It’s fascinating that something so beautiful can also be so draining, physically, emotionally and nutritionally. I find that breastfeeding is a beautiful emotional time of connection but I also often feel physically and emotionally drained.
Breastfeeding means your sweet little baby is literally sucking nutrients out of you. The body is beautifully designed to prioritize and your nutrients will go to the baby first, which can leave you as the mom depleted for years to come.
I’ve wanted to give up breastfeeding SO often, especially the first week when both Remington and I had no clue what we were doing and I was in excruciating pain and then again at 2 1/2 months—my body is so swollen and I have had a huge overproduction problem (a blessing but also extremely painful ALL day and night). But I know this is such a SHORT phase of life and in the big picture, these few months will pass by quickly.
When you are breast-feeding you actually need MORE calories and nutrients than when you are pregnant, but it’s crazy to me that the medical community and society in general doesn’t provide new moms with much support or information when it comes to this beautiful yet draining phase of life. We put so much emphasis on pregnancy, but then postpartum, we just send women on their merry way. I think so many problems we have today could be avoided if we supported women more in this postpartum phase!
The more nutrient dense your diet is, the more nutrient dense your milk will be for your sweet baby.
But, let’s take it one step further—your diet is not only going to impact your baby’s diet, but it’s going to affect your health for years to come and help you avoid postpartum depletion.
**I just want to add, that I firmly believe that a fed & LOVED baby is all that truly matters. If you are not breastfeeding, this post will be equally helpful to prevent postpartum depletion.**
Nutrients needed for breastfeeding
DHA & Quality Fats
One key ingredient in breastmilk is a brain-boosting fat called DHA (docasahexaenoic acid), an omega-3 fatty acid. DHA is a brain food and vital nutrient for growth, development and maintenance of brain tissue, visual development and structural development of the heart.
Dietary sources of DHA include: cod liver oil, salmon, tuna, mackerel, sardines, organ meets, egg yolks, algae.
While breastfeeding, your diet should be 50-60% made up of quality healthy fats. In fact about 50% of breastmilk, depending on the mother’s nutrition, is made up of fat. Your baby is literally sucking the fat right out of you, but also your brain, hormones and blood sugar NEED nourishing fats to function optimally, all things we want functioning well postpartum.
If your milk is high in fat content, your baby will be more satisfied which can help eliminate some fussing and also extend sleeping.
I recommend including at least 2 whole eggs, 4 tablespoons grass-fed butter/ghee, 1 tablespoon coconut oil, 1 tablespoon coconut butter, as well as additional fat from avocados, nuts, grass-fed beef, olive oil, cheeses and cream daily. If you are craving healthy fats, eat them as much as you want, because your body is signaling you need them!
Keep in mind that pregnancy, birth and breastfeeding deplete your body and when we are tired and depleted, we look to carbohydrates to provide some energy. Processed, packaged carbohydrates are only going to deplete your nutrients more, harming your adrenal, thyroid, sex hormones and blood sugar, all of which we want to keep stable postpartum.
While breastfeeding, you actually need more carbohydrates then when you are pregnant, but the quality of your carbohydrates matters greatly!! Be sure to include nourishing carbohydrates with each meal and always listen to your body—if you eat a lower carb meal (with plenty of healthy fats) and feel hungry afterwards or your milk supply decreases, you may need to up your intake.
Nourishing carbohydrates include: root vegetables, beets, sweet potatoes, white potatoes (new potatoes are lower in starch), dates, prunes, berries, soaked oats and legumes, chickpeas, quinoa, chia seeds, buckwheat, spelt, sprouted & fermented grains (if you can tolerate), green apples and stone fruits (eat with the skins on) other colorful vegetables and fruits.
*Always eat carbohydrates with a good source of quality fats to help slow the rate at which glucose is absorbed. For example, pair berries with whipped cream or plain yogurt, vegetables with a cooking fat, toast with butter or nut butter.*
Breastfeeding increases your metabolic rate (sorta like a workout), so you will be more tired, because you are most likely breastfeeding or “working-out” 4 + hours a day…thats alot mama! This also means that your blood sugar may drop, so staying fueled is so important!
Vitamin B 12: Infants need vitamin B12 to support brain and red blood cell growth and can get plenty from breastmilk unless the mother is depleted. This vitamin boost immune function, protects our DNA from damage and helps build and repair the body during energy production, so it is essential to keep your body’s energy up (breastfeeding remember greatly depletes not only nutrients but also energy). Animal sources such as tuna, salmon, sardines, lamb, organ meats, grass-fed beef are the best source of Vitamin B12, so vegans/vegetarians (even if previously) need to be very careful and supplement. I recommend Stress B-Complex and Beef Liver capsules (if not consuming organ meats) daily.
Vitamin C: The highest concentration of vitamin C is found in the adrenal glands, which during postpartum need all the support they can get. During times of stress (pregnancy, child birth, lack of sleep, etc) our body needs more vitamin C. I recommend taking Pure Radiance C 3 times per day initially (for about 1-2 months postpartum) and then decreasing to 2 times per day.
Prenatal Vitamins: I highly recommend for women in child bearing years, especially those lactating, to continue taking a good quality prenatal to replenish the nutrients your baby took from you to grow and is continuing to take during breastfeeding, which will help postnatal depletion. Prenatal vitamins are great because they are balanced in all the micronutrients your body needs like the B complex vitamins, zinc, iron, folate, iodine, selenium, molybdenum and manganese. I recommend Thorne Research Prenatal (a bit higher in the B complex vitamins) or Pure Synergy Prenatal (very easy to digest).
