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Having a baby is one of the most joyous moments in a new mother’s life. Smelling that sweet newborn and providing the best nourishment for your baby through breastfeeding are some of the happiest times. The postpartum phase as a new mama can also be a time of stress and anxiety as you learn your newborn’s feeding cues and other important signs. All babies want to be cuddled and cared for. This also means as a new mama, you need to be in your best physical, emotional, and mental state to be able to best care for and nourish your new baby.
The proper nourishment in the postpartum period is so important- from positive affirmations to eating a healthy diet. As your body heals in this postpartum period, fueling your body with the best nutrients is essential.
Milk production requires an extra 250-500 calories per day in breastfeeding mothers. If you are nursing exclusively, before your baby is six months old, you are likely to use about 500 extra calories to make milk for your baby. If you are partially breastfeeding, you may only need an extra 250 calories to account for milk production. I talk about this in more depth in my Breastfeeding Nutrition Video Mini-Series.
The good news is, as a breastfeeding mother, no matter what your diet consists of, breastmilk is still the best option for your baby. Breastmilk is full of vitamins and minerals your baby needs for optimal growth! So, if you feel like eating a few cookies here and there, don’t feel bad mama.
Benefits of a Nourished Mama
There are so many amazing benefits to a nourished mother. A study performed with mothers shows us that nourished mothers are better able to care for their babies, and more excited to play with them too. This reveals that the food you eat affects your mood.
You are hormonally sensitive after birth. The food you eat and the way you eat it can affect this sensitive time, including your hormones, thyroid, etc. in huge ways, either making them worse or healing them. Understanding the sensitivity of your body during this time can help you heal by providing real, nourishing food for your body. A few studies indicate that a poor diet in women is directly linked to depression.
Other benefits of eating well and taking care of yourself in the postpartum period include:
- Healing faster postpartum.
- Better able to care for your baby.
- Play with your baby more.
- More energy (and less exhaustion).
- Improved mood.
- Sleep better.
- Fewer food cravings.
- Less fussy baby.
- Easier to identify problem foods.
- Lactogenic diet supports healthy milk production.
How Diet Affects Your Breastmilk
Eating healthy not only promotes an emotionally stable mother, but it also provides the best nutrients possible for your nursing baby. The nutrients that pass through your milk to your baby include vitamins and minerals such as:
- Vitamin D
- Vitamin K
- Vitamin A
- B Vitamins
- Fatty Acids (Omegas)
- The Amino Acids
The vitamins and minerals that are less reliant on food to get to your baby are:
These rely on your maternal stores if you don’t get adequate amounts through your food to ensure your baby is getting plenty! Once you decide to wean your baby, your body will replenish its maternal stores. But why be without, or have less of these important nutrients if you can eat healthy to get ample amounts in your diet!
There are herbs and foods to be aware of that could contribute to a decrease in milk supply. If you notice a decrease in milk supply, it’s always wise to start keeping a food journal and evaluating any new habits, supplements, medications, or foods you may have introduced. These could be having a direct impact on your milk supply.
According to Hilary Jacobson, author of Mother Food, watch out for these herbs if taken in large quantities:
- Lemon Balm
Candy, gum, beverages, or foods flavored with extracts of these herbs may also reduce milk supply if taken often. These herbs can all be enjoyed in small amounts by most mothers. As with all foods and herbs, the effects of these varies from mother to mother. I always encourage mamas to be aware of the potential impact and observe their own reactions.
Foods that elevate stress hormones lead to the constriction of the capillaries in the breasts, inhibiting the communication of nerves and hormones. These would include soda, coffee, black tea, green tea, etc. Women with chronically low supply may try to avoid these, it may be an experimentation process too.
Foods that are astringent, like citrus juices can cause sensitive tissue to constrict leading to the restricted circulation of blood in the breasts, inhibiting the communication of nerves and hormones.
