So you’ve made it through pregnancy…Congratulations!
(Here’s my post on the nine crucial foods for a healthy pregnancy.)
Yet now what? Is there anything special you can or should eat while you breastfeed?
Of course there is!
Nursing is a critical time for the health of your baby. It provides nutrients to help build gut flora, to strengthen mental development, and to support healthy organ growth. It’s the pillar of a new-born’s nutrition. Perhaps it goes without saying, but the contents of breast milk are incredibly important.
Fortunately, even in conditions in which food and nutrients are limited, the vitmain profile of breastmilk stays pretty constant. This is excellent news for your baby – it means that she or he will probably be well nourished regardless of whether you adhere perfectly to the perfect diet! On the other hand, this is not so excellent news for you, since the way your infant achieves this is by stealing from your nutrient stores.
PLUS – some nutrients simply don’t have endless storage space in your body, so you want to keep these levels rich and plentiful. If you run out of them your baby will be out of them, too.
So to ensure the best nourishment for your baby and to protect yourself while nursing, here’s what you do:
For macronutrient intake
Breast milk is composed of 38% carbs, 55% fat, and only 7% protein. When the protein content of formula is raised from a simpe 7 to 9 percent, babies more easily become overweight by age two. No one’s sure why, but a lot of protein is not awesome for babies.
The implication of this fact for the best diet for moms is unclear. Should women eat protein-limited diets while pregnant and nursing?
On the flipside of warnings against high protein intake is the fact that one big problem for nursing mothers is muscle wasting. The average nursing woman who eats the basic RDA for protein, which is about 50 grams a day, loses approximately 20% of her lean tissue to cover the nursing related shortage.
The best thing to do, then, is to eat a healthy amount of protein but not to go overboard. The body will moderate the milk production properly. Shoot for 100 grams of protein (or 16 oz) every day. That may sound like a lot – but don’t forget that calorie needs are enhanced during breastfeeding. Because women eat more when nursing, 100 grams amounts to less than 20% of calories a day, which is within the healthy range for moms and babies both.
As for carbohydrates and fat…
I encourage you to eat neither low carb nor low fat. Do not deprive your body of the fuel it needs in either regard. Get at least 150 grams of carbohydrate and 60 grams of fat each day. If you are eating 100 grams of protein (as you should be!) you will still need more food on top of these basic recommendations, at least 800 calories worth. These are the simple lower limits I provide. The rest of your calories should come from carbs or from fat – whichever you choose will be a healthful choice.
Vitamins to ensure adequate intake of:
The most common deficiencies for nursing women are zinc and calcium. Other risky nutrients are magnesium, vitamin E, vitamin D, B vitamins (especially folate and also B6, and most especially if you used hormonal birth control before conception, as that can lower B6 stores), and iron (if you resume menstruating after birth).
This does not mean you should go out and grab a calcium supplement! To the contrary – you can do very well with food alone. This is especially true of the B vitamins and iron if you consume your 100 grams of animal protein every day as well as leafy greens on a daily basis.
Just in case, however, these are the supplements I recommend:
Osteocalm – a magneisum / calcium blend made by the same company that produces the beloved Natural Calm
Fermented Cod Liver Oil/Butter Oil Blend (just take this one already! 😉 )
Vitamin D (if you choose not to take the fermented cod liver oil)
Foods to focus on:
Coconut cream and oil
Coconut is a medium-chain saturated fatty acid, which is excellent for breast-feeding in many ways.
For one, because it is saturated, it can contribute significantly to the production of breast milk, which is mostly saturated fat.
For another, coconut’s unique status as a medium-chain acid means that it is uniquely supportive of the body’s detox processes, helping to prevent toxins from entering breast milk.
Third, coconut is anti-microbial, which helps prevent you from becoming ill and also from transmitting illness to your infant.
Finally and crucially, coconut can play a great role in your health and happiness, as you need saturated fat to manufacture cholesterol and hormones — two crucial things for getting your body back up and running smoothly post-birth.
(You can get the fabulous organic and cold pressed brand I personally use here)
Organic, grass-fed red meat (especially fatty cuts!)
The fat from animals is largely saturated fat, so it also provides ample fuel for your body to produce breast milk.
Additionally, while most animal protein sources are rich in vitamins and minerals, red meat in particular is rich in all of the B vitamins, especially B12, which is crucial for the health of you and your infant. It is also a rich source of folate – another type of B vitamin – which infants really need to support healthy brain and nervous system development.
Folate is important to get in the diet on a regular basis because the body can’t store that much of it.
Red meat is also rich in iron and zinc, both of which are at risk for being depleted while breast feeding, and has impressive levels of magnesium, copper, cobalt, phosphorus, chromium, nickel, and selenium.
Grass-fed, organic meat is best for a number of reasons, least of which being a decreased toxin load relative to conventional meat, the absence of anti-biotics that are used to produce conventional meat and which are harmful to gut flora, a higher omega 3 profile than conventional beef, and healthy amounts of Conjugated-Linoleic Acid, a rare but important anti-inflammatory fatty acid.