Protein Other Nutrients
Protein: Protein is the nutrient that provides the building blocks for your muscles, tissues and collagen. Both you and your baby need adequate protein to maintain muscles, skin, joints, connective tissue. Keep in mind that stress depletes certain amino acids—constant cortisol output (which most likely is going to happen postpartum) depletes tryptophan and can contribute to anxiety or depression.
Complete proteins (those with all the amino acids) like eggs, meat, seafood, poultry are going to provide your body with the best nutrients. I don’t recommend most protein powders or bars because they are highly processed and not nutrient dense, but do recommend adding a scoop of grass-fed collagen to your daily oatmeal, coffee or smoothie.
*Giving birth puts incredible strain on your body and increasing protein, especially those first weeks, will help your body heal and recover. I recommend whole food sources as well as daily intake of grass-fed Collagen Peptides and/or Gelatin to help repair your muscles and tissues.*
Ashwaghanda: This adaptogenic herb has been used for centuries during breastfeeding to support adrenal health, a sense of calm and good sleep. Personally, I take ashwaghanda twice a day, morning and night, and have seen amazing benefits to my physical energy and emotional calm.
Maca: Maca root has a slightly smoky, slightly sweet taste and helps energy production, hormone balancing and supports the body during times of stress. I love to a teaspoon to a milkshake with raw cacao powder, cream, collagen and a spoonful of nut butter.
Probiotics: Your health truly starts with the digestive system and adding probiotics and probiotic rich foods (yogurt, kefir, sauerkraut) to your diet will help you absorb the most nutrients from your food and supplements thus improving your nutrient stores which impacts your postpartum recovering and breast milk.
**As always please consult with your medical professional first, this is not medical advice, simply my opinion.**
Experiment and Eliminate Foods that Cause Your Baby Gas
Many foods that you eat and cause your baby to be gassy, fussy or even have skin reactions. The most common trigger foods are: eggs, soy, gluten, dairy, spicy foods, garlic, chocolate, raw vegetables, “gassy” vegetables (cabbage, Brussels sprouts, onion, cauliflower, broccoli), peppers, citrus, caffeine.
The best way to do this is to eat the same foods with each meal, that way you can recognize when your baby has gas, think of what you ate and then eliminate the foods that may be triggering the gas.
For example, my baby always fussed after the 4 o’clock feeding and I typically ate a lunch of salad, leftover grilled veggies (peppers and onions) and animal protein about 1:30, so a few hours prior go that next feeding session. Once I eliminated the lettuce, peppers and onions, her gas problems greatly diminished so I knew those foods had to be the trigger. You wont have to eliminate gassy foods forever but keep in mind that as your baby grows, different foods can trigger gas, so always pay attention to your diet and your baby’s cues.
Pay attention to your toxin exposure
If there is ever a time to pay attention to your food quality, cleaning products, and skincare and makeup, it is while breastfeeding (and during pregnancy). Not only do many toxins act as endocrine disruptors, which can impart hormone repair postpartum, but these toxins are transferred to your baby through breast milk.
The biggest offenders? (1) Food sources, conventional meat where the animal was fed GMO feed and pumped with hormones and antibiotics, and conventional produce that was sprayed with pesticides, which is why grass-fed, pasture raised and organic is so important. (2) Personal care products such as deodorant, lipstick, moisturizers, sunscreens, makeup and cleaning supplies such as laundry detergent. Instead choose from safer brands like Beautycounter, Primally Pure and Branch Basics.
Other Tips for Making Breastfeeding Work
- Prepare & Set the Scene—Give yourself a minute to grab water, get in a comfy spot and create a calming environment for you, this will make for a much better feeding session for both you and baby! Most likely if you are on a schedule you will know, within plus or minus 15 minutes, when your baby needs to eat, so take the time to prep ahead.
- Make it a Team Effort—It took two to make a baby, so have your team help!! Even if that is just bringing you a glass of water or a snack.
- Get help from a lactation consultant—I guarantee I would have given up if it wasn’t for the most amazing angle from above who helped me and Remington. They are lifesavers!
- Pump everyday—If you are overproducing, this can be helpful to release some of the milk so that your baby gets the good, fat-rich hind milk (although don’t pump too much as that can stimulate more production). Pumping can help you keep a store of milk for later on and also give you and your body a MUCH needed break!!
- Keep quick, healthy snacks available—coconut butter, Thunderbird bars, Rx bars, cheese slices, gluten free crackers, nut butter squeeze packs, macadamia nuts, pumpkin seeds, yogurt.
- Stay hydrated—You thought you were thirsty when you were pregnant? Well, now with breastfeeding you will feel like a dried up well. Keep pure, filtered water with you at all times and sip throughout the day rather than all at once.
- Don’t stress—We know, and science confirms that breast milk is best, but if for some reason you cant feed your baby or don’t have enough milk, know that a fed and loved baby is best. Know that stress affects not only your supply but also your hormone rebuilding efforts and your mental well being. If you are stressed, your baby will feed off that negative energy.
- Don’t be ashamed—Breastfeeding is a natural life phase and not something you should cover, hide or be ashamed to do, especially in public. I have found that covering up just creates a hot baby who doesn’t get as good of a feeding session (which creates a fussy baby), so find what you are comfortable with but don’t ever feel bad for feeding your baby!