As I draw closer and closer to the end of breastfeeding my first son, I remember the start of our time together, the start of motherhood.
In the beginning, when sleep was allusive and breastfeeding felt like it required a PhD to learn along with a mountain of willpower, when feeding myself became more complicated and my body was all new and foreign -- that's when I could have used this post.
At the time, my waking hours were often spent researching sleep training techniques and breastfeeding diets for colicky little ones--anything and everything to make this whole motherhood thing a little bit more "normal." Knowledge, information it's power, right? Well that's what I thought, so I consumed it with a deep hunger.
My major focus was on getting the baby to sleep, because I just knew it was imperative for our health (the irony is that once I finally accepted that I couldn't control my son's sleep, sleep got way less stressful). I remember in the midst of all the sleep deprivation and continual breastfeeding, feeling a desire to "get my body back" and researching the efficacy of different "diets" while breastfeeding. As much as it makes me cringe to admit it, I believe we are all susceptible to this, especially new moms, and especially in our culture. Anyways, thank goodness breastfeeding my son was more important to me than manipulating my body, I didn't try any of those "safe weight loss plans".
My son is now almost 2 years old and while at times 6 months and 12 months felt like an eternity's time, I'm so happy I gave my body space to heal & change into that of a mother. I'm so happy I found the BEST breastfeeding diet out there. One that has allowed my milk supply to remain normal and helped me reach my goal of nursing him until he's 2. One that has given me the energy to chase a toddler, start a business and run a half marathon.
You want to know what that diet is?? Here it is:
The Best Breastfeeding Diet
1. I eat when I'm hungry (which I won't lie, was sometimes every 1-2 hours in the beginning of breastfeeding). I know as a new mom it's actually possible to completely miss hunger signals with all the responsibilities of caring for a baby. This is a recipe for poor milk supply and one cranky & tired mama. My advice is to eat a little before your baby's normal breastfeeding time or immediately after each nursing session. If you aren't hungry for every feeding, that's okay. Just make sure to check in with your hunger every time you feed baby.
2. I eat the foods I enjoy & those that make me feel good, or I just eat what's easy and on hand. This looks like a lot of reheated leftovers, milk and cereal, oatmeal, eggs (thank God for eggs), energy bars, sandwiches, easy, easy, easy (especially in the beginning days). Obviously some simple meal planning, grocery shopping and prepping strategies help here too!
3. I don't count calories. Because I don't have the time and because they are NOT a good representative of true energy needs. We have a rough idea of how many extra calories a breastfeeding mom needs, but it's not exact. Each child is different and each woman is different in her activity level and energy needs. Calorie needs change daily. Instead I try to eat until I'm full. This doesn't always happen, because we moms are rushed for time. But my body finds a way to use the energy I give it without me micromanaging it.
4. I try to include nutrient rich fruits, veggies, fats, whole grains, protein & dairy when I get a chance. This became even more realistic and special when I was able to start feeding my son table foods. We were each nourishing ourselves with tasty whole foods. A Brussel sprout can feel decadent when you've been eating handheld foods for the better part of 7 months.
5. Also I try to avoid some things like the plague. These include: diet talk, comparing my body to other moms at any stage, checking out my body in the mirror every time I shower, weighing myself, forcing myself into some of my pre-baby clothes that I know I won't fit into (BUY NEW ONES).
Our bodies change, constantly. Just because your body is one way while you're breastfeeding doesn't mean it will be that way the entire time you breastfeed or afterwards. What is true is that many breastfeeding issues I see are related to moms not eating enough, restricting too many food groups, or not allowing themselves to eat every time they're hungry.
Even if you aren't trying to lose weight , but you're just attempting to give your baby the best nutrients through eating a whole foods rich diet, realize that early motherhood does not lean itself to cooking gourmet meals all the time. And that's okay. Your health will benefit more from you feeding yourself regularly than from you stressing out over perfectly balanced and whole food centric meals.
A Word on Leaky Gut and Baby Food Intolerances
If you're stressed out and eating even "healthy" food, research shows stress might increase gut permeability. When this happens the gut wall becomes porous (this is what you hear called "leaky gut"). If your gut becomes porous, you may allow undigested food particles into your blood stream. The body doesn't like undigested food in the blood, it sees it as an invader, so it produces antibodies to combat it. If this happens enough, your body will respond with a full blown immune response to food, i.e. a food intolerance. By some mechanism we don't know, this may lead to a food intolerance in the baby. Either through development of the same antibodies from the mom or because the food particles that enter the bloodstream of the mom also enter the breastmilk.
The moral of the story is chronic stress, whether induced by under-fueling, over-exercising, strict food rules/fear, sickness, or mental/emotional stressors, can cause just as much or more harm than any food you eat.
So go ahead and give yourself grace. Keep foods that are easy to prepare and nutrient rich on hand. Don't be rigid or stressed about your body. Your body will do what it needs to do if you take care of it as best you can. You don't have to be perfect. The more attempts you make to control your body, the less room it has for doing what it needs to do to feed you and your baby.
If you're struggling t0 figure out what, when and how to eat & take care of yourself with a baby, let me just encourage you-- it is possible to develop a new, healthy normal. Whether you're exclusively breastfeeding, starting to feed your little solids or you've completely weaned your child, nourishing your body doesn't have to be crazy complicated and stressful. You can nourish yourself and your baby even on a meager amount of sleep. If this is something you need help with, let's work together! I work with women to help them find a way of eating for themselves & their families that's nourishing, satisfying & uncomplicated.