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How can I lose weight safely while breastfeeding?

You are not alone in wondering about losing weight. Many women are anxious to return to their pre-pregnancy shape and weight after childbirth. Do try to remember that your pregnancy weight wasn't gained overnight so it won't disappear that quickly, either. As a matter of fact, you gained that weight so that you would have plenty of reserves for feeding your baby.

Here is more reassuring news from LLLI BREASTFEEDING ANSWER BOOK, 3rd Edition, 2003. "Breastfeeding mothers tend to lose more weight when their babies are three to six months old than formula-feeding mothers who consume fewer calories (Dewey, 1993; Heinig 1992). Another study of mothers at one month postpartum found that mothers who breastfed (either exclusively or partially) had slimmer hips and weighed less than women whose babies received only formula" (Kramer 1993).

It is safer for you to wait at least two months postpartum to purposely lose weight, as your body needs this time to recover from childbirth and establish a good milk supply. Many mothers lose weight in the early months by following a normal diet and eating to hunger. If you have stopped losing weight or are gaining weight after the first two months, check with your doctor about increasing your activity level and reducing your intake by about 100 calories per day. A daily brisk half-hour walk with your children in a stroller or sling will help you lose weight plus get you outside for fresh air.

Gradual weight loss of about one pound per week, while consuming about 1500 to 1800 calories per day, will help you to feel good and have the energy you need to care for your baby. The composition of your milk really does not vary much with your diet. (Mothers in famine conditions can produce milk that is nutritionally perfect for their babies.) However, your health may suffer if too many of your own reserves are used to provide milk. It takes a lot of energy to care for your baby so be sure to take care of yourself by "eating to hunger" and "drinking to thirst."

Anyone who wants to start a weight loss program should consult with their physician to rule out any health problems that would contraindicate the diet or exercise.

Two books that contain practical information on postpartum weight loss and exercise are THE WOMANLY ART OF BREASTFEEDING ("Nutritional Know How" chapter) and Eat Well, Lose Weight While Breastfeeding, by Eileen Behan, RD. In addition, Women's Bodies, Women's Wisdom, by Christiane Northrup includes two chapters on changing your diet gradually and incorporating exercise into your life. (These books are available from your local Leader or the LLLI Online Store).

Contact a local La Leche League Leader for more information and support. Weight loss is frequently discussed at LLL meetings! For help in finding a local Leader, check out "Finding a Local LLL Group."

Resources for Additional Information

LLLI FAQ gives information on losing weight using a low carbohydrate diet.

"I Just Did It", from LLLI magazine for parents, NEW BEGINNINGS, by a mother who lost weight through moderate diet and exercise.

"Postpartum Body Image and Weight Loss" is an enlightening article.

"Weight Loss while Breastfeeding", an article from LEAVEN, LLLI journal for Leaders.

These items plus others including cookbooks are all available from the LLLI Online Store or through your local Leader.

THE WOMANLY ART OF BREASTFEEDING, published by La Leche League International, is the most complete resource available for the breastfeeding mother. It contains a section on nutrition and weight loss for the breastfeeding mother. (Softcover, 465 pages)

Nutrition and Breastfeeding. Revised pamphlet answers frequently asked questions about diet and nutrition during lactation. Includes information on weight loss while breastfeeding, foods to avoid, and more.

WHOLE FOODS FOR THE WHOLE FAMILY, by Roberta Johnson. Second Edition. Our classic LLL cookbook has been given an all new look, with larger pages, and a complete nutritional analysis for each recipe. It contains more than 900 kitchen-tested recipes contributed by mothers all over the world. This book is filled with time-saving make-ahead meals, ideas for using leftovers, special diet and allergy recipes, and more! Recipes include meat and meatless main dishes, ethnic foods, whole grain breads, desserts, snacks, and sandwiches. (Plastic-comb bound, hardcover, 364 pages)

Our FAQs present information from La Leche League International on topics of interest to parents of breastfed children. Not all of the information may be pertinent to your family's lifestyle. This information is general in nature and not intended to be advice, medical or otherwise. If you have a serious breastfeeding problem or concern, you are strongly encouraged to talk directly to a La Leche League Leader. Please consult health care professionals on any medical issue, as La Leche League Leaders are not medical practitioners.

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