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January 16, 2018
As new mamas, we have a lot to think about and one area that can easily consume our thoughts is feeding our little ones. It can be easy to focus solely on what our baby needs and forget that what we need to feed ourselves. It is important to remember that we eat will directly impact how and what we are able to feed our baby. Keeping your body fueled with good nutrition choices is crucial for both you and your baby.
As a nutritionist, cookbook author, culinary nutrition expert and new mama with a six month-old baby who was exclusively breastfed for the first six months of his life, I have some experience in this topic. Here are my tips about what to eat for optimal breastfeeding that can help improve your health and the wellbeing of your baby.
We are often obsessed with postpartum weight loss, getting back into our pre-baby clothes or reaching our pre-baby weight. While a healthy weight is certainly important, during the first few months I’d recommend forgetting about weight loss and concentrating on giving you and your baby what you need – both nutritionally and emotionally. With optimal nutrition and regular nursing, weight loss will often take care of itself.
Calories are not always a helpful measurement for breastfeeding, nutrition, health or weight loss. You can eat 100 calories worth of an avocado and 100 calories worth of French fries, but the nutritional profiles of both of those foods are completely different. What’s inside the food matters.
Instead, look at maximizing your micronutrient intake (your vitamins and minerals) through fresh, whole and unprocessed foods. When choosing what to eat, think about how dense a food is nutritionally and consider ways you can pack as much nutrition into your meals as possible. For example, smoothies and elixirs are great options because they are easy to make and you only need one hand to drink them.
Now is the time to splurge on the best food possible to ensure you are keeping your chemical burden low – as pesticides and herbicides can pass through you into your breast milk. Build organic food into your budget, or try growing your own. Visit your local farmers and ask questions – some of them may be following organic practices but don’t have the funds to become certified organic.
If 100% organic isn’t in the cards for you right now, check out the Environmental Working Group’s Shopper's Guide to Pesticides in Produce. They have a ‘Dirty Dozen’ list of the top 12 foods with the most pesticides, as well as a ‘Clean Fifteen’ list that reveals the 15 foods with the least amount of pesticide residues. These lists can help you prioritize which foods to buy organic.
We burn through a lot of nutritional energy while nursing. Stabilizing blood sugar with good quality sources of fat will help ensure we feel satiated. Plus, quality fats also pass through the breastmilk and help nourish the brain of our rapidly growing baby. Some of my favorite fat sources include:
Managing our blood sugar levels ensures that we feel rejuvenated and balanced throughout the day. When we don’t eat for long periods of time, or eat sugary foods that spike insulin levels, we get sugar highs and lows that make us feel tired, cranky or ‘hangry’.
We can achieve blood sugar balance by eating proteins, fats and fibres with every meal and every snack. This slows down the release of sugar into the bloodstream and keeps us feeling full and satiated for longer. This helps improve energy levels no matter how sleep deprived you feel and also allows for deeper rest when you're able to sleep. Blood sugar balance also helps us balance hormones postpartum.
Of course, I know that eating while taking care of a baby is often easier said than done! That’s why I reach for nutrient-dense, fat-filled meals and snacks on a regular basis. But those meals and snacks don’t materialize out of nowhere – I need to prep and cook them. This is where batch cooking and meal prep comes into play. Spending a few hours a week cooking and freezing healthy meals pays off in the long run and you don’t have to do it alone: recruit other family in your household to help.
Breastfeeding isn’t an easy process for everyone and it takes time to get into the groove. When you take the time to nourish yourself, you’ll likely find that you feel restored and are better able to focus on enjoying your breastfeeding and bonding time.
Meghan Telpner is a Toronto-based author, speaker, nutritionist, and founder of the Academy of Culinary Nutrition. She’s written two bestselling books: UnDiet: Eat Your Way to Vibrant Health and The UnDiet Cookbook. She is also a new mom to her boy Finley.
Learn more about Meghan!