Maternal intake and breastfeeding

 

So I’ve been trying to write this blog post for several weeks now. But a certain babe has kept me from having the free time and mental space to actually do it. 🙄Such is life right now…

When it comes to pregnancy and breastfeeding, there is a LOT of pressure put on moms to have the perfect diet in order to provide the best nutrition for their growing babies. But can I be honest? That’s way too much pressure for me to handle. Yes, during pregnancy and now breastfeeding I am providing all of the nutrition for my baby. But getting it “perfect” is just too much pressure for anyone and can create a lot of fear, guilt, or shame. Besides, the opinion on the optimal diet changes from one person to the next (sounds a lot like the rest of diet culture). During pregnancy I just focused on eating what I wanted, when I wanted it, and as much as I needed. I didn’t focus on certain macros or food groups. I trusted that my body would lead me towards what it needed to grow my baby.

 
Maternal intake and breastfeeding
 

And this is the perspective I have taken into breastfeeding. Sure, I focus on drinking enough water and eating enough food, but it’s not difficult for me since my body is constantly telling me to eat and drink. 😂 However, since I’m in this stage of life and there is a lot of well-meaning (but stressful) advice out there for breastfeeding mothers, I decided to look into the research about breast milk and how maternal diet impacts it. I hope you find this post helpful if you are in this stage of life! Also, this post is not to convince you to breastfeed your baby. I completely understand that this is not always feasible and believe that “fed is best.” Please do not let this post shame you if breastfeeding was not feasible for you or if you chose to use formula instead.

Here’s a little bit of background information on breast milk. First, it contains a variety of growth factors, hormones, enzymes, immune system factors, macronutrients (protein, carbs, and fat), and micronutrients (vitamins and minerals). It’s caloric content varies from the beginning of the feeding to the end of a feeding, feeding to feeding, and even day to day. Lactose (a type of carbohydrate) is the most abundant macronutrient and is the most stable between feedings and from mother-to-mother. Fat content is what creates the most variability in composition and caloric content. It is more concentrated as the feeding goes on and varies in type depending on number of pregnancies, when your baby was born, how far you are postpartum (our body uses up our reserves of a certain type of fatty acid), and the types of fats you are consuming. Although the vitamins and minerals present in breast milk are in smaller quantities than in formula, it is actually more easily absorbed and utilized in the body. Basically, breast milk is constantly changing based on a variety of factors.

How does one’s food intake impact the nutrition available in milk? Can we increase the fat or vitamin/mineral content available in our milk? Here’s what we know—mom’s diet has some effect on breast milk composition, but probably not as big of an impact as we would like to think (fortunately or unfortunately). Neither mom’s food intake nor body composition are going to impact carbohydrate or protein content in the milk. But research does show that there is a correlation between maternal fat intake and breast milk fat composition. It doesn’t impact how much fat is present, rather the type of fat present in the milk. Some people have fattier milk (and therefore more calorically rich milk) than other moms, but I didn’t find any research that definitively answered the question of why there is so much variability among moms. Fortunately, volume of milk is important for infant growth rather than amount of fat or concentration of calories. This means that if you are feeding your baby often enough, they are going to be well-fed, even if your milk is on the lower side of fat/calories. (takes off some of the pressure, right?) A major type of fat that is impacted by maternal intake is that of DHA, a type of omega-3 that is important for brain development. Because of this information, I had been focusing on eating more plant sources of omega 3s (walnuts, flax seed, etc), but found out that the conversion of omega 3s into DHA in reality is pretty poor from these sources. The best sources are actually from fatty fish or a supplement. My recommendation? Take a prenatal vitamin with DHA 😉 (and eat some seafood if you like it!).

When it comes to vitamins and minerals for milk, food intake of those nutrients obviously creates the availability of them for milk. But just as we don’t have to consume 100% of our daily needs each day for our body (nutrition status is about overall intake over several days, not just one meal or day), we don’t have to consume 100% of all the vitamins or minerals every day for it to be present in adequate amounts in our milk. Research shows that our milk is incredibly resilient despite inadequate intakes, and slowly decreases in milk if it is not readily available from our diet. If we are lacking in certain nutrients day after day, our bodies will then use our own body’s reserves to feed our babies. Once that is used up, our milk concentration of those nutrients will suffer.

