Losing weight while breastfeeding- Yes it is possible!
I THOUGHT IT WOULD BE EASY TO LOSE WEIGHT WHILE BREASTFEEDING… BUT I WAS WRONG
I’m a single full time working mom with a baby and a 4 year old. I wanted more than anything to breastfeed my baby. I had many obstacles stacked against me, but I found resources and people that helped me stick to it. I wanted to quit a few times, but I stuck with it and I know my baby is better off for it. I’ve nursed for 9.5 months, and I have the happiest baby on the planet! I wanted to write this blog to help others in their breastfeeding journey.
I always heard that breastfeeding burns a ton of calories, so naturally I should just shed the weight after having the baby with no problem right? WRONG! I am a certified fitness instructor who was in great shape before having my baby. I experienced some major stressful situations during and after the pregnancy and gained 60 lbs. However, being knowledgeable about nutrition and exercise… combined with the fact that breastfeeding burns a ton of calories, I thought it would be easy to drop the weight. What happened? I became a wild beast ready to snatch any food item that crossed my path. I was shoving my face full of food while nursing, and at night…forget about it, the ice cream container didn’t stand a chance. I was eating WAY more than I was burning, and I had trouble finding time to get any workouts in, and when I did I felt like my baby didn’t like the milk after I was done with a workout.
I want to share my journey with you, and tell you how I stuck with it (after multiple times of wanting to give up) and let you know about the various resources out there that can help you.
We all know that stress combined with lack of sleep can wreck havoc on our bodies. My personal experience is that I started to get a divorce 2 days after I found out I was pregnant. I ended up moving into a new house, having the baby and getting the divorce finalized all within a month of each other. I now had a new baby, a 4 year old who just went through a bunch of change, I had no family that lives by me, and I had to get prepared to go back to work as a single mom within 12 weeks. All I wanted was to provide the best for my children and be the best mom I could possibly be.
I couldn’t do it alone. That is where I reached out for help, and searched the end of the internet for all possible solutions to help me through my journey. We all have different stories. Some of us work, some don’t and are stay at home moms, some have one kid, some more than one, some have supportive spouses, some of us don’t, some have spouses that work odd-hours, some of us are doing this on our own, some of us have kid(s) with special needs. We all have our own stories, but the thing we all have in common is that as a mom, a new baby adds more stress. We don’t sleep, our bodies are a mess, and our hormones are making us cry and have mood swings. Whatever your stress is, there are resources to help. I’m going to share a bunch of information with you that helped me through my journey. Without these resources, I wouldn’t have been able to get to where I’m at today.
Breastfeeding in the beginning
I got home from the hospital and both breasts were clogged. Apparently the lactation consultant office wasn’t open on the weekend and I got home on a Saturday (but the voicemail didn’t say they were out of the office). I ended calling my OB, he gave me a prescription because he thought I had mastitis. I rented a pump, but I couldn’t figure out how to get it work, my baby was screaming. My parents were in-town to help me out the first week and I sent my dad out to get some formula. During that time I figured out the pump, called a friend who gave me the number of the best lactation consultant she knew, and within 30 min I had milk flowing! I didn’t have to use the formula and the lactation consultant was able to come to my home… AND it was covered by insurance!!! She also let me know that my insurance covered a hospital grade pump, not just the basic ones that they tell you they cover on the phone.
My son had a dysfunctional suck and I couldn’t get him to nurse from the breast, so she recommended finger feeding. Most people I talked to didn’t know what that was, but it was amazing! I was able to hook a tube up to my pumped milk and put the tube on my finger and he sucked on it and I was able to stretch his tongue while feeding him to train his muscles to suck properly. I did this for 4 days and finally I was able to nurse!!!
HOORAY- WE GOT MILK!
I had no idea lactation consultants could come to your home, didn’t know about finger feeding and didn’t know I could get my hospital grade pump covered. I was so excited to learn this information. My baby finally got what he needed!
The Eating Frenzy- Wild Animal Syndrome
OK, so now the milk is flowing, but so was my hunger. I was out of control, I mean 100% completely out of control. I was eating 24-7, couldn’t shove the food down fast enough, and I was eating more than I was burning. I started to gain weight. I gained a total of 60 during my pregnancy, lost about 30 and then started to gain some more back. I was frustrated.
Weight Gain Blues
There are multiple factors that play into wanting to lose weight. We all have different reasons for wanting to lose weight. For me,it was multiple reasons:
- First I had really bad plantar fasciitis on my feet, which made it extremely painful to walk. The doctor said it would get better if I lost the weight. I tried, but when I tried to cut calories, I ended up just binging and eating more.
