Post-partum weight loss seems to be top of mind for many new moms. Part of this is an innate drive to return to our previous physique but I would argue the majority of our motivation stems from external influences.
These unrealistic expectations have wired our brains to expect a magical post-partum shedding of baby weight by simply breastfeeding or chasing after our toddlers which is the answer every celebrity named Jessica gives when asked how she got her body “back”. Note my sarcasm.
While some women are able to lose weight breastfeeding, there are many women who do not.
This can be a hard pill to swallow for those that are frustrated with a limited wardrobe and in the process of working through post-partum body image. Not only are we familiarizing ourselves with a totally new identity as a mother, but we also may feel internal or external expectations to return to a previous version of ourselves (physically and emotionally).
Compounding frustration may be stories of friends, family members and peers who say the weight just melted off with breastfeeding. I really think this tends to be more the exception than the rule though.
I personally have not lost any weight since 5 days post-partum. I exercise most days of the week and eat a diet full of vegetables, seafood, meat, broth, fruit & adequate snacks. I am a healthy weight for my frame, able to sustain my milk supply to nourish my daughter at least 7-8 times a day, and fuel myself with enough food to energize my workouts. I am still 10 pounds over my normal weight and am 5-feet-tall. It’s noticeable and wardrobe-limiting, but more importantly it means my body is supporting my breastfeeding relationship by reserving its energy stores from something far more meaningful than a few aesthetic pounds.
Those are just 3 of many ways I feel healthy and happy in my “new body”. No it may not look the same – my breasts sag (one is quite a bit larger than the other due to her feeding preference), my hips are wider and I still don’t fit into some of my old pants, but I have nursed my daughter almost 4,000 times in the first year of her life. And that feels a lot better than any skinny jean would ever feel.
But after participating in several motherhood groups, I realize that many breastfeeding women are still frustrated with their weight despite being fully immersed in the joy that is motherhood. I wanted to do a little digging during my acceptance process (it’s been a difficult one and still is some days) because I enjoy learning about the physiological state of my body and hormones.
I’m writing this article in hopes that other breastfeeding women who feel frustrated with their weight loss resistance understand the strong influence lactation hormones have on our physiology and begin the process of acceptance of their beautiful breastfeeding bodies.
With this knowledge, we can continue to support and love our bodies through nutrition, movement, sleep, laughter and our favorite self-care activities. By understanding the incredible diligence of our lactating bodies, we can honor our current physical state with respect, love and nurturing, just like we do with our babies.
Some days will be harder than others. If you can tip the scales towards a more positive body image the majority of the time, your mental health will improve. Nothing feels worse than occupying our time and thoughts with an obsession about how we look. We’re missing the point of life (and joyful moments with the life you created). We’re only on this earth in this body once – how much time of it do you want to spend thinking about your appearance?
When those hurtful thoughts enter your mind, don’t just ignore them or let them fester and ruin your day. Address them. Ask yourself what just happened to cause that thought to occur? What is the underlying emotion – a feeling of inadequacy? Feeling under-appreciated by others? Mourning your previous life? You may have an unmet need that requires a fairly simple solution. My body image improved post-partum when I hired a nanny 6 hours a week and was able to leave the house do whatever I wanted – go to the beach, the gym, a coffee to shop to work. My weight hasn’t changed, but my sense of self has.
You not losing weight is not your fault. It is your body’s way of protecting your child by protecting your supply. Exercise and diet does not override your hormones.
Prolactin is the main hormone responsible for lactation. Prolactin is elevated during pregnancy along with estrogen and progesterone which prevent the production of breastmilk during pregnancy despite the presence of prolactin.
After a woman gives birth, estrogen and progesterone drop dramatically and a few days later our breastmilk comes in as prolactin remains high. The continued suckling of a baby sends a signal to your pituitary gland in your brain to produce more prolactin, subsequently maintaining your breastmilk supply. As long as you continue to nurse, your brain will continue to make prolactin and to a varying level suppress progesterone and estrogen. Prolactin levels are also dependent on pre-existing maternal conditions, genetics and stress.
You may have noticed that with the return of your post-partum period you see a dip in your supply a few days prior and during. That’s because estrogen and progesterone are no longer suppressed continuously and are cycling up and down as you ovulate and menstruate.
This inverse relationship between female sex hormones and prolactin may be a cause of weight loss resistance since adequate levels of estrogen and progesterone promote the metabolism of fat.
More importantly, prolactin decreases the ability of our tissues to metabolize fat according to a Swedish study of 30,000 women and men. Now the cohort in this study weren’t breastfeeding, so that’s my only issue with the study design, but it does give us potential insight into lactation-induced weight loss resistance.
