When you’re a breastfeeding mum, it’s important to make time for your own nutritional needs, says Angela Phillips.
As busy mums, we put a lot of time into thinking of someone else’s needs. Feeding our little ones is important and takes a lot of thought and energy, but it is equally important to put effort into thinking about your own diet.
Prioritise regular meals
A common trend I see with mums of littlies is lack of meal structure and over-snacking. For some, this results in losing excess weight, and for others, weight gain. For anyone, it often results in poorer overall nutrition quality. Missing meals is a dangerous trap and can lead to tiredness, hunger, and poor decision-making around food. Here are some tips to help with ensuring regular meals:
- Plan your meals in advance – including snacks and – keep the plan on the fridge.
- Online grocery shopping is an easy way to keep cupboards stocked, or use My Food Bag to avoid having to think of what to make.
- Keep some easy dinners to hand that can be thrown together at the last minute, as well as a frozen meal in the freezer for “one of those days”.
- If you struggle to get breakfast in, try a smoothie or yoghurt with a handful of oats thrown in.
- Cook enough dinner to allow for leftovers for either lunch or dinners.
- Have a variety of food options available to keep your meals interesting.
- Use a slow-cooker. On a busy day, it can be as simple as putting in some chicken pieces and pouring canned tomatoes on top!
Losing weight too quickly?
If the demands of breastfeeding result in you losing weight too quickly, or your body weight drops below your ideal, you will need to work on boosting your food:
- Ensure three meals plus two to three snacks per day.
- Boost energy/calories of your meals by adding oils, nuts and seeds, cheese, dried fruit, etc.
- Try using a supplement such as Complan.
- Use plenty of avocado, spreads, and dressings.
- Avoid hot drinks or excessive fluid around mealtimes,
as they may suppress your appetite.
- If you’re tired in the evening, make lunch your main meal.
Struggling to lose pregnancy weight?
It is important to find a balance between eating to reach your healthy weight, and eating to get enough calcium, iron, and other important nutrients. Continue to eat a well balanced diet, and:
- Try to match food to hunger levels. Ask yourself “Am I really hungry?” before having a snack, as tiredness, boredom, and stress often trigger the desire to eat.
- Drink plenty of fluids. At times thirst can be mistaken for hunger.
- Exercise regularly and, if you struggle to find the time, try “exercise snacks” – five- to 10-minute blocks of exercise throughout the day.
- Packing a lunchbox can be helpful if you’re home a lot and find yourself looking in the pantry often.
- Chat to a dietitian to get an individualised plan.
Do you need to take supplements?
It is recommended you take an iodine supplement of 150 micrograms during pregnancy and breastfeeding, as our soil is low in iodine and it can be difficult to meet requirements through food alone. Iodine is important for your baby’s brain and neurological development.
Vitamin D is very important for bone development and muscle function; however, a recent national nutrition survey showed as many as half of Kiwis had inadequate vitamin D circulating in their bloodstreams. With around 90% of our vitamin D made through UV exposure to our skin, there are certain groups who should consider supplements, including:
- If you have very little daylight exposure during the middle of the day in winter.
- If you have dark skin, especially if you keep well-covered.
- If you must avoid the sun due to medications or skin type.
Discuss this with your GP, as vitamin D supplementation is not suitable for everyone.
How do your food choices impact your baby?
It’s amazing to think that breast milk can provide enough nutrients for your baby to develop and grow. But it’s also important to understand that the food you eat can impact your baby in other ways. There is evidence to show that food choices can impact on colic, and a small Australian study showed a low FODMAP diet reduced crying by, on average, one hour per day. Always talk to a dietitian before trying this.
If your baby has an allergy, the allergen may pass through from your diet into breast milk. Depending on the severity of the allergy, you may need to eliminate that allergen from your diet. Discuss this with your GP or dietitian. There is significant research investigating the impact that good bacteria can have on our overall health. Breast milk is teeming with good bacteria, so keep those goodies coming!
Have a good variety of Healthy snacks on hand. If you manage to find time, bake and freeze portions. Ensure you include plenty of calcium-rich snacks. If you’re tired, avoid having a “sugar hit”. Have some fluids, get some fresh air, and have a good-quality snack if you’re hungry.
Quality snack ideas
- Fresh fruit
- Greek yoghurt
- Air-popped popcorn
- Grainy crackers
- Milky drinks
- Bliss balls
- Low-sugar muesli bars
- Wholegrain toast with peanut butter or hummus
- Roasted chickpeas
Angela Phillips is a dietitian specialising in paediatrics, food intolerances, and weight management. Her practice, FoodSavvy (foodsavvy.co.nz), is based in Wellington and Nelson.