Breastfeeding has many benefits such as providing your baby with the right nutrients in the correct quantities with less effort and no cost. Breast milk provides immune cells to aid your baby’s immune system to develop. The act of breastfeeding allows for bonding and building of a relationship and much, much more1,2.
Another benefit moms are often told is that breastfeeding can assist in improved weight loss post pregnancy. Is this fully true and to what extent?
Why the Fuss?
The average woman will retain between 0.5 to 3kgs of weight after pregnancy with 14-20% of women being 5kgs heavier than their pre-pregnancy weight at 6-18 months. Excessive weight retention after birth is a strong contributing factor to the development of overweight and obesity and obesity-related illnesses, such as type 2 diabetes, gallbladder disease and cardiovascular disease. Over and above that, the excess weight gained in one pregnancy can have a cumulative effect on weight gain in subsequent pregnancies.2,3,4
What Does Science Say?
A systematic review in 2014 assessed the results from 54 papers and found that the majority of studies reported little or no association between breastfeeding and weight change or change in body composition. However, the results did depend on when measurements were taken and breastfeeding intensity. Which leads to confusion on how true the first statement is.3
This same review did then find that of the five studies that were considered to be of high research quality, four studies demonstrated a positive association between breastfeeding and weight change. This finding may be more important due to its high quality. These findings make sense as breastfeeding should promote weight loss due to the increased energy cost of lactation3. Another study found that women who breastfed exclusively for at least 3 months resulted in 1.5kg greater weight loss than mothers not breastfeeding. This is a difference but not a very big one4. Another 2013 study found more weight was lost by breastfeeding, leading to a weight loss range of 0.8-5.7kg compared to 1.8-2.8kg in non-breastfeeding mothers2.
The effect that breastfeeding has on weight loss has been found to be linked to the duration of breastfeeding. Breastfeeding for less than 3 months had little or no influence on weight change, whereas there was some evidence to suggest that if a woman breastfeeds for more than 6 months, there is more weight loss seen. The importance of length of breastfeeding is supported by a number of studies.2,3
Other factors which will influence a relationship between breastfeeding and weight loss is if a mother has lactation problems or if a mom doesn’t lose weight soon enough and becomes discouraged to continue breastfeeding to the point it will start to have a beneficial effect.
Some of the research is flawed as there were many factors that contribute to weigh loss or gain. More defined research is needed in this field to clarify the relationship with breastfeeding and weight loss.
There may be some differences in results due to mothers following different dietary recommendations including their energy intake depending on if they are breastfeeding or not. Breastfeeding women may be able to see greater results with a healthier diet, monitored energy intake and increased physical activity. It is important that this is learnt at a prenatal stage to assist with preparation for the breastfeeding period2,6. Energy intake should not be too greatly reduced as this will decrease milk production.
Moms must have a realistic expectation of weight loss. Look for advice from reputable sources such as your local dietitian or nurse. If you are a mother, link up with other moms to form a support group to provide support and guidance in the beginning.5,6
- Mahan LK, Escott-Stump S, Raymond JL. Krause’s Food and the Nutrition Care Process. Missouri;2012
- Reyna Sámano, Hugo Martínez-Rojano, Estela Godínez Martínez, Bernarda Sánchez, Jiménez, Gilda Paulina Villeda Rodríguez, Julieta Pérez Zamora, and Esther Casanueva. Effects of breastfeeding on weight loss and recovery of pre-gestational weight in adolescent and adult mothers. Food and Nutrition Bulletin, vol. 34, no. 2 2013, The United Nations University.
- CE Neville, MC McKinley, VA Holmes, D Spence and JV Woodside. The relationship between breastfeeding and postpartum weight change—a systematic review and critical evaluation. International Journal of Obesity (2014) 38, 577–590.
- Marian P. Jarlenski, Wendy L. Bennett, Sara N. Bleich, Colleen L. Barry and Elizabeth A. Stuart. Effects of breastfeeding on postpartum weight loss among U.S. women. Prev Med. 2014 December ; 69: 146–150
- Katrina M. Krause, Cheryl A. Lovelady, and Truls Østbye. Predictors of Breastfeeding in Overweight and Obese Women: Data From Active Mothers Postpartum (AMP). Matern Child Health J. 2011 April ; 15(3): 367–375.
- Weight management before, during and after pregnancy. NICE public health guidance 27
- This guidance was developed using. NHS July 2010.
WHERE DOES FUTURELIFE® FIT IN?
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