12 Reasons Why You’re Not Losing Weight While Breastfeeding

As a new mom, you might be wondering, “if I’m nursing, why am I not losing weight while breastfeeding?”

There are a number of reasons that you might not be losing the extra weight from pregnancy while you are breastfeeding that can be attributed to stress hormones, activity level, caloric intake, needing to maintain a healthy diet, and even lack of sleep.

I’ll walk you through the 12 reasons you might be holding on to extra pounds as a nursing mom with a new baby.

12 Reasons you're not losing weight while breastfeeing. Mommymakerteacher.com.
12 Reasons You’re Not Losing Weight While Breastfeeding

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Hormonal Reasons

1. Cortisol

Cortisol is a hormone in your body. It helps your tissues to react to stress. When you are feeling extra stressed, cortisol comes out of the pituitary gland and helps you react to an event quickly. 

But, if there is too much cortisol, it can lead to weight gain. Therefore, cortisol is bad for postpartum weight loss, so reducing stress is very important. 

It is no secret that having a newborn baby is stressful for the mother, so new moms tend to have more cortisol in their bodies than others. Especially if this is your first pregnancy, or you’re in the early weeks postpartum, it’s a good idea to try to reduce the level of cortisol in your body by relieving as much stress as possible.

Tips for reducing cortisol:

  • Get enough sleep:

    Cortisol levels are highest when you have not had enough sleep. This is easier said than done with the sleep deprivation that comes with a newborn, right mama? But even a few hours of consecutive sleep can be powerful for new mothers. If you have some help, see if they can give your baby one bottle so that you can get 4-5 hours of consecutive sleep at some point during your day.
  • Reduce stress:

    Take some time for yourself each day to do something that relaxes you. Taking a shower every day was my stress reliever during the first few months postpartum. The best thing I ever did was buy this little bouncer for my little one to sleep in–right next to me– while I was showering.
  • Eat healthy foods: Avoid processed foods and eat plenty of fruits and vegetables.
  • Exercise regularly: Moderate exercise helps to reduce stress and gives you a boost of the feel-good hormone, serotonin.

2. Prolactin

The other hormone that affects postpartum weight loss is prolactin, which stimulates milk production in a woman’s body after childbirth. 

Prolactin also suppresses ovulation and menstruation, thus most women experience a delayed return of their period when they are breastfeeding.

Because your body releases prolactin every time you breastfeed or pump, there is no way to reduce prolactin while you are producing milk.

Take assurance that if prolactin is the reason that you are holding on to your pregnancy weight, you will likely be able to shed some pounds after you stop breastfeeding.

3. Adiponectin

Adiponectin is a hormone that helps to regulate blood sugar and metabolism. Higher adiponectin is associated with lower body weight and lower risk for diabetes.

Breastfeeding mothers typically have more adiponectin than non-breastfeeding mothers (this is a good thing!).

In a study done on breastfeeding mothers, those with higher adiponectin levels were found to have faster post-delivery weight loss compared to those who had low levels of the hormone.

It makes sense then that you want your adiponectin levels to be as high as possible postpartum.

Here are some ways to increase adiponectin:

  • Eat foods that are high in protein, healthy fats, and fiber.
  • Increase your amount of postpartum exercise.

Reducing your cortisol and increasing your adiponectin might help you lose weight faster while breastfeeding. Remember, there isn’t anything you can do to reduce prolactin while you are breastfeeding, so some additional weight might come off once you stop breastfeeding. 

Why Am I Not Losing Weight While Breastfeeding? Other Reasons:

4. Breastfeeding Calories

Did you know that breastfeeding burns calories? Breastfeeding women burn about 500 extra calories per day. This extra calorie burn kickstarts your metabolism (this is why you feel hungry all of the time while breastfeeding!).

For some women, burning these extra calories is enough to lose weight gradually.

For me, I gradually lost weight right after delivery while I was breastfeeding despite eating A LOT. I never counted calories, but I know I was eating more than 500 extra calories a day. Despite this, my metabolism was on hyperdrive for the first few months and I lost weight without really thinking about it.

