This articles forms part of a series covering the Paleo diet and lifestyle to support reproduction from fertility to conception, pregnancy and nursing.
PART 6 - Breastfeeding & Nutrition
On an individual level breastfeeding is a very personal choice and often times a sensitive topic. There are women who choose not to nurse and there are some who are challenged with nursing, milk production and babies who struggle to latch. This can be difficult, uncomfortable and adds to the stresses that being a new mom bring on. Each situation is unique and each woman needs to make her choices based on her and her newborn's needs. For those women who are able to nurse their infants, a Paleo diet and lifestyle can be extremely helpful from a nutrition stand point.
The Paleo diet and eating real whole nutrient dense foods is a basic way to ensure the nutritional needs of both mom and her new baby are met when nursing. Breast milk is produced by the mammary glands in breast tissue and these glands have been genetically programmed to follow an age-old recipe for milk, one that has been perfected over the entire course of human evolution to provide the necessities of life during this formative time. The mammary glands are able to access any and all of the mother’s available dietary nutrients and nutrient stores to create milk that is remarkably stable in composition. However, if the mother’s nutrition is suboptimal and her vitamin and mineral reserves are low, nursing will only drain her stores further and eventually, certain deficiencies can show up in her milk.
As a new mom you would need at least 500 additional calories a day to support milk production. A Paleo diet including as much variety in food as supports keeping you and your new baby well nourished in a food climate that is flexible and non-stressful.
Your variety of choices should include both muscle meat and organ meat (offal) and broth made from the collagenous joints and bones of animals (bone broth) preferably grass-fed and organic, as well as pastured eggs, wild fatty fish, seafood, both starchy and non-starchy vegetables, fruit, and healthy fats including rendered animal fats, avocados, coconut oil and milk, oil, olive oil and nuts and seeds.
A few things to focus on:
This refers to foods that contin a large proportion of nutrients compared to calories. 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 a anti-nutrients (which can prevent absorption) and toxins.
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 going 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.
Be conscoius of not only eating sufficient calories, but on incorporating many nutrient dense Paleo starch options in your diet. You my require significantly more than what you were accustomed to before your pregancy in order to support your lactation. 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.
Bits and Parts
Offal refers to any part of the animal that is not muscle meat including organs, ears, tongue and other bits that may not necessarily be considered edible delicacies in our modern world. These parts are edible, can be particularly tasty when prepared correctly and are incredible 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 is encourages when nursing, and beyond. If making your own feels too time consuming and overwhelming with a new baby to care for too, pick yours up here, from us. Only gentle reheating is required.
A Paleo diet emphasizes the importance of healthy fats. This supports both a nursing mom and her new baby as the composition of fats in breast milk can be directly related to what mom is eating. The type and amount of fat eaten has a direct effect on type of fat baby eats.
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.
Cold water, fatty fish such as salmon, sardines and herring are excellent sources of anti-inflammatory EPA and DHA. DHA is important for the growth and maintenance of brain tissue. Eating canned salmon and sardines with the bones is an excellent source of many vitamins and minerals including calcium and 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.
Pete’s Paleo has sustainable sourced options available for you – no cooking required!
Toxic environmental contaminants can be transferred from mother to infant through breast milk. Environmental contaminants such as PCBs, BPAs and pesticides, are stored in body fat. When there is rapid weight loss, toxins are released into the blood stream at a higher rate resulting in a possible increased toxic load in a nursing mom’s breast milk, directly offloading these potentially harmful chemicals onto the developing baby.
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.
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.
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.