The Dangers of Taking Weight-Loss Supplements While Breastfeeding

Taking diet pills when breastfeeding can cause side effects like diarrhea or constipation, which may also affect your baby.
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You had the baby, and now you're ready to lose the weight. Diet pills may be tempting to help you shed pounds quickly, but taking weight-loss supplements while breastfeeding likely isn't safe for you or your child.

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Weight-loss supplements often claim to help burn fat, regulate appetite, speed metabolism or improve nutrition to ultimately help you slim down, according to the Cleveland Clinic. But these products are not approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), and in fact, there's little scientific evidence to show they work at all, per the Mayo Clinic.

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And not only is it unlikely that these supplements will help with weight loss, but some of these products can also harm your health due to side effects and hidden ingredients, according to the Mayo Clinic.

So, can you take weight-loss pills or fat burners while breastfeeding? Here, we explore whether or not you can take appetite suppressants or other diet supplements while breastfeeding, plus safer ways to lose weight postpartum.

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Tip

Ask your doctor if you can take any weight-loss pills while breastfeeding (or other supplements, for that matter), as the FDA doesn't require supplements to be proven safe or effective before they are sold, so there’s no guarantee that what you take is safe, contains the ingredients it says it does or produces the effects it claims.

Can You Take Weight-Loss Supplements While Breastfeeding?

If you're wondering whether you should take weight-loss pills while breastfeeding, the short answer is probably not (the same goes for taking diet pills while pregnant).

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Here's why: Diet supplements (yes, even the "natural" ones) may have side effects that can affect you and your child, as it's possible to pass potentially harmful ingredients to your baby via breastmilk, according to the Cleveland Clinic.

Per the National Institutes of Health (NIH), potential side effects include:

  • Headaches
  • Difficulty sleeping
  • Muscle or bone pain
  • Increased heart rate
  • High blood pressure
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Constipation
  • Abdominal cramps
  • Gas
  • Heartburn
  • Vertigo
  • Weakness
  • Anxiety
  • Jitteriness
  • Kidney stones
  • Liver damage

Certain ingredients in diet supplements are explicitly discouraged if you're breastfeeding. For instance, 5-Hydroxytryptophan is a component of certain weight-loss pills that may not be safe for your baby, according to Mount Sinai.

Some of these products also contain prescription drugs without listing them on the label, per the Mayo Clinic, which can produce even more unexpected side effects and potentially harm you or your child.

Additionally, the downstream effects of certain diet pills may not be safe while you're breastfeeding.

For example, many supplements contain caffeine, which acts as a diuretic and eliminates fluid from your body, per the NIH. Staying well-hydrated is important while you're breastfeeding, so losing too much fluid can jeopardize healthy lactation, according to the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP). What's more, shedding water weight alone doesn't support long-term weight loss.

Are There Safe Weight-Loss Supplements for Breastfeeding?

Diet pills and their ingredients aren't tested in babies, so taking any weight-loss supplement while breastfeeding is inherently risky for your child — especially considering these products don't typically support weight loss in the first place, per the Mayo Clinic.

Can You Take Fat Burners While Breastfeeding?

Some people specifically turn to fat burners while breastfeeding to fast-track weight loss. Fat burners are a type of supplement that often contain stimulants and claim to increase your metabolism, reduce fat absorption and suppress your appetite, per the Cleveland Clinic. But like other diet pills, there's no scientific evidence to suggest that these products work or that they're safe for you and your baby.

Most fat burners use stimulants like caffeine, green tea extract and yohimbe, per the Cleveland Clinic. While small amounts of caffeine are typically safe while you're breastfeeding, fat burners aren't regulated by the FDA and thus don't always list dosage information, so you run the risk of overloading yourself and your child with stimulants. This can lead to side effects like:

  • Headaches
  • Anxiety
  • Agitation
  • Increased blood pressure
  • Increased heart rate
  • Difficulty sleeping

In high doses, yohimbe can also cause heart problems or kidney failure, according to the Cleveland Clinic.

The takeaway: Skip the fat burners (and all other diet supplements) while breastfeeding, as the risk certainly outweighs the potential reward.

Is L-carnitine Safe for Breastfeeding?

Certain fat burners contain carnitine, a compound that supports metabolism and energy levels, per the Cleveland Clinic. If you have a diagnosed carnitine deficiency and are breastfeeding, you and your baby may benefit from carnitine supplementation, according to August 2020 research in the ​Drugs and Lactation Database​.

However, that doesn't mean you should take a fat burner while breastfeeding. Instead, talk to your doctor about the best carnitine-specific supplement — not a diet pill that contains the ingredient — for you.

Safer Alternatives to Diet Pills While Breastfeeding

If your goal is to shed pounds after giving birth, taking weight-loss supplements while breastfeeding is not the solution.

Instead, lose weight the safe and sustainable way by eating a nutritious diet and exercising regularly, all of which can help you burn more calories than you eat. According to the Mayo Clinic, your diet should include:

  • Fruits
  • Vegetables
  • Whole grains like oats, whole-wheat bread and brown rice
  • Low-fat dairy products like yogurt and milk
  • Lean protein sources like skinless poultry, beans, and nuts

When it comes to physical activity, talk to your doctor about when it's safe to start exercising. Typically, you can start moving as soon as you feel ready, although you may have to wait for your doctor's clearance if you're recovering from a C-section, extensive vaginal repair or a difficult delivery, per the Mayo Clinic.

Once you're able, though, a combination of strength training and cardio exercises can help you not only lose weight, but also increase your strength, improve your energy levels and support your mental health, according to the Mayo Clinic.

And through it all, don't forget to stay hydrated to support your wellbeing and the breastfeeding process, per the Mayo Clinic. It takes extra energy to produce milk for lactation, so it's important to get plenty of fuel, fluid and rest to sustain the health of you and your baby, according to CHOP.

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