I am going on 10 months of breastfeeding Harvey. It has had MANY challenges, he has multiple food allergies, and at one point I was only eating 4 foods (lamb, sweet potato, spinach, and blueberries) for 12 weeks. I will cover all of this in a later blog post. It was torture! What was interesting to me though, was that during that time, my appetite was very minimal. This could have been because my cortisol (stress hormone) was so high that it suppressed my hunger or that psychologically I just had no desire to eat those 4 foods anymore, so I was not “feeling hungry”.
Normally, breastfeeding mothers notice an increase in appetite for the duration of the time they are feeding although it may be the most intense during the first 6 months when breastmilk is their baby’s sole source of nutrition. On average, breastfeeding requires 500 additional calories per day. In comparison, pregnancy only requires about 300, depending on what trimester you are in, so it is no wonder you are feeling hungry! The extra calories are also nature’s way of helping moms be able to continue to function well in the day with how much they are up feeding at night. Breastfeeding causes an increase in prolactin (big part of what makes milk get produced), but breastfeeding at night causes an even bigger increase in prolactin. This spike in prolactin increases hunger, especially for carbohydrates, which helps to make sure that mom has the energy to overcome her disrupted sleep. Lack of sleep also disrupts insulin production, which makes carbs more appealing as well. I can attest that I have felt not nearly as tired as I would have pre-Harvey on very little sleep. My hormones must be giving me some assistance.
What to Eat to Optimize Breastfeeding
Just because carbs are what the body is craving does not mean that they are the best foods to be fueling your body with. A wide variety of foods that include many different nutrients are your best bet. It also does not hurt if they are easy to eat on the go or with one hand!
- Healthy Fats- Help to keep you feeling full longer and help to stabilize your blood sugar. My favorites are avocado, nuts, seeds, fatty fish, coconut, and olive oil.
- Protein- Also help stabilize blood sugar, even better than fats. There are a variety of different sources that you can choose from: meat, nuts, beans/lentils, seeds, and protein powders.
- Complex Carbs- These are carbs that are “slower burning” and do not result in your blood sugar spiking and crashing quickly. They often also contain a decent amount of fiber. Examples are oatmeal, brown rice, beans/legumes, sweet potato.
- Fluids- Aim for 2-3L of water and being sure to drink if you are thirsty.
- Oatmeal- helps to increase milk supply and is a slow burning complex carbohydrate
- Flax Seed- helps increase milk supply and provides healthy fats
- Avocado- source of healthy fats, help to keep you full and are a source of folate
- Coconut Water- helps to keep you hydrated and is high in potassium and magnesium to avoid muscle cramps
- Almonds- source of fat, protein, and calcium, which you need more of when breastfeeding
- Eggs- quick and easy snack that provides protein, fat, and choline for baby’s brain development
- Power Balls- often contain oats, flax, a nut butter, and something sweet. They are calorie dense and easy to eat with one hand!
- Smoothies- great way to pack a lot of nutrition into an easy to consume package. I love the Evive smoothies for new moms as they are pre-blended, so you can just pop a few smoothie cubes into your liquid of choice and stir which makes them way more likely to be drank then having to get out the blender and make a mess.
Supplements for Breastfeeding Moms
- Prenatal- I always recommend continuing with your prenatal for the duration of breastfeeding because of the increased nutrient demand on the body. Many moms have also suffered a significant blood loss while giving birth and prenatal vitamins have a higher level of iron than a multivitamin.
- Fish Oil- has been shown to help reduce the incidence and severity of Postpartum depression. It also helps to increase the EPA and DHA content of your breastmilk which is beneficial for baby’s brain growth.
- Probiotics- these are a must take if baby was born by cesarean, but I also like all breastfeeding moms to take probiotics for at least 60 days to help establish the best gut flora for baby.
- Calcium and Magnesium- demand for both calcium and magnesium is higher when breastfeeding. If mom is not getting enough, calcium can be leached from her bones, which over time can lead to conditions like osteopenia. Breastfeeding moms should aim for 1250 mg of calcium and at least 600 mg of magnesium.
- Vitamin D- especially if you are in a northern country. Vitamin D is one deficiency that is quite common in breastfed babies, and they should be supplemented with Vitamin D as well.
I hope you took away some new food ideas, and ways to help yourself feel you best when your body is under a lot strain! I always say babies are like little parasites and will take what they need from you. So, your baby will take all the nutrients he or she needs from your milk and leave you depleted. Help protect yourself from getting run down by focusing on having good nutrition and supplementing where necessary.
Were you starving while you were breastfeeding? What were your go to foods? Post in the comments below
Dr Alexis sees patients via telemedicine and is currently accepting new patients. Click here to book your appointment