Breastfeeding doesn't guarantee weight loss. Here's what you should know.

Veejay Villafranca/GettyImagesThe relationship between breastfeeding and weight loss is complicated.
  • Celebrity mums often attribute their post-baby weight loss to breastfeeding.
  • Although breastfeeding does help burn about 500 calories a day, the body craves those calories to be replaced.
  • Weight loss results from breastfeeding may be able to be seen three months postpartum, but every woman is different and there’s no definite proof that breastfeeding will always lead to weight loss.

Seems like every time a celebrity has a child, they’re back to their pre-baby weight in a matter of weeks, thanks to a team of trainers and “the magic of breastfeeding.” Christina Aguilera told People magazine of the phenomenon, “I think they say that when you’re breastfeeding, your weight kind of slims down. It’s a little easier. It’s like a workout within itself.”

Victoria’s Secret model Alessandra Ambrosio and reality TV star Khloe Kardashian both attributed a combination of working out and breastfeeding to their post-baby weight loss achievements.

The Center for Disease Control (CDC) recommends that expecting mothers should gain an average of 25-35 pounds, so many people are looking to lose it as soon as possible. This constant narrative of people claiming that breastfeeding leads to post-baby weight loss has contributed to the belief that breastfeeding is the ultimate guarantee to a pre-baby body.

The truth? Maybe not.

Although you’re burning more calories when you’re breastfeeding, you’ll also likely crave more food

Pregnant food diignat / ShutterstockYou’ll likely want to replace the calories you’re burning.

INSIDER spoke with International Board Certified Lactation consultant (IBCLC), Betty Greenman, about the link between weight loss and breastfeeding. “Breastfeeding increases your energy needs by about 500 calories daily,” she said. However, she added that breastfeeding mums should be aiming to eat these extra 500 calories to make up for it.

“There’s a tendency for breastfeeding mums to always feel hungry,” Greenman said.

This is because the breastfeeding hormone, prolactin increases appetite and sleep deprivation – a common side-effect of having a baby – reduces “hunger hormone” leptin and elevates ghrelin, a hormone that controls food intake.

So even though breastfeeding mums are hungry all the time, Greenman asserts, “It is important to obtain these extra calories for breastfeeding from healthy food groups. Make sure you choose meals containing fresh fruit, good vegetables, lean meats, healthy proteins, low-fat dairy foods, whole grains, and foods with less sugar. Try to add healthy nutritious snacks to your diet daily so you eat sensibly while breastfeeding.”

The “magic” weight loss effect of breastfeeding is still debated

Baby breastfeedingTomsickova Tatyana/ShutterstockResearch has yet to confirm a direct causal relationship between breastfeeding and weight loss.

According to a review of multiple different studies on the impact of breastfeeding on weight loss, results were conflicting. One common result was that people who breastfed longer started to notice weight loss at three to six months postpartum. Overall, there seems to be a weight loss effect, but it’s very slight, and also may have to do more with having the right environment to breastfeed for that length of time. It may also have to do with the degree of breastfeeding.

There is anecdotal evidence that breastfeeding leads to weight loss, but there is no solid proof. There’s even a suggestion of the opposite, with tennis legend, Serena Williams, reporting that even on a sugar-free vegan breastfeeding diet, she didn’t lose a pound until she stopped, and immediately saw 10 pounds fall off.

Greenman warned against extreme dieting like this after giving birth.

“Now is not the right time to diet because a low-calorie diet decreases your breast milk supply and deprives you of vital nutrients,” said Greenman.

Sticking to a low-calorie diet shouldn’t be a priority after giving birth and neither should intense exercise. High-intensity exercises are also too much during breastfeeding. “Instead, try to exercise mildly such as a short walk with your baby. Eat a well-balanced diet daily.”

Even if breastfeeding is a factor in weight loss, it’s one of many and still probably operates on a case-by-case basis

Scale weight loss losing weightiStockThere are many factors that might contribute to weight loss.

A healthy breastfeeding diet is an overall healthy diet, and without strange high-calorie pregnancy cravings, could contribute to a stasis in routine that affects weight loss.

Regardless, Greenman said, “Breastfeeding is best for your baby” and this period should be used to bond with a newborn and not worry about reaching any sort of weight.

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