A little while back, I was interviewed by a mother curious to know how she and other women can best support themselves and their little one through balanced nutrition and lifestyle choices. I wanted to share it with you and anyone else you know who may find this information helpful.
How can new moms best support their health and their baby with food?
Breast milk is ideal when feeding a baby for the first 6 months. What a mother eats highly influences the flavor and nutrients of the milk. Basically, mother’s who breastfeed need a broad diet full of nutrient dense whole foods.
When choosing animal protein, quality is key, for example: “pasture raised and organic” poultry and eggs, “grass fed” meat, and “wild” fish - such as salmon and halibut, which are low in mercury (generally the smaller the fish, the fewer contaminants).
Organic vegetables the color of the rainbow should be consumed in abundance. Also, enjoy a wide variety of other nutritious foods including sea vegetables (rich in minerals), fermented foods, nuts and seeds, fresh fruit, legumes and grains (ideally whole grains such as quinoa, buckwheat and steel-cut oats instead of processed grains + flour products like bread).
If you have no known sensitivities to dairy, then organic plain yogurt or kefir (both fermented) from grass-fed cows, sheep or goats, can be nourishing too. Try cooking with grass-fed ghee or adding grass-fed butter to cooked roast vegetables for a boost of healthy fats + fat-soluble vitamins. Healthy fats such as salmon, nuts, seeds, eggs, coconut, avocadoes and olive oil are very beneficial food choices to incorporate into the daily diet for nourishing the brain, organs, and cell membranes, as well as playing an important role in hormone synthesis.
Note that anything that stimulates mummy will also stimulate baby – so best to keep caffeine, soda and sugar intake to a minimum. Avoid alcohol, artificial sweeteners, and super spicy foods that may upset baby. If the baby has colic or gas issues, you can limit raw garlic and onions (alliums) that could be too harsh for baby's new digestive system. *Be sure to check in with your Integrative Practitioner about what supplements and medications are and are not safe to consume during nursing.
How can a new mom support breast-feeding while also losing baby weight?
Producing milk and breast-feeding burns a lot of energy (some would say exercise in itself). Many women rush to get rid of baby weight by dieting and doing intense workouts, however patience is required during the nursing period as “dieting” can compromise the mother’s vitality and milk supply. When you lose too much weight too quickly, toxins that have been stored in body fat can be released into the milk, which clearly is not good for the baby. The body is a very intelligent machine and listening to the messages it sends your brain is important, so eat according to hunger, and as much as possible, make healthy choices.
Where I think some women can fall off track with their nutrition and weight, is when they feel tired and need a quick energy boost, they may get into the habit of consuming snack foods that are calorie dense and nutrient poor, such as flour products or sugar. An example of a better snack choice would be sliced apple with almond butter, which is nutritionally balanced, providing a healthy energy boost.
Obviously, eating a balanced diet rich in nutrients, getting as much sleep and rest as you need (or can), staying hydrated, minimizing stress and keeping physically active are key factors to support breast-feeding and weight management. When it comes to physical activity, keep it gentle on your body since it takes time to recover from giving birth and the nursing stage of raising a baby requires a lot of energy. Exercise like brisk walking, yoga and pilates are generally safe options for raising your heart rate while also toning up your body.
Could food help with things like exhaustion?
Making consistently healthy food choices as mentioned will totally boost your vitality, while poor food choices (you know the obvious culprits) will deplete your life force. Eating regularly is key to keep your energy levels up and your blood sugar levels stable. Stick to the 3 set meals of the day, with healthy snacks in between as needed (some quick and easy ideas include: hummus, guacamole, raw veggies, fresh fruit, nuts, seeds, smoothies, vegetables juices, boiled eggs, naturally smoked salmon and shaved turkey etc.). Realize that you are sharing your nutrition with your baby, so ensure your nutrient levels are where they should be either via food intake or safe supplementation. It’s of benefit to continue taking prenatal vitamins while nursing – basically the same healthy habits apply to breastfeeding as to when you were pregnant (your Integrative Practitioner can advise accordingly).
Be sure to get outdoors and immerse yourself in nature, breathing in the fresh air and soaking up the sunlight. Nature can totally recharge our flat batteries. It is a reality that babies do require a lot of energy and that it’s common to feel exhausted from time to time as a nurturing mother, especially in the initial stages after birth, which are a huge lifestyle change.
If we were to change one thing about the way we eat to start being healthier what should it be?
Drink bone broth! You can buy it from the store (ensure it is made using bones from grass-fed animals) or make it yourself. Bone broth is very healing and helps mums to recover from giving birth. It possesses a wide variety of health benefits such as providing relief from exhaustion, nourishing the lining of the gastrointestinal tract, and supporting a healthy immune system. Drink it as a tea (1-2 cups a day), use it in soups, and cook your grains or legumes with it instead of water for added flavor, it’s so versatile. Bone broth is a great source of easily digestible protein and bioavailable minerals. Try it for yourself… it tastes delicious.
1. To consume as much home-cooked food as possible. Get your family and friends helping out in the kitchen, order a local CSA box, hire your own natural chef, order healthy meals online or shop for fresh made meals at health food stores such as Good Earth (in Marin) or Bi-Rite (in SF).
2. Love yourself unconditionally as you are going through each stage of motherhood (know you are always doing the best that you can so treat yourself kindly).
My gorgeous girlfriends created a stunning blog named "Cherish" full of wonderful articles sharing WISDOM, INSPIRATION, AND NATURALLY FOCUSED RESOURCES FOR THE MODERN PARENT. Be sure to check it out!