Breastfeeding Makes You Skinny and Other Post Birth Myths
Myth One: Breastfeeding Makes You Skinny
Many mums rejoice when ‘Dr Google’ tells them that producing milk and breastfeeding uses between 330-600 calories – surely that means that I will easily lose my baby weight right?? This expectation is compounded by well meaning family and friends who say things like ‘The weight will fall off you…. As soon as you start breastfeeding, your weight just disappears.’
Although producing milk and breastfeeding certainly consumes energy, many women struggle to lose weight after having babies even though they are breastfeeding – I certainly did!
There are many reasons for this, but probably the most significant one is again, our hormones. Also people’s metabolism varies as does everyone’s particular sensitivity to hormones.
When the breast feeding hormone, prolactin, is high it causes our oestrogen levels to drop which in turn causes lack of ovulation. This means that our progesterone drops. Oestrogen helps leptin work, which is a hormone that regulates our appetite. When we have lower levels of leptin, we don’t feel full easily, which means our portion sizes increase, increasing the amount of energy we consume, and therefore, our tendency to gain weight.
Cortisol, one of our main stress related hormones, also tends to cause us to gain weight. Most new mums find the constant cycle of feeding, uncertainty and worrying that so often accompanies having a new baby, stressful. This stress causes the release of cortisol, which increases our appetite hormones and increases our body’s capacity to store fat (particularly abdominal fat).
Similarly sleep deprivation, reduces our basal metabolic rate and increases our appetite hormones – again increasing our body’s tendency to store fat as energy reserves.
It makes sense in many ways, that so many of our hormonal changes post-birth are designed to help us maintain our weight. Being able to retain weight while breastfeeding would have been helpful for most of human history. It would have protected us during times of feast and famine and meant that our baby would be more likely to survive difficult times.
Importantly, one thing that breast feeding does do, is it causes more of the hormone oxytocin to be produced in response to our baby’s suckling. While this allows milk to be released from the breast, it also causes contractions in the uterus. This means that the uterus contracts down to its normal size more quickly if you breastfeed than if you don’t, which helps your tummy decrease slightly in size.
It is advised that a lactating mother focuses on a healthy, balanced diet consisting of (daily):
- 5 serves of vegetables,
- 2 serves of fruit,
- 9 serves of grains
- 5 serves of lean meat
- 5 serves of dairy.
Exercise is also important, but wait until you are given the all clear from your GP or Obstetrician. Remember your body’s tissues have to heal so you may need to wait 6 weeks post delivery before starting exercise, and start slowly – Walking twice a day for about 15 minutes is a good start.
Myth Two: Breast is Best.
Yes, breast milk is known to supply our baby with good gut flora that are important in preventing eczema, allergies and certain childhood infections, but ‘breast is best ‘doesn’t hold true for everyone.
We may all wish to breastfeed. However, just as I wish to play tennis like Roger Federer, for many reasons, that situation will never be attainable no matter how much coaching and help I receive. The same may be true for a woman’s ability to breast feed no matter how hard they try. Remember the sky DOESN’T fall in if you formula feed.
Myth Three: If You Encourage Your Baby to Keep Feeding He/She will go Longer Between Feeds.
If your baby is sucking well and gaining weight, keeping him or her mechanically attached to your breast for long periods doesn’t increase the amount of milk he/she takes in, or mean that he/she will feed less often. Your breast is not a tap – it is a reservoir. 8 minutes of continuous sucking will empty the breast, as will 12 minutes of interrupted sucking. Most babies need breastfeeding every 2-3 hours as breast milk is easy to digest.
Myth Four: It is Good to Breastfeed as Long as Possible.
This is true, but any time given to breastfeeding is beneficial. It is advised now to add some solids into your baby’s diet when he/ she is 4-5 months old.
Myth Five: Giving your Breast a ‘Rest’ From Feeding Helps the Milk Supply.
Interestingly, the opposite of this myth is true! The act of suckling stimulates the production of milk. If you can’t feed for a particular reason it is wise to express the milk to ensure your breasts keep producing milk.
Myth Six: Formula Fed Babies Sleep Better.
Research suggests formula fed babies don’t sleep better but may sleep longer, as the artificial milk isn’t digested as quickly as breast milk. Breastfed babies do start sleeping longer at about 4 weeks of age and are soon sleeping the same amount of time as formula fed babies.
Myth Seven: You Need to Drink a Lot of Milk if you are Breastfeeding.
This simply isn’t true. The calcium requirements are the same for a non-pregnant, pregnant, or breastfeeding woman. Breastfeeding may make you thirsty however, so keep up your fluid intake (water or milk), particularly if you are thirsty.
Myth Eight: You Can’t Go Out with your Friends Minus your Baby if you are Breastfeeding
Again this is simply not true. Once your baby’s routine is more settled (usually after about 3 months), you can better time either your going out around feeding or express some milk before heading out. If you plan on the latter, it would be good to occasionally try your baby with a bottle beforehand, as the rubber teat does have a different feel and taste. And remember, if at first it doesn’t succeed then try again on a different occasion, gradual persistence usually wins through.
Myth Nine: Breastfeeding Makes your Breasts Sag
This myth is a little true and a little untrue… Your breasts are more likely to be saggy after children, but this isn’t because of breastfeeding itself, but the hormones produced during pregnancy.
Myth Ten: Postnatal Depression is Normal. All New Mothers Feel Depressed.
New mothers often feel tired, overwhelmed and teary. Most times this is what is called the ‘baby blues’. These feelings don’t usually last very long however, and usually resolve within about 4 about weeks.
Postnatal depression is more than just the baby blues. The feelings are stronger and last longer. There are lots of symptoms, which are different for everyone, but some of the more common ones can include sleep disturbance not related to your baby’s needs, feeling as though you can’t cope, feeling overwhelmed by negative thoughts, persistent ‘brain fog’, feeling worthless, not wanting to respond or play with your new baby, or feeling a lack of emotion towards your baby and feeling unable to look after its needs.
Postnatal depression does not always develop straight after delivery but can develop any time in the first year.
Always seek help if you are worried about depression, or if you just seem unable to ‘shake the blues.’
Myth Eleven: If you have Postnatal Depression you are a Bad Mother and must have Done Something Wrong.
No, absolutely not!!!! Developing postnatal depression has NOTHING to do with your nothing skills and it is NOT your fault!! If you are unlucky enough to develop Postnatal Depression, there is nothing you could have done to avoid it – but there is help and treatment available so talk to your Child Health Nurse or GP.
Myth Twelve: The sooner I start exercising again the better I will feel.
We suggest you don’t start exercising again straight after your delivery. The timing to restart exercise depends on how the pregnancy and delivery went. Certainly there are benefits in exposure to sunshine, and walking can cause your body to produce the ‘feel good hormones’ that help lift a low mood. However if you are experiencing symptoms of postnatal depression, exercise won’t fix them and you need to se you GP for help.