The effect of breastfeeding on weight loss & fat (re)distribution

Following on from my previous lament, I mean post, about increased abdominal fat at 3-months after Caesarean section delivery… it turns out that there may be another reason why we hang onto that extra bit of fat post-delivery… breastfeeding.

Now before you grab your white hoods and come around to pitchfork me to death, I’ll preface this post by saying we all know about the benefits of breastfeeding. I am totally pro breastfeeding. I am also totally pro formula feeding if for some reason breastfeeding doesn’t work for you. Let’s not get gung-ho-puritanical-extremist about this. For this post, I merely want to discuss the less-discussed effects of breast-feeding.

Everyone’s always saying “breastfeeding helps you lose weight”. Indeed this is true, for two main reasons:

(1) Shortly after you’ve given birth: breastfeeding causes the release of oxytocin into your body, which triggers uterine contractions and involution (return of the uterus to its normal size and shape). The faster this happens, the faster the residual blood and yucky stuffs are expelled from your body, and bingo your weight magically disappears. Haha, not quite…

(2) For months after delivery (well, for as long as you breastfeed regularly): you use up to 500 calories a day being a Jersey cow – this will aid your weight loss “if you maintain a regular diet”. Note the last part…

Here are some facts are NOT given to you on your hospital/ lactation consultant handout:
• The hormone prolactin is key in the production of breast milk
• Prolactin also affects fatty tissue: raised prolactin levels result in reduced fat metabolism
• Prolactin also affects other aspects of metabolism: it can increase insulin resistance (a precursor to diabetes)

This has all been proven in studies
• One study fed bromocriptine (a drug that reduces prolactin secretion) to poor unsuspecting hamsters, and found that a reduction in prolactin secretion reduced abdominal fat stores, thereby resulting in weirdly skinny hamsters who were the envy of all their friends
• Another study knocked out prolactin receptors in mice and found that this resulted in reduced body weight and 49% less abdominal fat. These mice then went on to become famous models

As if prolactin wasn’t doing enough to diss your post-birth body by increasing fat stores, it also stimulates food intake (yeah, that’s why you always have the munchies when you’re a breastfeeding mamma…). That’s why I said before ‘if you maintain a regular diet’. Most women who don’t lose any weight post delivery are eating way more than they burn… (Unfortunately) breastfeeding doesn’t give you license to crash the Sizzler buffet every night.

Remember there is there is nothing fancy about weight loss post pregnancy. It is the same as weight loss at any other time: burn more than you eat, just as stated at Anyway, it is better to place more emphasis on fitness rather than body weight.

Bottom line: breastfeeding will help with weight loss (1) Immediately post-delivery and (2) As long as your dietary intake doesn’t exceed energy expenditure. Unfortunately there may be a re-distribution of fat, as prolactin (the main hormone for breastfeeding) promotes the storage of fat, particularly around the abdominal area.

Let’s face it, the fat is stored there for a reason… in case you can’t munch on anything you have reserves so that your baby doesn’t starve. I’ve seen on the web that some women purposely stop breastfeeding so that they can ‘regain their pre-pregnancy bodies’. I think this is insane… mostly because your body will never be the same again, regardless of whether you breastfeed or not!

If you don’t want your body to change, I suggest you don’t have children… 😉

Cincotta AH, Meier AH. Reduction of body fat stores by inhibition of prolactin secretion. Experientia. 1987 Apr 15;43(4):416-7.
Freemark M, Fleenor D, Driscoll P, Binart N, Kelly P. Body weight and fat deposition in prolactin receptor-deficient mice. Endocrinology. 2001 Feb;142(2):532-7.
P Kok, F Roelfsema, M Frölich, A. Edo Meinders, Hanno Pijl. Prolactin Release Is Enhanced in Proportion to Excess Visceral Fat in Obese Women. Endocrine Care, September 2004, 89 (9): 4445

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One Comment

  1. Pingback: WOD 13+4 days post Caesarean section delivery | Push Ups, Pull Ups & Pregnancy

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