Recently, the Weston A. Price Foundation kicked up a fuss with their unusual breastfeeding recommendations. I wrote my response to this last week.
One take away from this situation, though, was that it does matter what you eat. Your breastmilk will be awesome no matter what, but diet does impact quality and nutritional content (not to mention eating well is really important for your health since your body will give your baby what it needs first).
While I can’t claim to have the “perfect” answer — everyone is different — I know what works well for me. I have had the easiest recovery after Nathan’s birth (he’s #4 in 5 years) and he’s grown the most rapidly. I’d say our breastfeeding experience has been very positive, and I have felt well and had a lot of energy. In fact, I felt basically normal by three weeks postpartum.
My goal today is to share with you what works for me. Maybe it will be a starting point for you — maybe not. Hopefully, it helps to read someone else’s successful experience!
Breastfeeding Diet and Postpartum Recovery
I didn’t recover well after Jacob’s birth. It was a really stressful time for our family and my rest/recovery was not a priority, and I did not know that I was seriously deficient in magnesium (and possibly other things). I did “okay” except for feeling very tired, stressed, and having strong chocolate cravings. I also struggled to lose the weight (for the first time) and had some issues with constipation (related to magnesium deficiency).
I decided before I even got pregnant again that recovery would be a serious priority after my next pregnancy. Somehow I’d imagined sitting on the couch, snuggling a baby girl and reading stories and quietly directing homeschool…
(Laugh now. I had another sweet baby boy, and my kids don’t sit quietly. Ever. We spent far more time chasing them outside and trying to keep everything going around the house than anything else.)
Still, I took this recovery business seriously. I barely got out of bed in the first week, and then I got around only sometimes and kept it low-key for another week or so. By three weeks, I was feeling basically back to normal. Baby’s almost a month old now and it’s “life as usual,” minus being a little more tired! (He does great at night. Goes to bed between 10 and 12 and co-sleeps with me, squirming and rooting if he needs to nurse but otherwise sleeping quietly for 4 – 5 hours. Then I have to sit up to change him, and we sleep a bit more. When I had help, we’d sleep like this about 11 – 9 every day. Sadly I have no more help, so now I’m up by 7 with the older kids! That makes for a tired mama until this little one starts going to bed by 8 or 9 like the others.)
But the food. I’m supposed to be talking about diet.
What I’m Eating
The things I crave most:
- Raw milk
- Egg yolks
- Grass-fed butter
- Meat, especially beef
I’m craving nutrient-rich foods with a lot of fat in them. If I eat sugar or white flour, I don’t feel well. It’s like my body’s mad that I’m “wasting” calories on that stuff!
I’ve been making a lot of low-sugar homemade ice cream (I use raw milk) and topping it with crispy walnuts. Many days I have a few soaked English muffins with lots of butter for breakfast. I feel best on the days I eat the most butter. I’ve been buying Kerrygold, and I do notice I feel better with that vs. “regular” butter (that isn’t grass-fed). Normally I love vegetables and I have been eating plenty on the side or in soups (usually covered in more butter if they’re not in soup), but this time that’s not what makes me feel the best. I need the fat to produce all the milk this little one needs!
(In four weeks he’s gained about 2.5 lbs. and 3″ over birth weight. He’s growing fast!)
I’ve made a lot of different kinds of soups: taco soup, lasagna soup, baked potato soup, broccoli cheddar soup, chicken noodle soup, and more. I make big batches and keep them on hand. I eat soup pretty much every day, sometimes more than once. I eat leftover soup if I don’t know what else to eat or I need a snack.
I also salt everything to taste with Real Salt.
As for what I’m drinking, I have a lot of water, my postpartum herbal tea, kombucha, and sometimes water kefir. And occasionally I make some herbal tea just for fun.
Thoughts on a Breastfeeding Diet
These foods contain some important nutrients:
- Saturated fat (breastmilk is 50% fat if we’re talking macronutrients, and about half of that saturated)
- Cholesterol (breastmilk contains a lot of this too, and it’s needed for brain development)
- Omega-3s (needed for brain development)
- Vitamin A (needed for brain, immune, eye, and other development)
- Choline (brain development)
- Probiotics (immune development/gut)
There’s more, but those are some of the highlights. (In fact, you can read more about the importance of various nutrients and good sources of them in my new book, A Practical Guide to Children’s Health.)
For me, I really need these nutrients to create healthy breastmilk. I’d venture to guess I’m not alone in this area.
The WAPF breastfeeding mothers’ diet is actually a very good recommendation (I don’t disagree with them on everything; I think they’ve done a lot of good work and advocacy). I find myself largely following what they recommended, just based on what feels right to me. I don’t eat liver and I don’t eat as much fish (maybe once a week or every other week). But in general, my diet is similar to this.
If you need some help simplifying a healthy diet for pregnancy or breastfeeding, you might be interested in my book Healthy Pregnancy Super Foods. It has only two rules: avoid junk food, and consume superfoods. There are 30 recipes that are each bursting with superfoods to help you do exactly that!
I would encourage any woman who is pregnant or breastfeeding to consume a diet that makes her feel awesome — something nutrient-dense. Whether you focus on greens and coconut oil or beef and butter (like me!), you need the healthy stuff now more than ever.