- I just wanted to feel some type of normal. I went through a divorce, had a baby and moved all in the same month. I wasn’t sleeping and I couldn’t fit into any of my clothes. My mental health is just as important as my physical health, and getting myself back was important.
- I wasn’t sleeping at all. My baby was eating every 1.5-2 hours. My stress level was high and my hormones were all over the place. My baby is actually 9.5 months now and feeding every 3 hours.
- Working out is part of who I am. I love the feeling when I work up a good sweat, and it has always helped me mentally. Right now, with everything I was dealing with I needed to exercise. However, I had Diastasis Recti, my feet were in so much pain, and when I worked out I was even MORE hungry afterwards, and ended up eating more.
- Body Image. Even though this was last on my list, it was frustrating not being able to do anything about my weight, and I wanted to feel good about myself. I didn’t care if the weight loss was slow, but trying and not succeeding was frustrating and I just wanted to feel better about myself.
The Weight Loss Solution
I was stuck, and actually so hungry I started to gain weight. On my new program, It has been 2 months and I’m down 15 lbs. I still have 15 more to go, and I’m 50% there. My feet feel better, I have more energy and best of all, I actually have MORE milk!
Nutrition is about 80% of the weightless success. However when you are breastfeeding you are still “eating for two” and sometimes there are restrictions. My baby couldn’t handle it when I ate yogurt or whey protein powder, so I struggled with getting enough protein. My baby fed so often and I was pumping in-between and could barely find time to shower. How could I prepare healthy meals? I barely had time to go to the bathroom. I’m a certified fitness instructor and pretty educated with nutrition. I was eating 1800-1900 calories a day and still reaching for the ice cream container before bed time, and ready to attack anyone in my way carrying a chocolate bar. I read articles on how to lose while breastfeeding, but they all said something different. I even called one of the more famous weight loss chains and talked to their sales rep. They had a “breastfeeding plan” but they didn’t have documentation to back it up, and they also said they send you 1200 calories a day to eat and you have to add about 500-600 more calories. They told me this without even taking my height/weight and asking how many times a day I nurse. I knew enough to know that this wasn’t safe. Losing weight was a big goal of mine, but the safety and nutrition for my child came first.
How many calories?
Let me state that I am not a certified nutritionist. I know a lot about nutrition, but am not licensed to give specific advise and meal plans. Below I am sharing my recommendations on how you can leverage tools out there to help you lose weight safely while breastfeeding, and these tools greatly helped me.
There are a lot of varying answers as to how many calories you burn while breastfeeding. However, the more you are nursing the more you are burning. My OB told me I burn about 500 calories a day. This was understated for me personally, because during my nutrition coaching, and after a few weeks on my nutrition plan, I realized I was burning way more than initially thought. However, some people might burn less. Therefore, you need to listen to your body and make sure you are eating enough. I realized the reason I was so hungry was that I wasn’t eating enough, and then ended up binging. Now that I eat every 2.5 hours, and am eating enough protein, I actually have HELPED my milk supply because my body doesn’t think it is starving.
Below I list a great website by a certified nutritionist who specializes in weight loss for pregnant and breastfeeding moms. If you click on the link below, there is a calorie calculator that helps walk you through about how many calories you should eat per day based on your activity level, age, height and whether or not you are breastfeeding. She also has a bunch of postpartum articles to read, and also offers personalized nutrition coaching and meal planning. I used the meal planning option, but said I wanted something SUPER easy. She has various plans based on if you want convenience or variety. She is also there to help guide and adjust your plan based on your individual needs. I started on a 1950 calorie a day plan and was so hungry the first day that she increased it by 100 calories and adjusted my plan until I was satisfied and my body was getting enough (which ended up being 2200 calories a day) and the weight just started falling off, and my milk supply was not affected and I actually produced a little more!
You don’t have to do her customized plan, and this website has a ton of good free resources. However, if you need a nudge, coach, or customized meal plan this is a great program that is led by a certified nutritionist who really has an understanding of breastfeeding moms. She also offers a customized workout schedule.
I highly recommend coaching if you think your baby is gassy or is reacting to what you are eating, because a certified nutritionist can help. Here is my little comic strip I made when I first started breastfeeding. Most of the information I read say that it is a myth that gassy veggies can cause gas, but I’ve read other things that contradict this. This is where a certified nutritionist can help because the internet can be a great source of information, but also a source of miss-information. Just make sure whomever you hire or consult with knows about breastfeeding and is certified.
