Breastfeeding does not make the weight fall off! And that’s ok!
I believed that if you breastfeed and take the baby for pram walks every day, any weight you gained during pregnancy would just drop right off. I know I’m not alone in believing that. This message is believed by many and social media reinforces this by flaunting ‘reality’ TV stars who are holding newborn babies while showing off their flat tummies. We often see celebrities in the media talking about how they ‘got their body back’ which adds extra pressure to the average mum.
Ladies, you do not need to get your body back, it didn’t go anywhere! It’s been through an amazing transition to grow your baby and how it looks and feels now is the result of that. Whether you’re carrying some extra weight or you’ve lost weight after birth, with or without making the effort, you’re beautiful and amazing. Your worth is not measured by your waistline.
This post isn’t a scientific one by any means. It’s a heartfelt account of what I’ve experienced and learned. My aim is to help postnatal women to feel normal, supported and not alone.
But breastfeeding burns calories, doesn’t it? So how can you not lose weight?
While women who are breastfeeding do burn more calories in the day by producing milk, this is often counteracted by other things. First of all, most new mums are not very active in the beginning.
I would recommend holding off exercise until you’ve had your postnatal check by a doctor, which usually happens at around 6 weeks after birth. If you’ve had a C-section, it’s usually recommended that you stay away from exercise for longer. This is due to the recovery required from the birth and potential risks to your body during any future pregnancy if you don’t recover properly. Some people recover more quickly than others so always worth a chat with your doctor.
As you may not be as active as you were previously, the calories that you’re burning through breastfeeding might be equal to or less than the calories that you would normally expend in a day through moving more. Secondly, breastfeeding is hungry work! It can make you ravenous, I remember having to take a cereal bar to bed in the first few weeks to get me through the night feeds!
If you eat healthily and exercise then you will lose weight. Mums that are still carrying baby weight must just be greedy and lazy
No. Just no. The best way to lose weight is to burn off more calories than you take in, but when it comes to postnatal weight loss, it’s not that simple. Just ask Serena Williams.
Hormones in the body and other factors make it very difficult to lose weight even if you’re eating healthily and exercising. The stress hormone Cortisol increases our blood sugar level temporarily which then leads to a blood sugar crash, this crash leads to us feeling lethargic and hungry and craving high sugar foods. Stress along with lack of sleep and dehydration can all lead to our bodies clinging on to fat.
Hmm…stress, no sleep, no time to drink enough water, grabbing quick high sugar snacks, sound familiar mamas? It can be very difficult to eat healthily while getting to grips with a newborn and beyond. Babies present new challenges as they grow and contrary to popular belief, they don’t just give you sleepless nights for the first month!
Having a new baby is exhausting and finding the time and energy to exercise while you’re not getting much sleep can be extremely difficult. This does NOT mean that you’re greedy and lazy, it means that you’re surviving the best way you can while nurturing your baby.
Why did you mention Serena Williams?
In a world full of Kardashians and social media ‘influencers’, be a Serena Williams. Hidden amongst the magazine covers and Instagram posts showing postnatal celebrities half naked with six packs, you will find Serena’s story of breastfeeding. In a nutshell, it is reported that despite being on a strict vegan diet and training intensely in preparation to return to work as an athlete, Serena struggled to lose weight while breastfeeding.
Like many of us, her story says that she was led to believe that breastfeeding made you skinny and found that her body reacted very differently. It seems that it wasn’t until she stopped breastfeeding that she lost weight and when she did, she lost weight instantly. Was Serena just greedy and lazy? I don’t think so!
A lot of the people that you see on Instagram have a lot of experience in how to make themselves look their best. Whether that’s lighting, angles, fliters, clothing, make up or good old-fashioned Barbie foot, they know how to tilt themselves in the perfect way to look good. Good on them, they have perfected their craft and we all like to look good in public. The point is not to compare the best versions of them to what you see as the worst version of you. It’s not a fair match.
So, what’s my story?
I’m currently nearly 12 months postpartum. I gained weight in pregnancy as I could only exercise in the second trimester, the first was out due to sickness and the third was out due to pelvic instability. I was surprised how flat my tummy was after birth, but it didn’t stay that way!
For the first 3 months after I had Sienna, I didn’t think about my weight or size at all, it just wasn’t on my priority list. Sienna had bad reflux and couldn’t lie on her back without being in pain, this meant that in the first four weeks we slept a total of around 24 hours. We would often go 48 hours plus without any sleep at all. So, we were exhausted.
Anyway, at 3 months postnatal I realised I’d piled on a lot of weight. I had survived the first 4 weeks on pasta and sauce packets and biscuits and then when Sienna started to settle a bit, I was out and about meeting friends for cake and lunch and epic NCT fuddles.
My focus in the beginning had been getting to know my baby and carving out a social life for us both. I hadn’t given much thought about the way I looked. Now things were more settled, I was ready to tackle the bulge! I joined a mum and baby fitness class in the next village, had my abs checked for separation to make sure I was safe, and got in to a routine of attending classes. I wasn’t seeing any changes so I made an effort to make my diet healthier. I still wasn’t seeing any changes so I switched to a more intense fitness class which was designed for new mums.
At 6 months postnatal, I was feeling seriously disheartened. I hadn’t made a dent in the weight that I’d gained and I’d been trying so hard. I was doing online workouts 4-5 times a week and counting calories. I wouldn’t advocate calorie counting while breastfeeding without medical advice as it can have a detrimental effect on your milk supply.
I spoke to the trainer of my fitness classes and she asked me if I was breastfeeding. I told her I was and she told me that could be the reason why I wasn’t losing weight. This blew my mind as it was exactly the opposite of what I believed. She went on to tell me her own account of how she struggled to lose weight while breastfeeding and lost it afterwards and she told me about Serena Williams, so I set about Googling and found it’s common to struggle to lose weight while breastfeeding. My trainer was in no way encouraging me to stop breastfeeding and that’s not what I’m saying either. I would never suggest to sacrifice breastfeeding for your figure, I’d suggest sacrificing your figure to breastfeed.
At 6 months, Sienna started to sleep through the night, which meant that I was no longer doing two breastfeeds in the night. Within about a week I shed a noticeable amount of weight. I felt boosted and continued with my diet and exercise but hit another plateau. It wasn’t until I dropped another feed that I lost another chunk of weight and this continued.
Now I’m nearly at 12 months and this was the point that I had planned to reveal my flat tummy and pre-baby body. Didn’t pan out. In total, I’ve lost around a stone. I’m still breastfeeding and still carrying more weight than I’d like to be, but I know it’ll come off eventually.
The message that I want to get across here is that this time with your newborn is precious and you don’t need to feel guilty about how you spend that time. You certainly don’t need to compare yourself to celebrities or anyone who has a flat tummy within weeks of giving birth. If there is ever a time when you can get away with spending days in your PJs eating biscuits, this is it! Cut yourself some slack.
On the other hand, exercising is great for mental health and If you are in a position to exercise then that’s only going to benefit you and your baby as long as you are doing it safely with medical guidance. The main important thing is that you stay safe and healthy. Whether you choose to spend your time exercising or not, you’re doing what’s right for you as long as you’re staying safe.
This time is precious and you don’t get it back. It’s okay if your progress photos don’t show your end goal yet, it’s okay not to have an end goal and it’s okay not to give a flying fish what you look like. We only ever see progress photos that show someone looking thin at the end, why? All progress should be celebrated. You have plenty of time to lose weight if you want to Mama, you’re not alone, you are enough, you are beautiful and you are worthy.