Cruciferous veggies like cabbage, Brussel sprouts, cauliflower contain sulfur which can make breastmilk less tasty for some babies and even more difficult to digest. Onion and garlic are in this same category although many babies actually like the taste of their mother’s milk when eating garlic.
If your baby drinks less milk because it doesn’t appeal to him, or because he recognizes a taste that previously led to stomach upset, this may cause his mother’s supply to decrease. Cooking cruciferous veggies with dill, cumin, and mustard seeds may improve the milk’s flavor and digestibility.
Best Diet for Breastfeeding Mamas
So what does a “good diet” look like for breastfeeding mothers? Here’s my secret: keep it simple with a variety of whole, real foods like fruits, vegetables, healthy fats, and proteins. A breastfeeding diet does not need to be complicated! Fill your plate with wholesome foods, the less processed the better. You and your family can generally enjoy the same foods too, so there’s no need to cook something special for yourself.
If you have an extremely fussy baby, you may consider looking at potential food intolerances that may be contributing to these bouts of fussiness. It could be something that is in your milk, transferring to your baby. In general, you don’t need to exclude anything from your diet. In fact, babies actually prefer flavored milk and it exposes them to many new tastes and flavors through your breastmilk.
Lactogenic Foods that Promote a Healthy Milk Supply
The authors of Eat to Feed and Mother Food share foods that are both lactogenic, which means they promote a healthy milk supply. You’ll see that many of these foods are common staples in your kitchen too.
- Grains and Flours: organic oats, barley, buckwheat, black rice, brown rice, quinoa, millet, bulgur
- Spices, Herbs, and Yeasts: anise, basil, fennel seed, fenugreek, turmeric, ginger, dill, cumin, garlic, brewer’s yeast, nutritional yeast
- Fruits and Vegetables: apricots, figs, dates, coconut, papayas, asparagus, avocados, kale, spinach, moringa, beets, carrots, fennel, sweet potatoes, pumpkin, squash, dried seaweed
- Eggs and Dairy: eggs, full-fat Greek yogurt (low or no sugar), whole milk, butter, and cream
- Beans and Pulses: chickpeas, lentils, peas
- Fats and Sweeteners: extra-virgin coconut oil, extra-virgin olive oil, sesame oil, sunflower oil, grass-fed butter, ghee, molasses, coconut sugar, dates
- Protein: organically raised or wild-caught fish and meat
Keep in mind no food will fix an underlying issue of low milk supply. These foods are considered milk boosters and help you live a healthier life in general because of their nutrient-dense nature. You can let your whole family enjoy them!
Many of the lactogenic commercial food products do contain some of these ingredients in them. You can also make your own which would be far healthier. Either way, enjoy the food and eat the sweets in moderation. Some newborns don’t tolerate processed sugar well.
Others Ways to Get Nourishment
Although eating healthy is a huge part of optimal self-nourishment in the postpartum period, other ways to take care of yourself during this time include:
- Be gentle with yourself and your baby.
- Surround yourself with a positive support system.
- Take a warm bath.
- Drink plenty of water to stay hydrated.
- Prepare meals and snacks ahead of time for easy access to healthy foods.
- Continue taking your prenatal vitamins.
- Get some sunshine each day for Vitamin D.
- Rest your eyes often.
- Include gentle movement in your routine.
Breastfeeding takes a lot of energy in all aspects, but so worth all the love and bond that is formed between you and your baby. If you’re looking for more information on how to breastfeed with confidence, I cover everything I wish I knew before my son was born in my Breastfeeding with Ease online course.
Remember these tips to help you with your breastfeeding journey:
- Care about what you put in your body!
- The food you eat impacts your baby, including the development of their gut microbiome.
- Evaluate your diet.
- Start with small changes to improve your diet.
- Stick with whole foods.
- Add key foods and nutrients.
- Don’t do restrictive diets or heavy detoxing.
Here is a milk-boosting recipe with chia seeds, which are a superfood and full of healthy fats!