Next week I’ll be sharing how I’m increasing the nutrient density of my family’s diet and also getting my budget down! It’s possible and I’m happy with my new system so far. 🙂
Did you notice certain cravings while pregnant or breastfeeding? Did a healthy diet help you?
I absolutely love all the great information you put out – such wonderful practical advice! Thank you!
I had baby #6 in December 2012. I have at least 50 pounds to lose and I’ve never been so ready to kick the junk food and do the exercise and actually do it this time! I feel like me bodg and my life are really urging me to do this.
Is it possible to lose that much weight while breastfeeding? My thoughts are to stay away from junk/fast food completely, eat good fats, reduce carbs, and exercise daily.
What else would you do?
I’m nursing my sweet 5 m/o, and CRAVING cream. I use probably 1/4 cup in my coffee! And also cheese and red meat. I make sure to take my magnesium daily too, or I will crave chocolate.
Forgive me if this is a silly question- I know there’s all kinds of conflicting info on cholesterol out there- has it ever been a concern for you? Have you ever gotten yours checked? My doc who I would see normally to manage my thyroid (or lack of thyroid- I don’t have one any more)- who also doesn’t normally care for postpardum women- did a full blood work up about 1 month after my little girl was born. My bad cholesterol was very bad. She had me all freaked out about it and still does- baby is now 6 months. I later learned from my midwife that bloodwork of that kind (beyond thyroid stuff) is pointless until I am done breastfeeding. So I guess I am wondering your thoughts on cholesterol! Thanks!
Are these books available on kindle or just PDF formats?
I wish that I read this while attempting to breastfeed my daughter. I struggled mentally with having gained weight after a big loss prior to baby. Emotionally I struggled with my goals of breastfeeding but the emotional turmoil of eating properly to maintain it. I had a history of eating disorder and the idea that I NEEDED fat when I was already overweight was so hard. I never produced enough for her and while I was able to give her some breast milk for 9 months it was not near what I wanted…My original plan was extended breast feeding. I appreciate you writing how important those fats are to both mother and baby for a healthy recovery and healthy milk. Thank you.
Yay, I’m glad it helped. I think we should frame the conversation that way — eating to feel healthy, to help our babies grow, and not worry about our weight loss. Weight and appearance should be about being healthy, not looking a certain way! And even if we are a little “fluffier” than we’d like (I know I am right now), we are not worth less as people because of it. 🙂
Kate – I have been reading these breastfeeding posts with interest.
I thought your “cravings” were particularly interesting.
I have always had trouble breastfeeding, been constantly hungry and had a low supply. The first time around, I didn’t eat dairy because we realized my son was allergic to it. In subsequent pregnancies, I have been instructed to eat without dairy, eggs, or peanuts because they are highly allergenic, and we have such a strong family history of allergies. (I am allergic to tree nuts, outgrew milk and egg, and my oldest has all those allergies.)
Which brings me to the point. I really struggle with these ‘breast is best” points. On these limited diets, I do not make enough milk.. Period. Do you have thoughts on whether you would preemptively do the allergy diet, as I have been instructed by my pediatricians, or how exactly you would supplement (for the next go-round)? It is extremely difficult to get enough nourishment without dairy, eggs, or nuts!
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Thank you for this post. What would be a good way to get magnesium? I take mag oxide supplements but I am still exhausted, constipated, and cranky.
I use magnesium lotion. You might also try liver pills. I have posts on both!
I am struggling because I feel best on the diet you recommend, but baby #2 who is currently 7 mo, reacts badly to dairy and nuts :/ I tried just doing raw 100% grassfed dairy (that is what we raise on our farm), but he still reacts. I am thankful I can still eat eggs, but have a hard time getting enough fat. I eat lots of beef to make up for it, but still crave my homemade dairy products. Have you heard any information about this type of situation?
Thanks for the great posts!
I was dairy-free for my second baby. We relied heavily on coconut products — coconut milk, coconut oil, coconut butter/cream, etc. I also did a lot of soaked whole grain bread (dipped in olive oil with herbs. Smoothies with whole avocados or hemp oil. Hope that helps!
Thanks! Love the info you have here I find I crave high fat foods similar to your cravings like butter and eggs, while grain toast also. I love faves killer bread. I crave veggies such as tomatoes, and potatoes. I also love spicy foods like chili and beans. Milk is something I never drank but now absolutely love! I don’t cut anything out of my diet while breastfeeding and enjoy lots of onions garlic and healthy herbs!
Seeking help…While I’m away at work, my 9 month old is eating more than I can pump. He only has about 2 days of milk left. I can’t seem to find answers from online sources, doctors, LLL. I thought I was eating healthier as far as whole foods, but dairy products are not raw would be the only thing. I’ve tried raw milk and just can’t take taste, and raw milk products are hard to find around here or rather expensive. I’m thinking he may even have tongue-tie due to waking up at night, pulling off breast occasionally, my lower milk production, but no one has caught it. I’ve tried alfalfa and Mother’s Milk Tea as well. Wondering if you had suggestions as I don’t want to supplement with formula. Thanks!