When I was pregnant with my first son, I gave myself permission to eat as much as I wanted. On some level I decided “you’re eating for two now” could reasonably be interpreted as “you’re eating for twelve now.” Having had a long history of binge eating and binge dieting, being pregnant gave me a margin of error I had never allowed myself (if you have ever weighed yourself before getting in the shower because dry hair is lighter than wet hair, you know what I mean). By the time I was ready to give birth, I had justified my way to a 50 pound weight gain. I consoled myself with the prospect of the sudden weight loss giving birth would bring. The average baby weighs about 8 pounds, I figured, and the placenta and assorted fluids had to weigh another 4 or 5 (yes, I looked up the weight of the average placenta) so in just a few hours I would take off at least 12 pounds. Cool. But then I would still be 35 pounds overweight. I panicked. Then I read that breastfeeding burns calories. Yes! I knew I would breastfeed – had never considered not breastfeeding. Now, breastfeeding came with weight loss benefits. Yay and pass the Doritos.
I knew exactly how much I weighed the day I gave birth. I know this because I made a point of weighing myself before leaving the apartment for the hospital. I don’t remember the number now – I’ve had therapy – but even in hard labor, I was thinking about getting thin. I didn’t get back on that scale for five days. The birthing center “squat and leave” birth I had planned became a cesarean section, a post-operative infection, and aspiration pneumonia. My new son and I (and my baby daddy who slept on a convertible armchair in my room) were in the hospital for four long days. Even after getting home, my priorities had shifted enough that getting on the scale was not the first thing I thought to do. But I thought of it on the second day home.
I had been through hell. Not only had a baby, placenta and assorted stuff been surgically removed, I had done a great deal of vomiting and no eating. I figured I must have lost a ton of weight. I got on the scale with very high hopes. I got on and off the scale four or five times. I asked baby daddy if something bad had happened to the scale while we were in the hospital. Somehow I weighed four pounds more than I had before giving birth. My weight loss master plan had been foiled by being on an I.V. for four days. I was more than 50 pounds overweight. Oh. My. God.
While I admit I figured out the number of calories I burned each hour I breastfed, I didn’t do anything differently in my breastfeeding relationship in order to lose weight. I read lots of stories of women whose weight just fell away. I heard of women who were struggling to keep weight on. I was not one of those women. There was a time I felt betrayed by the breastfeeding weight loss myth. In the end, post-partum, as during every other period of my life, I lost weight through diet and exercise. Okay, truthfully just diet.
There has a been a fresh run of news stories about breastfeeding and weight loss. I don’t know why – perhaps yet another tall, thin, actress attributed her rapid return to svelte to her breastfeeding and not her personal trainer. I always wonder why these stories are considered news. Are these stories about breastfeeding and weight loss so popular because it encourages women to breastfeed? Do women really make the decision not to use formula because they think breastfeeding leads to rapid weight loss? Wouldn’t that just be sad? Or is there just titillation in reading about Angelina Jolie’s breasts?
It makes me angry – no amount of breastfeeding was ever going to turn me into Angelina Jolie. Did I want breastfeeding to help me take off the weight I shouldn’t have put on in the first place? Yeah. Would I have made a different infant feeding decision based on whether breastfeeding helped me lose weight? Of course not.
The great Amy Spangler wrote this piece about the scientific evidence concerning breastfeeding and weight loss. It is short and to the point. Breastfeeding can result in an average weight loss of 4.4 pounds. This is a good thing but in the long list of ways in which breastfeeding is superior to formula feeding for both mother and child, it is no big deal. So how about more breastfeeding journalism that matters and less that creates unrealistic expectations for us just plain (chubby) folk.
Melodie December 4, 2009
I never truly attributed my weight loss postpartum to breastfeeding, but I did attribute much of it to my c-section. I’m actually quite stunned that you gained instead of lost weight after yours. I get that all the fluids they pump into you can cause weight gain but wow – that much!?! I gained 42 lbs in each pregnancy and lost 25 lbs in a day after my first birth and joked about the c-section diet. I think I actually lost too much – I guess there is something to be said for a little hemorraging?
.-= Melodie´s last blog ..Foodie Fridays: Lentil Burgers and Rosemary Baked Fries
December 4, 2009
Melodie! YOU lost my baby weight.
Jake´s last blog ..Not Another Blog Post About Breastfeeding and Weight Loss
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December 5, 2009
I did lose weight, and I thought it was because of breastfeeding. But, I also ate really badly while pregnant with #1, better with #2 (and it came off faster with #2). I gained a lot as well–52 and 45. I’m realizing that my so-called breastfeeding weightloss was aided and abetted by postpartum thyroiditis. A fun period of hyperthyroidism, followed by a crash at around 4-5 months (all the weight is gone, then suddenly starts creeping back on–at least, until the meds are adjusted).
