Breastfeeding is a taxing feat, one that impacts a mother physically, emotionally, and mentally. The importance of adequate nutrition to support a breastfeeding mama cannot be overstated, and eating balanced and nutritious meals is crucial for maintaining milk supply and overall health for mother and baby.
Most mothers today are faced with increasing demands and stressors that can make nutritious eating challenging. Caring for a family alone often puts self-care to the backburner, and many mothers are also working (inside and/or outside the home) in addition to having numerous other responsibilities that make it difficult to nourish their bodies well.
In our culture and society today, mothers are also 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.
The Importance of Nourishment While Breastfeeding
One thing for certain is that healing from childbirth in addition to supporting breastfeeding takes intentional and adequate nourishment. 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.
Breastfeeding Power Foods
When it comes to eating while breastfeeding, think about foods that you can add to your diet to optimize your health and nutrition, rather than what you should avoid or restrict. Create quick snacks and meals that combine the key macronutrients, carbohydrates, proteins, and fats, in order to help you feel satisfied, support milk supply, and keep your energy labels stable. When thinking about foods to add to your diet to support breastfeeding, keep these in mind:
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 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.
Many of these core nutrients are often demonized in our culture today, but the reality is that breastfeeding mamas need balanced meals and snacks that regularly incorporate these key foods.
Focusing on Balanced Nutrition When Breastfeeding
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.
A breastfeeding mother also does not require special foods to produce or increase milk supply, as the body will utilize a combination of nutrients from foods that are eaten, which is why it is more important to focus on adequate and varied nutrition. By focusing on nutrient dense foods and balanced food combinations, a breastfeeding mother will not only adequately nourish herself and her baby, but create a healthy foundation for eating for her entire family.
Remember, if your diet is deficient in any nutrients, your breast milk may also be lacking. Optimizing your nutrition while breastfeeding can support a healthy baby and mama.
If you are a breastfeeding mama who has dietary restrictions due to sensitivities or reactions identified in your baby, know that there are still many ways to optimize your nutrition to support your breastfeeding needs. Working with a registered dietitian and lactation consultant can help you come up with a helpful meal plan that meets your energy needs while also protecting your baby.