What I told everyone in my circle was that I wanted to breastfeed because I was a loving mother who only wanted the best for my child. What I really meant was that I wanted to produce milk from my boobs so I could lose the baby weight — fast.
Way before I ever got pregnant, the idea of breastfeeding never appealed to me. I was breastfed as a child for an extended period of time, but still. It was a big adjustment for me to see my bouncy boobs as a food source.
When I was about to deliver my first son, I was actually more nervous to breastfeed for the first time than to show everyone my business end while giving birth. My midwives told me to watch breastfeeding YouTube videos and Google breastfeeding holds. That just made it worse. The perfectionist in me felt like I was going to be graded on how well I knew how to hold my child to get him to latch in those first exhausting moments after birth. No pressure.
So there are plenty of reasons I wasn’t too keen on breastfeeding, but there was one big reason I was willing to give it a try (besides the obvious nourishment of my child): weight loss. Every mom forum I read, every mom group I joined and every mom friend I had told me the same thing: Breastfeeding is amazing! You get to eat whatever you want. You get to watch TV and eat all the things and hold your baby and then eat more. This is the only time in your life when you’ll get this free pass to sit on your ass.
Where can I sign up? Imagine my dismay when the whole magic-weight-loss-breastfeeding-formula was a total bust — for me, anyway. If anything, I felt like breastfeeding made my body hold on to more weight so that I actually had some food left over to give my baby. When you think about it logically, it makes sense. When you think about it as a sleep-deprived new mom who wants nothing more than to get back to her pre-baby weight and feel like her old self again, it’s like beating your head against a wall.
“In many cases, the breastfeeding and weight loss claim does not really work like you think it will as a new mom.” But there is a silver lining, according to Dr. Fran Walfish, Beverly Hills relationship psychotherapist, author of The Self-Aware Parent and expert co-star on WE tv: “Dozens of new fathers tell me how beautiful, more desirous and sexy they find their wives’ bodies post-baby.”
From the medical perspective, Dr. Eric Garrison, clinical and forensic sexologist, explains why the promise of breastfeeding weight loss may be unattainable for many women: “It does require a considerable amount of calories to produce milk, which can make you crave more food. That’s OK, and try to make the foods you choose as nutritionally dense as possible. I hate when postpartum mothers are worried about weight but not their cholesterol. Or sleep. Or spirituality or mental health. All of those are important.”
Dr. Garrison recommends focusing on the eight dimensions of wellness as a new mom and not an arbitrary weight loss goal. He qualifies, “Also, for the best weight loss from breastfeeding and for it to function as birth control, it must be consistent as the sole source of nourishment for the first six months.”
In all of the obsessive breastfeeding research I did before Baby, I never found this kind of balanced information about breastfeeding and weight loss. Breastfeeding was supposed to be my one-way ticket back to my skinny jeans by doing something my body was designed to do — a far cry from what really went down in those first six months. My unrealistic expectations about breastfeeding and weight loss made me even more neurotic and self-critical as a new mom who already felt like I was screwing everything up.
It’s possible that breastfeeding can melt the pounds off some women, but in my experience, most magical breastfeeding and weight loss promises are completely overblown. We could do all new moms a favor by laying these rumors to rest.
I wanted to breastfeed to lose weight, and I was sorely disappointed. If I had to do it all over again, I’d take Dr. Fran’s advice and cut myself some slack: “New moms need to tell themselves the ‘temporary’ out-of-alignment body-weight zone is extended beyond breastfeeding. In other words, don’t expect or pressure yourself to return to your original body weight/shape until after weaning. Your best source of great self-esteem can be reaped from the pleasure of giving life to, nourishing and bonding with your amazing new infant.”