Does this sound too good to be true? Well, it was. When I went back to work (I was pumping more and breastfeeding less), I started to put on weight that was impossible to lose.  

The moral of the story? If breastfeeding alone is helping you lose weight, enjoy it! And if it is causing you to retain weight despite eating well and exercising… Try not to stress about it too much (cortisol: bad). 

5. Burning Too Many Calories

Did you know burning extra calories can actually prevent you from losing weight?

When you burn too many calories, your body compensates by slowing down your metabolism and holding on to fat stores.

After all, your body wants to make sure you have enough calories to produce an adequate breast milk supply for your baby.

If you’re aggressively exercising–or just chasing a baby and toddler around 😝– you might need to increase your daily calorie intake. 

Skip the personal trainers and fad diets at the stage of the game and stick to a well-balanced diet with moderate exercise (like walking) once you are cleared by your doctor.

6. Having A Calorie Deficit

If you are burning 2500 calories a day while you are breastfeeding, but you only eat 2000 calories, you have a 500 calorie deficit.

Just like burning too many calories through breastfeeding and exercise can lead to your body going into “starvation mode.”  

Even if you aren’t physically burning a lot of calories during the day, make sure you know how many calories you should be eating in a day (don’t forget to factor in the calories you burn while breastfeeding), and eat your daily recommended amount to avoid confusing your body into thinking it is starving. Use a calorie calculator like this one from the Mayo Clinic.

If done correctly, a calorie deficit can lead to weight loss, but you should consult a dietician or your healthcare provider before going on a calorie-restrictive diet… Especially while breastfeeding. 

Look 10lb Thinner By Fixing Your Diastasis Recti

Bonus: You Have Diastasis Recti

If the numbers on the scale look good to you, but your still pregnant-looking belly tells a different story, you might have diastasis recti.

Diastasis recti is the medical term for ab separation. As many as 1 in 2 women suffer from some degree of diastasis recti related to pregnancy.

This ab separation makes you look like you have a “pooch,” “mommy tummy,” or still look 3 months pregnant.

So while the scale says you have lost all of the baby weight, your favorite little black dress says otherwise.

The good news? Diastasis recti is completely fixable and you can do it with gentle breathing exercises in just 10 minutes a day.

Why you're not losing weight while breastfeeding. Mommymakerteacher.com. Postpartum woman standing on the scale.
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7. Eating Too Many Calories

If you’re eating too many calories, you might slow your weight loss efforts or even put on weight while breastfeeding. 

It’s tricky to find the perfect amount of calories that you should consume while breastfeeding… Too many are bad and too few are bad.  

Try writing down everything you eat during the day (or use a food intake app to make it easier) and count up the total calories. This will give you a better idea of where you stand from a caloric standpoint. 

8. You Aren’t Eating Frequently

Eating smaller meals more frequently is the key to a fast metabolism. While you’re breastfeeding it’s tricky finding time to eat regularly. If you don’t eat for extended periods of time (say 6 or more hours) your metabolism will slow down. 

It might seem scary to eat MORE especially if you are trying to lose weight, but you might be surprised at how your body reacts.

Try eating more frequently, but also key an eye on your portion sizes.  

If you’re finding it difficult to cook and prepare meals while you are breastfeeding, stock up your fridge and pantry with grab-and-go options that are just as easy to grab as a bag of chips: 

  • Granola bars (look for the healthiest option) 
  • Bags of nuts 
  • A few squares of dark chocolate 
  • No sugar added fruit cups 
  • Veggies and dip 
  • Deli sandwiches (who else craved lunch meat their ENTIRE pregnancy?!) 
  • Etc. 

9. You Aren’t Eating The Right Foods

I get it mama. 

I’m pretty sure I survived on sleeves of Oreo cookies and heaping bowls of sugary cereal in my first few months postpartum… Unfortunately, these are all empty calories and don’t provide your body with the nutrition it needs.

It’s almost impossible to find enough time to feed yourself healthy, nutritious food when you are nursing your baby around the clock.

