This post probably contains affiliate links, to items I am in love with, and I am confident you will too! For any health advice I give on nutrition and weight loss, make sure you check with your doctor, as I am not a health professional. I am just a mama with lots of health and fitness knowledge and experience.
There are hidden reasons why you might be gaining weight while breastfeeding, which is of course dissapointing and very frustrating. Especially when you are eating healthy, exercising and breastfeeding. Then, you see all these women proclaiming their easy-peasy weight loss, and it makes for one giant stress ball. Gaining weight while breastfeeding is more common than you feel, and understanding the hidden reasons behind the weight gain, or lack of weight loss, can really help you feel less-stressed.
As a Pre/Postnatal Fitness Specialist, and founder of a very popular breastfeeding diet and fitness program, The Postpartum Cure, I have lots of experience helping mamas tweak their diets and mind set to be able to lose weight without losing their milk supply.
In desperation, many mamas will skip meals, starve and work out like crazy to combat the weight gain while breastfeeding. This is not good.
I teach in my program the importance of nutrients verses calories, which we will go into more in depth in a bit, as well as proper workouts and mind sets to help understand cravings and difficulties losing weight while breastfeeding. Let’s get into the 5 hidden reasons you’re gaining weight while breastfeeding.
Reason 1: You Are Not Taking In Enough Nutrients
Nutrients are very different than calories. Many breastfeeding mamas, when gaining weight while nursing, start down the wrong path of reducing calories dramatically. This also reduces nutrients, which affects milk supply. These mamas experience a dip in milk supply as the body adjusts, which triggers more fear and anxiety. Then, the mama realizes her new diet has slowed down her milk production, and immediately focuses on increasing CALORIES rather than NUTRIENTS! This is the cycle that can keep you from losing weight while breastfeeding. Following a specific, lactation-focused diet plan is a HUGE help for mamas. In my program and app, all the recipes in the meal plan are created to help with your milk supply by bringing in lots of nutrients. Lots of mamas have found this so helpful because they have a plan that helps them know they are going to lose weight, not their milk. In a further effort to help mamas get in the RIGHT nutrients, I suggest checking out this new protein powder specifically created to boost lactation and curb sugar cravings. It is the only protein powder that supports weight loss while breastfeeding.
What you can do right away is focus on every meal and snack being nutrient-dense. These are fruits, veggies, clean and lean protein sources, nuts, a few grains like quinoa and oatmeal and some beans like chick peas. What will happen when you add in more nutrients, your body will feel like it is safe, and it will let go of fat.
Without the proper amount of nutrients, your body is going to want to hold onto, and in some cases store MORE FAT! Which is why you could be gaining weight while breastfeeding.
Reason 2: You Are Telling Your Body To Store Fat
I am going to elaborate further on the concept of nutrients and fat storage. If you are not properly nourishing your body with the necessary macro and micro nutrients, your body is stressed. Part of the reason your body stores fat is to have reserved energy or calories. The other reason it the necessary macro and micro nutrients. Our bodies are still primal, so we store fat during pregnancy to prepare for the extra nutrient and energy needs required to breast feed our baby. Our body assumes that food will not all of the sudden become MORE AVAILABLE, so it stores. For example, if we were back in the cave-man days, and we were pregnant, catching wild fish, foraging for berries, hunting etc. the food supply doesn’t all the sudden become more abundant just because we have a baby. But now, we can easily eat more while breastfeeding. What is worse, we eat more of non-nutrient dense foods, so our bodies are totally thrown off. Our body spent time storing and preparing for baby, then we bombard it with extra energy, but not nutrients, so it thinks it needs to continue to store more nutrients. This is a super basic way of describing the natural process, but I do it in hopes it will help you understand the importance of making great food choices. Your baby also needs these nutrients, and many of them do pass through the breast milk, but they need to be consumed. By focusing on lots of healthy fruits and vegetables to fill you up with very VALUABLE calories, and clean protein sources, your body can readjust to thriving normally.
