To nourish and sustain another life is a monumental blessing. To be able to bond in this way with your babe, wow, not only are we giving them a great gift but they are giving us one as well. Everyday I am filled with awe at the fact that my little man is getting perfectly chubby solely from my breast milk alone. Pregnancy and birth is a huge journey, especially being a first time mama. For me, I feel like I focused so much on being pregnant and what birth would be like, that I didn’t take much time to think about what happens after the fact. Now here we are, we made it through the first phase and onto the next. Let me just tell you that I was one hungry wolf mama during pregnancy, especially the third trimester. All I want is to give my babe the highest nourishment possible, no ifs, ands or buts. Even more so than during pregnancy, breastfeeding is a very important time to be taking in the best quality foods.
Statistically around 50% of women aren’t able to full fill their breastfeeding goals(1). We know breast is best, but it’s vital to ensure our nutritional and emotional needs are being met to ensure success. Lets talk about some common ideas that come with breastfeeding. For one I think it’s pretty common that women assume it will deplete them of calcium and other valuable minerals. We see huge hormonal changes such as low sex drive, hair loss and post partum depression. Breastfeeding can evidently take a lot out of us, but we can still feel vital and energized when we incorporate the best healthy foods for breastfeeding moms into our diet.
“Among women exclusively breastfeeding their infants, the energy demands of lactation exceed prepregnancy demands by approximately 640 kcal/day during the first 6 months post partum compared with 300 kcal/day during the last two trimesters of pregnancy (NRC, 1989). In contrast, the demand for some nutrients, such as iron, is considerably less during lactation than during pregnancy.”(2)
This study also points out this is dependant of your weight gain during pregnancy. If you have stored extra fat (who hasn’t?) then those caloric requirements are a bit less. Anyhow it’s pretty easy to get an extra 600 calories a day but the point is quality, not quantity. The emphasis during this important time should be on high quality fats and protein. Amazingly, a babies brain grows to 50% of its final size in the first year. All the more reason to eat the best brain building superfoods.
Brain Building Superfoods for a Super Little Human
- Fermented Cod Liver and High Vitamin Butter Oil- I know it sounds gross but this stuff is super high in non isolated nutrients. The fermentation process is the traditional way to eat cod liver oil. This process makes it last a lot longer than conventional fish oil and it makes the vitamins easily assimilated. Not only is it rich in omega 3s but also Vitamins A & D, not many foods that can make that statement.
- Coconut Oil- High in Medium Chain Triglycerides known to support brain health, coconut oil packs a punch. It’s anti fungal nature helos protect both of your immune systems from unwanted invaders. Our brains are mostly made of saturated fats. The myth has been busted and they are absolutely good for our health and that of our growing babies. An added bonus of high quality saturated fats like coconut oil is that eat with dark leafy greens and other vegetables they make the fat soluble vitamins (A, D,K, E) absorbable.
- Ghee from grassfed cows
- Cashews- High in magnesium, and healthy fats, cashews are easy to incorporate since they are so delicious. Soaking them in water for a few hours releases phytates which makes their minerals a lot easier to absorb. Cashews are also a tryptophan rich food, meaning they help release happy hormones in the brain.
Nutrient Rich Additions
- Eat lots of protein- It’s really important to make sure you’re getting enough protein to satisfy growing energy requirements. The best sources include wild or pastured meats, free range eggs, nuts and seeds.
- Super foods- Nutrient packed super foods offer high levels of vitamins, minerals and enzymes in a small serving. Try sourcing foods like goji berries, bee pollen, chlorella, hemp seeds and chia seeds to add extra nutrients to your daily regime.
- Dark Leafy Greens- Rich in minerals, fibre, enzymes and vitamins, greens like kale, collard greens, swiss chard and spinach can also help balance out hormones associated with breastfeeding.
- Fresh fruit and veggie juices and smoothies- Juicing can be a great energy boost on low days. Many fruits and vegetables contain phytoestrogens and can help boost milk supply.
- Galactagogues- Foods that help stimulate milk production include fenugreek, blessed thistle, oats, alfalfa, shatavari, fennel and chaste berry.
It is crucial to ensure a breastfeeding woman is well supported and encouraged by her community and family. The importance of breastfeeding to a child’s health for the rest of their lives must be emphasized in society. If a mama has to go back to work, she needs to have a safe comfortable environment to pump her breast milk. Ideally we will start to see more shifts towards this practice as well as adequate paid maternity leave. A breastfeeding woman needs to feel empowered that she is providing her child with the best possible source of nourishment.
It is completely normal to experience extreme highs and lows in mood and energy following childbirth. The hormonal fluctuation is drastic and many of us may have never felt that way before. Self love is the best remedy, treat yourself to a hot epsom salts bath and leave the baby with dad or a trusted friend for half an hour. Stretch your muscles and practice taking full deep breaths. The practice of deep breathing is not overrated for calming anxiety, it literally works on a level of the subconscious which hears a message that it is ok to relax and leave the fight or flight state. Meeting nutritional needs is also key, particularly omega-3 consumption should be higher than ever. There are various herbs that can help with the baby blues. Personally the herb Motherwort was a game changer. After one day of taking motherwort tincture 3 times per day my symptoms all but disappeared. Other herbs you could try include St.John’s Wort, Lemon Balm, Blessed Thistle and Skullcap, the herbalist Susun Weed has an excellent recipe for postpartum depression tea (3). More than anything it is vital to be gentle with yourself, have compassion for what you are experiencing, it is likely the deepest feeling you have ever experienced, especially with your first child.
What to Avoid
- Environmental Pollutants and Xenoestrogens- Endocrine disruptors found in soft plastics, unfiltered water, soy, pesticides and cosmetics. Breast milk actually accumulates xenoestrogens quite easily (4), so it’s best to stay away from conventionally grown fruits and vegetables, bottled water and especially soy. These substances not only affect your baby, but can also wreak hormonal havoc in your body. Thyroid problems aren’t uncommon in people exposed to excess xenoestrogens and because they are of similar chemical makeup to estrogens produces in our bodies they can cause the regulatory feedback loop between our brains and glands to function less than optimally.
- Excess Sugar and Refine Carbohydrates- A study was done showing correlations with insulin resistance and low milk supply(5). This is an indicator that women should avoid the sugar roller coaster and stick to quality fatty foods and high protein consumption. Everything that can be done to stabilize blood sugar levels will give you a better chance at producing an abundant milk supply. Treats are ok but we need to realize the importance of an overall healthy balanced diet that doesn’t include ice cream before bed every night and donuts for breakfast.