Does Breastfeeding Burn Calories?

mom breastfeeding baby

If you’re a pregnant or new mom, you’ve heard the buzz and probably even had it drummed into your head: Breastfeeding burns calories and helps you lose the baby weight faster.

Sounds fantastic, doesn’t it? There you are, feeding your baby the natural way, and you’re shedding pregnancy pounds at the same time. Sweet!

But does breastfeeding really burn calories? Well, before you go out and blow your savings on a bunch of new clothes that fit the old, pre-pregnant you, stop a minute and read this. Because there’s a lot more to that claim than meets the eye.

While it’s true that breastfeeding burns between 300 and 500 more calories than usual a day and can speed up the process of the uterus shrinking back to its regular size,  women who think they’ll magically lose all the baby weight in a matter of days or weeks just because they’re nursing might be disappointed.

That’s because breastfeeding moms are typically hungrier (and thirstier) than those who are exclusively formula-feeding and should be consuming a lot of those extra calories each day to compensate. They also need to eat and drink more to keep their milk supply up and stay healthy — which is important for baby. On average, a breastfeeding mom should be taking in about 2,000 calories a day plus the extra 300-500 she’s burning.

Moms who breastfeed release the hormone oxytocin, which helps the uterus go back to its pre-pregnancy size more quickly, shedding those extra pounds it packed on. That in addition to all the calories breastfeeding burns does make it a good way to lose at least some of the baby weight. And of course, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) and doctors agree that nursing is the best way to feed your baby if you can, since it has a host of other benefits for both mother and child, including all the nutrients and antibodies baby gets from breast milk.

But whether you’re breastfeeding or not, after the initial significant weight drop that happens during birth, you shouldn’t be losing more than a pound to a pound-and-a-half per week. That’s 3,500 calories fewer a week, or 500 fewer a day. So therein lies the tricky part, since while you’re breastfeeding you are supposed to take in 300-500 more a day.

You can still pare back to what is necessary for dropping a pound a week — 2,000 calories a day — as long as you’re eating foods chock-full of nutrients. After you’ve lost some of the weight, you’ll need fewer daily calories anyway.

So if you’re breastfeeding or planning to, just realize that while it can help you go back to your pre-pregnancy weight, it’s not a magic pill that will slim you down instantly. You will burn calories every time you feed your baby, but you’ll also need to balance that out by eating and drinking more and keeping up a healthy diet.

Don’t be upset if it takes several months (in my case it took nine months the first time and slightly less the second) to get back to around where you were before you got pregnant. And don’t beat yourself up if those last 5 or 10 pounds are harder to shed than the rest or you don’t bounce back to exactly the way you were before. You and your body have just done something monumental: grown and birthed another human being. Be good to yourself! You deserve it.