Explaining Breastfeeding Calories and Weight Loss

Plus Non-Nursing Weight Loss Calories in Comparison—

10 lbs off! Let’s see…that took about 15 weeks. While normal weight loss should be around 1% of your body weight per week (so 1-2 lbs), breastfeeding weight loss should be about half of that (½-1lb each week). So I’m right on schedule…even though it feels very, very slow.Mommy and Baby Baer

Your body spent 9 months putting the baby weight on. Give your body 9 months to take it off.

But that’s so hard to do because 9 months is a long time to stay motivated. Ask anyone who’s lost more than a couple pounds.

And let’s face it. All of us women who have had babies hear that and think whatever…I’m gonna lose it faster than that.

We wish.

Anyway, I wanted to explain the numbers behind weight loss—particularly breastfeeding weight loss—in case you’re looking to figure out how to do this and why it works.

Generally speaking (and I mean generally), women want to eat somewhere between 1200 and 1500 calories to lose weight under normal circumstances. For men, it’s around 1700. Those were our averages at Jenny Craig anyway. If you work out a ton, or you have a lot of weight to lose, you may have to eat more.

If you’re breastfeeding, you want to add about 500 to 600 calories to your day.

Where do I get that number? Well, I’m no nutritionist, so I found this excellent blog that breaks down all the numbers: The Calories and Breastfeeding Rollercoaster. The author, Annie, isn’t a nutritionist either, but she does a good job citing her sources. Here’s what she found:

Producing 1oz of breast milk burns about 26 calories.

Babies take in an average of 25 ounces per day.

26 calories multiplied by 25 ounces equals 650.

Each day, if you eat an extra 500 to 600 calories while breastfeeding, you’ll burn an additional 50 to 150 calories.

Since weight loss is essentially math (calories in versus calories out…though it certainly never works out that perfectly), you need to burn an additional 3500 calories to lose 1 lb.

So let’s say my baby is an average nurser, and he’s taking in 25 ounces a day. That means, without doing any additional exercise, I’m burning 650 calories. Any idea how hard it is to burn that amount doing some high intensity workouts like Zumba? Check this out:Activity Disclaimer and Zumba

And even when I’m in great shape, that workout kicks my butt!

Okay, so follow along with me. I’m not exercising much because, let’s face it, I’ve got a toddler and a baby. That’s not really an excuse, but it’s tough. I do try (Thomas has me running up and down the stairs 5 times holding Jack just to slowly tone up). Still, I burn quite a bit of calories moving around this little townhouse taking care of them all. According to BodyMedia (which accurately measures my calorie burn), I burn an average of 2200 calories per day. Add the 650 calories from producing breast milk and my overall daily calorie burn is about 2850.

So calories out = 2850.

I try to eat 1800 calories a day. That’s the amount Jenny Craig recommends for nursing moms, and it seems to work. But I typically average about 1850 when all is said and done.

So calories in = 1850.

Calories in – calories out = weight gain (if positive) or weight loss (if negative)

1850 – 2850 = -1000 per day.

Burn 1000 every day, and that is burning 7000 excess calories a week.

Since it takes burning 3500 calories to lose 1 lb, you’d think burning 7000 would mean I’d lose 2 lbs a week. Typically with weight loss, if I wasn’t breastfeeding, that would be true. I’d average 1-2 lbs a week (because the math never works out perfectly. Bodies are way too finicky). While nursing, however, I’ve noticed that the body is a little more averse to letting the fat go. That’s probably because the body spent so much time storing up the fat so that it could provide for an infant. So the average is much closer to ½-1 lb a week.

And that’s safe. Any more weight loss could negatively affect you or your baby’s nutrition.

Why not eat a little less to lose more weight (besides what I just mentioned above)? It probably wouldn’t work. If I’ve learned anything about weight loss, it’s that it’s very, very easy to go into “starvation mode”. As soon as the body is burning an excess of 1100 or 1200 calories per day for any length of time, it freaks out and stops losing the weight because it’s holding onto everything it can.

I hate the term “starvation mode,” because obviously real starvation will result in weight loss. “Starvation mode” is more or less a diet term used to describe when the body is getting too little calories for the amount of work it is asked to do. Since the body in question is dieting, and not actually starving, food is still coming in, and the body is storing fat, rather than letting the fat go. Kind of hard to explain, but important none-the-less.

Point being…don’t let your excess calorie burn (or calorie deficit) go higher than 1000. I promise it won’t work in the long run. Maybe you’ll see weight loss for a week or two, but I guarantee a nasty plateau in the near future. Nothing is worse for your motivation than a plateau.

So there you have it. Honestly, I’m glad I just wrote this down, because the importance of your correct calorie intake is easy to forget, especially when chasing around a 2-year-old and trying to calm a 6-month-old who refuses to take a decent nap.

Ginny Eating Her Rice Cereal
 Ginny Calmly Eating Her Rice Cereal…     I mean, she even let me take this photo!

Jack is just starting to eat solids, which sort of throws a wrench in this whole equation. As we incorporate more solids, he will hopefully keep his nursing at the same level, since he’s a growing boy with a growing appetite. We’ve only done oatmeal cereal (which is like rice cereal), and I think he’s a bit confused by the whole spoon thing. He keeps diving for the bowl by lunging his head forward as hard as he can. Boys are so different than girls. Ginny was so…steady. This little guy is tough! He’s like a little football player already, charging towards the goal line…or in this case, the cereal mush. It would be hilarious if it wasn’t so darn difficult to get him to sit still and eat correctly. But I imagine he’ll calm down over time.

Maybe. 🙂

Update: I do feel it’s important to say that I did get almost all the baby weight off. It took me a little over a year.LEI2AH8YPDMuMa8SFpuoIxh1V5xIV8zSLwePvsheshA

Now, a year later, I’m finding that losing weight that naturally crept on, despite my best efforts, is a lot difficult now that I’m not breastfeeding. Losing weight while breastfeeding is slow, but it seems to me that it’s also easier because you have more calories to work with. Once that milk production is done, 1200 calories a day to lose weight is tough…just something to keep in mind.

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