I’m less frustrated by the weightloss being attributed to breastfeeding because I’m so happy to hear that they are breastfeeding, and talking about it in a positive way. And maybe all those people who start because they think they’ll look like Angelina or Jennifer Garner will continue because they’ve actually grown to like nursing and to appreciate nursing.
Lauren December 14, 2009
I hate to admit it, but I am one of those people who has lost a lot of weight because I’m breastfeeding, but then I can also explain it through my lifestyle — which I think can also explain why the Angelinas of this world get skinny post-baby.
I don’t eat processed food. I’m also a yoga instructor and have tried to continue practicing at least 3 times a week since I got pregnant (if I’m not too exhausted!). I am pretty strict with my diet in terms of refined sugar, wheat and dairy because it makes me sick (as it does most people although they don’t realise it). I eat a ton of green veggies and complex starches (brown rice, sweet potatoes, other grains). But I also eat lots of butter and nuts and avocado and other (healthy) fatty foods and I’m a big carnivore, but I’m careful about what I choose to eat. (My partner’s a chef and we’re both obsessed with delicious food. Don’t think this limits me.)
I think that when women like Angelina Jolie and Jennifer Garner say that they’ve lost weight because of breastfeeding, it’s true. If, for them, exercising and eating well is simply a part of their lifestyle, then yeah, it’s very likely that they went right back to how they were functioning pre-baby, which probably included lots of healthy choices. The way it’s picked up in the media and made to look like nursing is some wonder weight-loss solution, I agree is shameful.
I always feel sad for women who don’t nurse because I love it so much. I feel so close to my little munchkin, and I know how much it comforts her. Some of the most precious moments of my life have been spent nursing. I wish that more women would allow themselves to sit quietly and enjoy the precious time when their babies are so small and in need of them.
Unfortunately, the mainstream media sucks at creating realistic expectations about anything for anyone. That’s why the internet is so great
Lauren´s last blog .. Getting out.
Kat Eden January 21, 2010
LOVE this post, I felt like I was reading something I’d written … or at least thought. I relate I relate I relate! Oh – and just another theory on b/f weight loss: our bodies always think about survival first. A b/f’ing mother needs extra fat stores as a back-up in case food runs out. The best place to store long-term fat cells? Butt and thighs
Sarah February 1, 2010
Women who lose a lot of weight while breastfeeding might be always running after a very active nursing toddler. One of my toddlers wore a shirt that said: “sleep is for the weak” for the enlightenment of onlookers who could speed read.
Heather King February 17, 2010
I actually just posted on this topic and how, because of these stories, the only thing some people have ever heard about breastfeeding is that it’s some wonder diet (esp. thanks to all the celebrity stuff). Nothing about the health and mothering aspects, the critical bonding, the generally awesome (and hard won) experience. I have actually had people (e.g., MIL) imply I breastfed my kids beyond the “socially acceptable” year to burn calories. It’s ridiculous. The hype is not only misleading, it brings breastfeeding down to the level of some fad diet. I posted after reading a recent story about Heidi Klum, who finally put her foot down to that line of questioning about breastfeeding her new baby. Finally someone in the media calling BS on the overblown hype.
Heather King´s last blog ..Despite Celebri-hype, Breastfeeding is Hardly an Easy Weight Loss Plan.
Carrie Meadows March 19, 2010
I actually think women who are breastfeeding hold onto some weight because of the hormonal balances. Those who “got skinny” breastfeeding probably would have been back to their size 2s quickly anyway.
.Carrie Meadows´s last blog .. Laundry Boycott.
March 19, 2010
I agree @Lauren and others that pre-baby lifestyle has a big impact on post-baby weight loss. I did not a healthy lifestyle. Not only was my pregnancy weight gain attributable to quantity of food but I got pregnancy nutrition tips from “I Love Lucy.” I thought I had to drink lots of milk. I hate milk (and have since discovered I am sensitive/allergic to dairy) so forced myself to drink milk by mixing it with things that were yummy. Like sugared cereal (I’ve since been diagnosed allergic to wheat). Food is definitely something to learn about before getting pregnant. Lots about recovering from a difficult birth would have been easier had I really been healthy to begin with.
Also @Carrie Meadows, I have heard that as well about the significance of holding on to some weight. By baby number 2, I was focusing more on health and less on the size of my butt. Baby weight first time around is part of the shock of new parenthood, I think.