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Breastfeed and Say Bye Bye to Baby Weight: Does Breastfeeding Really Speed Weight Loss?

Posted Nov 13 2009 10:01pm
Yet another benefit of breastfeeding - losing those pregnancy pounds. 


Maybe you remember last year's study of 36,000 Danish moms.  Those who breastfed lost the most post-baby weight, those who did it the longest, the more weight loss.  Sounds right.  It takes a lot of calories to make that nutrient-rich milk.  Around 500 calories per day.  Look at the thin women who swear by breastfeeding.  Especially the uber-sticks like Angelina Jolie.

So, breastfeeding = weight loss.

Problem is, it might not be completely accurate.  Even the New York Times, home of the infamous "Breastfeed Or Else" piece toned down the authoritative tone on yesterday's print article - Breast-Feed the Baby, Skip the Dieting?.  Though the on-line headline was more emphatic - Breast-Feed the Baby, Love the Calorie Burn.

Remember all those complicated factors complicating the study of breastfeeding?  Women who breastfeed differ in some substantial ways from those who don't.  And those who do it for a year, even more so.  Not your average mamas.  In addition to the education and affluence, I bet they're more health conscious in general, with all that entails.  Healthy eating.  Regular exercise.   Ya da ya da.   

Fortunately the Times piece made reference to the other studies that haven't found this body boost for BF'ing mothers.  In fact, there's some evidence women who don't BF may lose more weight:
A small double-blind randomized study conducted at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center found that non-lactating women lost more body fat than lactating women at six months, and at a faster rate. Karen Wosje, its lead author, suggested that the appetite stimulant prolactin could lead nursing mothers to overeat. Or the fact that non-lactating mothers were able to exercise more vigorously than the nursing mothers in the first half year may have tipped the scale in their favor.

Myself, I was insatiably hungry while breastfeeding. Uncomfortably so. I think I might have actually gained weight.  And seriously, what lactating woman can exercise vigorously?  If you did, please email me.  I would love to know the amazing sports bra you must have found.

Could BF in and of itself speed weight loss?  Maybe, if you don't feel the urge to eat for three.  OR if you can manage to walk, run, jump, swim, whatever, without feeling like you were seriously compromising some serious body parts.  And if you weren't sleep-deprived and lacking motivation or the health to think about the gym.  And the time to exercise.  So, realistically speaking, breastfeeding doesn't spell weight loss for every woman.   

I would have missed the story had there not been a few more minutes to kill on the treadmill.  There it was in the Style section, buried next to this winter's must-have accessories (over-the-knee boots), detailed instructions for creating ($1,200 a month) Gossip Girl hair, and the front page on what it's like teaching girls to walk models.  What else have I been missing in the style news?

And so it goes, a discussion of women's health on page three of the style section  in the Skin Deep column as if it's just another look at anti-aging moisturizers or cellulite treatments.  Hmmm.
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