Yes, Diet Does Matter
“Breastfeeding mothers do not need to worry about their diets. As long as they are getting enough calories, their milk will be fine.” I hear this too often and it gets my hackles up.
I was advised not to worry too much about what I ate and that my diet just needed to be high in calories and liquids. This would apparently do a fine job of nourishing my baby. I WISH I knew then what I know now. I would have eaten so very differently in those first 9 months.
Traditional cultures and societies understood the toll that pregnancy and breastfeeding has on a mother. Most of these cultures and societies had special nourishing foods, foods often held in sacred regard by the tribe for their nourishing effects upon health. Women were fed these special nourishing foods before, during and after pregnancy to ensure that both mother and child started their life together healthy and happy. Breastfeeding nutrition was widely practiced in traditional cultures.
In our society when a woman has a baby we take her candy and snack foods to keep her energy up. (I know that was what I was living on!) Many women are so overwhelmed and tired in the early months of motherhood that they fall into the trap of depending upon foods that provide that instant “sugar hit” for instant energy to get them through each day. These sugar laden, processed foods only serve to deplete nutrients essential for the health of a mother and her baby.
It's no surprise to me that many women struggle to breastfeed in our society. If you are not eating properly (whether it be for convenience, because you want to lose weight, because of personal beliefs about food, etc…) I can see how it might be tough to stay the course and continue a breastfeeding relationship. Without the proper nutrients, you are bound to crash and burn OR your baby could end up with some sort of “issue.”
Many breastfeeding mothers think that fat is one of the foods to avoid while breastfeeding. IT'S NOT!!!!! The majority of my friends have immediately cut fats from their diet in an effort to regain their pre-pregnancy shape and size. Fat is an essential nutrient which has borne the brunt of too much bad press. You need fat to make new body cells and hormones. Your baby needs fat for the same reasons and more. Your baby also needs fat for their growing and developing brain and nervous system, for a strong and robust immune system and a healthy digestive system.
Fat is probably the most important part of your breast milk
The fatty acid content of your breast milk is heavily influenced by your diet. Animal fats are essential despite what you've been led to believe (see a post I wrote called Let's Talk About Fats Baby). Arachidonic acid, found primarily in animal fats, is crucial for your baby's brain and retina development.
Breast milk is incredibly rich in cholesterol, essential for nervous system development. Breast milk also contains fat digesting enzymes, called lipases, to ensure that your baby absorbs all of this essential fat in your breast milk.
The Weston A. Price Foundation outlines the following as guidelines for fat intake for a lactating mother:
- Cod Liver Oil to supply 20,000 IU vitamin A and 2000 IU vitamin D per day
- 1 quart (or 32 ounces) whole milk daily, preferably raw and from pasture-fed cows (learn more about raw milk at A Campaign for Real Milk, www.realmilk.com)
- 4 tablespoons butter daily, preferably from pasture-fed cows
- 2 or more eggs daily, preferably from pastured chickens
- Additional egg yolks daily, added to smoothies, salad dressings, scrambled eggs, etc.
- 3-4 ounces fresh liver, once or twice per week (If you have been told to avoid liver for fear of getting “too much Vitamin A,” be sure to read Vitamin A Saga)
- Fresh seafood, 2-4 times per week, particularly wild salmon, shellfish and fish eggs
- Fresh beef or lamb daily, always consumed with the fat
- Oily fish or lard daily, for vitamin D
- 2 tablespoons coconut oil daily, used in cooking or smoothies, etc.
I also want to add that nuts, seeds, and raw nut butters are a good source of healthy fat as well. If you are not a cow milk drinker, goat's milk is a great substitute. Almond milks, rice milk and the like do not have enough fat and often have added sugar.
Despite fat being essential for you and your baby there are some fats high on the list of foods to avoid while breastfeeding. These include:
- Trans fats: These are found in margarine, vegetable shortening, commercial cakes and biscuits, crisps and doughnuts. Trans fats are disastrous for growing and developing babies. They interfere with essential fatty acid metabolism in your baby resulting in reduced learning ability, poor immune function and may contribute to the development of allergies, asthma and eczema. Trans fats easily pass from breast milk to baby. Trans fats are found in ALL margarines, including those sold in health food stores.
- Polyunsaturated Vegetable Oils including canola, corn, soy, cottonseed, sunflower and safflower oil. These vegetables are exceeding fragile and unstable. When damaged by heat, light and oxygen they are dangerous to your health.
A high fat diet while breastfeeding will result in better energy levels, decreased anxiety, and improved mood. In addition, it will cure sugar cravings.
Some other important foods to include in a breastfeeding mother's diet include:
- Lacto-fermented condiments and beverages
- Bone broths used in soups, stews and sauces
- Soaked whole grains if tolerated
- Fresh vegetables and fruits
It is important to eat at regular intervals, especially during that first year of breastfeeding. Not only do new mothers need a balance of fat, protein, and carbohydrates in their systems at all times, but baby needs your milk to contain those as well. Breakfast, lunch and dinner should all be eaten around the same time daily. Snacks are important and should be consumed in-between the main meals.
Some of the foods to avoid while breastfeeding include:
- Supermarket breakfast cereals -These cleverly marketed pretend foods are the worst possible way that you could start your day and are top of the list of foods to avoid. They often have a glycemic index similar to or higher than pure glucose syrup. Eating these cereals for breakfast is not much better than having a chocolate bar.
- A breakfast which includes jam or honey on toast or muffins. Meals like this are carbs + carbs, they are far from balanced and will result in fatigue, mood swings and anxiety later in the day. Remember your breakfast needs to include fat and protein.
- Fruit juice – Freshly squeezed fruit juice is the fashionable new health trend at the moment. Fruit juice, unfortunately is far from healthy. Fruit juice contains no fat or fiber to slow down the absorption of sugar or energy into your body. Fruit juice will give you nothing more than a great big ‘sugar hit' followed not long after by a ‘sugar crash', when your blood sugar level drops and you start to feel anxious, tired, irritable, hungry or stressed. Don't fall for the hype surrounding fruit juice. It will do nothing to build your health or help you to lose weight.
- Soft drinks – Chemical laden, empty calorie beverage with no nutritional value at all.
- Sugar – It is simply providing you with empty calories and robbing your body of precious vitamins and minerals to metabolize it. Some sugar containing foods to avoid include flavored or low fat yoghurt, dried fruit, mueslie bars, snack bars, ‘health' bars (these are usually loaded with pure glucose), and jam.
- White flour – This is simply sugar in disguise.
- Caffeine – Caffeine containing foods to avoid include coffee, tea, cola drinks, energy drinks, guarana and excessive dark chocolate.
- Commercial fried foods
I hope that this brief overview of a proper diet while breastfeeding has at least given you pause about your diet. Trying to make major alterations to your way of eating is a tough challenge but one that is well worth it both for yourself and your children. Try making some small changes each week or month. Eventually they will add up to a big lifestyle change!
Photo Credit: Jen