Soon we’ll be welcoming a new member to the family. For us, a new baby means tons of change (obviously) but it’s particularly huge for me as mom, since our plan is to breastfeed exclusively for 4-6 months, and continue for up to Baby’s first birthday (and possibly beyond). Breastfeeding with Paisley was an unexpected challenge that turned my life upside down for about a month, as I adjusted to the crazy schedule, pain, and inability to do much but feed my baby.
The biggest struggle for me as a new breastfeeding mom was eating: how to eat, what to eat, when to prepare food to eat. It was a challenge in every way and to be honest, I pretty much didn’t eat for like a month. As I got back into a groove of shopping and preparing food again, I realized that my body had way different needs now that I was breastfeeding than it did when I was pregnant or just a regular old person not sustaining someone else’s life.
For one, the breastfeeding hunger for me is SO much more intense than even my craziest days as a preggo. On average, expectant moms require 200-300 more calories per day, while breastfeeding moms require roughly 500 more calories. That’s actually a significant difference that can be equal large snack or small meal per day, in addition to what you might eat during pregnancy. It’s about a whole meal’s worth of calories more than a traditional diet calls for.
And no, getting those 500 extra calories through chips and cookies, though crazy easy to balance with a newborn perpetually stuck to your chest, is not going to cut it nutritionally. As I prepare once again to sit on the couch with endless snacks and tiny meals while I nurture my newborn son through the first few weeks of his life, I thought I’d share some of my favorite tips and tricks that I discovered during the early days of feeding Paisley – and myself.
I hesitate to call this eating plan a diet because 1) I don’t do diets and 2) it’s more of a few recommendations to add to any diet to help boost lactation and curb those round-the-clock munchies. Let’s be real: while breastmilk is the most magical substance on earth (look it up if you don’t believe me), it require some specific input from you – the mom – to maintain a healthy flow and fat balance for your hungry baby.
One last thing that I’d like to address before we begin is the elephant in the room: the post-baby body. While it may be tempting to cut calories to help reduce the pudginess and get back into your favorite skinny jeans, a breastfeeding meal plan is not the quickest way to do so. Cutting calories = reducing milk supply, so hopping out of the hospital bed and into a restrictive diet is certain disaster for establishing and maintaining a healthy supply for your baby.
That being said, on a roughly 2,500-3,000 calorie diet that I established during my postpartum days with Paisley, I easily lost the baby weight by giving my body the proper fuel, nursing on demand, and baby wearing her everywhere. This may not be the case for every mom or every pregnancy so don’t set any kind of unreasonable expectations for yourself. You just had a baby. The weight will worry about itself. Fuel your body with the nutrients it and your baby need and worry about the rest later. Trust me on this one.
Ok, here we go!
Hydration and healthy lactation go hand in hand. Liquid input = liquid output. Before you even leave the hospital, hop to Amazon and get a Prime order of an awesome water bottle you want to actually drink out of and a case of Gatorade delivered to your front door before you even make it home.
Keeping fresh water on hand and drinking up at all times will help you to stay healthily hydrated through those hazy first weeks. Try to pour yourself a large glass or water bottle full before sitting down to any nursing session and down it while your baby helps him/herself. In addition to being a powerful helper for your breastmilk supply, adequate hydration will help you to combat some of the side effects of the early days’ exhaustion so you can have as clear a head as possible, even for those 3 AM cluster feeds.
If you, like most Americans are water averse, consider these tips to help you incorporate more aqua:
A fun water bottle – I like glass lifefactory bottles
Use a straw – tipping a full tumbler of water over baby’s head as you nurse is an acquired skill. Give yourself a break by sticking a straw into your preferred drinking vessel.
Infuse your water – add lemons, strawberries, cucumbers, and more to your water to give it a fun flavor and keep the boredom down sip after sip
Drink Gatorade – I always add a bottle of Gatorade to my day while nursing. Not only is it a fun break from ho hum water, but it supposedly helps to boost breastmilk supply, as well. Rumor has it that blue Gatorade is the best boosting supply but there’s no good explanation for that. I like that flavor best so that’s usually what I keep in the pantry.
Check out Pinterest
During all of that time that you have to play around on your iPhone while you sit through yet another cluster feed, download the Pinterest app and search for quick and easy breastfeeding diet infographics and recipes. Brushing up on which foods are good for inducing and maintaining healthy lactation can help you to make better decisions when writing up the week’s menu or pondering the produce section at the grocery store. Plus infographics are just fun in general.
There are also a lot of tips for foods to avoid when breastfeeding, though I recommend taking these with a grain of salt. In my experience, my diet didn’t have any averse effects on Paisley’s spitting up, comfort level, whatever. There’s a lot of debate on whether different types of food and their effects even pass along to the baby so I ignored all of the “don’t eat garlic, stop drinking coffee, don’t eat cruciferous vegetables” jargon. In the end, you need to do what you’re comfortable with and what’s best for your baby.
Stock the Panty and Fridge
There are some definite foods that you will want to have on hand – and even more helpfully, have prepared into nice little snacks and meals that you can tote around the house. The following foods are great milk boosters and are pretty easy to prepare, even when you haven’t slept in a month:
Dairy products (whole milk, yogurt, cottage cheese)
Brewer’s yeast (yes, this means BEER! Dark beers, especially are good for promotion lactation. Guinness, anyone?)
Smoothies, salads, and lactation cookies for breastfeeding are super easy ways to get a boost from multiple boosters at once and, again, Pinterest is totally your friend in finding out of this world recipes for versions you might want to try at home.
Eat when the Baby Eats
If sitting down to gourmet meals doesn’t quite top the list when you’re sludging through the first few weeks and months, try to break your food intake into snacks and meals that are easily portable and can be consumed on the couch or scarfed in front of the microwave before the baby wakes up. A good recommendation is to try and eat as often as the baby does. So if you’re sitting down for six nursing sessions a day, try to get six little meals of your own. This also goes for pumping! For example, if you nurse, then pump, and another caregiver feeds the baby a bottle three hours later, you may find yourself needing a little boost around the same time that the baby needs his/hers.
If you have one designated nursing area, you may want to consider keeping a snack stash next to your chair for easy eating during cluster feeds or unexpected feeding sessions. Stock it with whole grain granola bars, dried berries, and nuts to keep yourself fueled during marathon sessions.
Some of my Favorites
There are a few foods that I returned to again and again during the first year that were both easy to make and eat with a baby on hand. As I transitioned into a second pregnancy on the heels of reaching month twelve of Paisley’s and my breastfeeding journey, I continued eating them to maintain my energy and nutrition during pregnancy, as well. And as a bonus, many of these are also fairly friendly for little ones as they transition to solids so you can make a double batch to share with the baby.