This usually leads to moms eating whatever is easy, convenient, and tastes good… Neglecting some of the most important food groups.

Most of the time, these aren’t the best foods for us to be eating. Even some granola bars and trail mixes are just junk food in disguise.

If you are eating 2500 calories a day, but they are in the form of Ben and Jerry’s ice cream, your body isn’t going to get the nutrients it needs and will hold on to those fat cells just like if you were starving.

Make it easy on yourself to eat a few servings of healthy fruits, whole grains, lean protein, and vegetables each day:

  • Have easy-to-eat fruits like bananas and clementines on the counter. 
  • Boil a dozen eggs and keep them in the fridge for quick healthy snacks. 
  • Make getting leafy greens and vegetables as easy as possible by buying ready-to-eat options like bagged salads (they have so many kinds now with powerhouse foods like kale and Brussel sprouts) and baby carrots. 
  • Swap out your white bread (yup even your crackers and English muffins) for whole-grain or multi-grain options.

10. You Are Emotionally Eating (For Stress, Sadness, Or Comfort)

During those glorious 2 hour naps, you should be sleeping or making yourself a healthy meal, but the stress of the day has you wanting to unwind with a pint of ice cream or bag of chips on the couch.

Honestly, I don’t blame you, mama. And you shouldn’t blame yourself either.

Yes, this could be a reason why you aren’t losing the baby weight… 

And if you are 6 or 9 months postpartum and the lack of weight loss is really bothering you, maybe it is time to swap out those comfort foods for healthy meals, water, and rest.

But, if you are in the early postpartum phase, try to cut yourself some slack.

If indulging here and there brings you comfort and joy, go for it!

If indulging is making you feel guilty or ashamed, try to find something that will bring you joy. Like those steaming hot baths and foot massages that you missed during your pregnancy.

11. You Aren’t Exercising Enough

Breastfeeding is a lonely job.

You are spending 8 or more hours of your day with your baby physically attached to you.

Finding time to do anything (like go pee or feed the dog) is almost impossible… Let alone finding time for physical activity.

Once you are cleared for walking by your doctor, try to get out for a daily walk (even if it is just 10 minutes). Take your baby with you in a stroller or baby carrier for an extra workout challenge.

Multitask during this time if you have to.

Did you know you can nurse your baby on the go with a baby wrap?

You can also get in your daily news by listening to a podcast, a mindfulness meditation, or that book you’ve been meaning to read (I love Audible for this).

Getting exercise while you are breastfeeding does not have to be going to the gym, running, or doing any other strenuous activity.

Just finding time to get up off the couch (or rocking chair) to get your blood flowing and your muscles working will be helpful to your body.

12. You Are Stressed About Losing Weight

If you are breastfeeding, you should give yourself a 6-month grace period (at the very least) where you aren’t worried about your weight.

Worrying about your postpartum weight while you are breastfeeding is only going to lead to increased levels of stress (cortisol) and can make matters worse.

Whatsmore, this list should prove to you that all bodies react differently and things that help some moms (like eating less and working out more) actually hurt others (hello!). 

Weight loss while breastfeeding is a very frustrating thing, and you might try everything on this list, only to realize it’s not going to make a difference. 

There are so many factors that I have listed to blame for why you aren’t losing weight while breastfeeding that are out of your control… Or might just be impossible to fix at this stage of the game, especially if you don’t have much help with caring for your newborn.

So, don’t stress about this too much right now. 

As women, I think we all feel the pressure to “lose the pregnancy weight,” as soon as we give birth. 

If you chose to breastfeed (especially exclusive breastfeeders) you are keeping your child alive, nourished, and hydrated… All by yourself! 

The only thing you should be focusing on in the first 6 months postpartum while breastfeeding is whether you are producing enough milk, your baby is gaining weight, and whether you and your baby are healthy and hydrated.

Once you wean (which might not be for a long time if you decide to do extended breastfeeding) you might find the weight comes off gradually on its own, or that you can get back to a regular exercise and diet that your body will respond to to more predictably.  

You’ve got this mama! 

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