Healthy mum, happy baby

How to feed yourself when you're breastfeeding

By Annemarie Tempelman-Kluit
Healthy mum, happy baby

I couldn’t believe how hungry I was when I started breastfeeding. Eating for two had been one of my favourite parts of pregnancy (once I got past my nauseating first trimester) and almost made up for my swelling girth and continual need to pee. In contrast, when I started to breastfeed, eating for two became a chore, a trial, a bodily necessity that I couldn’t seem to satisfy. Gone were the days of eating mindfully and savouring the taste of food; instead I discovered I could cram an entire muffin into my mouth, that yogurt was just as good eaten straight from the container, and that I could eat cheese and crackers, talk on the phone and rock a fussy baby all at the same time. It wasn’t until a Sunday dinner with my extended family that I realized how far I’d fallen. As I sat at the laden table, I felt as if I hadn’t eaten in months. By the time everyone had sat down at the table, my plate and mouth were full. I stopped chewing only long enough to mumble through my food, “Sorry, Mum, I couldn’t wait, but this is really good!”

In retrospect, it’s not surprising I was so hungry. Your body needs an extra 500 calories or so a day to make the 23 to 27 ounces of breastmilk your baby needs each day. Though not all women experience the kind of intense hunger I did, your nutritional needs do increase when you’re breastfeeding. With a few important exceptions, the quality of your diet will not hugely impact the quality of your breastmilk. If you don’t get enough nutrients, your body puts your baby first and depletes your store of vitamins and minerals to make sure that baby gets hers. A healthy diet also ensures you get the nutrients your baby can only get from you, such as essential fats. And eating enough fibre and drinking plenty of fluids will help keep you regular.

When you’re a new mum, it’s natural to be more than a little obsessed with losing your baby weight. Ubiquitous news stories and photos of celebrity mothers who effortlessly shrink back to their pre-baby stick figures create unrealistic expectations. But let’s get real: It took more than nine months to put on the baby weight, and for those of us without a chef and personal trainer, it’s probably going to take at least that long to take it off. The first six weeks of breastfeeding are definitely not a time to diet because your milk supply is still being established. After that, if you’re losing more than a pound a week, your rapid weight loss may result in the release of toxins from your body fat into your milk. So if you’re dropping more than a pound a week, you’re probably not eating enough. Luckily, breastfeeding releases hormones that help your uterus return to its pre-pregnancy size and shape, and studies have shown that mums who breastfeed tend to lose more weight than mums who don’t. But every body reacts differently; some women lose pounds steadily and return to their regular weight while still breastfeeding; others stubbornly hold on to the extra weight until their baby starts eating solids. Whatever your body type, if you’re nursing, you’re going to be hungry. And while you can pretty much eat what you like, there are some things to avoid. Read on for some breastfeeding basics.

Almost everything that goes into your body gets into your breastmilk. Alcohol appears in breastmilk in the same concentration as it does in your bloodstream, and heavy alcohol consumption can mess with your milk supply, your baby and your mothering in general. However, this does not mean you can’t drink at all. An occasional, well-timed glass of wine or beer isn’t frowned upon and can help a new mum relax a little. As a rule, postponing breastfeeding for two hours after having one drink will minimize your baby’s exposure to alcohol — two hours is the minimum amount of time it takes to eliminate alcohol from the body. If you have one drink — one beer, one small glass of wine or one ounce of hard alcohol — right after you finish breastfeeding, it should be mostly out of your system by your next breastfeeding session, unless you have a super-frequent feeder.

If you want to plan a bit of a bust-out, you can “pump and dump” so you don’t affect your milk supply as you might if you skipped a feeding entirely, and your baby can have some pre-pumped breastmilk or an alternative. Of course, a little may go a long way after nine months of abstinence, so busting out may truly mean just a drink or two.

When you’re breastfeeding and you haven’t slept for more than two hours in a row for what seems like forever, is it cruel and unusual punishment to deny yourself any caffeine, or is it best for baby? The reality is too much caffeine in your breastmilk may cause irritability and poor sleep in your baby, and who wants that? Health Canada’s current guidelines suggest breastfeeding women not exceed 300 milligrams of caffeine a day. The good news is, that’s approximately two to three cups of coffee, depending on how it’s brewed, or six cups of tea, which should be enough to keep the edge off. You can also enjoy moderate amounts of chocolate without fear of harming your baby.

Fatigue is one of the first signs of dehydration. Not sure whether you’re feeling fatigued because you haven’t slept much in two months or simply because you haven’t had enough fluids to drink? Whichever it is, downing an extra glass of water won’t hurt.

Hot stuff
Mums are often told that their babies will react to their milk if they eat garlic or spicy foods, but all the experts agree that no foods should be banned from a breastfeeding mum’s diet unless you feel they are causing problems for your baby. Although it’s normal for your baby to have fussy periods during the first three months, some babies develop gas when their mums eat certain foods. And a mother faced with a fussy baby is willing to try anything to soothe her little one. Current research shows that the main foods that can affect your baby are dairy, eggs, wheat and nuts — coincidentally the same most common foods to which babies develop allergies. If you notice that your baby gets fussy within two to four hours of your eating a certain food, try cutting it out of your diet for at least a week to clear your system and your baby’s. Then reintroduce the food to see if it has the same effect.

If food allergies run in your family, the best way to prevent your baby from developing them is to exclusively breastfeed her for at least the first six months. By six months, a baby’s immune system is functional, if immature, and capable of producing the antibodies necessary to defend against allergens. If severe food allergies run in your family, you might also want to consider avoiding the foods that children are commonly allergic to, such as nuts, milk and eggs, while breastfeeding. Studies have shown that this could help prevent or delay your child from developing allergies.

If you don’t get enough nutrients while you’re breastfeeding, you could experience vitamin and mineral deficiencies that could affect your health later on in life. Eating a good diet during your early days as a parent will also give you the energy you need to meet the enormous demands being made on your stamina and strength, replace nutrients lost during pregnancy and ensure your baby gets the nutrients he can only get from you.

Nursing mums will have days when they don’t have the time, energy or inclination to cook. If you’re ordering in once in a while, then by all means indulge in your favourite dishes. However, if ordering in is becoming a habit, here are a few tips on making healthier choices.

Pizza Thin-crust pizza loaded with veggies and lower-fat toppings, such as ham and chicken, is quite a healthy meal. Choosing a whole wheat crust makes it even better.
Indian Focus on dishes cooked in tomato sauce while limiting deep-fried foods and dishes cooked with cream sauces.
Chinese Opt for dishes that are stir-fried and those that have lots of veggies such as steamed veggie dumplings or mu shu pork made without MSG.
Italian Pastas with veggies and tomato sauces beat out lasagnas and pastas with cream sauces every time.
Mexican Try opting for veggie burritos, and have beans on the side that aren’t refried — while beans are good for you, when they’re refried and served with sour cream and guacamole, they plummet in the “virtuous foods” ratings.

Excerpted from Healthy Mum, Happy Baby: How to Feed Yourself When You’re Breastfeeding Your Baby. Copyright ©2007 Annemarie Tempelman-Kluit. Published by Random House Canada. Reproduced by arrangement with the Publisher. All rights reserved.

This article was originally published on May 11, 2007

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