Not a week goes by when I don't read about breastfeeding in the news. This week, it's all about the calories, fat and nursing moms. One of the benefits attributed to breastfeeding is the speedy loss of excess pounds gained during pregnancy. In fact, several Hollywoods stars from Angelina Jolie to Nicole Richie attest that breastfeeding has helped then lose weight. Ana Ortiz of Ugly Betty even considers breastfeeding as "nature's lipo". Not only that, more recently, Nicole Kidman shares that the curves she gained as a result of breastfeeding her daugher Sunday, helped her cinch parts calling for a "sultry beauty".
My own experience has been somewhat similar - I was able to squeeze back into my pre-pregnancy pants after about 3 weeks. One friend, Pepper who is still breastfeeding her 8-month old baby, swears that she weighs 10 pounds less than what she weighed before she got pregnant.
Indeed, breastfeeding has been attributed to helping moms burn off the pounds. However, in last week's Skin Deep column of the New York Times, writer Catherine Saint Louis focused on 2 studies with contrasting results. First was a 2008 Danish study which concluded that:
Breastfeeding was associated with lower post-partum weight retention in all categories of prepregnancy body mass index. These results suggest that, when combined with gestational weight gain values of approximately 12kg (26.45 pounds), breastfeeding as recommended could eliminate weight retention by 6 months postpartum in many women.
An earlier second study conducted in 2004 in Cincinnati, however, has a different finding:
Body composition changes occur differently in nonlacting and lactating women during the first 6 months postpartum (the study also found that non-lactating women loss whole body, arm and leg fat than nursing moms between 2 weeks to 6 months postpartum) and occur at some sites until 12 months postpartum regardless of previous lactation status.
I doubt that the findings of the second study will lead a mother to choose formula feeding over breastfeeding instead. Most of the mothers I've met who formula feed their babies WANTED to breastfeed their babies but weren't able to do so due to lack of support, low milk etc. etc.. I have to admit though that I did meet mothers who NEVER wanted to breastfeed their babies because they were too vain (they think nursing makes their breasts sag - untrue!) or breastfeeding just simply did not fit their lifestyle (I mean, how can you party when you have a baby waiting to feed from you at home) --> this is a topic for another post.
Anyway, even if I am still nursing Naima at 23 months, I have gained some pounds. I did go back to my pre-pregnancy weight but with my complacency at the thought of burning 500 extra calories while nursing, I've gained back pounds which I'm now trying to lose. I've held off dieting because I want my milk to contain all the nutrients Naima needs and I have this unfounded fear that dieting will lead to less milk production.
That said, I still WANT to nurse Naima (and my yet to be conceived children) even if formula-feeding moms lose weight faster than nursing moms. I breastfeed because it is best for my baby and not because I want to lose weight. I have to admit that although the Hollywood stars glamorize breastfeeding, they also put extra pressure on moms being able to go back to their pre-pregnancy figures. Much like breastfeeding relationships, each mom has a different body, different metabolism and will have different experiences at weight loss when breastfeeding. I think it WILL be a lot easier for moms (nursing or not) to accept that we are now mothers and it's more important to ensure that our babies are healthy rather than making sure that we go back to our pre-pregnancy weight.