19 Jul So You Had a Baby, Now What? Using food as medicine post-partum to help with healing and milk production
By guest blogger Abbie Gellman, MS – nutritionist, yogi, chef, and mother
Having a baby is simultaneously one of the most joyful and harrowing experiences a woman can go through. Our bodies grow, change, and nourish new life throughout pregnancy then feed and support the baby once outside the womb. We create life! So why then do we feel pressured to lose the baby weight as quickly as possible and think that we should have gallons of breast milk pouring out of our breasts without a second thought? Women often feel a tremendous amount of stress regarding a healthy pregnancy, a healthy baby, a healthy post-partum recovery, a healthy amount of breast milk and on and on and on. What exactly does healthy mean? And how can women use food as medicine to help their bodies and minds heal properly while creating nutritious breast milk for their babies?
Here are some food and nutrition tips to help with healing and breast milk production.
1. Eat enough calories!
Without enough calories, your body cannot support milk production or healing. A new mom needs an extra 300-400 calories daily, ideally coming from nourishing, energy boosting foods rather than junk foods. To better visualize what this looks like, ideas include a peanut butter sandwich on whole grain bread or a plain Greek yogurt with honey, berries, and a handful of nuts. These all offer high quality protein, carbohydrates, and fat.
You may be tempted to cut calories, but this is no time to skimp in an attempt to lose weight quickly. About 250 calories per day may be used from stored fat, which would yield about a one-half pound weight loss per week. Anything more drastic than that may mobilize the dioxins and PCBs stored in fat tissue, which enters a mother’s bloodstream and become part of the breast milk.
2. Focus on whole foods!
You may be familiar with the idea of lactogenic foods, or those foods that are thought to contain nutrients that support lactation, such as phytoestrogen, plant sterols, and tryptophan. Some popular lactogenic foods include fennel, dark green leafy vegetables, nuts, whole grains, legumes, carrots, beets, and on and on basically, what I would call a healthy, whole food-based diet. Eating a rainbow of colors and a variety of foods from all the food groups should provide new moms and babies with a balanced diet that promotes breast milk production. This also ensures that you and your baby are getting essential fatty acids, high quality protein, and the essential vitamins and minerals, such as the vitamins A, B, C, calcium, iron, and zinc. For example, eight ounces of high quality protein Greek yogurt provides almost the entire days’ worth of calcium requirements for a new mom.
3. Additional helpful ideas!
Hydrate! New moms need as much as 2 to 3 quarts of liquids, preferably water, per day. Dehydration can negatively affect breast milk production
Consume fermented foods, such as yogurt, kefir, and sauerkraut. These foods promote good gut flora in mom and baby and have been shown to help prevent colic and development of allergies in infants.
Cooking and preparing food ahead of time is vital, especially since you will likely be too tired to cook for some time. Stocking your freezer with home-cooked soups, stews, and braised dishes can be a life saver, especially in those first few weeks. Get out that crock pot, put a bunch of vegetables, beans, split peas, and broth in it, turn it on in the morning and eight hours later there’s your dinner! Making a giant pot of brown rice, quinoa, farro, or whatever whole grain you prefer once a week is also a good way to prep for the week. Just add some dressing, vegetables, and protein, such as beans, canned fish, or hardboiled eggs, and you have a full meal ready to go.
Always have a snack basket with you when breastfeeding. Things to stock it with include water, snacks such as trail mix with nuts and dried fruit or a high quality bar such as Luna or Picky Bars, a phone, and something to read. Breastfeeding can often take 30 to 45 minutes, so it’s always a good idea to have the essential items on hand before you get started.
Sleep as often as you can. The intense fatigue new moms experience can feel like torture. Interrupting regular sleep patterns and sleep deprivation often contribute to feelings of stress, anxiety, and guilt. Sleeping when the baby sleeps is a good rule of thumb.
The following is a favorite recipe for both me and my daughter and is very simple and nourishing. Enjoy!
1 onion diced finely
3 cloves garlic, minced
2 cups dried black beans, rinsed but not soaked
8 cups water
1 tablespoon chopped cilantro, or to taste
1 teaspoon salt, or to taste
the juice of one or two limes, to taste
1. Saute the onion in a large stock pot, using a little oil, until translucent.
2. Add the garlic and saute for a minute or two more.
3. Add the beans and the water, and bring to a boil.
4. Turn down the heat and simmer for two to three hours, until the beans are tender.
5. Add the cilantro, salt, and lime juice.
6. Eat with brown rice or your favorite grain and garnish with cheese, avocado, and tomato.
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