Breastfeeding is an excellent way to nourish your baby and help them thrive in their growth and development early in life.
But if you have baby weight to lose as most women do after giving birth, you may be wondering how to lose weight while breastfeeding and maintain a safe, steady milk supply for your little one.
The good news is that weight loss during breastfeeding is entirely possible with the right healthy habits in place.
#1 Drink a Lot of Water
Breastfeeding moms require more water than non-breasting women. Why? A large portion of breast milk is water.
Furthermore, increasing water intake is often an effective weight loss strategy for women – especially if you drink water often throughout the day and before each meal.
Aim to drink about 2 cups of water prior to meal time to fill you up without extra calories.
So how much water is enough while breastfeeding?
The Institute of Medicine recommends consuming at least 16 cups of fluid daily for breastfeeding women vs. 11-12 cups for non-breastfeeding women.
While this recommendation is for total fluids, not just water, water is a calorie-free option and one of the best fluid sources new moms can choose.
You might require additional water if you work out regularly and lose a lot of fluids through sweating.
Carry a water bottle with you all throughout the day to help prevent dehydration and make weight loss easier.
#2 Control Your Calories, But Not Too Much
If you’re wondering how to lose weight while breastfeeding, controlling your overall calorie intake is the key to success.
But fasting or severely cutting calories can reduce your milk supply or diminish its nutritional content.
Additionally, starving yourself for weight loss can drain your energy.
So how many calories do you require to safely lose weight while breastfeeding?
Nursing your baby helps you lose an additional 425-700 calories daily through breast milk.
Because of this, breastfeeding without cutting calories can actually help you drop weight if you choose healthy foods.
Breastfeeding women generally require about 450-500 more calories daily than non-breastfeeding women to maintain their body weights.
Health Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development recommends that nursing women desiring weight loss use the following calorie recommendations adopted from the Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2015-2020:
- Sedentary women: 1,800-2,000 calories
- Moderately active women: 2,000-2,200 calories
- Active women: 2,200-2,400 calories
Based on these guidelines, a sedentary lifestyle is one that includes just activities of everyday independent living such as getting dressed, cooking, cleaning, and taking care of children.
Moderately active means a lifestyle that includes physical activity equal to walking 1.5 to 3 miles daily at a pace of 3-4 miles per hour plus activities of everyday living.
The USDA classifies you as active if you participate in physical activity that equates to walking more than 3 miles daily at a pace of 3-4 miles per hour in addition to activities of daily living.
Every woman is different, so adjust your calorie intake to lose weight at a slow but steady pace.
If you stop breastfeeding and you still have weight to lose, subtract about 500 calories from your daily breastfeeding weight loss calorie allotment.
#3 Lose Weight at a Slow, Steady Pace
While rapid weight loss may sound desirable when trying to reach your pre-pregnancy weight, it can take a toll on your energy and reduce your milk supply volume.
Aim to drop baby weight at a safe pace of 1-2 pounds per week by eating about 500-1,000 fewer calories than you expend through breastfeeding, exercise, and activities of daily living.
To help you stay on track with a weight loss program, weigh yourself every day or every other day. Record your results to track progress over time.
If you slip up and skip a workout or have a cheat day once and a while, it's okay! Get back on track the next day and keep moving forward.
#4 Eat a Well-Balanced Diet
Make sure to eat the right balance of fruits, vegetables, lean proteins, whole grains, low-fat dairy foods or calcium-rich equivalents, and heart-healthy fats to drop baby weight while maintaining a plentiful milk supply.
For women consuming 1,800-2,000 calories daily to lose weight while breastfeeding, the Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2015-2020 recommend the following food group portions:
- 2 1/2 cups of vegetables
- 1 1/2 to 2 cups of fruit
- 3 cups of dairy foods or calcium-rich plant equivalents
- 5 to 5 1/2 ounces of protein foods
- 6 ounces of whole grains
- 5-6 teaspoons of oils
Choose healthy protein-rich foods such as grilled chicken, fish, eggs, tofu, beans, peas, and other legumes.
Cottage cheese, milk or plant milk, and Greek yogurt are also excellent sources of protein and calcium.
Avocados, olive oil, other plant oils, nuts, seeds, olives, hummus, and nut butters are good options for healthy fats.
Choose a variety of fruits and vegetables at each meal and add fiber-rich grains like quinoa, brown rice, and oatmeal to your breastfeeding meal plan.
Aim to fill about:
- Half of each plate with fruits and vegetables (mainly vegetables)
- One-fourth of your plate with whole grains
- One-fourth of each plate with nutritious protein foods
Aim to eat small meals spaced about 2-3 hours apart, rather than two or three large meals.
Consider prepping healthy meals at the beginning of each week when you have extra time to do so, and place the meals in airtight containers in the refrigerator so you can heat them up when you're tight on time.
#5 Avoid Certain Foods and Drinks
When you’re breastfeeding, steer clear of certain foods and drinks to ensure your breast milk stays safe for your baby, nutrient-dense, and free from high levels of environmental contaminants.
Opt for organic foods when possible, especially when choosing fresh produce, and avoid consuming the following items:
- Alcoholic drinks
- High-mercury fish, such as swordfish, king mackerel, and shark
- Large amounts of caffeine
- Sodas and other sugary drinks
- Sweets and other empty-calorie foods
Mercury found in large amounts in some types of fish is a neurotoxin, which can be harmful for your baby if too much of it gets into your milk supply.
