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 depleted.
Nutritional needs and energy while breastfeeding are even more than during pregnancy.The body is beautifully designed to prioritize nutrients to nourish 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.
Why focus on breastfeeding nutrition?
Breastfeeding women need more calories and nutrients than pregnant women, but it’s crazy to me that in general, we don’t provide new moms with much support or information when it comes to this postpartum seasons. We put so much emphasis on pregnancy, but then postpartum, we just send women on their way. I think so many problems we have today could be avoided if we supported women more in this postpartum phase!
Your nutrition now 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.
- Postpartum Recovery Guide: First 2 Months
- Postpartum Recovery Guide: Months 3-6
- Natural Remedies to Ease Postpartum Stress
- Recognizing Postpartum Depression and Anxiety in Real Life
Please note: A fed and loved baby is truly what matters most. Please always consult your doctor, healthcare practitioner or certified lactation consultant first.
Nutrients needed to support breastfeeding
DHA & Quality Fats
One key ingredient in breastmilk is a brain-boosting fat called DHA (docosahexaenoic acid), an omega-3 fatty acid. DHA is a key brain development nutrient essential for the growth, development, and maintenance of brain tissue, visual development, and structural development of the heart.
Dietary sources of DHA nutrient-dense foods include: cod liver oil, salmon, tuna, mackerel, sardines, organ meats, egg yolks, and algae.
In fact, about 50% of breastmilk, depending on the mother’s nutrient profile, is made up of fat. Your baby depletes you of quality fats necessary for your brain, hormones, and blood sugar to function optimally postpartum.
Quality fat sources include: whole eggs, grass-fed butter, coconut oil, avocados, nuts, olives + olive oil, coconut, raw or grass-fed cheeses, coconut yogurt, seeds, fish and grass-fed beef.
Breastfeeding increases your metabolic rate (like during and after physical exercise), so you will be more tired because you are breastfeeding or “working out” approximately 4 + hours a day. This can drop your blood sugar and make you more hungry!
Quality carbohydrates nourish your body, digestion and keep you energized!
It’s only natural to feel tired and depleted postpartum—carbohydrates provide a quick fix of energy, but “fluff” or non nutrient dense carbohydrates will also increase stress and cause a crash later on. Being intentional and choosing nourishing carbohydrates will keep your blood sugar, adrenals and hormones stable.
Nourishing carbohydrates include:
- root vegetables, sweet potatoes, beets
- berries, apples, bananas, mango
- chickpeas and chickpea pasta
- rice, quinoa, buckwheat, oats
- dates + dried fruit
Protein provides the building blocks for your muscles, tissues, and collagen which are important to rebuild after pregnancy and birth. Both you and your baby need adequate protein foods to maintain muscles, skin, joints, and connective tissue. Stress and the high demands of breastfeeding and postpartum also depletes certain essential amino acids which can contribute to depression or anxiety.
Quality proteins include: whole eggs, grass-fed beef, seafood, poultry, Plant + Greens Protein Powder, chickpeas, nuts, seeds, chia, lentils and beans.
Micronutrients, Vitamins + Adaptogens
Vitamin B 12: Infants need vitamin B12 to support brain and red blood cell growth and can get plenty from breast milk. 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 mama.
Vitamin C: Found in high concentration in the adrenal glands, Vitamin C is key to support the body’s stress response postpartum, especially when sleep is limited. Vitamin C is also essential for collagen production and absorption which can rebuild tissues and muscles following pregnancy and birth.
Prenatal Vitamins: Prenatals are important for women in child bearing years to replenish nutrients lost during pregnancy, breastfeeding and your monthly cycle. These prenatal have a balanced blend of micro nutrients like folate, iodine, choline, selenium and manganese.
Ashwagandha: This adaptogenic herb has been used for centuries during breastfeeding to support adrenal health, a sense of calm and good sleep.
Experiment and Eliminate Foods that Cause Your Baby Gas
A variety of foods that you eat, even if they are healthy foods, can 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, and 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 the particular food you ate and then eliminate the foods that may be triggering the gas.
This really requires playing detective and trial and error. With my first baby, she reacted terribly to peppers, onions, garlic and raw vegetables and my second baby reacted terribly to dairy.
Pay attention to your toxin exposure
If there is ever a time to pay attention to your food quality, cleaning products, and beauty items, it’s while pregnant and breastfeeding. Not only do many toxins act as endocrine disruptors, which can impair hormone repair postpartum, but these toxins are transferred to your baby through breast milk.
The biggest offenders?
- 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.
- 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 Heritage Park Laundry.
Other Tips for Making Breastfeeding Work for YOU
- Prepare & Set the Scene—Give yourself a minute to grab water, get in a comfy spot and create a calming environment for youself, 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 angel from above who helped Remington and me. They are lifesavers!
- Pump every day—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!!
- Don’t be cover up—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!