Both during pregnancy and after, the focus of your diet should be nutrient density. This is because you’re not only feeding your baby through your own diet, after giving birth your body is considerably depleted of its nutrient stores. So even though you’ve given birth, you’re still eating for two.
Don’t worry, a *perfect* diet isn’t necessary or even realistic. It’s all about knowing the nutrients you need, and trying to get them as best you can without stressing yourself out and going off the rails on a crazy train.
Of course every woman’s body is different and might require some additional support in certain areas, but here’s my general diet for postpartum, nursing women:
I cannot stress the importance fat enough. Fat is, in my opinion, the most important nutrient when it comes to pre and post-natal nutrition for both mother and child. Fat is needed for your baby’s brain development, hormone production, organ and tissue growth, and it also helps with milk supply. I recommend getting at least 30% of your daily calories from fat.
Sources: coconut oil, avocados, soaked & dehydrated nuts and seeds, grass-fed butter, ghee, high-quality, fatty cuts of meat.
Protein is important while breastfeeding, but you don’t need to overdo it, in fact, I’d say prioritize fat and then carbohydrates over protein. According to Paul Jaminet and Dr. Lorin Cordain, protein should make up about 20-30% of your calories. So if you aim to eat a little protein in every meal you should hit this number easily.
Sources: Grass-fed/finished beef, pastured pork, poultry and eggs, wild-caught seafood
A winner whether you’re nursing or not. Vegetables are excellent sources of vitamins, minerals and amino acids. I recommend trying to eat some kind of veggie with every meal. They’re all great but aim to eat ones that are in season (fruits and vegetables actually send your body key messages telling it what season it is and how to store and utilize vitamins) and if you can eat locally, even better. If that’s not an option, try and buy organic based on the EWG’s Dirty Dozen and Clean Fifteen Guidelines. If you can’t get to a farmer’s market or join a CSA – frozen fruits and veggies are often the next best option, as they’re flash frozen shortly after they’re picked, preventing some of the nutrient degradation that happens when vegetables are picked, shipped long distances and left to sit on grocery store shelves.
The omega 3 fatty acids EPA and DHA are critical for your baby’s brain development. It also helps regulate mood and behavior, as well as manage our body’s inflammatory processes, and we can only get these from fatty fish or marine algae. Although plant sources, like chia and flax, do contain omega 3 fatty acids, they contain the ALA form – the body must convert ALA to EPA and DHA, and it doesn’t do this very well. Most people can only convert about 1% into the EPA and DHA we need. See here for more info. I recommend eating lots of cold water fatty fish and possibly supplementing with a high-quality cod liver oil.*
Sources: Sardines (I like sardines the best, as they contain less mercury than larger fish like tuna and salmon), salmon, tuna, mackerel, anchovies, black cod
*Cod liver oil: I like Green Pasture Butter Oil / Fermented Cod Liver Oil blend
WARNING: According to the Weston A. Price Foundation, cod liver oil contains substantial levels of omega-3 EPA, which can cause numerous health problems, such as hemorrhaging during the birth process, if not balanced by arachidonic acid (ARA), an omega-6 fatty acid found in liver, egg yolks and meat. If you’re a vegetarian or vegan, please do not add cod liver oil to a diet that is deficient in these animal foods.
Breastfeeding moms need about 300-500 more calories than average to support their milk production and energy levels. You can use this calorie counter to figure out your needs:
Then just add 300-500 depending on your activity level. If you find your milk supply is drying up you might want to start logging your food with something like www.myfitnesspal.com to get an idea of how many calories and carbohydrates you’re eating. For breast feeding moms I recommend, at the very BARE minimum, 100g of carbohydrates per day, but really closer to 150-200g, especially if you’re exercising regularly. This can be pretty difficult if you’re grain-free or Paleo. Personally, “safe starches” like white rice and white potatoes are okay in my book if they help your milk supply and you feel good eating them. You should experiment with what kinds of carbohydrates and what amount works best for you. It important here not to focus on weight loss – the weight will come off eventually – but the most important thing is feeding your baby.
Sources: fruit, starchy tubers (potatoes, sweet potatoes, carrots, beets, taro root), white rice, soaked grains.
OTHER FOODS TO INCREASE MILK SUPPLY
When it comes to milk supply, research has shown the main factor is the amount of food available to the mother. This means DO NOT restrict calories when breastfeeding. Of course everyone wants to loose the baby weight but again, the weight will come off in time. The most important thing is feeding your baby.
If you’re not running low on calories and still having trouble with supply, you could be too low carb. Try adding in more starchy tubers like sweet potatoes and taro root to your diet, especially at night, so you can build up milk production for the morning. Additionally, Fermented foods and beverages, and porridges of soaked grains are said to increase milk supply. If you find that oatmeal (or other types of grains) works for you I recommend soaking and fermenting them if possible. You can learn more about that here.
MY POST-PARTUM SUPERFOODS
Some are a little out there but all I highly recommend:
- Grass-fed / pastured liver, once per week – 10 – 100x’s higher in nutrients than muscle meats
- Pastured eggs, two per day – the choline in the yolk is critical for your baby’s brain development and function, while the cholesterol helps hormone production
- 1 Tsp of cod liver oil per day*
- Grass-fed butter, 2 Tbs per day – contains vitamins A, D, E & K2, which are necessary for proper bone structure
- Grass-fed beef & lamb – more B12, iron and zinc than white meat and lower in inflammatory omega 6 fatty acids
- Wild-caught sardines and/or salmon WITH bones – the bones are an excellent source of calcium
- Beet kvass and/or kombucha – supports proper liver function and hormone metabolism
- Bone broth and/or Great Lakes Collagen - supports digestion
- Lactofermented vegetables – if you buy from the store make sure they saw “raw” or “unpasteurized” (pasteurization kills all the good bacteria)
- Full-fat, plain yogurt or kefir – again, make sure the label says “contains live, active cultures”
- Coconut oil – ¼ cup – ½ cup per day. Coconut oil boots the immune system, supports your baby’s brain development and contains many components similar to breast milk.
- Maca powder - otherwise known as “nature’s Viagra” it’s a powerful libido booster and helps balance hormones
STAY AWAY FROM
If the good stuff we eat winds up in our breast milk, unfortunately, so does the bad. So do your best to avoid refined sugar, white flour, hydrogenated vegetable oils (which are in almost ANYTHING boxed or bagged – including “healthy” foods like bars, tortilla chips, and other prepackaged snacks) tobacco, caffeine and alcohol.
This doesn’t mean you have to be a 100% t-totaller, just try and steer clear as best you can.
However, research does show that trans fats – like those in fried foods – pesticides, and high levels of phytoestrogens – like those found in soy – also end up in mothers’ breast milk and can interfere with many enzymatic processes, causing reduced learning ability, endocrine disruption, and contributing to allergies, asthma and many other diseases. So I would say, if possible, avoid these completely.
By Grace McCalmon
The Real Food Nanny