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How Many Calories Do I Burn From Breastfeeding?

Here’s the deal on how breastfeeding really affects postpartum weight loss.
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By Dani Wolfe, Contributing Writer
Published May 14, 2024
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Image: Taras Grebinets | Shutterstock

Breastfeeding is a lot of work. In fact, experts say that the energy needed to breastfeed baby each day is the amount you’d use to walk seven miles. So it’s likely that you’ve wondered: How many calories does breastfeeding burn?

Of course, there should be absolutely no pressure or rush to lose weight postpartum. Staying nourished is the most important thing you can do for yourself and your little one right now. That said, it’s natural to be curious about your calories burned breastfeeding. Here’s a deep dive into calorie burn, weight loss and weight gain while nursing baby.

How Many Calories Do You Burn Breastfeeding?

“Calories burned during breastfeeding depend on many factors, like baby’s age, frequency of nursing, and ultimately how much milk mom is producing and its caloric density,” says Rachel DiGiacomo, RDN, LD, a registered dietitian nutritionist, founder of Good Sense Nutrition and expert partner with HONEY, a site that provides nutritional counseling to support breastfeeding parents. She adds that if you’re exclusively breastfeeding, you could burn around 500 to 700 calories a day. But if you’re breastfeeding part-time, you might only burn 250 to 400 calories a day.

How Many Calories Should You Take in While Breastfeeding?

Your body needs about 450 to 500 extra calories a day to make breast milk for baby, according to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG).

As baby grows, you might need to up your calorie intake. “In the immediate postpartum period up to six months postpartum, women should increase their caloric intake by 330 calories per day… From seven to 12 months postpartum, breastfeeding parents should increase their caloric intake by 400 calories per day,” says Brandye Wilson-Manigat, MD, a board-certified ob-gyn and medical advisor for Cure, a plant-based hydrating electrolyte mix.

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Keep in mind that individual needs are different for all moms and new parents. “The best way to gauge what your body needs is to eat regular meals and listen to your hunger cues,” says DiGiacomo. “Your body will tell you this, and it may change daily.” She adds that if you need help navigating postpartum nutrition, she recommends reaching out to a registered dietitian.

Does Breastfeeding Help You Lose Weight?

There’s conflicting data on the effects of breastfeeding on postpartum weight loss, says Wilson-Manigat. Still, says DiGiacomo, breastfeeding can potentially help you lose weight since it burns calories.

Is it safe to lose weight while breastfeeding?

It’s generally safe to lose weight while breastfeeding as long as you do it gradually and pay attention to your body’s needs. DiGiacomo cautions not to even attempt cutting calories until after three months postpartum to allow time to establish your milk supply. At that point, she says it’s safe to reduce your calories by around 300 a day; she doesn’t recommend exceeding a 500-calorie deficit, though.

Creating a calorie deficit doesn’t have to be solely through food. It can also be through exercise, such as a daily walk, DiGiacomo adds. “Remember, it’s important to nourish your body because eating too little can be detrimental to milk supply and may even result in weight gain,” says DiGiacomo.

Amy Wetter, MD, a board-certified ob-gyn at Pediatrix Medical Group in Atlanta with over 20 years of experience, adds that losing weight while breastfeeding can be safe as long as you stay hydrated and eat a healthy, balanced diet “in order to let your body heal and provide nutrition for baby.”

Can You Gain Weight While Breastfeeding?

You can absolutely gain weight while breastfeeding. “Having a new baby is stressful, which can impact your cortisol levels and your ability to lose weight,” says Wetter. “You’ll also likely be sleep-deprived, may make poor food choices because of stress and sleep deprivation and have difficulty getting into an exercise routine with a new baby.”

Another factor? Prolactin. While this hormone, which is responsible for lactation, helps with milk production, it “may stimulate hunger and suppress your fat metabolism,” says Wetter.

What’s a Healthy Breastfeeding Diet?

A healthy breastfeeding diet emphasizes “high-quality protein, whole-grain carbohydrates, healthy fats and colorful fruits and vegetables,” says DiGiacomo. Staying hydrated is key to supporting milk production, she adds. If you’d like to tailor an individualized plan for yourself, be sure to reach out to a registered dietitian.

While breastfeeding baby, it’s important to focus on nourishing your body with healthy food and plenty of hydration to help you and baby thrive during this journey.

Please note: The Bump and the materials and information it contains are not intended to, and do not constitute, medical or other health advice or diagnosis and should not be used as such. You should always consult with a qualified physician or health professional about your specific circumstances.

Sources

Rachel DiGiacomo, RDN, LD, is a registered dietitian nutritionist, founder of Good Sense Nutrition and expert partner with HONEY, where she provides nutritional counseling to support breastfeeding mothers. She received her bachelor's degree in Nutrition and Dietetics at Penn State University and has an additional certification in adult and pediatric weight management.

Amy Wetter, MD, is a board-certified ob-gyn at Pediatrix Medical Group in Atlanta with over 20 years of experience. She received her medical degree from the University of Louisville School of Medicine and completed her ob-gyn residency at the University of Cincinnati.

Brandye Wilson-Manigat, MD, is a board-certified ob-gyn and medical advisor for Cure, a plant-based hydrating electrolyte powder mix. She received her medical degree from the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA and has over 15 years of experience in women’s health care.

Western Missouri Medical Center, 10 Facts You Didn’t Know About Breastfeeding

American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, Breastfeeding Your Baby, July 2023

Cleveland Clinic, Prolactin, February 2022

Learn how we ensure the accuracy of our content through our editorial and medical review process.

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