Fat Loss While Breastfeeding: Chasing the Unicorn?

fat loss while breastfeeding

The question I know you’re just dying to know the answer to…..Is fat loss while breastfeeding possible? (That and when is this ever-lovin’ child going to sleep through the night!)

The answer is it depends. Now wasn’t that helpful…

After having my first baby, my letter to Santa was quite laughable. I wanted the scale to reflect my pre-pregnancy weight, a mid-section that didn’t pooch, and a pelvic floor that didn’t leak! Is being able to sneeze without having to simultaneously cross your legs really too much to ask for? I think not!

Once I got the green light from my OB to start exercising, I was so sure I was going to achieve all these things. So sure and so stupid.

It didn’t take me long to figure out that this little pregnancy trip we had taken had landed us on a new and very strange planet. The body and me were never returning to that pre-pregnancy state. And that was totally OK.

But now it was time to find a new normal. I just had to figure out what that new normal looked like.

So let’s talk about the key players in this game of fat loss while breastfeeding.

Why You CAN’T Lose Fat While Breastfeeding

Cortisol and Prolactin: The Hormones Working Against You

Some women have a really hard time losing the baby weight no matter what they do. And they have every right in the world to blame the hormonal gods that are lined up to destroy all their good efforts. Namely the hormones cortisol and prolactin.

Cortisol is a hormone released in response to stress. It’s elevated during pregnancy, remains high after birth and is increased by things like sleep deprivation. And you, new mama, I know are becoming all to familiar with sleep deprivation.

Prolactin is a hormone that tells those boobies to get to work making milk.

Both cortisol and prolactin tell that fat on your body to kick up its feet and stay for awhile just in case its needed in the future.

Jade Teta from Metabolic Effect explains the effects of these hormones really well in this video:

Even Jamie Eason, who is a fitness rockstar in the bodybuilding world, talks here about how breastfeeding slowed her progress to get fit and lean.

Having a hard time kicking those last five (or ten or whatever) pounds to the curb? Your hormones may be to blame.

Welcome to the humbling world of mamahood, where everything you once thought you had control over now has control over you. Thank you very much, Mother Nature.

Why You CAN Lose Fat While Breastfeeding

Breastfeeding burns some major calories. Yea! Less calories in + more calories out = weight loss.


When you nurse, your body releases hormones that shrink your uterus back to its normal size. Sayonara pooch! However, word of warning, this shrinkage does not come free. Figures.

You will pay in the form of mind-blowing cramps post birth. And with each child you have, those cramps will get worse. Trust me. I know.

So that we know there’s no free pass to couch camp all day and eat that cookie dough you’ve been eyeing for the past nine months, let’s talk.

Your RoadMap to Fat Loss

1) High-Intensity Interval Training Helps Shed Fat

Brace yourself. You’re about to be overwhelmed by the incredibly intellectual, genius bomb I’m about to drop on you. Did you know….exercise helps with fat loss. I know, I know. I’m so freakin’ smart.

So clearly we all know we should exercise. Duh.

But here’s the thing. Getting on an elliptical and chugging it out for an hour is not the best use of your time at the gym if your goal is fat loss. Those cardio machines are a great place to start out as you and the gym become re-acquainted


cardio is awesome for relieving stress, making your heart stronger, giving you an excuse to rock out to Beyonce…..BUT it is not your best weapon against fat loss.

I’m afraid to be the bearer of bad news, but you are going to have to work HARD to get that extra padding to shed itself and for me, the best way to do that has been through high-intensity interval training (HIIT).

[Disclaimer: I have zero training or qualifications regarding physical fitness. This is solely an account of what I’ve found to be effective. To listen to somebody way smarter and more qualified than me, check out this video.]

Fat Loss While BreastfeedingSo what is HIIT?

There’s no specific formula but here’s the basic idea. In a 20 – 30 min block, you do high intensity exercises alternated with medium intensity exercises for recovery. So high intensity is done at your maximum capacity while medium intensity is at about 50%.

The easiest way to start out would be to do a run/jog combo like sprinting for 40 seconds and then jogging for 20 seconds. Or if you have access to a treadmill, trying a workout like the one to the right.

Even better than running, though, would be incorporating functional, compound movements into your workout to build muscle. Think burpees, planks, squats, deadlifts, cleans, pull ups, push ups, oh my.

* Flickr Creative Commons Image via Michelle Wright *

Bonus tip. This won’t cost you any extra. Has anyone mentioned yet that you will pee all over yourself whenever you work-out from this time forth and forevermore. Amen.

Lucky you, squats, deadlifts, most of the functional movements will strengthen your pelvic floor so that perhaps we can turn that gush into a trickle. But trickle it will, my friend, trickle it will.

