Mia shares the effects of breastfeeding on her body – and why fattening up was the solution.
Three months into my new sassy mamahood status, I was feeling on top of the word! Yes, of course I was sleep-deprived thanks to the regular night feeds, but I still had a good amount of energy each day. I was more than able to keep baby T occupied during her waking hours and even do some exercise, catch-up on emails and have the odd lunch with friends. I had this new-mama thing nailed!
Errrrm, think again. Apparently, I was actually running on empty and, to my surprise, this was soon going to catch-up on me.
It was Friday night, we’d successfully had our friends over for dinner and baby T was fast asleep in bed. I treated myself to a small glass of red wine to celebrate. As I went to bed I felt a bit more tired than usual but didn’t think too much about it; maybe it was just the wine!
In the morning, I still felt pretty tired (more so than usual) and now also my mouth was feeling particularly sore. I took a look in the mirror and to my horror the inside of my mouth looked like Edward Scissorhands had been in there – my mouth and tongue were full of blisters and ulcers – my tongue was even swollen. I felt miserable and was now in pain.
After much googling (BTW – I will never learn – never do this when you’re looking for an answer to a possible illness; ONLY the scariest of things pop-up!), I decided I should see a doctor, you know, just in case this was mouth cancer (as per the Google search told me) or worse…
…my tests all came back negative for any sort of bacteria (or overnight mouth cancer –phew!) and the doctor suggested maybe I had an allergy, but I knew this was not the answer as never in my life had I been allergic to so much as a cat hair. Plus, I had not eaten or drunk anything different to the usual.
Next step was my homeopath. Together we assessed my diet and lifestyle – nothing new there, all seemed healthy from a food and exercise perspective. Wait a minute – there was something very different – baby T!
Ever since baby T was just a little dot, she has been taking, taking and taking from mama. Now that she was 3+ months old and has almost doubled in size (she is exclusively breast-feeding) and all of this from my milk and me! There lies the problem – I hadn’t changed my diet to factor this in – doh! Baby T was thriving and I was deteriorating.
The fact that I just had a few ulcers and a swollen tongue was a lucky thing as the first signs of deterioration and weakened immune system usually show in small signs such as a cold, ulcers etc. However, if your immune system is particularly weak, or you ignore initial signs, the signs could be much more severe or in the form of a chronic illness.
So what to do?
Breast milk actually changes all the time – from birth the baby sips on Colostrum, a thick milk that contains antibodies to protect the newborn against disease – it’s low in fat and high in protein. A few days later and the “real milk” comes in. At first the milk the baby sucks is a sweet watery milk and later a hind milk, which is high in fat. The first milk contains lots of water, fat, carbohydrates, protein, vitamins, minerals, amino acids, enzymes, and white cells. Hind milk is high in fat and calories. It’s the perfect combination to hydrate and nourish our little ones. The best part is we produce this milk naturally – perfect – however, what goes out must come in, and in my case a lot of this fatty sweet milk was going out, however, looking at my diet, I wasn’t getting enough fat to preplace what was going out. Eating what I always ate was not enough, now I needed to up the ante!
Lipids (fats) are the second largest component in breast milk, and in particular the hind milk. They’re the principal source of energy for baby.
According to Claudia Pillow, PhD*:
“A healthy diet contains mixtures of saturated, monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats. The unique composition of human breast milk contains about 45 to 50 % saturated fat, about 35% unsaturated and 15-20% polyunsaturated”
Healthy fat food sources – these are just a few ideas to make sure you’re eating enough healthy fats when breastfeeding:
- Ghee – ghee is rich in butyric acid, a short-chain fatty acid and will also help you to maintain a healthy bowl movement.
- Fish oils – salmon is great – loaded with a type of fat called DHA. DHA is crucial to the development of your baby’s nervous system. All breast milk contains DHA, but levels of it are higher in the milk of women who get more DHA from their diets.
- Coconut oil – Coconut oil contains large amounts of lauric acid, a powerful anti-microbial fatty acid that protects the immune system of the fetus and newborn. Lauric acid and capric acid comprise about 20% of total saturated fatty acids found in breast milk. Lauric and capric acid have potent antiviral, antibacterial, and parasiticidal (kills parasites) properties that support the immune system. These fatty acids offer the nursing baby protection from illnesses, viruses such as herpes and HIV, protozoa such as giardia lamblia, and bacteria such as chlamydia and heliocobater.
- Lean meats (if you eat meat) – opt for grass fed or pasture-raised anti-biotic free (organic) meats where you can. Eating lean meat will give you a good balance of omega-3 and omega-6 intake, as long as you also supplement with other healthy fats. It’s worth nothing, I do not eat meat and you do not need to eat meat just because you are breastfeeding, but you do need to make sure you get enough fat in your diet in other ways.
- Eggs – you could opt for a DHA fortified egg for extra support.
- Avocados – rich in folic acid as well as in vitamin C, vitamin E and healthy fats.
After a few weeks of increasing the good fats in my diet, I honestly feel a lot better and no more ulcers! Happy mouth = happy mama.
If you’re breastfeeding and not feeling 100% – don’t ignore it – it might be worth a chat to your naturopath or dietician to make sure you’re eating enough of the right foods to support your new lifestyle and needs.
For you it might not be the fats that you’re lacking; proteins and other macro- and micronutrients, especially calcium, are also very important in supporting breastfeeding mothers. A friend of mine was calcium deficient after breast-feeding for 6 months – she complained of aching joints and painful hands. Don’t ignore the signs – nip the issues in the bud early to avoid chronic pain or illness later on.
Baby will always take what he or she needs, but make sure to look after you. I read an interesting article around this wider-subject – and for wider reading – on Goop, entitled “Post Natal Depletion” – something I am sure most new mothers can relate to.
With a nice big dose of coconut oil, this is the perfect start to your day or as a healthy snack.
- Large handful baby spinach – packed with iron and antioxidants.
- 2 cups milk of choice (soy, almond, other) – for protein and calcium. Surprisingly, nuts are a good source of calcium if you’re looking to keep dairy out of your diet.
- 1/2 medium sized mango – or any fruit rich in nutrients, papaya is also a good option to replace mango here.
- ½ tsp. turmeric – natural anti-inflammatory properties to reduce bloating and also high in antioxidants.
- 2 TBS coconut oil – high in lauric acid, which, according to the research, when a lactating woman adds foods rich in lauric acid to her diet, the amount of lauric acid available in her breast milk increases substantially! Amazing!
- 2 frozen bananas – for energy and potassium to help with nerve and muscle strength.
Please note, this article is not intended to provide medical advice and you should always consult your medical care practitioner before changing your diet, especially during and after pregnancy.