Why It's Totally Normal To Gain Weight After Breastfeeding

While breastfeeding, most women burn around an extra 500 calories a day to meet the demands of milk production (per Healthline). In fact, the body's revved-up metabolism during breastfeeding can even contribute to weight loss, as shown in a 2009 meta-analysis comparing studies on the matter. La Leche League adds that most breastfeeding mothers can expect to lose up to two pounds a month, and as a general rule lose more weight than those who do not breastfeed. However, they note that weight loss is not always a given, as other factors come into play, including diet and physical activity levels. The Mayo Clinic points out that even when breastfeeding, you may not lose all the pregnancy weight you gained until six to nine months after giving birth.

If you're getting ready to wean from breastfeeding, or already have, you may be concerned about weight gain now that your body isn't producing breast milk. Here's what we know.

Your body no longer needs the extra calories

If you're noticing the numbers on the scale creep up after weaning your child from breastfeeding, you aren't alone. OB/GYN G. Thomas Ruiz affirms this to SELF: "It's really common that women will stop breastfeeding and their weight goes up." He explains that this phenomenon is due to a difference in caloric needs. Unfortunately, the body no longer requires as many calories following breastfeeding, although many women still feel the same level of hunger cues. In short, your body may continue to signal you to consume excess calories through increased hunger signals, but it will no longer burn them off.

There are additional reasons why weight gain can occur after breastfeeding. According to FirstCry Parenting, your body has to recalibrate to changing hormone levels, which can mess with your metabolism, in turn leading to weight gain. For example, the hormone responsible for milk production, prolactin, is released during breastfeeding; however, after weaning, this hormone decreases slowly and brings with it the consequence of reducing the metabolism of fat within the body.

How to mitigate weight gain when stopping breastfeeding

While it's completely normal to gain some weight after you stop breastfeeding, there are ways to minimize the possibility of it happening, as well as things you can do if you've already noticed weight gain and feel concerned about your overall health. Mom Junction provides some tips. The first step is to gradually decrease your overall food intake. You may still receive increased hunger cues, but they will slowly adjust as you consume smaller serving sizes. It's important not to drastically cut your food intake, but rather make small and slow changes to give your body time to adjust.

Mom Junction also encourages choosing healthy snacks, like fruit and nuts, to keep caloric intake low without sacrificing on nutrition. Additionally, if you are able, engaging in regular exercise can also go a long way in preventing post-breastfeeding weight gain. The outlet points out that it isn't necessary to set aside a huge block of time for physical activity — a few 15-minute sessions throughout the day should suffice. Just remember to take things slowly if you haven't incorporated exercise into your day-to-day in a while.

Jessica Cording, an RN based in New York, gave SELF a couple of additional ideas. For starters, you can consider keeping a food journal or using a food-tracking app to get a better idea of how many calories you're consuming throughout the day and whether you're fulfilling your overall nutritional needs. You can then adjust as needed.