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Losing baby weight is one of the biggest goals for many new moms once life gets (somewhat) settled after having baby.  However, if you’re breastfeeding you’ll want to make sure you are eating enough to provide yourself with the energy you need to take care of your baby and aide in your postpartum recovery.  You also want to make sure you are providing your little one with all the essential nutrients they need for proper growth and development.  

Today I will share when is a good time to start focusing on post-baby weight loss if you’re breastfeeding, and how to do it safely.  This information is provided as a general guide and not meant to replace the individual advice provided by a licensed dietitian or medical professional.

*When is it okay to start trying to lose weight?

When you’re at least 6 months postpartum.  This may surprise some of you who may be eager to start losing right after your 6 week appointment. However, it takes much longer than 6 weeks to fully recover from childbirth, and if you’re breastfeeding, it also takes time to build up your supply.  Building up your supply requires up to an additional 500 calories/day and restricting calories during this time can affect your supply.  

*So wait- I shouldn’t lose any weight in the first 6 months?

You shouldn’t intentionally try to lose weight during this time.  Many women will naturally lose a good majority of their baby weight in the first couple months especially if you’re nursing. Breastfeeding burns a significant amount of calories (this is why you’re so hungry all the time!) and moms who breastfeed tend to lose the weight more quickly.  However, keep in mind everyone is different and it may not always be the case for every woman.  

There are a lot of factors that influence postpartum weight loss such as your activity level, fluid losses, how much weight you gained during pregnancy, genetics, and your diet.  I’ll explain further.

  1. Activity Level – If you were active during your pregnancy and continue to stay active regularly after baby then you may lose weight more quickly without intentionally trying.
  2. Fluid Losses – Especially during the first few weeks postpartum, it is very common to lose excess fluid that had been building up in your body during pregnancy.  It is very common to sweat profusely in the middle of the night especially those first few weeks to months, contributing to some postpartum weight loss especially in the beginning.
  3. Pregnancy weight gain – The more you gained during your pregnancy, the longer it may take to lose.  Try not to stress about it – it will come in time!
  4. Genetics – We’re all born with different genes that effect our metabolism and overall ability to lose weight.  Hormones also need time to readjust after pregnancy and this may affect your rate of weight loss.
  5. Diet – If you’re having a lot of refined carbs and sugar in your diet, your appetite and hormones may be more out of whack, leading to more cravings and a slower metabolism.  Refined carbs are foods like white bread, rice, instant potatoes and pastas. Choosing more fiber and protein rich foods and more carbs from vegetables will help regulate your appetite and also give you more sustained energy.

*How can I lose weight safely and still make sure I’m providing good nutrition for my breastfed baby?

It is not recommended to go below 1800 calories/day for the first 6 months postpartum.  This is the minimum amount you need to fuel yourself and baby.  It is also not recommended to go too low on carbohydrates.  There is some evidence in studies where women followed low carb diets to lose weight and this resulted in a reduced milk supply.  

Basically you don’t want to restrictcertain food groups in an attempt to lose weight. Instead, focus on choosing more nutrient-dense foodsand eating mindfully, paying attention to your hunger cues.

Nutrient-dense foods in the simplest of terms are foods that give you a big bang for your buck.  They provide you with more nutrients per calorie, specifically ones that keep you full and contain the most critical nutrients for your growing baby.  

Think more fatty fish like salmon, tuna, and sardines, organ meats like liver (check out Lily Nichol’s book Real Food for Pregnancy for ways to sneak liver into your foods!), bone broth, eggs, beans, legumes, green leafy vegetables, and berries.  If you aim to have these foods regularly in your diet you’re off to a good start in adopting healthy habits.  This will make it easier for you when you are ready to focus more on weight loss after those first 6 months.

Eating mindfully is eating without distraction, paying attention to your level of hunger to make sure you’re not eating for reasons other than actual physical hunger.  We all eat for so many reasons – boredom, stress, sadness, happiness, or just simply because it’s there. However when we eat for non-hunger reasons on a regular basis, we are giving our body more than it needs.  This will impact your weight and tip your calorie levels out of balance.

Once you are 6 months postpartum, now what? 

After 6 months, your milk supply is well established and your calorie requirements start to come down. Now your baby is starting to eat some solid food and over time a smaller percentage of their calories will come from your milk.  

Here are a few tips to get off to the right start:

  1. Focus on gradual weight loss.  A healthy rate of weight loss is about 1-2lbs/week. When you lose weight more gradually you are more likely to keep it off.
  2. Get into a routine of regularly exercising.  I recommend at least 3 times/week to really reap the benefits and get back into shape. Find exercise you enjoy and bring your little ones along with you if you need.  Check out my blog post on ideas for exercising with your kids.
  3. Try to stay away from fad diets promising “quick” or “proven” weight loss methods.  These diets promote restrictive eating that only works in the short term.  Nothing is “proven” until you do it yourself. Everyone has a different metabolism, therefore everyone will lose weight at their own pace.
  4. Work with a professional to stay motivated and on track.  This pushes you to set specific goals that you’re accountable for.  Surround yourself with positive people that encourage the healthy behaviors you’re trying to adopt.  A support system is key!
  5. Cut yourself some slack.  Everyone loses weight at their own pace.  It’s a journey, not a destination – even though I know it may be hard to see it that way initially.   Consistency and tweaking along the way will get you to where you want to be.