During pregnancy, the mother’s body is constantly changing and this transformation continues even after birth. Many new mothers, anxious about the weight they’ve gained over nine months, are happy to learn that simply breastfeeding their baby can help you burn up to 500 calories a day. This is partly because the body works hard to produce a constant supply of breast milk, and also because the body is not storing as many calories as it’s being passed on to the child.
But while nursing can make a new mother’s metabolism more efficient, it facilitates weight loss only if the number of calories consumed is within check. A new mother requires 1600-1800 calories daily, on an average. But most Indian women are fed a steady supply of ghee, dry fruits and carbohydrates after delivery, and are therefore consuming a much higher amount. If you’re eating 3000 calories daily and hoping to lose weight by burning 500 calories through breastfeeding, without any exercise, you should know it’s not going to happen. On the contrary, because your calorie intake is high, you may be gaining weight while nursing the baby.
The situation gets trickier once you stop breastfeeding
It’s not unusual for a new mother to see a sudden spike in weight after weaning a baby, partially because of changing hormones. While the level of prolactin, a hormone produced by the body during lactation, drops once a new mother stops breastfeeding, this is a gradual process. When stored in the body (instead of being expelled while nursing), prolactin reduces fat metabolism, which leads to weight gain as well as depression and grief.
However, in my opinion, hormonal changes aren’t the main reason women gain weight after they stop breastfeeding. After all, hormones readjust quickly to change – one example of this is how a new mother’s menstrual cycle restarts once she stops nursing – so unless there is some underlying aberration like post-pregnancy thyroid, there is no reason to blame hormones for your inability to get back to your pre-pregnancy size.
The biggest problem is that Indian women continue to consume extra calories, even after they stop breastfeeding. They don’t wean themselves off the extra calories or carbs they had to consume while nursing. Many of my clients tell me they feel hungry if they don’t have carbs, so they can’t resist an extra serving of rice at meal times. When I check their food log on the HealthifyMe app’s calorie tracker, I can see they’re eating over 2000 calories, which their bodies do not require. Plus, they are no longer burning any calories through breastfeeding, and aren’t exercising either, as they can’t find time to workout with a baby to look after.
The best way to lose weight once you stop nursing
If you find that you’re putting on weight after weaning your baby, don’t panic. Just adjust your diet and exercise habits to ensure you burn calories. Set a cut-off period and make some serious changes to your diet and routine.
These are a few pointers — replace carbs like rice and maida with complex carbs and multigrain items. Healthy snacks like millets and nuts should replace fatty treats; low fat milk should be taken in place of whole milk. Also, once your doctor gives you the go-ahead, start exercising. I’d recommend breaking up your workout routine into three 15-minute sessions through the day to ensure it doesn’t interfere with baby time. By making a few small changes, you’ll see major results in no time.