Can you lose fat when you’re breastfeeding? Does it make you feel good?

If you’ve just had a baby, probably the last thing you need to concern yourself with is how aesthetically pleasing your body is BUT I am totally sensitive to the fact that women and their bodies are a mix of complex emotions and constructs. As an intersectional feminist I am profoundly concerned with how many women hate their bodies, and how we are taught to speak to and about our bodies is a terrifying side effect of living under capitalist patriarchy.

Loving your body as it is, is radical. Breastfeeding can be an amazing way to reclaim your body – I hear this from so many women – that after birth and during breastfeeding they feel like they stopped wanting to subscribe to someone else’s beauty standards. They stopped seeing themselves through the male gaze. But this is a whole other blog post for another time! If you’re not bothered about dropping fat then don’t! You don’t need to do it for anyone else, or for any reason other than your own desire.

It’s OK if you don’t love your postpartum body. It’s OK if you do. The most important thing to focus on in the postpartum period is your HEALTH. If you’ve had an instrumental birth or a c-section in particular – this is major surgery – and recovery is essential. Rest, plenty of nutrient and calorie dense foods, and a few spare pairs of hands will be ideal for getting you through this.

We gain weight in pregnancy by storing brown fat reserves in our butt, thighs, tummy and breasts. These fat reserves make it easy for our bodies to convert the fat to energy during the postpartum period. Research evidence shows that lactation plays a role in mobilizing stored fat after delivery (Stueb & Edwards, 2009) and epidemiological studies have shown breastfeeding leads to a reduced maternal risk of metabolic disease, hypertension and type 2 diabetes. Secondly, our bodies are hardwired and genetically predisposed to prioritising the infant.

Weight loss is associated with breastfeeding – for the reasons we’ve talked about above, that most women can utilise their brown fat reserves to make up for any calorie deficit in the postpartum period.

Is it safe to be in a calorie deficit when breastfeeding? Yes, but not to an extreme. Lactating women should consume around 1500-1800 calories a day as standard, and in the early postpartum period it is recommended to eat at the higher end of this scale, and an excess of 500 calories can be consumed per day to help with the increased demands of producing milk and caring for an infant.

A small study by Loveday found that “weight loss of approximately 0.5 kg per week between 4 and 14 weeks post partum in overweight women who are exclusively breast-feeding does not affect the growth of their infants.”

Dewey (1998) found “Gradual weight loss (< or = 2 kg/mo) seems to have no adverse effect on milk volume or composition, provided that the mother is not undernourished and is breast-feeding her infant on demand.” And that “Maternal plasma prolactin concentration generally increases under conditions of negative energy balance, which may serve to protect lactation.” (prolactin is the milk producing hormone)

So, if you want to lose weight, go for it. If you’re happy and comfortable in your own skin, there’s no need to worry about changing your body.  It’s important to understand that you can be healthy at any size, and your self-worth, parenting ability, or value as a human being is not set by your arbitrary relationship to the earth’s gravitational pull or a number on a scale.

Extreme diets aren’t healthy for anyone so following a very low-calorie diet is not appropriate. Speak to someone qualified like a nutritionist or dietician if you need help, and I recommend following @drjoshuawolrich on Instagram for more information on fighting weight stigma and the campaign against #nutribollocks.

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