August is breastfeeding awareness month and following a Paleo diet and eating real whole nutrient dense foods is a basic way to ensure the nutritional needs of both breastfeeding mothers and their new baby are met when nursing.
Having just given birth and the challenges that can come with having a newborn may make it a tough time to focus on nutrition. What a lactating mother eats can impact her milk supply, her recovery, her energy levels and even her baby’s health. Furthermore, even from a young age the infant is observing everything and learning from the action of those he/she is surrounded by. Now is the time to start setting a good example and teaching healthy habits to set the baby up for a lifetime of health and wellness.
Research is indicating that breastfed babies are smarter with a stronger immune system. They are also less likely to have diabetes, allergies or to be obese. Just like with the nutrition in your Paleo diet, the real food available in the breast for babies is often offering new research into the plentiful ways breastfed babies are offered more opportunity to succeed.
Breastfeeding increases a woman’s energy requirements by up to 500 calories a day or more, and inadequate calorie intake during lactation can reduce the mother’s milk supply. These extra calories should come from a mixture of protein (which all body systems use to develop and grow), carbohydrates (which provide energy), and fats (which assist with nutrient absorption and help the nervous system develop properly).
Fluid requirements also increase during nursing, making it extremely important to stay hydrated by drinking plenty of water, too.
If you are breastfeeding, the nutrients in the food you eat are being passed on to your baby through your breast milk and may even effect your baby’s tastes later in life. There is also a larger demand for certain nutrients that have particularly important roles in the baby’s growth and development
The standard American diet is 70% grains, dairy, refined sugar, refined vegetable oil and alcohol and is clearly severely lacking. Although you may have once been taught that grains and dairy are nutrient dense, the Paleo diet including meat, fish, vegetables, fruit, nuts and seeds has proven to be much higher in all essential nutrients and, as an added bonus, lower in anti-nutrients (which can prevent absorption) and toxins.
The protein content of your breast milk is directly related to your dietary protein intake so try to have some form of protein with each meal and snack to support your baby’s growth. The minimum protein requirement for breastfeeding moms in 71 grams but it is safe and healthy to consume more than this amount.
If you can, include some parts of the animal that are not muscle meat including organs, ears, tongue and other bits. These parts are edible, can be particularly tasty when prepared correctly and are incredibly nutrient dense. Liver is a very good source of many of the most common micronutrients not met by nursing moms including vitamin D, vitamin B-12, copper, magnesium, folate, vitamin C, iron, vitamin B-6, vitamin A, and zinc.
Bone broth made by simmering bones, knuckles and joints is a great source of many of these nutrients and can be sipped when nursing, and beyond.
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Only gentle reheating is required.
Nursing moms need a steady supply of carbohydrates as the body is burning through extra energy to make breast milk.
Vegetables and Fruit
Plants, meaning vegetables and fruits are incredibly nutrient dense. In addition to all the vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, phytonutrients and fiber found in these foods that benefit both a nursing mom and her new baby, these foods are alkaline producing which is essential for calcium balance and the maintenance of a healthy and strong bone matrix in mom. Eating vegetables and fruits is essential for bone health and to prevent deficiencies when nursing. When consuming non-Paleo products including processed foods, grains, dairy, legumes, meat, and salt, calcium is released to reduce the acid load of these foods. It is then excreted in urine. Vegetables and fruits support calcium remaining in the bone structure. Furthermore, these nutrient powerhouses are great sources of vitamin C, which facilitates calcium absorption. Leafy greens and cruciferous vegetables are actually very good sources of highly bio-available calcium, maybe even more so than from dairy sources. A new baby will always get the necessary calcium when nursing, even at the expense of mom’s bones. This is why making sure you are consuming bio-available calcium-rich plants as often as possible is important when nursing.
Consuming Paleo friendly starchy carbohydrates is important when nursing for both mom and baby. Although Paleo friendly starchy carbohydrates are generally vegetables and fruits, they are so important during nursing they warrant their own category!
