The breastfeeding and weightloss lie

Last updated 08:00 13/08/2014

MY STRUGGLE: "Every time I opened the formula tin it felt like I was a failure and my body was refusing to let me be the kind of mother I desperately wanted to be."

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'If you keep breastfeeding your body will spring back in no time,' said the midwife.

My daughter Ivy was less than two hours old, we were trying to latch her on to my breast, and we were having my first conversation about losing my baby weight.

Up until that point I wasn't thinking about my baby weight. My body had just made a person and undergone major abdominal surgery to give birth to that person. Was it too much to ask to take a few moments more to feel pride rather than shame about my body?

Yes, apparently it was.

There was no time to bask in the glory and wonder of procreation. I had baby weight to lose and according to conventional wisdom, breastfeeding is the way to do it.

But Ivy is my second child, so I knew from experience that, for me at least, the 'no-time' it takes to breastfeed away the kilos equals a bit over a year. In fact, my most rapid weight loss of baby weight came when I stopped breastfeeding.

But if you believe all the hype about celebrities such as Heidi Klum and Miranda Kerr breastfeeding the kilos away, you'd be forgiven for thinking that having a baby is about the best way to get your bikini body ready for summer.

For many women, though, breastfeeding away their baby weight is as likely as being cast in a Victoria's Secret parade.

The 'problem' is that to make breast milk you have to eat. Experts recommend breastfeeding mothers consume an additional 500-800 calories a day. And breastfeeding mothers often experience pangs of intense hunger that aren't going to be satisfied with celery sticks or a diet shake. When my milk supply is low the fastest way to boost it is with the help of my best friends fish and chips.

To breastfeed a baby you also have to be sitting down. Some babies feed every hour so there's no time to even walk to the letterbox - let alone pop out to the gym. Add to this the fact that women who breastfeed retain fluid so that their body can produce milk at a moment's notice.

Exactly what part of that scenario sounds like a plan for rapid weight loss?

Even the Australian Breastfeeding Association (ABA) is coy about the supposed connection between breastfeeding and weight loss.

'Mothers vary in when they lose this extra weight - some in the early weeks, some later and some not until after they have stopped breastfeeding,' states the ABA's website

The reality is that some women lose their baby weight quickly and some women don't, regardless of their feeding choices.

Nevertheless, the idea that breastfeeding will help you lose your baby weight persists. The social pressure for new mothers to do both things at once - breastfeed and lose their baby weight - is yet another way women are put in an impossible bind.

If they try to lose weight they won't make enough milk to feed their baby and if they eat enough to make milk they won't lose weight.

I understand the desire for women to lose their baby weight. I'm as keen as the next new mother to torch my daggy maternity jeans and reacquaint myself with waistbands.

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I also want to feel like me again rather than a baby-carrying vessel. Mothers lose so much of themselves when they give birth, that having some kind of bodily autonomy back - or at the least getting back to some semblance of normal, including weight - is a way of regaining our identity.

But to assume that we need the false promise of weight loss in order to breastfeed is insulting. The choice to breastfeed or bottlefeed is complex, personal and very often guilt-ridden. Myths and lies have no place in this decision.

Worst of all, the breastfeeding weight loss lies gives people yet one more excuse to talk about the appearance of women's bodies. And after nine months of heightened public scrutiny of our bodies, we really do deserve a break.

Kasey Edwards is the best-selling author of Thirty-Something and The Clock is Ticking: What happens when you can no longer ignore the baby question.

- Daily Life


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