Reason 3: Extreme Breastfeeding HUNGER
Boy can breastfeeding cause a hungry mama. Breastfeeding does burn some extra calories, but probably not as much as you would hope. That is all a genetic factor and dependent on your metabolism, and the hunger you are experiencing is a need for nutrients (sorry, this is so important!!). This article is super helpful on understanding hunger cues and what is going on. Hunger is VERY hard to fight. I personally HATE being hungry, and I tend to like to snack a lot. I personally get very tired after large meals, so lots of snacks and small meals keeps me energized, ESPECIALLY when breastfeeding. They key to have high-fiber/water content foods with protein. This is why protein shakes are one of my all-time favorite snacks (or meals if you add lots of things to them!). With a product like Milk Dust to help you curb sugar cravings and literally give you the super important nutrients you need, combined with fresh fruit and veggies, blended with half a frozen banana, and you’ve got yourself the PERFECT snack to help you stay full and satiated! Satiated literally is when you not only ate enough calories, but enough nutrients. Other great snack ideas include carrots and hummus (or any other veggie), sweet potatoes, apple slices with cheese, roasted veggies, cucumbers with turkey and mustard…think a fruit and veggie with a protein. This will help your body feel full. Drinking a lot of water will also help you combat some of that hunger, and if you focus on the nutrient-dense foods, your hunger will subside as you get more nutrients into your body!
Reason 4: Your Sensitivity to Prolactin (hormone)
Prolactin helps tell your body to produce breast milk. It also stimulates appetite. This makes appetite and breastfeeding completely connected on a chemical level. Prolactin is also responsible for reduced fat metabolism, which also means that your body isn’t breaking down and using fat cells as well. For some people, this isn’t an issue. They may naturally have lower levels of Prolactin, so when breastfeeding, then don’t react to the higher levels. Others, however, may have naturally higher levels (thanks genetics!), so when those levels are increased more, they experience a larger reaction. Basically, some mamas can be naturally more sensitive to Prolactin than others. What this means is that despite everything you do, if you are genetically having a hard time with increased levels of Prolactin (and other hormones), it will be even more difficult for you to lose weight. That being said, this is usually not the case, but if you eat SUPER healthy, walk and move around a lot during the day, find ways to enjoy your life and basically don’t sit around eating too many calories and unhealthy foods, and you aren’t losing weight, you may want to consider that your body just doesn’t want to let go of fat while breastfeeding. I want you to be careful not to jump to conclusions. Most people have an inflated view of how “healthy” they are eating and how active they are. I highly recommend writing down everything you eat for at least three days to really get an idea of what you are eating.
Reason 5: Lack of Sleep
This one is the most difficult to overcome because breastfeeding babies want to nurse frequently (which is great!) even through the night. Some are lucky (like my sister!), and their babies adjust to sleeping in a crib all night, with very little struggle. My babies didn’t sleep unless they were next to me, so I fell into co-sleeping. That actually worked well, and I was able to sleep with them without too much struggle. No matter how you do it, there will be nights when you don’t get much sleep. Lack of sleep causes increased appetite and cravings for high-fat and high-calorie foods. Because we are mentally and emotionally struggling, “feel-good” foods are even more appealing. Giving into food as a temporary fix for our tiredness easily becomes a habit, that we don’t even realize we are doing. Grabbing handfuls of chips, or even “healthy” snacks like nuts (which if used to fix exhaustion, is not so healthy), add up fast, and it is basically unnoticed because we are so tired. One of the best things I discovered was adding in lots of outdoor walks with my babies. The fresh air and walking REALLY helped me when my eyes were half-closed. When I had three little ones, all 3 and under, it WAS NECESSARY!! I had a 3.5 year-old bouncing off the walls, a 2-year-old trying to keep up and a brand-new baby. Exhaustion became normal, and I HAD to figure out something to stay awake. I also understand weather, and if it wasn’t FREEZING or a hurricane, we got out, even it was down the road and back.
Basically, if you are gaining weight while breastfeeding, don’t worry too much.
Some very basic, nutritional switches can help you shift your body, so it wants to let go of fat cells. Helpful programs like my app that also has a private Facebook group for support can really be trans formative, or consider this 14-day free, clean eating challenge to get you started on some new habits. Focusing on nutrients, rather can calories is a huge factor, and if it all seems like too much, don’t worry. There is plenty of time to lose weight. There isn’t plenty of time to enjoy, breastfeed and snuggle your new baby.