I realized that by eating more (and more often) I wasn’t hungry. I no longer craved sugar, and I was satisfied after smaller meals. I noticed if I fell off the plan and ate less, my milk supply suffered. I also felt good that I was getting the nutrition I needed. I was eating healthy fats, more protein than normal, but still ate fruits and veggies and carbs. I had more energy and more milk (Win/Win)!
Nutrition First- Weight loss second
Don’t expect to lose a ton of weight. I lost on average 1-1.5 lbs a week. This is the safest way and means that it is ‘real’ weight and not just water weight. Just make sure you eat healthy food. Nutrition should always come first, especially since you are still eating for two.
Workout Out Constraints and Solutions
I remember after my first child, I had some free personal training sessions and I went to the gym. My trainer wanted me to work my rectus abdominis (6-pack muscles), and I told him I needed to work my transverse (deep abs), and he didn’t know why. I explained that there are certain exercises that are not safe right after giving birth, and he admitted to me that he was not trained in postpartum exercise. In fact, I couldn’t find a personal trainer who was.
How to start working out again
Step 1: Check for Diastasis Recti: (AKA- splitting of the abs): It’s common… but not normal
Here is me on the left 6 weeks AFTER giving birth! (It looks like my baby is still inside). The pouch is very tight/round and not flabby. This is sign of diastasis recti. Normal is typically less than 1 finger separation, but I had 4.5 fingers of separation. To test for this, you can see your OB or a women’s physical therapist. The website listed below also walks you through how to test for it yourself.
Everyone knows that diet and exercise are two of the most important things you can do to lose weight. The #1 thing you need to do before you exercise is make sure you are doing it safely so that you don’t injure yourself so you can be there for your baby.
Diastasis Recti Solutions:
Classes are offered online or in person in Batavia and Wheaton. I believe the Batavia location also offers daycare. With my hectic schedule I did the on-line class and 6 weeks after finishing, I had my OB check me and my separation was less than 1 finger. The online class started out with 7 min three times a day and gradually increased. However, I could do the exercises in my car or standing in line. I found that this program was super easy to follow and something I could do, even while nursing my baby!
Website for in-person or on-line class: http://www.pilatesbycarrie.com/diastasis_rectus_abdominus
Link to free video to how to check for Diastsis Recti: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Tfr1PT9BiGE
Another good option I found is the mutu system. I bought this as well, but I found the online class by Carrie was easier to fit into my hectic schedule and I received amazing results. https://mutusystem.com/
Step 2: Get cleared by your doctor
I know it sounds cliche, but this is really important. Make sure you are cleared to workout.
Step 3: Timing of Breastfeeding
This might be different by individual. I found that if I tried to nurse right after working out, my baby didn’t like it and I wondered if my milk tasted funny to him. I’ve also pumped after working out and I usually don’t get as much. I find that it is much better for me to nurse before I workout and then I have at least 2-2.5 hours after my workout to recover.
Step 4: Tips for Working Out
- Do what you like: Ultimately you should do what you like to do. I hate running and love lifting, so this is what I can stick to, and what makes me feel good. If you love running you should try to incorporate some weights, but do majority of running. If you try to completely change and do something you don’t like, you won’t stick with it. The goal is to make your exercise fun and something you can do consistently. In order to do that, you need to do something you enjoy
- Split up your workouts: One issue with working out is finding the time to do it. You may work, have multiple kids, have a high-needs baby (or spouse) or in my case are a single working mom. Whatever your situation is, as a mom we have no time for ourselves. The good news is that workouts are cumulative, meaning you can do 10 min in the morning, 10 in the afternoon and 10 at night and that is as beneficial as a 30 min workout
- Workout at Home. There are so many options to workout at home with workout DVDs that have pre-mixes and short 5-10 min workout segments. Find a style of workout that you love and then just get some DVDs and set up a schedule that you can stick to
- Ask a buddy to share babysitting: Find a friend or another mom who has kid(s) the same age, and you can take turns watching your kids so you can get a workout in
- Hiring a trainer: If you hire a trainer, make sure you get someone who is educated in postpartum and breastfeeding. This may be hard to find. Now, there are a lot of on-line personal trainers, so you may be able to find someone online. Just make sure they are certified and knowledgeable.
Here are some links to some free workouts
Before doing the workouts, make sure you get cleared from you doctor, and if you have diastasis recti, do a program to heal that first before you try anything else.
1 This is my full total body quick-fix from which is about 35 min, just skip the ab section and do the abs listed below instead: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Xt8FtTBePgk
2. Carrie who does the Diastasis Recit class has a 28 min ab video on Youtube called ‘A Better Way to Work Your abs’. This video focuses on the transverse abs, pelvic floor and strengthening and toning the abs in a safe way.
I hope some of this information is helpful in your breastfeeding journey!