I have been nursing Wallace for over 16 months and throughout this journey have tried to replenish the nutrients that I have lost during the process. I started off strong by making broths, taking supplements and eating very well to ensure my health but now I don't spend much time thinking about ways to meet my daily requirements as a nursing mother. Recently I have noticed a decline in energy level and have had trouble sleeping. I just don't feel great and most days I am worried about how Wallace is eating so I take a second seat to his needs. I have been in need of an refresher and coincidentally came across Abby Hantel, holistic nutritionist, doula, lactation educator, and women's health advocate. She was the perfect person to consult as her knowledge on women's health, especially during pregnancy and postpartum is vast.
A | Lots of people say a lot of things about breastfeeding. Breast is best they say. A mother’s milk is her gift to her baby they say. Breastmilk is better than any udder milk the particularly cheesy among them say. There’s a few things about breastfeeding, however, that people aren’t saying. Breastfeeding is physiologically demanding, breastfeeding is time consuming, breastfeeding is often solitary, and breastfeeding is not always an option. While there is no right way when it comes to motherhood, it’s safe to say that whatever works best for you and your baby is probably the right way for you.
If breastfeeding is right for you then I cannot stress highly enough how important nutrition is during the duration of your lactation. Thought you were done with the days of eating for two after delivery? Think again. Now more than ever is the time to think about eating for two in the sense of quality over quantity. Lactation burns an extra 500 calories per day and draws on vitamins and nutrients in your body to pass these on to your baby. Most of these calories will come from fat that the body stored during pregnancy for this very purpose, so most women will only need to increase their daily caloric intake by 200-400 calories depending on how adequate their fat storage was during pregnancy. Below is a breakdown of the basic essential nutrients for lactation and some great food sources for each one. I’ve picked up a few tips and tricks in my work as a doula and lactation educator, and the best one for incorporating these foods come from my doula mentor Erica Chidi Cohen: set up a little snack and water station near the places that you nurse most frequently so that you can always rehydrate and have access to a nutrient dense snack option while nursing.
Breastfeeding Nutrient Basics + Food Sources
Protein: 71 grams is the daily recommendation for protein intake during lactation, a 25 gram increase from the needs of an adult woman. Aim for 25 grams over the daily intake that usually works for you.
Food Sources: lean meats and fish, eggs, Greek yogurt, tofu, tempeh, cottage cheese, nuts and seeds, beans, quinoa, protein shakes.
Calcium: 1,000 mg is the daily recommendation for calcium intake during lactation, the same amount needed during pregnancy. The calcium that was being used to form your baby’s skeleton is now being diverted into your milk. In both of these cases your body will always ensure that your baby gets the right amount first. If you’re not taking in enough from your diet or supplements, your body will actually leach calcium from your bones and teeth to ensure your baby gets all that it needs. A simultaneously harrowing and heartwarming thought. Studies have linked this to osteoporosis later in life so make sure you’re getting adequate calcium during this pivotal time.
Food Sources: Sardines with bones, yogurt, cheese, dark leafy greens (spinach, kale, collard greens, chard), broccoli, tofu, white beans, blackstrap molasses, almonds, almond milk, seaweed.
Vitamin C: 120 mg is the daily recommendation for vitamin C during lactation, a sizable increase from the 75 mg needed for adult women. Vitamin C is water soluble, not fat soluble, meaning that your body can’t store large quantities of it. Make sure to stock up on vitamin C rich foods or supplements daily to ensure that your breastmilk has an adequate supply.
Food Sources: citrus fruits, kiwi, bell peppers, broccoli, cauliflower, kale, cantaloupe, papaya, camu camu, brussels sprouts, pineapple, lypospheric vitamin C (not a food but the best supplement out there).
Vitamin B: The daily recommendation for all of the B-complex vitamins increases during lactation since lactation requires more calories and B vitamins are involved in energy metabolism. You have probably become very familiar with the B vitamin folate during your pregnancy and turns out those prenatal supplements are great for breastfeeding as well. B vitamins are also water soluble so make sure to stock up on vitamin B rich foods or supplements daily.
Food Sources: E3 Live, ormus greens, pumpkin seeds, chia seeds, oatmeal, dark leafy greens, eggs, lean meats and fish, beans, bee pollen (there is an allergy consideration so make sure to talk to your doctor first).
Vitamin A: The daily recommendation for vitamin A jumps to 1,300 mcg during lactation from 770 mcg during pregnancy. Vitamin A is a fat soluble vitamin meaning that it is stored in adipose tissue. Since lactation takes directly from your fat tissue stores to enrich your breastmilk with vitamins and minerals, you want to make sure that you are constantly replenishing your stores with Vitamin A rich foods.
Food Sources: sweet potatoes, liver, egg yolk, carrots, dark leafy greens, cantaloupe, yellow and red bell peppers, squash.