Allegedly if you give your pelvic floor some Kegel love, that does wonders but this mama has yet to crack the code on how to do Kegels. And I’m not super keen on asking for help on how to flex my lady part muscles either…..

Fat Loss While Breastfeeding

Three months after baby # 3. This is me flexing after husband insisted he could see definition in my arms and I insisted he was lying. Hence, pic was taken to prove me wrong.

Currently I choose to be tortured by this awesome little app called Nike Training Club. It’s got over 100 free work-outs and you can customize the workout based on your goals and desired intensity level. But my favorite part is that it has videos to guide you through the whole workout and show you exactly how to do each exercise. It will kick your butt, and unlike a personal trainer, you can mute it at any time. Just sayin.

So here’s the bottom line. Yes, you want to ease back into exercise post-baby, but once you’re given the green flag by your doc, think intensity, not time.

During your 20 – 30 min session, are you getting sweaty? are you breathless? are you uncomfortable? do your muscles burn?

If you answered yes, then you’re doing it right! It will be hard, but hey, you’ve survived the exit of a human being from your body. Workouts ain’t got nothin’ on child birth! (at least that’s the pep talk I give myself when wanting to drop from the plank I’ve been holding for what seems like eternity but has actually only been mere seconds…..)

2) Nourish Yourself with Nourishing Foods

You know what phrase I really hate. Abs are made in the kitchen. Oh how I wish this weren’t true but alas it is.

See I heart sugar. Like seriously heart sugar. But sugar does not heart me. And it does not heart you. Unless you count the handles it gives you as symbols of love.

So as you can see I’ve managed to graduate from the freshman class, “Healthy Eating 101,” sugar = not healthy.

But does anyone else feel like it’s easier to resolve the nation’s recession than it is to figure out what’s “healthy?”

There’s paleo, eating clean, counting calories (I’ve heard great things about My Fitness Pal), IIFYM, eating your toddler’s leftovers………

So here’s the thing, while I feel like I’m putting my masters degree in accounting to good use while being a stay at home mom (said no mama ever), I have ZERO qualifications for telling you what foods are best to eat for fat loss while breastfeeding.

So I will just tell you what has worked for me:

  1. I drink water like it’s liquid crack. I carry this guy around like my security blanket.
  2. Protein keeps me from getting hangry. When all the babies are crying and I’m starving I’ve been known to throw some protein powder in a blender cup and drink up to hold me over until I can actually sit down and eat, which happens almost never.
  3. The only snacks we keep in the house are fruit.
  4. I totally indulge in treats, especially dark chocolate, when I really want it because dark chocolate, especially Trader Joe’s dark chocolate, makes me happy.

I used to be a bone-broth sippin’, fermented veggie eatin, hard-core Paleo cave girl (which I felt awesome doing by the way), but then we had three kids in three years and well, you know, if a hot meal hits the table once a day, we call that a win at Camp Goldsmith.

3) Rest, Get Some More Rest, and Then Rest Some More

You can cheat a lot of things in life but you can’t cheat rest.

But here’s the thing, there’s two kinds of rest that really will make a difference in whether or not you lose fat while breastfeeding.

One is physical rest, and I’m sure I’m not the first one to tell you, sleep when the baby sleeps. Sleep when you can. Sleep when you’re tired. I feel like those are no-brainers.

It’s the second kind of rest that is so, so essential to fat loss. The kind of rest your spirit and soul needs. Call it spiritual, call it emotional, call it whatever you want. I’m talking about the space your soul finds to seek peace from the madness swirling about you.

For me that looks like prayer. It looks like scripture memorization. It looks like participating in Ann Voskamp’s Joy Dare.

Maybe your rest is meditation or yoga or keeping a gratitude journal or vegging out in front of The Real Housewives…..

Just find what makes you grow in love and affection for the gifts you’ve been given, for the life you’ve been allowed to enjoy, and do that.

Let me leave you with this:

Is there a chance the pounds will just fly off you while breastfeeding? Sure.

Is it possible to decrease your body fat percentage while breastfeeding? Absolutely.

But gosh darnit give yourself a break and adjust your expectations to the fact that those dogs might not hunt. Post-partum life is hard enough without the added difficulty of trying to look like Giselle Bundchen (who by the way declared that breastfeeding should be required by law! Harsh, Giselle, harsh.).

Your body is supporting another human life! That’s a heavy burden to carry. Give it some slack as it weathers the storm of sleepless nights and projectile vomit and hormonal turbulence. This too shall pass (so I’ve been told).

Have you experienced fat loss while breastfeeding?

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