Does Breastfeeding Really Help With Weight Loss?

By Ellen Slotkin, Registered Dietitian

We asked 700 readers or their #1 baby-weight loss tip- and the unrivaled suggestion topping the list was--- breastfeeding!

BreastfeedingMore than one-third of moms surveyed recommended breastfeeding as the best way to shed post-pregnancy pounds. Our moms definitely believed that breastfeeding was the best way to blast baby weight. But is breastfeeding really the solution we think it is? A look at the research on the subject sheds some light on the topic.

Several research studies have shown that breastfeeding can help with losing baby weight, however, the effect was often small . Other studies have shown no effect at all. Because the evidence is not overwhelming, researchers as a whole cannot declare “breastfeeding helps with weight loss.”

What the research does seem to indicate is that moms who breastfeed for a year or longer do lose more weight than those who breastfeed for a shorter duration. Because most women in the U.S. who breastfeed do so for 6 months or less, many women may not breastfeed long enough to see any influence on their weight.

Breastfeeding combined with exercise shows a more appreciable effect, especially over the long term. In one study of 484 women, mothers who breastfed and exercised were less likely to be overweight 15 years later than those who did not exercise.

Why is there so much variation in the research?

Yes, it’s true that breastfeeding increases your daily calorie requirements by 300-500 calories. So, it only seems natural that burning those extra calories would help you melt away the pounds, right? Not necessarily, because the same hormone that causes you to produce milk (prolactin) also stimulates your appetite! Nature will be encouraging you to eat more to compensate for the extra calories you are burning. Ultimately your weight will still depend on how many calories you are taking in during the time you are breastfeeding.

The key to making breastfeeding “work for you” as a weight loss tool is to choose nutrient dense foods that keep you feeling full. Base your meals on whole grains, lean sources of protein, and fresh fruits and vegetables (and of course, avoid alcohol and caffeine, as these may pass into the breast milk).

While breastfeeding alone may not be a baby-weight cure-all, cardiovascular exercise that you enjoy is a sure fire metabolism booster. For every extra pound of muscle you add to your body, you increase your resting calorie needs by 350 calories per week. That adds up to 5 pounds a year, and brings you another step closer to returning to your pre-baby body.

The Bottom Line

Breastfeeding burns an extra 300-400 calories a day, which may assist in helping you lose weight post-delivery, but to see significant and long-term results you may need to breastfeed exclusively for a year or longer. Breastfeeding combined with a nutrient dense diet and frequent cardiovascular activity (at least 30 minutes on most days of the week) is ultimately the best strategy for blasting those post-delivery pounds.

Top 3 Tips for Weight Loss While Breastfeeding

1. Don’t overdo it. Yes, you are burning additional calories by breastfeeding, but don’t use breastfeeding as an excuse to overeat. If you pick up bad eating habits while you are breastfeeding, just imagine how hard it will be change those habits once you stop!

2. Don’t rely on breastfeeding alone. Yes, you are exhausted and barely have time to shower, let alone go to a kickboxing class, but finding time for regular cardiovascular activity is the key to returning to your pre-baby physique. Focus on activities that are easy, fun, and close to home. Make exercise as entertaining as possible, by working out with other new moms, walking with your baby, or treating yourself to a fitness video game system like the Wii Fit.

3. Plan ahead. Obviously, once you stop breastfeeding, your 300-400 extra calorie burn will end too. You will need to create another calorie deficit to continue to lose those extra baby weight pounds that remain. Plan on how you will add a new activity and improve your diet (you may want to schedule an appointment with a registered dietitian for guidance. You may find one through your physician, or at the website of the American Dietetic Association (

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Ellen Slotkin is a clinical dietitian in Bethesda, Maryland. She is a graduate of Simmons College Boston and completed her post-graduate education at Yale-New Haven Hospital, affiliate of Yale Medical School. Her areas of expertise include nutrition during pregnancy, weight management, and heart healthy nutrition.

: This information does not replace the advice of a doctor. The author disclaims any warranty or liability for your use of this information. The material in this article is intended to be of general informational use and is not intended to constitute medical advice, probable diagnosis, or recommended treatments.


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