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Breastfeeding and Weight Loss

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The NYT has a great piece on breastfeeding and weight loss in tomorrow’s Style Section:
“…(D)oes breast-feeding actually speed weight loss in postpartum women? It depends.
Last year, an epidemiological study of 36,000 Danish women found that the more a mother breast-feeds, the less weight she retains six months after birth. A few factors determined how much she lost: whether a woman was overweight before pregnancy, what she gained while expecting and duration of nursing, said Kathleen M. Rasmussen, an author of the study and a nutrition professor at Cornell.
The study’s convincing data impressed experts like Cheryl A. Lovelady, a nutrition professor at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro. But, she said, referring to the Danish women, “we don’t breast-feed as long as they do.” Other studies, however, have found that breast-feeders don’t necessarily shed fat quicker than women who feed their newborns formula. A small double-blind randomized study conducted at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center found that non-lactating women lost more body fat than lactating women at six months, and at a faster rate. Karen Wosje, its lead author, suggested that the appetite stimulant prolactin could lead nursing mothers to overeat. Or the fact that non-lactating mothers were able to exercise more vigorously than the nursing mothers in the first half year may have tipped the scale in their favor.
…What then to make of tales of prodigious eating among thinning breast-feeders? Dr. Lovelady suspects some of them who say they eat without consequence used to be “restrained eaters.” That is, they ate fewer calories than they expended — say, 1,700 calories instead of 2,000 — which, counterintuitively, slowed their metabolism. Once pregnant, they ate enough to keep their metabolism humming for the sake of their baby. Postpartum, “they are losing a pound a week,” Dr. Lovelady said. Yet, “they are eating a whole lot more” since making milk requires about 500 calories daily.
Breast-feeding mothers face many obstacles: little hospital help, public squeamishness and too-short maternity leave. So advocates like Marsha Walker, a registered nurse who has helped lactating mothers since 1976, don’t hesitate to tout pro-baby and pro-mother reasons to nurse. Baby can get an immunity boost, and mothers with breast cancer in the family may lower their risk. (Nursing itself also helps the uterus shrink back to size.)

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