My biggest motivation for breastfeeding? Here’s a list:
- I know it is the best thing for my child.
- It helps build his immune system and protects against illness and disease.
- It helps him to go to sleep calmly and efficiently.
- It’s extremely portable and a convenient way to feed him.
- My milk is perfectly balanced to give him everything he needs.
- Breastfeeding helps give him comfort and pain relief through challenging patches such as teething and illness.
- It gives me additional protection from diseases such as breast cancer, ovarian cancer, osteoporosis, cardiovascular disease and obesity.
Should breastfeeding be seen as a way to ‘get your body back’?
Absent from this list is ‘getting my body back’ although the NHS (having inexplicably run out of other breastfeeding benefits) has recently been slammed for promoting breastfeeding as a way of losing weight. Yes…really!
Although the Start4Life website has since been adjusted, the original text stated that “It can take six weeks for your womb to go back to the size it was, and even longer to lose any extra weight. Breastfeeding is a great way to get your body back, as it burns around 300 calories a day, and helps your womb to shrink more quickly. Also, try to eat healthily and take gentle exercise.”
To be fair, I can sort of see where they were coming from with the whole womb contraction thing. I had no idea about this with my first son, and the intense contractions when he first started to feed were a shock! Although this is a natural process and part of the way your body works to reduce your womb size after giving birth, to equate breastfeeding with ‘getting your body back’ just seems plain wrong.
For a start, nine months into my second breastfeeding journey, my body still feels decidedly not my own. Although I have returned to work, I’m still feeding responsively when I’m with my son and pumping when I’m not. As soon as I return to him after 9 or 10 hours away, I know I, and my body, is going to have to be there to reassure and comfort him that I haven’t left forever and I am still his safe place.
Nine months into my second breastfeeding journey, my body still feels decidedly not my own
To me, my body is so much more than what it looks like and how much it weighs. I feel an even greater responsibility while breastfeeding to keep it strong and healthy and present for my children. I also want to feel comfortable in my own skin and not be forced to think about my weight whilst I try and emotionally navigate huge shifts and transitions in our family dynamic.
The fact that the NHS chose to flippantly connect breastfeeding to weight loss feels like an insult and yet another thing to add pressure and shame to women if (as it won’t for many) losing weight while breastfeeding doesn’t happen for them.
Just because breastfeeding uses up calories doesn’t mean all people will lose weight
Studies that have tried to measure the effects of breastfeeding on weight loss have shown that it can have a relatively small effect, but they haven’t been particularly conclusive. Theoretically, exclusive breastfeeding uses between 500-600 calories a day equating to around half a kilogram per week, and a return to a pre-pregnancy weight within two months if you put on the average 4kg of fat during pregnancy. As we all know, however, the ‘average’ portrayal of women doesn’t often equate to the reality of our own lives, and even with healthy eating choices (pretty hard to do when you’re ravenous and starved for time) matching this calorie deficit in practice can be difficult to achieve.
When you’re breastfeeding, the hormone prolactin increases appetite and you’re also fighting against sleep deprivation, which further disrupts your hormonal balance leading to cravings for sweet, salty and starchy foods. When I was on maternity leave, my standard day would always involve at least one sugary coffee and a cake. My body was telling me that’s what it needed!
When you’re breastfeeding, the hormone prolactin increases appetite and you’re also fighting against sleep deprivation, which further disrupts your hormonal balance leading to cravings for sweet, salty, and starchy foods.
It is possible to exercise whilst breastfeeding and like with any weight loss programme, healthy eating and exercise are far better to rely on than passively waiting for the pounds to drop off as your baby feeds.
Even Serena Williams struggled to lose baby weight whilst breastfeeding despite eating a purely vegan, sugar-free diet and being an awesome athlete!
Breastfeeding can be exhausting and strenuous and require a lot from you both physically and emotionally. Maybe we should be celebrating what a miracle it is that we can grow, birth, and sustain a whole other life with our bodies instead of beating ourselves up if they don’t lose weight at the same time?
Rather than meaningless numbers on a scale, surely it’s better to focus on whether we are feeling good and strong and healthy. And that way, when there is an opportunity to eat cake…we can take it!