Did you know that nursing moms can lose as much as 5% of their bone mass in the first three months of breastfeeding? Most moms don’t know that there’s a relationship between breastfeeding and bone loss.
The Mechanics of Breastfeeding and Bone Loss
The action of an infant suckling at your breast creates a hormonal reaction in your body. This reaction is very similar to menopause: Your hormones change so you don’t ovulate or have your period, your uterus gets smaller and skin becomes dry. Some nursing moms even experience hot flashes, mood swings and night sweats. And, like menopause, your bone mass is affected from the hormonal changes. Thus, breastfeeding and bone loss can go together.
However, there’s good news. Researchers believe that nursing moms gain bone back after weaning – and at a faster rate than they normally would. So, these changes in bone mineral density can “balance out” from lactation to weaning. Breastfeeding and bone loss shouldn’t be a problem unless you’re already predisposed to bone loss. You might be predisposed if you’ve had estrogen therapy for fertility, have a family history of osteoporosis, have a recent history of disordered eating, have had a previous loss of menstruation (amenorrhea) for a long time, or weigh very little. It is unclear whether consecutive pregnancy and breastfeeding years increase your risk of bone loss. However, we DO know that loss of your period (amenorrhea) in non-breastfeeding women does increase risk of osteopenia and osteoporosis.
Caring for Your Post-Partum Bones
Still, it’s very important to take care of your bone health during the post-partum period. Most of this “stuff” is common knowledge, but it can be so hard to even keep up with the basics when you have a new baby. I hope understanding more about bone loss and breastfeeding will help moms find added motivation to stay active and eat well!
Some ways to take care of your bones:
- Make sure you’re eating enough foods rich in vitamins and minerals, which helps prevent unnecessary bone loss and promotes adequate bone regeneration. Really, all vitamins and minerals are important in one way or another! Calcium and Vitamin D are particularly important, but researchers have also suggested that consuming a diet that’s not high in sodium is also important for bone health.
- Maintain or start regular load bearing activity. The idea of exercising AND taking care of a baby might be intimidating, but it’s so important in the long run!
- You may need to take extra precautions while lactating if you are predisposed to bone loss. Talk to your doctor. You may need to avoid repetitive, jarring activities like running and plyometrics, as well as high-risk activities like heavy Olympic Lifting and contact sports. Work with a certified coach or physical therapist to find activities that are appropriate for your condition.
- Clapp, J. F. Exercising Through Your Pregnancy. Addicus Books (2002).
- Drinkwater, B. L. & Chestnut, C. H. (2001). Bone density changes during pregnancy and lactation in active women: a longitudinal study. Bone and Mineral, 14 (2) 153-160.
- Kalkwarf, H. J. & Specker, B. L. (1995). Bone mineral loss during lactation and recovery after weaning. Obstetrics & Gynecology, 86(1) , 26-32.
- National Institutes of Health Online (Accessed 5/8/2015). Bone Health for Life.
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