Breastfeeding is a taxing feat, one that impacts a mother physically, emotionally, and mentally. Here are the foods new mothers can nourish their bodies with and put their self-care at the forefront.
BY: CRYSTAL KARGES, MS, RDN, IBCLC
Most new mothers today are faced with increasing demands and stressors that can make nutritious eating challenging. Caring for a family alone often puts self-care on the back burner, but the importance of adequate nutrition to support a breastfeeding mama cannot be overstated. Especially as a breastfeeding mom, eating balanced and nutritious meals is crucial for maintaining milk supply and overall health for mother and baby.
In today’s culture, mothers are met with overwhelming pressure to diet and “bounce back” to a pre-pregnancy body through unrealistic means.
This only adds to the confusion of how to eat after having a baby, especially when breastfeeding. This is not the time to be skimping on nutrition, trying to lose weight, or restricting your intake in any way. Breastfeeding alone requires more calories than pregnancy, and feeding your body appropriately is necessary for meeting these energy demands.
While facing the overwhelm and exhaustion as a new mom, it is important to think of how optimizing nutrition can support you in this phase of motherhood, especially while you also feed your baby. When nutrition is scrutinized under a lens of restriction and denial, it not only sabotages the natural postpartum healing process, but potentially interferes with breastfeeding. Even though your baby may no longer be physically inside you, your little one is still dependent on you for nourishment, and this becomes more difficult when self-care becomes sub-optimal. Finding ways to appropriately nourish and feed your body to support breastfeeding and postpartum healing is essential for both a healthy mama and baby.
Rather than what you should avoid or restrict, focus on the foods that you can add to your diet to optimize your health and nutrition.
Quick snacks and meals that combine the key macronutrients, carbohydrates, proteins, and fats, will help you feel satisfied, support milk supply, and keep your energy labels stable. Here are some foods to add to your diet to support breastfeeding
Yes – fats are a crucial nutrient that support our overall health and that are especially needed when breastfeeding. Fats provide a storehouse of nutrients and energy that will not only help you meet increased calorie needs when breastfeeding but that will support your milk supply. There are many ways to increase your servings of healthy fats in your daily diet while breastfeeding, such as:
- Adding nut butters to favorite breads, crackers, or for dipping fruit
- Incorporating avocado on salads, sandwiches, tacos, etc.
- Stir in some chia seeds into your oatmeal or hot cereal
- Drizzle and roast your favorite veggies with olive oil
- Top your potatoes with butter and/or cheese, fatty fish (such as salmon)
Other food sources of healthy fats include eggs, whole milk yogurts, sour cream, and trail mix. Fat is the vehicle that helps our bodies absorb crucial nutrients that are essential for both you and your baby, so be sure to routinely include this important macronutrient in your meals and snacks.
Fat is a major component of breastmilk and is crucial for baby’s growth and development. Including adequate fats in your diet will ensure that your baby is getting sufficient amounts through breast milk as well.
Complex carbohydrates include many plant-based foods that are nutrient dense and rich in fiber, vitamins, and minerals needed for overall health and to support breastfeeding. Incorporating complex carbohydrates into your daily meals and snacks can help provide long-lasting energy throughout the day and between nursing sessions. There are simple ways to add more complex carbohydrates to your diet, such as:
- Choosing more whole grains and foods made from them, such as pastas, breads, cereals, beans, starchy vegetables, etc.
- Incorporate whole-grain rolled oats into your morning breakfast routine, or top your favorite yogurts with an oat-based granola for a healthy snack
- In place of white rice, try brown rice or quinoa instead
- Add in your favorite starchy vegetables or beans into dishes like salads, soups, stews, or chilis to increase the fiber/nutrient content, such as corn, sweet potatoes, squash or peas.
- Check out your freezer section at your local grocery store to find whole grains that may already be cooked. This can help decrease prep work and make them even more accessible!
Regularly including protein foods that come from animal and/or plant sources can help maximize your milk supply while supporting your baby’s overall growth and development. Protein is an essential building block of bones, muscles, cartilage, skin, blood AND breastmilk. Because protein is involved in just about every body function, getting in adequate protein throughout the day is important. Combining other foods with protein can also help you feel more satisfied after meals and keep your energy levels stable throughout the day! Here are some easy ways to get in more protein with your daily meals and snacks:
- Top your favorite hot cereal or yogurt with chopped nuts of your choice, including almonds, walnuts, pecans, etc.
- Slice up your favorite food and dip into your nut butter of choice for an easy and satisfying snack.
- Hard-boil eggs and keep them in your fridge for a snack or to add to sandwiches/salads
- Use greek yogurt to make a fruit parfait – just top with your favorite fruit and granola for a balanced snack
- Up the protein of your favorite soup by adding in lentils or beans
- Have your favorite cheese on hand and combine with whole grain crackers
- Beef, chicken, and seafood all offer your body quality sources of protein, so don’t forget about these options too.
While some of these core macronutrients are demonized, the reality is that breastfeeding mamas need balanced meals and snacks that regularly incorporates them all.
Breastfeeding mothers thrive best on a varied, balanced and adequate diet, and this does not need to mean something that is complicated, expensive, or difficult to prepare. In the age of nutrition overwhelm, it is easy to feel confused about how to eat, especially when you are also breastfeeding your baby. Just remember that eating healthy doesn’t mean having to sacrifice your favorite foods or even going out of your way to eat unusual foods in abnormal quantities. By focusing on nutrient-dense foods and balanced food combinations, a breastfeeding mother will not only adequately nourish herself and her baby.
She will also create a healthy foundation for eating for her entire family.
Adapted from the original article.
HEADER IMAGE: JENNA CHRISTINA
Crystal Karges, MS, RDN, IBCLC is a San Diego-based private practice dietitian helping others embrace their health for themselves and their loved ones. Focusing on maternal/child health and eating disorders, Crystal creates the nurturing, safe environment that is needed to help guide individuals towards a peaceful relationship with food and their bodies.