A food that can help get you through the exhausting stage of breastfeeding? Yes please! I have shared with you my top five things you need as you prepare to breastfeed. Now I would love to share with you one of my top nutrition tips because I have seen firsthand what a difference proper nutrition can make!
If you have been a loyal reader for the last couple of years, you know how I fuel my active lifestyle as a runner, group fitness instructor, mom and farmwife. You know how I stayed my healthiest while continuing my active lifestyle when I was pregnant.
Now I have added another important role: feeding a small human with my body. So do you think I have changed anything during this phase of life, when I am still active, getting back to my running routine, continuing to instruct my fitness classes and maintaining my busy mom-and-farmwife-life? Stick with me and I will answer that question.
As a breastfeeding mom and a La Leche League Leader, I get asked many questions about good nutrition for moms. So today I am going to share with you how my nutrition has changed now that I am breastfeeding my third baby. She is a happy, healthy almost-four-month-old already!
It is a widely accepted recommendation that breastfeeding moms need an extra 350 calories per day to support nursing in the first 6 months, and then an extra 500 calories per day after baby hits six months of age.
Let’s talk about those “extra” calories. To best fuel my body, and provide me the best nutrition so I can continue meeting my breastfeeding goals, they need to be the best-quality calories. What does this mean? It means that I won’t reach for less-healthy, “highly-processed-mostly-nutritionally-lacking-ingredients disguised as food” calories (Thanks Cara for letting me borrow your term!) I need nutrient-dense calories, because when you have less time to sit down and eat a balanced meal, what you eat when you have a chance matters. I want the most bang for my buck!
So, to answer the burning question, no! Overall, my basic nutrition has not changed. Other than adjusting the amount of food in accordance with the approximately 350 extra calories that I need right now, I still focus on the exact same food philosophy that I have abided by for the last almost four years. Those four years have now included two pregnancies and two breastfed babies!
Sidenote: I wish I was as health-conscious almost six years ago when I was pregnant and breastfeeding my first baby—maybe I would have had more energy and felt better-able to deal with all the new-mom sleeplessness and adjustments to parenthood!
What do my extra calories consist of?
So back to the glorious extra calories that I get to eat. What do I focus on for those calories? For starters, protein! According to a Registered Dietitian that I reached out to, if the average breastfeeding mom needs 500 extra calories (for simplicity’s sake) per day and if 20% of those calories were from protein, that would amount to an extra 25 grams of protein per day. Some flexibility on protein is acceptable, depending on your weight and activity level.
I make sure to eat enough protein for many reasons. Every cell in the human body contains protein—your skin, muscles, organs, and glands. I want to help build and preserve muscle (P.S. another way to earn yourself more calories per day is by building more muscle!!). I also need protein to help my body repair cells and make new ones. It’s also important for growth and development during childhood and pregnancy.
The result of an insufficient amount of dietary protein can lead to problems such as food cravings and frequently feeling hungry between or soon after meals. As a breastfeeding mom, I don’t need any factors acting against me in this area. #givemeallthefood Protein helps to even out blood sugar highs and lows, which can help regulate your hunger.
A diet too low in protein can also lead to your body having a hard time getting and absorbing other nutrients such as niacin, iron, zinc, and calcium. Which leads me to my next point.
I also focus on getting the recommended daily value of iron. Iron is an essential nutrient because it plays many roles—including oxygen transport, DNA synthesis, and electron transport.
Consequences of low iron include anemia, tiredness and irritability, reduced endurance during physical activity, and difficulty concentrating. Umm, hello, I just had a baby. I don’t need anything else contributing to these fourth trimester problems. #mombrain
And can we talk about B vitamins? According to the University of Maryland Medical center, “vitamin B6 is needed for normal brain development and function. It also helps the body make the hormones serotonin and norepinephrine, which influence mood, and melatonin, which helps regulate the body clock.”
One of Vitamin B12’s most important roles is to “work closely with vitamin B9, also called folate or folic acid, to help make red blood cells and to help iron work better in the body. All B vitamins help the body convert food (carbohydrates) into fuel (glucose), which is used to produce energy.” Sign me up for more of that!
So it makes sense that a diet that comes up short on vitamin B12 can lead to fatigue. As a mom of three young kiddos, I do not need anything else contributing to fatigue, amIright??
Did you know that vitamin B12 can only be found in animal products?
Luckily one of my favorite foods provides 48% of my daily value (DV) of protein in a 3-ounce serving, 12% of the DV of iron, 22% of the DV of vitamin B6, and 44% of the DV of vitamin B12, all in relatively few calories (around 150-170)!
It’s a food I already eat daily. There are many ways to prepare it, ranging from super quick and simple to more complex and fancy if that’s what you desire. My entire family loves it too.
It’s nutrient-dense. It fits into almost any healthy diet. And it provides six other essential nutrients along with the four that I listed. Can you guess yet?
Yes! It’s beef! A food that is not only tasty, but highly nutritious is exactly what I will continue to include for this stage of my life as well.
Beef is so versatile. From breakfast through dinner, there are so many ways to serve up tasty dishes, like the fajitas pictured above. Right now my entire family has been enjoying this perfect-for-fall beefy soup recipe. You won’t even be able to tell the difference from eating it at your favorite restaurant!
Were you surprised to learn that beef can be a key food to include in your diet while breastfeeding? It’s wholesome, nourishing, and delicious!