When talking about breastfeeding, it is usually explained that one of the benefits of breastfeeding, in this case for the mother, is that she recovers her usual weight more easily , both because of the calorie expenditure produced by breastfeeding and because the fat of breast milk comes from fat deposited on the hips and legs of women.
However, there are women who realize that not only do they not lose weight when breastfeeding, not only do they not lose weight, but they gain it. And they see that they gain weight, feeling strange to hear others explain how quickly they lost weight with breastfeeding and, in a way, deceived, when someone tells them “of course, if breastfeeding makes you fat.” Let’s talk about this today: when breastfeeding makes you gain weight instead of losing weight.
Producing milk generates a caloric expenditure of about 550 kcal per day
Let’s start by knowing how milk production works roughly . As we explained in its day, the fat that women accumulate in the hips and thighs is destined to be part of breast milk. Come on, milk is formed with these deposits, and that alone causes them to begin to reduce a little. In addition, the mere fact of producing milk causes the body to consume about 550 kcal a day , which is the equivalent of going for a run for almost an hour (at a leisurely pace). Check out more interesting stories on at our Tesla Blog.
These two factors suggest that breastfeeding loses weight, and in many cases, the majority (that is why it is generalized when talking about weight and breastfeeding), it is like that. This high calorie intake, together with a diet that does not vary much from what she had before giving birth (or a little more), makes the woman lose weight little by little .
However, there are women who do not lose weight (or gain weight)
I am an amateur runner. I go out four times a week to run and do about 30-40 kilometers a week, and I don’t lose weight. I have a belly. Not much, but I have it, and there are those who don’t understand how it can be that I don’t lose it if I go running for four days. But I do: my nutrition can be improved because I often consume more sugars than I should , or refined foods, and because my rest can also be improved . Resting badly, or little, and consequently feeling tired during the day makes you tend to consume more foods rich in fast-absorbing carbohydrates, and this is a problem for weight, because these types of carbohydrates make you fatter.
The fact is that when you go a little too far with sugar, the body causes an increase in insulin production to take from the blood all the glucose that you have put into it and that produces a kind of low feeling, which leads you to need again more glucose, entering a quite dangerous vicious circle for weight (more sugar, more insulin, more insulin, more feeling of hunger, more feeling of hunger, more sugar…).
A mother does not usually rest well, so one way to cheat tiredness is to eat things that provide energy . If in addition to this she is breastfeeding, the demand for calories is greater, and many feel that they have a ravenous hunger, which in some cases would be called “absolute anxiety”. In a situation of hunger, and little rest, when she realizes that it’s four o’clock and she hasn’t eaten yet, what do you think a woman ends up eating? Well, the same as me when I feel tired because I’ve gone out for a run and I haven’t rested well at night: energy bars, chocolate, sandwiches, juices… everything that takes away your hunger as soon as possible , but can make you get fat.
In other words: breastfeeding loses weight if the calories that are lost are not compensated through food. If, on the other hand, the hunger is voracious and we add fatigue, it can fall into the solution of eating hypercaloric foods and then during the lactation period it does not lose weight, but rather gains weight.
In this case, if it is your situation, the ideal is to eat about five times a day so as not to let hunger increase too much (with 3 meals you will arrive at each meal so hungry that you will destroy everything), controlling the consumption of fast-absorbing carbohydrates (better those of slow absorption, such as those of unrefined foods) and having a very clear recommendation to try to consume 5 daily servings of fruits and vegetables, or what is the same, trying to eat a healthy diet.
But… I don’t eat so badly and I gain weight anyway
Perhaps you will tell me that at first you were one of those tired women with a terrible hunger who ate the first thing they caught but then you stopped being, you began to eat better and the weight continued to increase, or did not go down. Well, then we will have to think about an endocrine issue , about hormones.
Menopause, do you gain weight? Well, there are women who do, who gain weight after menopause. And there are others who don’t, who don’t gain weight despite stopping having their period. Breastfeeding is a period in which there is no menstruation because estrogen levels are very low… this means that it is like a “temporary menopause” , and there are women who retain more fluids, who suffer more markedly from slowing of the metabolism (the lack of estrogens makes the metabolism go a little slower and less calories are consumed at rest) and that they notice when their period returns that they begin to lose those retained liquids.
On the other hand, have you had a control analysis done after delivery? Because pregnancy is one of the times that causes the most hormonal changes and after childbirth, when everything should return to its place, it does not always do so. There is a situation of malfunction of the hormonal balance of the thyroid called “postpartum thyroiditis” , an inflammation of the thyroid gland.
This, which you have probably never heard of, happens to 3-16% of women (as you can see, it is very frequent), and causes two states… initially a phase in which some weight could be lost, because It produces a transient hyperthyroidism and then a second phase in which everything can normalize or hypothyroidism can occur with its associated symptoms, among which we find tiredness, weight gain and depression (often considered postpartum depression), among others.
Postpartum thyroiditis resolves itself 12-18 months after delivery (a time when many stop breastfeeding and associate weight loss with weaning), although hypothyroidism remains in 20% of women.
But this is not all. Many women have hypothyroidism before pregnancy and before childbirth, without having been diagnosed with it, or because controls have not been done, or because they are considered normal results that should be taken into account. According to current guidelines, the maximum TSH value is 4.0 mlU/L, but for a time these values were much higher, and hypothyroidism that could have been controlled was considered normal. In this situation, a pregnancy can unbalance the thyroid and cause the woman to suffer more importantly from hypothyroidism that is neither diagnosed, nor medicated, nor controlled.
And also, add genetics
And to all these factors, add the genetics of each woman. There are those that eat everything and do not get fat, there are those that only gain weight if they eat everything and there are those that gain weight no matter what they eat (although this has to be seen if it is genetic or if there are endocrine problems). The fact is that no two women are the same, and although under normal conditions breastfeeding loses weight, because the calorie expenditure is very high, there are situations, as you can see, in which not only does it not happen, but weight is gained.
Why? Well, for any of the reasons we have described, or because more than one come together. In any case, and as I often say (it is my opinion and my recommendation), the ideal would be for all women to have a blood test after giving birth . I cannot understand that during pregnancy they are looked at with a magnifying glass and once they give birth, health care forgets about them. And not because of a matter of gaining more or less weight, but because hormonal disorders affect vitality, energy, the mood with which you wake up and, consequently, the way you are going to take care of your child. Oh, and breastfeeding, that significant hypothyroidism can cause poor milk production , and this is easily fixed by regulating the levels of thyroid hormones.