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Lose the Baby Weight by Nursing!

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A recent article in the New York Times touts the latest post-birth weight-loss trend -- nursing!

can you lose weight from breastfeeding

Dr. Wendy Walsh: And for many people, it can work. Celebrities like Angelina Jolie and Rebecca Romijn have gotten on the bandwagon, attributing their superfast slimdowns to breastfeeding. But is there science behind the fad?

Yes there is. In 2008, a landmark Danish study of 36,000 women found that the more a mother breastfeeds, the less she will weigh six months after the birth of her child. A 140-pound woman burns about 1,990 calories a day, but if she's breastfeeding, she can burn an extra 300 to 800 calories a day. Remember, breastfeeding is the whole reason that maternal fat stores are grown during pregnancy -- to save you and your baby during famine.

The important things to consider are the degree and frequency of breastfeeding. Weight loss depends on whether or not a mother exclusively nurses her child. One who exclusively nurses will burn more calories than a mother who supplements with formula. In America, we are still a culture that provides such short maternity leaves, and it is very difficult for working mothers to breastfeed without supplementing. The other obstacle in our culture is the rush to night wean and put babies on an adult sleeping schedule. Believe it or not, this is not natural. Infants are meant to nurse around the clock, based on their needs and growth spurts.

Scheduled feedings can contribute to a number of negative outcomes:

1. Eating disorders, because a child learns to respond to someone else (like advertisers) for their nutritional needs rather than learning to listen to their body's signals.

2. An increase in risk of sudden infant death syndrome if parents attempt to overfill a baby with formula before bedtime. They sleep longer and deeper, which is not necessarily good.

3. An increase in the risk of another pregnancy before one baby has developed enough. Night weaning causes a woman to resume menstruation earlier.

As for my personal story, I exclusively breastfed both my children around the clock, and both times I was back in my jeans within a few weeks of giving birth. Was it the breastfeeding? Or was it the long walks on the beach with my little bundle in the baby sling? Or, was it the fact that I did not overeat during my pregnancy and gained exactly the 35 pounds recommended by my doctor? I'm sure all three were factors, but there is no doubt that the act of producing breast milk causes the body to expend a lot of calories. And if weight loss is the motivation that will get babies healthfully bonded and less sick, then use it, ladies!

next: Finger-Chopping Stroller Frazzles City Moms
9 comments so far | Post a comment now
b November 16, 2009, 5:48 PM

It’s not my motivation to nurse—I would do it anyway, which, as it turns out, is a good thing since I happen to fall into the apparently small group of people who don’t loose weight nursing. In fact, I am hungrier and more tired while nursing than I am pregnant. Once I weaned my first child, I lost nearly 10lbs in a month. It’s a good thing I know how good nursing is, otherwise I might not do it just because I don’t loose weight.

hillary Wald November 16, 2009, 7:02 PM

I completely disagree- I have breast fed both of my babies (two year old and 6 month old) and still have lots of weight left to loose. I think if anything nursing makes you hungrier and you keep on some weight as your bodies way of supporting the baby- i have heard that many moms do not loose their pregnancy weight until they stop nursing. I am also not a fan of this article trying to promote beast feeding as a way to loose weight- it should be done because it is so much better for baby, after all, after you become a mom, it’s all about doing what’s best for the little life you created :)

Rachel November 16, 2009, 7:58 PM

I’m one of the women who lost weight while nursing. I lost 30 pounds in 3 weeks. I have lost all 38 pounds gained during pregnancy and my baby is 2 months.

It’s true, you are hungrier while nursing, however, I believe healthy eating habits, lots of rest and fluids help a lot.

Jamie November 17, 2009, 8:17 AM

I nursed my first and didn’t lose any weight until I stopped nursing . With my other 2 I used formula and lost 90% of the weight in the first month. Lets not forget stars who brag about losing all their weight due to breast feeding also have personal trainers and chefs to help them loose the weight.

Briellis November 17, 2009, 10:53 AM

I’m still nursing my 13 month old daughter and the baby weight is STILL holding on. I’m not too worried about it, I’m sure I’ll slim down when I wean.

zirah16 December 13, 2009, 11:30 PM

The best way to lose weight in the long term and most importantly to keep the weight off is to enjoy the diet itself. Now I know that sounds odd. How can you enjoy dieting? Well how about a revolutionary diet system and eating program that will make you lose weight without restricting your diet to low fat or low carb’ foods.

Sarah December 30, 2009, 1:37 PM

I think like anything else, different people have different experiences. I’ve been nursing 15 months, never exclusively, and I weigh less now than I did before I got pregnant. I agree with a previous poster that breastfeeding shouldn’t be considered a weight-loss program. If that is your motivation to breastfeed, you may end up disappointed. Hopefully by that point you will have found breastfeeding to be a wonderful experience and continue even if the number on the scale is not dropping.

Michelle March 28, 2010, 2:08 PM

It worked miraculously for me. I was back into my jeans a week after giving birth, and I managed to keep it off even after I weaned my baby at 6 months. Breastfeeding is the best, there are so many benefits for both you and your baby, I would never do it any other way.

mamalee January 3, 2011, 9:11 AM

I lost 30 lbs in 6 weeks…I am breastfeeding and I am hypothyroid and taking meds daily…I am hungry and very thirsty all the time. I knew I would lose weight…but this much?

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