Estimating weight from breastfeeding
July 18, 2008 4:13 PM   Subscribe

Fitness/Breastfeeding Filter: how do you estimate weight retention from breastfeeding?

I'm an overweight woman and I am breastfeeding. I'd like to determine a healthy weight for myself, but I am unsure how much extra weight I have due to breastfeeding. Most calculators for BMI or anything like that are not meant for breastfeeding, of course. And none of the healthy weights charts are either.

My baby is older and on solids, but still nursing about six times a day, perhaps a bit more. How much extra weight would I have due to nursing? I would think there's a range, of course.

Just to clarify, I'm not looking to stop nursing. I just want to get a sense of where my weight is and where I should take it. I'm going to be nursing for at least another 15 months. I don't really want to wait till then to do the calculations. And I don't need to be totally scientific -- it's just that I find numbers motivating.

Is there a rule of thumb for estimating weight from increased breast tissue and milk? I have lost all of my pregnancy weight, fwiw. But I'm assuming that I have some weight due to breastfeeding, given that I've gone up 4+ cup sizes. I have a more than adequare supply or milk. And you would normally say that I have pendulous breasts, even when I am not breastfeeding (according to my doctor, who says that they probably make me weigh 15 lbs more than a typical person, when I am not breastfeeding).

Note: I am not looking to do anything unhealthy. It's just that I am motivated by numbers and percentages and things like that, when it comes to weight loss. Also, you are not my doctor, etc.

posted by anonymous to Health & Fitness (8 answers total)
I know where you're coming from, having gone up three cup sizes when I was first breastfeeding. As time went on and the girl nursed less and less, they did shrink gradually, almost to where they were before -- but then I went and got pregnant before weaning, so now they're on the upswing again. I don't think there's any rule of thumb, because each woman's experience is so different. With larger breasts to begin with, and an ample supply of milk, you almost certainly have quite a few more pounds dedicated to lactation than the average B cup. And, as you know, it depends a great deal on the time of day and how full you are!

I wonder if it might be more helpful to focus on another metric to gauge your progress. Waist and hip measurements, for example, or even pants size. You could also have body fat percentage estimated with calipers (most gym and personal trainers will do this). It won't be accurate over all, of course, because of the extra tissue in the breasts, but it should give you a ballpark for the rest of the body. No matter which metric you choose, even weight, the trend line over time -- and how you feel: fit? strong? toned? -- is what really matters, more than the absolute numbers.
posted by libraryhead at 5:02 PM on July 18, 2008

Are you also going to account for the fact that your body uses more calories (ie, "burns calories") making the milk? A LOT more calories.

Postpartum women actually lose weight if they breastfeed. Breastfeeding does not likely lead to weight gain. Being a new mom can be stressful, and some people deal with stress by consuming more calories.

Also, women who are overweight before their pregnancy, find it harder to lose weight postpartum as compared to women who were not overweight before their pregnancy.

Good luck.
posted by hal_c_on at 5:50 PM on July 18, 2008

I agree with libraryhead that every body's different and that other metrics are probably more worth your attention as goals. I'd guess that two pounds would be a generous allowance for breasts full of milk, and if you get to within plus or minus two pounds of a healthy goal weight, you'll probably be happy and healthy and still accounting for breast weight. If you really want to try to figure it out though, you could weigh your baby before and after a full day of nursing. Ounces of milk produced per day = ounces you wouldn't typically have. Tissue, ducts etc. probably negligible, especially given your description of your pre-pregnancy breasts.

Another number that might give you a point of reference is that Weight Watchers recommends that breastfeeding women add (or retain) an extra 10 points (about 500 calories) per day in their diets.

Postpartum women actually lose weight if they breastfeed. Breastfeeding does not likely lead to weight gain. Being a new mom can be stressful, and some people deal with stress by consuming more calories.
Perhaps for some. The hunger and thirst I experienced during postpartum bfing left my pregnancy hunger in the dust!
posted by cocoagirl at 7:14 PM on July 18, 2008

Me too!! I'm a big girl and was really looking forward to the BF weightloss. Didn't happen! The hunger I had while BF was AMAZING! Both times. I tried to eat healthy and watch my calories but if they got too low, my milk supply would suffer. Finally I decided that BF was much more important than losing weight. I didn't lose a pound and with my first, actually gained. YMMV
posted by pearlybob at 7:49 PM on July 18, 2008

My data point: The 1st 6 months of breastfeeding, no significant weight loss. From my son's 6th month to @18th month, I ate whatever I wanted, and dropped weight effortlessly, back to less than I weighed pre-pregnancy. Make sure you're getting enough water and fluids. You may be eating when you're actually thirsty more than hungry. I loved nursing; it was so cozy. Happy to hear you're planning to nurse for a while.
posted by theora55 at 7:05 AM on July 19, 2008

follow-up from the OP
I just wanted to follow up to say that I think the more technical definition of the information I'm looking for would be the weight of increased breast tissue, fat stores, milk supply, etc. I'm aware that breastfeeding women lose weight faster than others and that calories in minus calories out is a factor. I just wanted to know if any weight could be attributed to having lactating breasts. Thanks.
posted by jessamyn at 8:27 AM on July 19, 2008

Your assumption seems to be that all the increased cup size is due to milk and 'BF' specific fat, which may not be true as many slim and small chested women manage to breastfeed just fine. Of course everybody is different but I would guess that your current BF normal weight would not be significantly more than your normal weight (incl. your 15lbs 'extra').

Non-scientific approach
Work out what you have to lose to get there and work to that level. If you find that you've reduced your calorie intake to a level where it reduces your milk flow up it again a little bit. I'd probably focus on calories burned/muscle mass and not reduce calorie intake significantly initially. Your body will tell you what works and what doesn't work.

Scientific approach
You are probably best of discussing this with a dietician and a midwife/BF counsellor/doctor, as well as a personal trainer who has worked with post partum women - they can give you a much better idea about what the likely impact of nursing is, of your current fat/muscle ratios and where you want to be than any computations you can do at home, all of which will use standard populations as reference point.
posted by koahiatamadl at 9:54 AM on July 19, 2008

I'm willing to bet that koahiatamadl has never breastfed. Speaking from experience, the amount of milk-producing apparatus in a working G-cup will certainly be noticed on the scale. Couldn't you just give yourself an allowance of, say, 10 or 15 pounds above goal weight the BMI chart recommends? Once you get to that point, then see where you are and if you're satisfied. I did find that pretty much any attempt at calorie reduction while BF reduced my milk supply and left me with a very angry babe on my hands. Exercise did not have the same effect, although I didn't do much in the way of really high-intensity or extended cardio. Weight training and yoga were very effective at improving my body shape and sense of wellbeing while not adversely affecting milk supply. Remember that while you are lactating, your body is already working hard, much as it was when you were pregnant, and it's easy to push too hard, leaving yourself drained, both literally and figuratively.

As for finding expert help, in my experience midwives and lactation consultants don't know much about diet and fitness, most trainers don't know much about pregnancy and breastfeeding, and most primary care doctors don't know much about either fitness OR breastfeeding. You might seek out someone who offers pre/postnatal fitness classes and/or training specifically. Yoga studios or your local mothers' group should be able to offer a referral.
posted by libraryhead at 12:45 PM on July 19, 2008

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