Other lifestyle factors that contribute to weight loss resistance post-partum include the lack of time available for energy expenditure through exercise. Prior to giving birth, I had time to do a 45-minute circuit everyday and take my dog for 2 long walks, one in the morning and one in the evening. These days, my goal is to do something activity 30 minutes a day, which means I’m about 6 to 8 hours less active each week.
A breastfeeding woman also has an increased demand on her energy and nutrient stores. We must listen to our hunger signals to sustain our supply and properly nourish both ourselves and our babies. This isn’t the time to diet and cut calories, or we may compromise our supply and our health quickly.
I’ve seen this time and time again with friends. They want to lose the baby weight and subsequently their milk supply falls and they end up weaning their baby as early as a couple months old. This is likely the reason me and my sisters didn’t receive the benefits of extended nursing. My mom said she didn’t produce enough milk, but we both agree it’s because she wasn’t taking care of herself nutritionally. This lack of flexibility in our energy intake in order to maintain supply is another contributing factor to our decreased ability to return to our previous size.
So what’s a nursing mama to do?
Understand the physiological reasons for your inability to lose weight or fat. Your body is smarter than you are & wants to preserve its back-up energy source via fat stores. The human body does not thrive in a famine, and it will do what it needs to prevent a famine environment, especially when a baby is involved.
Respect your body for what is has given this earth. You have created a life-giving force that will change this world. What it looks like in a mirror, or to other people is irrelevant to the health of your child and the lifelong love and bond between the two of you.
Do your best to nourish your body with the food and energy it needs to recover from pregnancy, maintain your supply, and keep your mood balanced. It’s 100% okay if your nutrition is not “on point” every single day. That is an exhausting expectation to put on yourself. If you think you “should” be eating certain foods, remove that negative energy expectation from your mindset. Instead, choose to eat nourishing foods, or choose to eat ice cream for dinner. But don’t feel guilty about your choice either way.
Move your body in ways that feel good to you. Same goes for exercise as it does for food: choose activities that you genuinely enjoy even if that means not renewing your Crossfit membership and walking an hour a day instead. This may not be the time to PR your deadlift or train for a marathon. You are doing the work of Mother Nature right now – and that is plenty of energy expenditure for a human body.
Find clothes that fit. I’ve had to overhaul key pieces of my wardrobe several times since conceiving. Breastfeeding and motherhood changes the shape of many women’s bodies. My bra size, shoulder width and hip width is greater now. Instead of stuffing myself in clothes that don’t fit properly, I decided which staples I couldn’t live without and found flattering pieces. For summer, several comfortable dresses, shorts and cute sandals go a long way.
Give comparison the axe. It’s easy to compare ourselves to other women. We may have feelings of jealousy when we see women without children, or women with children with body types we envy. Or we may compare our current self to our previous self – the most harmful comparison of them all. Something I have learned in my adulthood is the way someone looks has little to no bearing on their happiness, health, integrity, or heart. A woman who secretly struggles with disordered eating may look beautiful to someone else, but she may be wracked with anxiety and in chronic state of depression. Or a new mom who looks like she has it together may be struggling with her body image, marriage or maternal identity. When we judge others and compare them to ourselves, we are telling a double lie. Focus on your health, your baby’s health and the beautiful bond and family you have selflessly created.
Looking for more baby articles?
Check out of my post on how I introduced solids to my real food baby!
Our Tongue Tie Revisions Story!
Thnk you so much for this great article! I absolutely agree that nursing should be our priority over weight loss. Do you think hormones still play the same role in difficult weight loss when you’re nursing for an extended period of time? (After 2 years). Thanks for your input!
Hi Melissa – likely to a lesser extent than a woman around 6 to 12 months post-partum but there are many women who have anecdotally stated they were unable to drop the last 5-15 pounds until they completely weaned.
Thank you so much for this! I have a 5 month old and no matter if I eat mass amounts some weeks and try to restrict calories other weeks my weight has not budged. I suppose I’m thankful it is stable, even when I binge eat sweet potato chips and power balls lol. However I continue to beat my self up everyday for not having abs, and not looking as good as I’d like to.
This is super eye opening, and made me feel like a weight has been lifted off my shoulders. THANK YOU!
Brit – I am the exact same way (down to the sweet potato chips and Power Balls!) I’m happy you found this helpful & I wish you the best. Breastfeeding and pregnant woman are so innately beautiful, we don’t need visible abs to show it 😉
I have no other words than AMEN–to ALL of this. What an empowering word to hear as a brand new mama. ??
Thanks for reading, Kellie! I hope my experiences and learnings help others in the same boat 🙂
Thanks for your details shearing I am the exact same way (down to the sweet potato chips and Power Balls!) I’m happy you found this helpful & I wish you the best. Breastfeeding and pregnant woman are so innately beautiful, we don’t need visible abs to show it.Thank you so much for this! I have a 5 month old and no matter if I eat mass amounts some weeks and try to restrict calories other weeks my weight has not budged. I suppose I’m thankful it is stable, even when I binge eat sweet potato chips and power balls lol. However I continue to beat my self up everyday for not having abs, and not looking as good as I’d like to.
