If I could go back in time and find a way to successfully breastfeed my three daughters instead of formula-feeding them, I would — because I learned how amazing breastfeeding is from experiencing it with my fourth child. I love the convenience, the special quiet time together, and how breastfeeding comforts my baby like nothing else can. I also found a positive, selfish side effect: I dropped my baby weight in half the time it took when I was formula feeding. I'm not saying that I would breastfeed solely for the benefit of getting my prebaby body back, but I'm certainly not mad at the fact that my son is 9 months old and I can already wear all of my old clothes.
Here's something I didn't know about breastfeeding before I started the practice with my son: It can burn up to 640 calories per day, depending on your baby's appetite and your body — factors like your size and how much activity you get play a role. In my son's case, he nursed up to 12 times in 24 hours as a newborn. Although I felt like he was always attached to my boobs, which was mentally and physically exhausting, I noticed that the calorie burn really made a difference in how quickly I started losing weight. Plus, I saw my belly go down far faster than when I'd had my girls.
Though I'd wanted to breastfeed with my three girls, and I tried, it just wasn't in the cards. I had a bad experience with a breast pump nearly pulling my boob off (I swear!), then my milk didn't come in, and my daughters all had jaundice, so I was encouraged to supplement with formula in the hospital. They took to formula easily, and I never looked back. Meanwhile, I struggled to lose weight. I was glad my girls were happy, healthy, and fed, but was disappointed I couldn't seem to get my prebaby body back. Although I lost weight fairly quickly after my first pregnancy (probably because I was very young), I didn't wear my old clothes until a year after my second daughter was born, and not until 18 months after my third came along. And I was exercising like crazy, doing every Beach Body DVD ever created, and dieting. It just didn't seem to work.
I felt down on myself and worried I'd never lose the weight. Was this the new me? If so, it was super depressing. I was used to looking fit and felt self-conscious of my newly acquired tummy roll that no clothes seemed to disguise. This self-despair was compounded when I saw celebrity moms who seemed to lose their baby weight before they so much as popped out their babies! I knew they had chefs and trainers, but that didn't change the pressure I felt to measure up. I remember looking at my prepregnancy jeans one day and just crying. I figured that I'd never wear them again. This was a bit overdramatic, admittedly. Eventually I did zip them up without passing out from oxygen deprivation, but it was a long road fraught with frustration and tears.
But with my son, I was able to pack away my maternity clothes early on, and even when he began nursing less frequently (around eight to 10 times per day), I was still losing weight pretty rapidly. Before I knew it, he'd hit his seven-month milestone and all of my prepregnancy clothes fit again, without ever breaking out the workout DVDs. The craziest thing about my experience is that I gained 45 pounds during this pregnancy, whereas I only gained 30 during the others. So I had more weight to shed, exercised less, and it took less time to get back to where I was. Did I mention that I'm also (obviously) older this time around? I credit breastfeeding for how differently my post-baby weight-loss journey has played out with my fourth child. I didn't set out to lose weight by breastfeeding, but the experience has made this first year so much less stressful and more enjoyable. I feel comfortable and confident in my own skin, so I can focus on other things . . . like just loving on my son! Of course, I know breastfeeding won't lead to the same results for everyone. But studies do show exclusively breastfeeding can help women shed weight postpartum.
As my fellow mamas know, there are so many other reasons to choose breastfeeding besides how it affects your body. (But as a mom who also formula fed, I know firsthand that whatever choice is best for you and your baby is the right one!) We know it's beneficial for baby's health and development, it's convenient (I can whip out my boob anywhere, any time!), and it's a special time to bond with your little one. I can't even put that joy into words, and I'm so thankful I got to experience it. Those quiet moments breastfeeding my baby is what I will miss most from my son's infancy.
I am so grateful breastfeeding worked for me and my little guy, weight loss aside. I appreciate what we achieved even more, having experienced the flip side, when trying to nurse is painful, frustrating, and disappointing. But, that said, I am thrilled to not be dieting, or working out like crazy to lose my baby weight. Besides, who has time to count calories or kickbox for an hour when you have so many kids? Ultimately, it's a great feeling to have succeeded at breastfeeding when I never thought I could — though I do get a little thrill from telling people I lost the weight so fast just from feeding my baby.