Everyone knows that breastfeeding helps you lose the excess fat leftover from your pregnancy. But it is more complex than that.
Breastfeeding by the numbers
Being a bit of a math geek, I thought I'd have some fun with the numbers. Let's start with the basics:
- Producing 1oz of breastmilk burns about 26 calories: According to Mary Hartley, RD on About.com's calorie count a nursing mother needs about 650 calories above her usual requirements to produce about 25 ounces of milk per day. To meet this energy need, the Institute of Medicine recommends eating 500 calories extra calories a day. The remaining 150 calories are drawn from fat stores accumulated during pregnancy.
- Babies take in an average of 25 ounces of milk per day: From 1 month old to 6 months old, babies take in an average of 25 ounces of milk per day. The normal range is from 19 ounces to 30 ounces. It probably averages around 25oz per day from 6 months to 12 months too, starting out slightly higher (perhaps at around 30oz) and ending somewhat lower (around 19oz) as the baby slowly incorporates solids into his diet. Between 12 and 24 months, average intake is 14 to 19 ounces and between 24 months and 36 months the average intake is 10 to 12 ounces per day. (source: kellymom.com milk calculator).
- Burning 1 pound of fat requires 3500 calories: It takes about 3500 calories to burn one pound of fat. That means a difference of 3500 calories between what a person takes in and what the person burns. Conversely, it takes 3500 calories to gain a pound of fat, i.e. if the person is taking in more calories than she is burning.
3 years of breastfeeding = 480,000 calories burned!
A woman whose baby nurses for 3 years according to the average amounts listed above would burn about 480,000 calories (about 230,000 during the first year, 150,000 during the second year, 100,000 during the third year).
If we assume that a breastfeeding mother and formula feeding mother both want to lose the same amount of weight, you could say that one of the following is true (or a combination of both)
- The breastfeeding mother can eat an additional 480,000 calories during that same time period compared with the formula feeding mother, which is equal to: 1632 Mars bars (more than 1 per day!), 1825 slices of pizza, 3356 bananas, 975 Big Macs, or 3453 cans of Coke (source).
- The formula feeding mother must burn an additional 480,000 calories during that same time period, which is equal to: 852 hours of running, 973 hours of cycling, 852 hours of swimming, 1137 hours of aerobics, or 1951 hours of walking carrying the baby (based on a 155 pound woman at average exertion levels for these activities).
The weaning reality check
With both of my kids, especially in the early days, I just couldn't eat enough. Every time I had a chance I was snacking on something and I lost weight. In fact I got down to my pre-baby weight with my second child in under a year, which I was pretty happy with (I'm no Angelia Jolie). But then it happened. I weaned from the pump.
My daughter was still nursing whenever we were together, but I weaned down from 2 pumping sessions per day (which was already a decrease from the 3 I had previously) to one pumping session per day. And then 4 months later I weaned off of that last pumping session. So I went from pumping about 8 oz per day to pumping 4 oz per day to pumping nothing at all. And my body responded, but not in kind. You see, I didn't cut out 100 calories from my daily intake with each pumping session that I dropped, which is what I needed to do to maintain my weight. So I gained 5 pounds...and then another 5 pounds.
So now with Christmas goodies breathing down my neck and a closet full of pants that are too tight, I'm wondering if I can manage to take those 10 pounds back off without feeling hungry all of the time. We'll see...
At least I have a reason to be thankful each time my daughter wakes up to nurse at night. :)