However, low-mercury fish like salmon and canned tuna are excellent options.
Avoid junk food as much as possible when trying to lose weight while breastfeeding, as these foods can hinder weight loss and don't contribute much to the high nutritional content of your breast milk.
#6 Consider Dietary Supplements
To ensure you consume plenty of essential nutrients needed to meet the nutritional demands of you and your baby, take a multivitamin supplement designed for pregnant and nursing women.
Prenatal supplements contain larger amounts of essential vitamins and minerals to help you meet increased nutritional needs while you breastfeed.
Make sure your multivitamin supplement contains omega-3 fatty aids DHA and EPA, or take an extra DHA/EPA supplement to meet the essential fatty acid requirements of nursing women.
The International Society for the Study of Fatty Acids and Lipids (ISSFAL) recommends adult women consume at least 500 milligrams of DHA plus EPA daily, some of which is present in breast milk.
These essential fatty acids enhance brain development in babies.
You might also consider protein supplements if your doctor gives you the okay, as protein requirements during pregnancy and breastfeeding are 71 grams daily vs. 46 grams for non-pregnant, non-breastfeeding women.
Because dietary supplements aren't regulated as tightly as foods and drugs, ask your doctor which type of multivitamin, omega-3, or protein supplement is right for you.
#7 Exercise Most Days of the Week
If you’re wondering how to lose weight while breastfeeding, exercising regularly is a key component of success.
Expend extra calories by staying physically active to burn fat and make weight loss feel like a breeze.
Regular exercise also helps boost your mood, lowers your risk of depression, increases energy, and reduces your risk of developing chronic diseases like high blood pressure and diabetes.
Aim for a least 30-60 minutes of exercise most days of the week.
Combine aerobic workouts, such as walking, jogging, cycling, rowing, jumping jacks, aerobics classes, etc. with strength training exercises.
Weightlifting, body weight, and exercise band workouts are all forms of resistance training that help increase muscle definition and burn fat.
If you don’t have workout equipment at home try pushups, squats using your own body weight, lunges, calf raises, wall squats, planks, lying leg raises, and sit-ups to tighten and tone up.
Aim to stay active all throughout the day in addition to formal exercise by boosting activities of daily living.
This might include taking the dog for a walk, doing yard work, washing dishes, doing laundry, going grocery shopping, playing with your children outside, or cleaning the floors or windows.
#8 Sleep As Much As Possible
It’s often difficult to get the sleep your body needs when taking care of a newborn or infant.
But doing so is important to keep your milk supply high, maintain high energy levels, and control your appetite when trying to lose weight while breastfeeding.
You might not be able to get in a full night’s sleep every night, but fit in naps throughout the day when your baby sleeps or when friends or family members help out with your little one.
Aim to get at least 7 hours of sleep during each 24-hour time period whenever possible.
Strategies you can use to help boost sleep quality include sleeping in a cool dark room, using white noise, going to bed at the same time each night, avoiding caffeine late at night, and steering clear of late-night workouts.
#9 Use Stress Reduction Strategies
Keeping stress levels low may seem impossible when you’re caring for a new baby, but reducing stress as much as you can, helps keep breast milk volume high.
This is important for two reasons when you’re trying to drop weight.
Having a high milk supply ensures your baby gets the nourishment needed to maximize growth and development.
Furthermore, the more milk your body produces for your baby (or the more milk you pump for use later on), the more you'll increase a calorie deficit for effective weight loss.
Stress reduction helps reduce emotional eating, which can contribute to higher calorie intakes and failed weight loss attempts.
Try the following stress reduction strategies:
- Ask for help from friends and family members
- Try yoga or tai chi
- Go for walks outdoors
- Consider meditation or massage
- Exercise regularly
- Take time for yourself
- Spend time with friends
- Take naps
- Try counseling for depression or anxiety
Don’t be afraid to ask for help when you need it, as parenting newborns and infants can be overwhelming. Include your baby in some of your stress reduction techniques.
Try a jogging stroller to get in some much needed outdoor time with your little one, or keep your baby next to you in a swing or a jumper during yoga sessions.
#10 Join an Organized Weight Loss Program for Women
Weight loss can be difficult on your own, regardless of whether or not you’re breastfeeding.
Because having motivational support, emotional support, and guidance from health experts helps keep you on track with weight loss.
Weight loss team members educate you about what to eat, when to eat it, and how to better control calories.
Fit Mother Project experts work with you to plan custom meals, menus, and workouts.
They motivate you every step of the way and give you the accountability needed to get and keep lost baby weight off long term.
FMP community mom groups, such as the FMP Facebook Group, offers you support from other breastfeeding moms and gives you access to healthy recipes, fitness tips, and much more!
In it you’ll receive:
- A 1-day fit mom fat loss meal plan
- A 24-minute metabolism boosting workout
- Health coaching email support
- Private Fit Mom Facebook Group access
Fit Mother Project helps answer the question how to lose weight while breastfeeding.
With an FMP weight loss plan comes a healthier lifestyle, a slimmer figure, more muscle definition, improved energy, and self-confidence.
Don't wait, get started with your weight loss journey today!
Australian Family Physician
Institute of Medicine
American Pregnancy Association
National Institutes of Health
Health Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development
Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2015-2020
The International Society for the Study of Fatty Acids and Lipids (ISSFAL)
National Sleep Foundation