Thanks for your details shearing. It’s very helpful. I had many problems when I was a fatty woman. I Had tried so many tips to weight off. But I got nothing. I think it will be effective. I have gone through your “weight lose” articles. & I will this tips in every time. I think some day later I will have got a good result better than previous. You are most welcome for sharing this type of articles.Thank you so much for this! I have a 5 month old and no matter if I eat mass amounts some weeks and try to restrict calories other weeks my weight has not budged. I suppose I’m thankful it is stable, even when I binge eat sweet potato chips and power balls lol. However I continue to beat my self up everyday for not having abs, and not looking as good as I’d like to.
I just re-read this and am truly thankful for your insight and wisdom, Alaena. I’m 4wks PP and while I realize that is suuuper early, I’ve noticed that while I dropped 20lbs, the other 15 has remained for over a week regardless of all my clean eating and I’ve had to buy a few different clothing pieces. I took your advice on the summer dresses to rotate, & was fortunate to find a few nursing friendly ones at Target. I have a feeling the 15lbs may stick around, esp. based on what you noted, and b/c of your article I’m soo okay with it now that I understand! It makes so much sense. THANK YOU again for writing this and allowing us mama’s to break free from the false reality that breastfeeding ‘guarantees’ postpartum weight loss. ❤ I’m bookmarking this article for down the road when I need a reminder ??
I am a 6 months old baby and despite all the detix and diet and also exercise..my body hasnt budge. Still stucked with the weight and i cant still fit in to most of my pre pregnancy clothes. Thanks for the message think its an eye opener
I so needed to read and hear this! I had my daughter about 5 months ago and still have about 10 lbs, plus wider hips and ribs. Before her birth I actually believed that because I exercise/lift weights and eat a very healthy nutrient dense diet that the weight would just fall off. This has not been the case. I agree that there are such unrealistic expectations of women in our society and I thank you for writing such an empowering and realistic piece!
It’s a real thing! I am 18 months PP and also still have 10 lbs on me but I really don’t think it’ll come off until I’m completely done breastfeeding. Our healthy diets & exercise are still benefitting us though 🙂 Thanks for reading!
Thanks so much for helping me
re-focus on what’s most important! When you’re working your butt off at the gym and eating healthy but the weight is barely budging it definetely gets discouraging. May I ask a more personal question? I still havnt got my period back 1 year PP. Do you think women who take a long time getting period back usually don’t loose the weight as easily?
Yes I hear you – I am still in a post-partum weight loss resistance (and still breastfeeding at 18 months). For some women, losing weight comes easier once they get their periods back but for other women like myself, you may not lose weight until you completely stop breastfeeding (which I won’t be doing for awhile). Keep exercising & eating well to stay healthy on the inside and find new ways to get your confidence such as admiring what a great mother you are!
I am so happy I came across this article. I am currently nursing my 11 month old still and my period has not returned. I eat a very nutritious diet and try to keep active daily. I do splurge on occasional ice cream. I noticed with all 3 kids it wasn’t until I completely stopped nursing that one, my period returned and two I lost the weight. I definitely think its hormonal. I ended up just buying bigger clothes and embracing the shape I have until my baby boy is done with nursing. Of course I get discouraged with 20 pounds still left to lose. Thanks for posting this!
This article is amazing. I read this article and I learn so much from this article and when I was pregnant I picked up a “solid” 30lb in my pregnancy time. Did the full breastfeeding/pumping thing for a year and I was so worry about my weight that it was so much gain then I search on internet some articles and I then I found one of good article which helps me to reduce my weight. I share this article with you which helps mom like me.
Wow I just came across this articles and you explained how I have been feeling after having my first baby. I gained 40lbs and have not been able to lose it due to my new responsibilities as a mom and spouse. It’s nice to hear I’m not alone. Thanks.
Thank you! I went to the web today looking for reasons why, despite my best exercising and healthy-eating efforts, I’m not losing weight! Because I’ve lost it before and it was so easy! This is baby #3, he’s 16mo but still nurses around the clock like a newborn. I still don’t have my period back (no complaints here) but just maintaining my weight has been a huge effort. I’m glad for weeks that I’m not gaining! Fingers crossed when we wean in the next few months that it won’t be so hard. Trying to give myself grace each day for this tired, old body that ain’t what she use to be. ??