While lowering starchy carbohydrate intake (whether by choice or by accidents which often happens when following a Paleo diet) can result in weight loss, it can also cause systemic stress on the body. This is turn could increase cortisol levels and the body may begin to limit energy expenditure, especially on reproductive functions like ovulation, menstruation and, in the case of a nursing mom, breast milk supply. Sustaining a growing baby becomes challenging when the body is struggling to sustain itself.
If this were to continue, it could negatively impact thyroid hormone production. Low thyroid in a postpartum woman can cause postpartum depression, stall natural weight loss and cause breast milk supply to be less than adequate. The nutrient content of the milk may also be depleted causing the newborn to get hungry faster (often experienced as waking up needing to feed more often) and result in the baby possibly being deficient in critical DHA fatty acids they need for brain and neurological development.
Breastfeeding moms may require significantly more than what they were accustomed to eating before pregnancy in order to support breast milk production. Aim for between 30% - 40% of your daily caloric intake of at least 1,800 calories, depending on activity levels.
Focus on slow and steady weight loss to avoid low milk supply and ensure your baby is getting as many nutrients as possible through your milk.
A Paleo diet emphasizes the importance of healthy fats.
More than half of the calories in breast milk come from fats. Some of these fats are made in the body, while others are passed through breast milk by way of the dietary fat. A newborn baby needs fat from saturated and unsaturated sources
Up to 50% of the fat content found in breast milk is composed of saturated fat. Of that 20% is lauric and capric acid. Coconut oil is especially rich in lauric acid and contains capric acid. Lauric and capric acid have antiviral, antibacterial and antifungal properties that support the immune system of both the mom and her nursing infant. Regularly including coconut milk and coconut oil in meals and snacks will boost lauric and capric acid concentrations of breast milk.
It is especially important to focus on the essential omega-3 fatty acids. Not only do they support brain, immune and nervous system development, they also help your body to absorb the fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E and K. Cold water, fatty fish such as salmon, sardines and herring are excellent sources of anti-inflammatory EPA and DHA as well as Vitamin D. For optimal health, aim for 12 oz. of fatty fish a week.
Oysters, a mollusk, are also great to include as they provide excellent sources of zinc and selenium.
Avoid pilot whale, shark, king mackerel, red mullet, swordfish and tilefish due to potentially high mercury levels.
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Vitamins and Minerals of Note
There are a few vitamins and minerals that are required in higher amounts during lactation than during pregnancy as they are secreted in high levels through breast milk. These include calcium, and vitamins A, C and D.
Calcium, along with vitamin D, are the major players in forming strong bones and teeth. When insufficient amounts are obtained through diet, the body pulls from its own calcium stores to provide enough for the baby’s needs. This could leave a nursing mom calcium depleted. It is thus vitally important to get enough to support the needs of both bodies. Eating fish canned with the bones, like salmon and sardines is one of the best ways to ensure adequate calcium intake.
Vitamin D needs can be challenging to meet through diet alone and most people do not spend enough time in the sun to achieve necessary levels. A high-quality dietary supplement may help to bridge this gap, whilst the best dietary sources are cold water, fatty fish like salmon and tuna, and eggs from pastured chickens. Vitamins A and C are easy to obtain through eating a good variety of fresh fruits and vegetables. Bell peppers, oranges and cruciferous vegetables like Brussels sprouts, broccoli and cauliflower are good sources of vitamin C.
Toxic environmental contaminants can be transferred from mother to infant through breast milk. Many new moms are rightfully concerned about environmental contaminants in their breast milk. Nursing continues to be the best choice for mothers and babies, but it pays to be mindful to minimize your (and your baby’s) exposure to environmental contaminants.
If you are struggling with breastfeeding it is important to seek the advice of a knowledgeable professional. Following a Paleo diet and lifestyle will support both your energy needs and the nutrient demands of your growing and developing baby. The best thing you can do for yourself is to find and build a support system of resources of whatever kind you need to help you succeed.