Consume roughly 1 pound (16 oz or 100 grams) of animal protein a day, focusing on organic, grass-fed red meats.
Here is my favorite grass-fed jerky, which is excellent for when pressed for time, moms!
Leafy greens are rich in just about everything (this is an exaggeration, though not by much!). Most importantly, they are the best source of folate in the diet, which is crucial for the development of your infants brain and spinal cord. Folate doesn’t have endless storage space in your body – so do your best to eat at least three servings of greens every day.
Fatty fish – Cod Liver Oil – Fish Roe
The omega 3 fatty acids EPA and DHA have been significantly linked to healthy brain development and higher IQs in infants (and for the rest of their lives, too!). The best way to get adequate EPA and DHA for your baby is to consume it yourself.
Eat fatty fish like salmon, herring, trout or sardines (preferably wild caught) at least twice a week. Fish roe – eggs – are also super awesome. I really like this brand. If you do not eat fish, or would like to boost your vitamin A, D, and K levels while simultanously getting clean EPA and DHA, consider this awesome cod liver oil supplement.
Fermented foods and probiotics
It’s incredibly remarkable, and I can hardly believe it myself – but breast milk actually transfers gut bacteria from the mother to the infant!
I know, right!?!?!
Having a healthy gut while nursing is perhaps the most important gift you could ever give to your child. Healthy gut flora while an infant will set your baby up for a lifetime of more robust gut health, a stronger immune system, fewer food sensitivities, and better metabolic health.
Consume one serving of a fermented food like (here are my recommendations:) kimchi, sauerkraut, kefir, kombucha, or even coconut yogurt or fermented coconut kefir (yay!) every day, or consider taking an awesome probiotic supplement like this one.
Paleo diets are rich in organ meats and bone broth for a reason. Liver is quite possibly the most nutrient dense food around, containing more vitamin A and K than any other food. Get at least 4 oz of grass fed liver every week for optimal health. Be sure to eat it with a hefty dose of fat to optimzie nutrient absorption (at least one tablespoon). If you cannot stomach liver, consider a desiccated liver supplement.
Bone marrow and bone broths (make from boiling marrow bones for extended periods of time) provide other important nutrients to you and the baby, especially those that help strengthen skin and bones like glycine and collagen.
Two other “paleo superfoods” to always be sure to include in a healthy diet are egg yolks and grass-fed ghee or butter. Eggs are extraordinarily nutrient dense — they contain all the nutrients chickens use to build new chickens! These nutrients are also helpful for buidling new humans. They include sulfur and choline most remarkably, and you should aim for two egg yolks a day. Ghee or butter from grass-fed cows also contains great dosages of the fat-soluble vitamins A, D, and K2, which are critical for mental health, cardiovascular health, bone health, immune system health, and keeping inflammation levels low.
Vitamin D is perhaps the most crucial nutrient in breast milk, and one that is the most at risk for depletion. The WHO estimates that 80 percent of pregnant and nursing mothers are deficient in vitamin D – which can harm the baby’s immune system, bone growth, brain development, and more.
Vitamin D is also crucial for your mental health. Your baby will take from your vitamin D stores when it’s not getting adequate vitamin D from sun exposure or breast milk. This can rob you of your mental health – and may in fact play a role in post-partum depression.
Get at minimum 20 minutes of noontime sun (without SPF) a day. You can also gently expose your newborn to the sun, which will faciliate vitamin D production. A final alternative is to consider the cod liver oil supplement I keep recommending… because it’s just that good.
Up your water intake! Milk production takes water – and you don’t want to run dry either on your baby or on yourself. 2 liters a day is a great place to start. Make sure there’s plenty of salt in your diet, which helps with hydration.
Nursing mothers need about 500-700 calories more than when not nursing! This is very important! You need the simple energy your body extracts from calories in order to produce milk. So one of the most important things you can do for your baby is EAT.
Does this mean you should go wild and have doughnuts all the time? Well, maybe once in a while won’t hurt you. But breast-feeding places such a high nutrient demand on you that you may be best served by using these 500-700 calories to get extra nutrition in your diet to support yourself and your baby. The more you fill this calorie gap with nourishing, awesome, and still of course totally delicious foods (I’m just dreaming about sweet potatoes slathered in ghee and cinnamon), the better off both your infant and you will be.
What if I can’t breast feed?
You may want to consider joining a milk-sharing program… just be careful about what the mom you’re working with is eating. Another option is an excellent recipe for homemade formula by the Weston A Price Foundation.
And that wraps us up for today! What do you think? What was your experience with nursing and nutrition? How did YOU meet your increased calorie needs? Now THAT sounds like fun… 🙂
Also, as a real quick end note – I’m doing a webinar on Saturday answering any and all questions that come my way! You can tune in for free @ http://paleoforwomen.com/go/primal-90-health-mastery 🙂