When I was pregnant with my first son, I gave myself permission to eat as much as I wanted. On some level I decided “you’re eating for two now” could reasonably be interpreted as “you’re eating for twelve now.” Having had a long history of binge eating and binge dieting, being pregnant gave me a margin of error I had never allowed myself (if you have ever weighed yourself before getting in the shower because dry hair is lighter than wet hair, you know what I mean). By the time I was ready to give birth, I had justified my way to a 50 pound weight gain. I consoled myself with the prospect of the sudden weight loss giving birth would bring. The average baby weighs about 8 pounds, I figured, and the placenta and assorted fluids had to weigh another 4 or 5 (yes, I looked up the weight of the average placenta) so in just a few hours I would take off at least 12 pounds. Cool. But then I would still be 35 pounds overweight. I panicked. Then I read that breastfeeding burns calories. Yes! I knew I would breastfeed – had never considered not breastfeeding. Now, breastfeeding came with weight loss benefits. Yay and pass the Doritos.
I knew exactly how much I weighed the day I gave birth. I know this because I made a point of weighing myself before leaving the apartment for the hospital. I don’t remember the number now – I’ve had therapy – but even in hard labor, I was thinking about getting thin. I didn’t get back on that scale for five days. The birthing center “squat and leave” birth I had planned became a cesarean section, a post-operative infection, and aspiration pneumonia. My new son and I (and my baby daddy who slept on a convertible armchair in my room) were in the hospital for four long days. Even after getting home, my priorities had shifted enough that getting on the scale was not the first thing I thought to do. But I thought of it on the second day home.
I had been through hell. Not only had a baby, placenta and assorted stuff been surgically removed, I had done a great deal of vomiting and no eating. I figured I must have lost a ton of weight. I got on the scale with very high hopes. I got on and off the scale four or five times. I asked baby daddy if something bad had happened to the scale while we were in the hospital. Somehow I weighed four pounds more than I had before giving birth. My weight loss master plan had been foiled by being on an I.V. for four days. I was more than 50 pounds overweight. Oh. My. God.
While I admit I figured out the number of calories I burned each hour I breastfed, I didn’t do anything differently in my breastfeeding relationship in order to lose weight. I read lots of stories of women whose weight just fell away. I heard of women who were struggling to keep weight on. I was not one of those women. There was a time I felt betrayed by the breastfeeding weight loss myth. In the end, post-partum, as during every other period of my life, I lost weight through diet and exercise. Okay, truthfully just diet.
There has a been a fresh run of news stories about breastfeeding and weight loss. I don’t know why – perhaps yet another tall, thin, actress attributed her rapid return to svelte to her breastfeeding and not her personal trainer. I always wonder why these stories are considered news. Are these stories about breastfeeding and weight loss so popular because it encourages women to breastfeed? Do women really make the decision not to use formula because they think breastfeeding leads to rapid weight loss? Wouldn’t that just be sad? Or is there just titillation in reading about Angelina Jolie’s breasts?
It makes me angry – no amount of breastfeeding was ever going to turn me into Angelina Jolie. Did I want breastfeeding to help me take off the weight I shouldn’t have put on in the first place? Yeah. Would I have made a different infant feeding decision based on whether breastfeeding helped me lose weight? Of course not.
The great Amy Spangler wrote this piece about the scientific evidence concerning breastfeeding and weight loss. It is short and to the point. Breastfeeding can result in an average weight loss of 4.4 pounds. This is a good thing but in the long list of ways in which breastfeeding is superior to formula feeding for both mother and child, it is no big deal. So how about more breastfeeding journalism that matters and less that creates unrealistic expectations for us just plain (chubby) folk.