn?
Now you’re a Mum, you’ll have a new set of priorities, with “getting back into shape” somewhere down the list – probably after sleep!
But if you were interested in fitness and nutrition before you got pregnant, you’re probably curious to know how having a baby impacts your body.
One of the things women often want to know is how many extra calories are burned from breast feeding, and what effect breastfeeding has on weight loss and fat burning.
Is it harder to lose weight when you’re breastfeeding, or does breastfeeding actually burn calories?
How many calories should you be eating to support milk production and try to lose a bit of weight?
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The Science of Breastfeeding
Your body requires a significant amount of extra energy to produce breast milk (around 300-400 calories a day, so in theory this should mean a helpful extra calorie deficit.
But we are humans, not robots, and the theory doesn’t always work out.
Don’t forget that you are likely to be less active during the day when your baby is very small, and if you are feeding several times during the day then that is extra time being totally still and sedentary.
You are also much less likely to be exercising, or even getting outside for walks like you did before baby arrived.
NEAT (non exercise activity thermogenesis) is a crucial factor in creating a calorie deficit for fat loss, and if your NEAT levels are way down because you’re Mum to a new baby then those 300-500 breastfeeding calories might still not make an impact.
On the flip side, some new Mum’s might find it difficult to get enough food in, whether that’s through tiredness or simply not having the time.
If you’re not eating enough, then you could shed weight very quickly when breastfeeding.
For some women, the weight loss is too rapid – a sure sign that not enough calories are being taken in.
The Fundamentals of Fat Loss
If you do want to lose some weight as a breastfeeding Mum, remember the fundamentals of fat loss.
Yes, you need to create a calorie deficit. And breastfeeding could help you with that, but it’s easy to wipe out that 300-500 calorie burn with a couple of snacks.
Chances are you are sleep deprived, or certainly experiencing broken and irregular sleep patterns. Poor sleep can easily slow down fat loss, by messing with your hormones, interfering with hunger and satiety signals, and making you more likely to choose comfort food.
It’s easier said than done, but if you can’t actually get a better night’s sleep right now then at least be aware of how it affects your hormones.
And you’re probably less active than usual, at least in this early stage when baby is a tiny bundle and you don’t feel like going out and about quite yet.
Remember that this downturn in your activity levels, step count, and movement will have an impact on your calorie burn.
Some smart food choices will help you feel fuller and snack less, although it’s easier said than done!
If you can, remember all your good nutrition habits: eat plenty of protein, high fiber foods, and vegetables, and drink a lot of water.
All of this will help you feel fuller and help your body to heal and hang on to muscle.
Breastfeeding and Calories
Let’s assume for the sake of this article that you do want to start losing a bit of weight (if not, just skip this section.)
You already know that weight loss happens when you’re in a calorie deficit (eating less than your body burns, or burning more than you eat).
Does that change when you’re breastfeeding? No, but your body’s hormone levels – along with your reduced activity levels and disrupted sleep – could make it difficult to stick to a sustained calorie deficit.
Hormones and Breastfeeding
It’s important to remember just how different your hormones are when you are breastfeeding.
Your testosterone and estrogen have dropped dramatically (and these are both considered “fat burning” hormones), and your prolactin has increased.
In fact, your prolactin levels rise every time you feed your baby. Prolactin is linked to fat storage (which makes sense – the body wants to protect the baby’s food supply!).
This isn’t all bad news for fat loss though…
Around 4-6 months after your baby is born, you’ll have a significant drop in the hormone prolactin and you might experience a boost in metabolic rate.
If you’e been struggling to lose weight, it might start to shift at this point. And once your baby is weaned, you’ll have another big drop in prolactin.
At this point, your hormones will be a lot more balanced, you’ll feel more energised (in theory, anyway!), and your body will be in a better place for burning calories and letting go of body fat.
Can Breastfeeding Help Weight Loss?
Even scientific studies don’t seem to be in agreement.
The truth seems to be that it’s highly individual – as you might expect.
This study – “Body Composition Changes During Lactation Are Highly Variable….” observed only subtle short-term differences were observed in postpartum changes in body composition, and noted that “changes in body composition during lactation are responses to a sequence of complex neuroendocrine and biochemical stimuli that may be significantly modified by environmental factors.”
In other words, how much weight you lose when you breastfeed will depend on a lot of other factors, including the weight you gained during pregnancy.
Fat Burning and Breastfeeding
Let’s end on a positive note: breastfeeding (and being a new Mum in general!) is absolutely not the end of your fat burning capabilities.
You can lose weight, but you just need to rethink your approach. It won’t be the same as it was before – but then again, what is!
- Keep healthy food around, be mindful about snacking, and try to stop eating when you’re satisfied.
- Don’t get into the habit of snacking whilst you’re sitting down for long periods of time.
- Focus on lean protein and plenty of vegetables/salads, with a bit of whole grains, legumes, and healthy fats.
- Don’t keep “unhelpful” food in the house.
- Ask your partner, family, or a good friend to prep you some healthy meals.
- Try to keep your NEAT levels up if you can – remember that even things like standing more, and walking around, will help.
- And don’t put too much pressure on yourself. Your brain and body have a lot to cope with right now. If losing weight isn’t a priority, that’s fine. Let it go! When you’re ready, you will do it.
Nicola Joyce (aka “the fit writer”) is a fitness industry copywriter who has been writing for and about sport and fitness since 2004. Nicola is a competitive drug-free bodybuilder (with two World titles at amateur level) and has also competed in powerlifting and a couple of strongman comps. Prior to her strength training days, Nicola was an endurance athlete and has even swum the English Channel twice. She can be found on all social media at: thefitwriter.