I found that a great deal of attention and information was given to me while pregnant about receiving proper nutrition. However, upon entering the postpartum phase, all I heard was “make sure you get enough water to compensate for the fluids lost while breastfeeding.” But besides the reminder to hydrate well, very little was discussed about what other nutrients were needed for supporting my milk producing body.
Since I was exclusively breastfeeding, I did experience the “breastfeeding weight loss” and noticed a drop in dress size pretty quickly. I also noticed that between breastfeeding and getting my little one down for a nap or even out the door for a walk, I had little time left to focus on my own food intake. I was joking with friends that the reason new moms lose weight is because we don’t have time (or a free hand) to feed ourselves! But laughing aside, I did start to notice that I was neglecting my own diet. I was grabbing whatever was in the fridge, specifically those things that could be eaten with one hand. I even started substituting Larabars for meals every now and then.
My diet started to concern me. Was I getting the right nutrition to support myself and my breastmilk?
I knew that breastfeeding mothers need on average 300-500 extra calories a day. The La Leche League cautions new mothers to approach this increased caloric intake with healthy dietary guidelines in mind. For example, the extra calories should from nutrient-dense foods such as fruits, veggies, complex carbs and protein, not empty calories from sugary treats. As for protein, the basic rule is to eat 1 gram of protein each day for every lb you weigh.
Wow, that is a lot of protein per day! Knowing I do not get over 100 grams of protein a day, I was getting concerned that the quantity and quality of my milk was going to suffer. Thankfully, some research findings eased some of my concerns. In recent years, research has confirmed that even if some nutrients are missing in a woman’s daily diet, she will still produce milk that will help her child grow. There is very little difference in the milk of healthy mothers and mothers who are severely malnourished. For example, if a mother’s diet is lacking in calories, her body makes up the deficit, drawing on the reserves laid down during pregnancy or before. Unless there is a physical reason for low milk production, a woman who breastfeeds on cue will be able to produce enough milk for her baby, regardless of what she eats. Basically, the malnourished mother’s body will still produce good milk, but at the cost to the mother, whose nutritional needs will go unmet.
Even though research suggests that I don’t have to worry about the quantity of my milk supply, it is still important to replenish the nutrients lost while breastfeeding. For those who like to follow guidelines to help establish a healthy diet, the US Department of Agriculture released a suggested food pyramid for breastfeeding mothers. My Pyramid Plan for Moms maps out a clear selection of healthy foods that support breastfeeding mothers. You can even get a plan designed just for you and your lifestyle. Go to mypyramid.gov/mypyramidmoms. The suggestion My Pyramid Plan offers seem quite reasonable to follow. For example, they focus on 5 different food groups; fruits, vegetables, whole grains, meats and beans and dairy with realistic intake from each group, like 2 cups of fruit a day or 3 cups of veggies. To get an idea of what that would look like in a daily diet, one medium grapefruit equals 1 cup or one large sweet potato equals 1 cup.
From the food pyramid, you will notice two things. One: There is not a category for nutritional supplements. Assuming you are getting all your nutrition from food, you may not need additional vitamins. (Although many women do continue to take their prenatal vitamins postpartum.) Lana Levy, founder of Just For Today Nutrition states: “Dietary supplements can improve milk quality and quantity in women that are malnourished; however, a balanced diet without excessive supplementation is the best way to ensure good milk. Vitamins that are taken in excess are excreted in the urine anyway, so don’t waste your money!”
The second observation is, 1/5 of the pyramid is taken up by animal protein, and for those that are vegan, 2/5 of the pyramid would be excluded. Nutritionists urge vegetarian and vegan mothers to make sure they are getting enough b12, calcium and zinc which are generally found in dairy products, meat, fish and eggs. To get adequate b12, try fortified soy milk and fortified yeast or b12 supplement. Calcium is abundant in dark leafy greens, almonds, calcium-enriched tofu, and blackstrap molasses. Zinc can be found in spinach, pumpkin seeds, yeast, wheat germ, peanuts, beans, and bran cereals.
I hope this has clarified supportive nutritional needs for those that choose to breastfeed. As for my own time management/eating schedule, I try to have a bowl of almonds handy, along with yogurt packs and instant steel cut oatmeal to hold me over until my son is calmly playing or napping. Then, I can have a proper meal. I figure, as long as I am making healthy choices in my “quick bites” my body and my baby will be just fine.
Debra Flashenberg is the founder and Director of the Prenatal Yoga Center. She is a certified labor support doula, Lamaze Childbirth Educator, and certified prenatal yoga instructor. She is continuously in awe of the beauty and brilliance of birth and is the proud mother of her son, Shay and daughter, Sage. Visit prenatalyogacenter.com for more info!