The Truth About Weight Gain/Loss and Breastfeeding
I remember when I was pregnant how many times I was asked if I was going to breastfeed. The answer was always, “of course; if I’m able to, then I definitely will” The response was still, you will lose your baby weight so much faster If you do! For some reason, this is what we are meant to believe, and for some of us, it couldn’t be further from the truth.
After having my son, the breastfeeding journey began. Luckily for us, we had no issues at all. It went so well that he refused the bottle entirely, and I was a full-blown milk machine for the 1st year.
Breastfeeding multiple times a day, I was totally under the assumption I would lose the weight even faster since he was only feeding on me. As the weeks and months went on, I started putting on weight rather than losing it. As a postnatal/postpartum fitness specialist, this is something I couldn’t wrap my head around. I was breastfeeding, eating extremely healthy and exercising daily, and still, I was either at a standstill or the lbs on the scale were going up. It wasn’t until I started dropping the feeds and then finished BF at one year post that the weight finally started to come off.
Now working with PP clients, I did my research to find out what the leading cause of this was.
Here are 5 main reasons why it is hard to lose weight while breastfeeding.
1. First off, hello hormones. We all know our hormones are all over the place after we have a baby. One of the main hormones we will deal with PP is Prolactin.
Prolactin is a hormone made in the pituitary gland of the brain. It is known as the breastfeeding hormone because of its role in breast milk production and also the “fat-storing hormone” to help stimulate milk production. It is the primary hormone the body needs to produce breast milk. It also stimulates appetite. This makes appetite and breastfeeding completely connected on a chemical level. Prolactin is also responsible for reduced-fat metabolism, which also means that your body isn’t breaking down and using fat cells as well. For some people, this isn’t an issue. They may naturally have lower Prolactin levels, so when breastfeeding, they don’t react to the higher levels. Some mamas can be inherently more sensitive to Prolactin than others. This means that despite everything you do if you are genetically having a hard time with increased Prolactin levels (and other hormones), it will be even more difficult for you to lose weight.
2. Your hunger is on a whole new level. I have always had a good appetite, but nothing could prepare me for the extreme hunger I experienced after giving birth. Even an entire bowl of oats couldn’t fill me up as I was on a consistent feeding schedule with my son. You are constantly feeling hungry, but you want to eat for fear of dropping your milk supply. However, you don’t need to overeat to keep your supply up; by eating intuitively and responding to hunger at the earliest signs, you’re better able to align your consumption with your needs without frantically shoving all the food in at once.
3. You are sleep-deprived. Research has consistently shown that when we skimp on shut-eye, we see a boost in our hunger hormone (ghrelin) and a dip in our satiety hormone (leptin), causing appetites to surge. It is also proven that when we are sleep deprived, we tend to reach for high-calorie foods or anything loaded with salt and or sugar. Lack of sleep will also cause our stress level to rise and cortisol levels to spike, resulting in weight gain; and When cortisol levels increase, the cells of our body can become resistant to insulin. In turn, this may lead to an increase in blood sugar and then weight gain.
4. You aren’t eating enough of the right foods. Nutrients are very different than calories. Many breastfeeding mamas, when gaining weight while nursing, start down the wrong path of reducing calories dramatically. This also reduces nutrients, which affects the milk supply. These mamas experience a dip in milk supply as the body adjusts, which triggers more fear and anxiety. Then, the mama realizes her new diet has slowed down her milk production and immediately focuses on increasing calories rather than healthy nutrients. This is the cycle that can keep you from losing weight while breastfeeding.
5. Stress could have something to do with it. I know you think as a new mom, you have this new little bundle of joy; what could there be to be stressed about?! However, as a new mom, you do take on a lot. It's unrealistic to think we can live stressless lives once we reach the motherhood level. The days we can take showers or use the bathroom in privacy, put our feet up at the end of a workday to enjoy a movie, dinner dates with our partner or even the chance to sleep in on the weekend. Let's face it: if we like it or not, life gets more stressful with kids. I know you've heard about the problem: Stress releases cortisol, and elevated cortisol levels can lead to weight gain, especially around the midsection. But it turns out, we all have (and need!) Cortisol for our immune function, to maintain blood glucose and more. It's not necessarily the cortisol itself that causes weight gain, but having high and prolonged levels of it, which happens when we're chronically (not temporarily) stressed. If you are having difficulty losing weight, often crave sugary and fatty foods and gain weight, especially around your midsection, you may be chronically stressed. Try to find ways to de-stress daily. You'll likely need help with this, so your kids are taken care of elsewhere. Whether it is yoga, a bubble bath with soothing music, exercise, aromatherapy, or simply going for a quiet walk by yourself, find out what helps YOU push the re-set button. And make it a daily priority!
I read this on a website and it couldn't be more true. "If you ask the majority of seasoned breastfeeding mama’s if they have managed to lose weight while breastfeeding, and I guarantee you'll hear things like:"
"First I lost weight, then I started gaining!
I can't get rid of those last 10 pounds!
I always gain weight while breastfeeding!
I don't lose the pregnancy weight until after I wean."
Please don’t get discouraged about your weight loss post-baby. If you are breastfeeding, it is normal for the weight to come off slower than usual. If you can breastfeed, it is one of the most amazing experiences you can have with your new little bundle of joy. Love the journey and connection with your little one and know the weight will come off.
As a certified pre/postnatal coach I'm here to help you with this journey. Please reach out if you are feeling lost with your weight loss or need nay help with you fitness/nutrition programs.