When deciding whether to breastfeed their infants, many women focus on the research indicating the benefits of breast milk for babies. Nursing has been associated with higher IQ scores and a decrease in the risk of a child developing asthma or allergies. However, nursing can also be a great tool for a mother's postpartum weight loss.
Time Spent Nursing
Although any length of time a woman is able to breastfeed offers benefits to her baby, longer periods of nursing are more beneficial in terms of weight loss after pregnancy. The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) reports that women who breastfeed their babies exclusively for at least three months lose weight faster than those who either supplement with formula or exclusively formula feed. A 2008 study by the Institute of Preventive Medicine in Denmark reported that breastfeeding for six months could eliminate postpartum weight retention in all but the heaviest women.
Nursing your baby takes a lot of time and energy, so it's no surprise that breastfeeding burns calories. According to the La Leche League, it takes roughly 20 calories to produce 1 oz. of milk. For the average 150-pound woman, this means that breastfeeding burns approximately 500 calories per day. In comparison, 30 minutes of light housework would burn 246 calories, and 30 minutes of aerobic dancing would burn 546 calories. Because many new mothers are too exhausted to think about cleaning or engaging in a formal exercise program during the first months of their child's life, breastfeeding is a convenient way to burn calories.
Speed of Weight Loss
Although breastfeeding might help you lose weight faster than giving your baby formula, it is still not a quick fix for getting back to your pre-pregnancy figure. It took you nine months to put on your pregnancy weight, so it's unrealistic to expect the pounds to drop off overnight. You can expect to safely lose between one and 1½ pounds per week while breastfeeding your infant. If you are losing weight at a quicker rate, your doctor might recommend increasing your daily calorie intake to ensure that you keep your strength up while caring for your baby.
One reason why breastfeeding promotes weight loss is that nursing mothers are often very conscious of what they eat. Doctors often recommend that nursing mothers follow a diet that is filled with complex carbs, lean protein, and fresh fruits and vegetables to provide their infants with the maximum nutritional benefit from each nursing. Breastfeeding mothers are also advised to limit their intake of alcohol and caffeinated sodas during when they are nursing, which cuts a large source of empty calories from their diets.
In the past, many doctors recommended that breastfeeding women avoid exercise because their babies would be less accepting of post-exercise breast milk containing slightly elevated levels of lactic acid. However, this recommendation has since been revised because exercise offers significant cardiovascular benefits for mothers, and most babies will not have an adverse reaction to post-exercise breast milk. The La Leche League says exercise can increase the volume of milk a woman produces, which might be an important benefit for mothers who are having trouble keeping their supply up.