Like everything about new motherhood — and motherhood in general — breastfeeding is super hard work. Not only is the baby’s sleep schedule exhausting, but breastfeeding takes its toll on your body as well. So how does breastfeeding affect your energy levels, exactly — is it a chicken or the egg argument? Are we exhausted from getting up to feed the baby, or is it exhausting feeding the baby? Both?
As it turns out, it's definitely more than just nursing-related sleep deprivation. Breastfeeding fatigue comes from “your body breaking down the nutrients from the food you eat, and using your body’s nutrient stores to create the various components of breast milk — this process takes energy,” Tori Hamilton, an obstetrical nurse, IBCLC, LLL leader, and mom of three tells Romper.
“Breastfeeding burns roughly 500 calories per day, about 200 calories more than pregnancy," she adds. So basically you’re getting a workout whenever you breastfeed. Cool, cool.
In addition to the amount of calories you're burning zapping you of energy, sleep deprivation does play a role, of course.
“Breastfeeding may disrupt your sleep, and that can also affect energy levels — however, the reality is that having a baby disrupts sleep regardless of how it is fed," Andrea Tran, a registered nurse and IBCLC, tells Romper.
“Exclusive pumping can actually be more draining for moms than exclusive breastfeeding, as there are more steps to take,” Hamilton explains. As someone who exclusively pumped for a year and a half, I feel this so hard.
“Moms who pump have to spend the time pumping, washing bottles, storing and preparing the milk, and feeding baby. The amount of calories used while pumping would depend on how much milk the mom makes — the more milk, the more calories are needed to sustain her. Pumping at work would be the same. It can be hard to find the time and space to pump at work and many moms can feel stressed. But it is so important to maintain your supply and to prevent plugged ducts,” Hamilton says. Boy that gave me some flashbacks I didn’t want to think about again for a while, that’s for sure.
Tran adds, however, “The only way that pumping would not affect mom in the same way is if someone else is getting up with the baby and feeding them in the middle of the night. Pumping only at work would be the same amount of energy exerted. If mom’s sleep is not disrupted there will be less of an impact.”
The exertion of energy obviously affects every woman differently. Hamilton says this depends on multiple factors.
“Moms who are excessively tired, dehydrated, and have a hard time eating at regular intervals may feel their energy becoming more depleted with breastfeeding," she explains.
"It would also depend on your prior nutritional status and any medical conditions. The first few weeks postpartum are often when moms may notice decreased energy levels as their bodies work hard to recover from delivery. Breastfeeding quickly becomes a part of your life, and many moms do not notice a dip in energy levels.”
If you want to keep your energy up, good nutrition is essential. If a woman eats enough calories to support her needs, plus breastfeeding, then her energy levels shouldn't plummet, Tran says.
"A woman needs to get adequate amounts of protein in those calories as well,” she adds.
So yes, breastfeeding really is like exercise. Your body works very hard to break down nutrients to give to your baby, and the fact that you’re having to get up with the baby to nurse is exhausting in and of itself. Be sure you’re eating enough calories, drinking enough water and try to sleep when you can. You got this mama. Good luck.
Tori Hamilton, an obstetrical nurse, IBCLC, LLL leader, and a mom of three.
Andrea Tran, a registered nurse and IBCLC.