This has eased my self- hating mind so much. I gained over 70 lbs with my now 9 month old, and i’m still 40lbs heavier than I want to be. I’m trying to keep focused and positive, and this will get me through to the next chapter. I am so blessed to have the life I have, and the little one I created, and I will try to keep that in mind on this journey. Thank you so much
I stumbled across this and couldn’t be happier. Its so hard not to be discouraged when you try so hard to lose weight. I’ve been breastfeeding for almost 12 months now and it’s been a beautiful experience with my little one but a hellious roller coaster ride for my body image. I’m 4’11, and there’s no hiding being over weight. Its nice to know I’m not alone and that despite my efforts, hormones play a huge contributing factor.
I’m 4’11” too – I totally understand how just a few extra pounds can make a difference in how we feel/look compared to taller women.
Thank you for writing this! I am 6 months pp, still no period and cannot lose the last 10-15! I was tracking calories 2-3 moths pp and could not lose anything so I just decided to eat whatever I wanted. Stayed exactly the same! At 4 month pp my husband and I started eating superrrr healthy! I’ve never eaten super unhealthily since im a personal trainer but i have never eaten healthier in my life! I finally started working out again at 5 month pp and have continued to ear superrrr healthy (I’m talking roasted kale, homemade hummus with cucumbers, no sweets!) and I have not lost a sing effing pound! So thank you for writing this and helping me to know it’s not going to come off until I’m done breastfeeding!
Thank you so much for this article. I’m 8 weeks PP. I started walking at 4 weeks and am slowly working myself back up to my old exercise routine. I eat healthy and try to keep my protein high and carbs lower. Bit the scale hasnt budged. I’ve actually gained a couple lbs. It is so discouraging. I still have 40lbs to lose to be at me pre preg weight and was hoping with changing my diet back to healthier options and adding 30 min to an hr of exercise and weight training 4 to 5 days a week.i could slowly get this off. But it’s not looking that way. I needed to read his to understand why what I’m doing now isnt working like it did before. I had lost 80lbs over the course of 2 years prior to getting pregnant. Then I gained 40 of it back so it’s been hard mentally to accept that. But seeing how it’s not all my fault in what I’m doing that my hormones are playing a big part it keeping it on. I enjoy exercise and weightlifting…but I also want to keep my supply up for my baby. So I will try not to he so hard on myself and focus on the scale right now. Thank you!!
All I can say is thank you so much. Your article is so well articulated and uplifting. It is honest and blunt about the state of our bodies right now, and it is very empowering. I cant tell you how many family members and friends have tried to tell me I look great and nothing helps. My husband tells me over and over to remind myself that I just had a baby and that I look amazing. Still, I am so discouraged and down on myself. Reading your article was the first time in a long time that I have felt happiness and pride about my body and what it is doing. Thank you so much.
Proud of you, Gina! It’s taking the hard way out to acknowledge our bodies for what they’ve been through it and loving our “new” bodies too.
Thank you for this. I am 9 weeks pp and have not been able to shift a single lb since 1 week postpartum, despite a healthy diet, exercise and exclusive bf. I was stressing about it and purposely not buying any more clothes, adamant that I would work hard to fit back into my clothes.
This blog has been eye opening for me – I am going to go and buy some clothes I feel good in and stop worrying about my weight until I have finished nourishing my daughter. My partner still finds me sexy, its only me that has an issue with the way I look so thats what I need to change! Thank you!
Rose – What a mindset shift! Your body is on your side – it’s just prioritizing your new little one. It’s quite the shift for our bodies – isn’t it!? Congrats on your babe!
2 words…Thank You!
It wasn’t til recently that I learned you could gain weight or not lose any pp breastfeeding. The reassurance of your article and these other women is a small sigh of relief. With my son 11yrs ago for his first birthday we were on vacation and I was in a 2Piece flat stomach..10yrs later and 5mos pp. I took a pregnancy test to make sure i wasn’t pregnant. I lost some weight in the beginning but i feel I’ve gained some back. I feel heavy and unattractive at times. Its very hard a discouraging. Im exclusively breastfeeding my period returned at 2mos. My baby eat so much my breast are rarely ever hard it drains me and make me hungry often, my body isn’t mine it’s my daughter’s. Im trying to bf at least 12mos. Thanks to you and all of the ladies for sharing. Lets keep pushing. Best regards
Your daughter will be forever grateful for the 12 months or more you spend nursing her. As hard as it is sometimes, remaining present during those nursing sessions may help you feel some love for your body and everything it is/has done for her. <3
Thank you; You have truly saved me.
I needed so badly to read something like this. Since having my 4th baby 17 months ago I’ve only losted a 8kg. I’ve maintain that weight and haven’t put anything on. It was kind of concerning me to why I haven’t losted as I
eat well exercise however in the past feeding all my babies up to the age of 12, 18, 19 months old and same experience no weight loss. However now this time around and reading this encourages me to say finally it’s ok… Just keep on going the weight will go; Once baby stops feeding.