The breastfeeding diet: What to eat for tired and busy mums
Are you breastfeeding and feeling constantly hungry? The breastfeeding appetite is usually ravenous as your body continuously produces milk and replenishes what was lost through the endurance event that was pregnancy and labour. Naturopath Stephanie Hamilton outlines what a healthy breastfeeding diet should look like.
Women often talk about how much more delicious food has become since giving birth, especially those who couldn’t enjoy their food late in pregnancy because of heart burn and a baby squashing their digestive system!
Breastfeeding requires a higher level of energy intake from food. The National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) recommends up to an additional 2000 kilojoules per day. Did anyone wrongly tell you to “eat for two” when you were pregnant? If it wasn’t true then, it is now. But before you grab that block of chocolate, it’s important that you choose the right foods to munch on and don’t succumb to energy-dense but nutrient-poor foods.
Sweets, cakes and biscuits are common cravings of the breastfeeding and time-poor mum. The high carbohydrate content not only seems to satisfy the demands of breastfeeding but it may also give an emotional boost. Sometimes these treats are all the pleasure a new mum can give herself, a reward for the endless mothering tasks. These sweet foods give an instant energy kick too, something all mothers crave, but the slump (and the guilt spiral) you find yourself in an hour later leaves you questioning if that tub of ice cream was worth it after all.
The benefits of breastfeeding are numerous. For the baby, breast milk contains everything needed for proper growth and development for the first 6 months of life. For mum, breastfeeding helps her uterus contract back to pre-pregnancy size and shape, is linked with reduced risk of chronic disease later in life , and perhaps most attractive of all, it helps with losing that extra weight you may have gained during pregnancy.
Naturally, even if you are breastfeeding, eating the wrong types of foods will make losing the pregnancy weight very difficult. But eating enough of the right foods will help ensure you are making sufficient, good quality milk, will help to maintain your energy levels, speed up your recovery from labour and pregnancy and help to maintain a healthy weight.
Top 5 best breastfeeding foods to meet your caloric needs and satisfy your hunger without increasing your weight
- Choose brown not white! Focus on getting your extra energy requirements from whole grains instead of refined, white alternatives. Bake with wholemeal flours, choose brown rice, bread and wholemeal pasta over the white options.
- Healthy fats Add coconut oil, flaxseed oil, or olive oil to food.
- Protein Protein (eggs, meat, chicken, fish, legumes with whole grains, nuts) with every meal to keep blood sugars stable and your energy sustained.
- Sweet tooth? Choose fruit (preferably fresh) where possible. Bake your own wholesome muffins, cakes and biscuits using unrefined sweeteners and sugars like coconut sugar, agave syrup or rice malt syrup.
- Don't forget to keep hydrated! The NHMRC recommends 2.6 L of fluid each day for a lactating woman. Water accounts for 87% of milk, so it is important to replace this, especially if you have increased your exercise and are losing more water through sweating. Sometimes our thirst can be masked as hunger, so be sure to have a water bottle handy at all times.
Often poor food choices are due to time restraints - a predicament all mothers find themselves in at some point. Getting organised with your food can help ensure you are always eating healthy, nourishing options. Here are a couple of suggestions:
- Set aside a day a week to bake your favourite healthy muffins for a quick snack
- Make extra dinner and use leftovers (that can be easily heated up) for lunch the next day.
- Boil a couple of eggs and keep in the fridge as a snack or addition to a sandwich or salad
- Mix up some raw nuts into a glass jar and having them on the bench to munch on whenever you walk past to keep your blood sugar levels stable
- Have a fresh selection of seasonal fruit always available
- Have some hummus in the fridge and wholegrain crackers in the pantry
- Make yourself a smoothie for a meal or snack (see below recipe)
Power smoothie for a meal on the go
Some days mums don’t even get the opportunity to prepare a simple sandwich. Taking the lettuce out of the fridge and chopping the tomato feels like too much. But throwing a few things into a blender can result in an easy, nutritious and delicious snack. Try the below recipe (NB: You can make it a more substantial meal by adding protein powder).
250-300 ml of almond milk or oat milk (available at supermarkets)
Handful of berries or one banana (or fruit of your choice)
1 heaped teaspoon coconut oil
1 teaspoon LSA (linseed, sunflower and almond meal)
1 teaspoon chia seeds
1 teaspoon raw cacao
1 heaped teaspoon spirulina
References available on request