I know that breastfeeding is touted as THE way to help new moms lose their baby weight. There is a lot of pressure for moms to quickly return to their pre-baby body, which often results in moms trying to reduce food intake and increase exercise along with breastfeeding to get rid of that weight. In reality, research doesn’t support this. Yes, there are some moms who lose weight breastfeeding, but there is a large majority of the population who don’t. It makes sense that our bodies would hold onto extra energy if they are having to constantly supply energy for another human. It’s self-preservation. And although our milk supply and composition are fairly resilient regardless of our food intake, if we are not consuming enough food, it IS going to impact our ability to feed our babies as well as our ability to take care of ourselves.

 
We want to have the energy to take care of our babes, the available nutrition for our own bodies to create proper brain chemistry, and the brain space to fully be present rather than thinking_worrying about food all .jpg
 

I find it really comforting and reassuring that I don’t have much control over my breast milk composition and nutrient quality. Let’s take the pressure off of ourselves! But that doesn’t give us the excuse to underfeed our bodies in an attempt to make them smaller. Breastfeeding takes a big toll on mother’s nutrition status and requires that we feed our bodies regularly and adequately (and again, I recommend a prenatal supplement). We want to have the energy to take care of our babes, the available nutrition for our own bodies to create proper brain chemistry (motherhood is hard enough without having a lack of serotonin from underfeeding our bodies!), and the brain space to fully be present rather than thinking/worrying about food all the time.

I’d love to hear from you what your favorite breastfeeding snacks are (the hunger is no joke…)!



Sources:

http://www.asklenore.info/breastfeeding/resources/mysteries.shtml

https://www.nap.edu/read/1577/chapter/1#xi

https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0952327815000307

Thoughts on Overeating on Thanksgiving

Dreading Thanksgiving tomorrow? I can relate. Maybe family dynamics are difficult and bring pain. Maybe you have no family to celebrate with tomorrow (I am so so sorry if this is your circumstance). Maybe you’re afraid of how to navigate conversations around food and body. Maybe you’re terrified about all of the food that’s going to be available. Or maybe you’re already dreading the shame and guilt you foresee yourself experiencing. For me, Thanksgiving (and any food gathering) brought on so much anxiety, shame, and guilt.

I remember one Thanksgiving in particular that we spent with my sister’s in-laws. The morning of, I bathed the day in prayer, asking the Lord to give me discipline around the food that was going to be there. I asked him to help me focus on the people and conversations instead of the food available. I begged him to help me put food in the “proper” place and to eat until comfortably full instead of stuffed. And don’t get me wrong, these are not wrong prayers; in fact, I think they are wonderful in the right context. But I fundamentally misunderstood something—my overeating in these occasions was not due to a lack of love for the Lord or lack of discipline. My overeating in these occasions was simply due to the fact I WAS HUNGRY. I would feel so much spiritual shame and guilt about eating high caloric foods, desserts, and overall too much. What I didn't realize was that my body was hungry and wanted food and therefore drove me to eat too much on occasions like these. Food was an idol, but not because I loved it more than God. Food was an idol because I restricted it and made the size of my body the most important thing in my life.

 
Thoughts on overeating on thanksgiving
 

So I want to encourage you about tomorrow. If you have been manipulating your food intake, reducing portion sizes, exercises solely for caloric burn, OR if you’re a normal eater, you may end up overeating tomorrow. And that’s OKAY. In fact, if you’ve been underfeeding, it might actually be a good thing (getting out of calorie deficit is absolutely essential for eating disorder recovery). Realize that it’s not some moral flaw. It might be because you’ve been undereating. Or restricting. Or simply because you love a certain food or were enjoying time with family. Give yourself permission to eat tomorrow, and to possibly eat until you’re uncomfortable. And then move on and continue to feed your body regularly and enough. It might just impact your experience next time.

In defense of sugar

I kid you not, as I'm beginning to type out this blog, I'm eating a chocolate chip cookie...and it's delicious.

 
In defense of sugar
 

There is a lot of controversy in the health and fitness world over what diet is healthiest, what foods should be avoided, what should be consumed, the optimal ratios of foods, etc. But what most people can seem to agree on is their take on sugar. I mean, there seems to be an all-out war on it. I hear people talking about it ALL the time: "that has way too much sugar," "that yogurt is practically like eating ice cream," "sugar is the cause of all of our health problems, and we should cut it out", and on and on. 

And while I don't encourage people to eat donuts for breakfast, Little Debbies for lunch, skittles for a snack, and cake and a coke for dinner, I do think we need to give sugar a break. You guys, ANYTHING in excess is harmful. You can drown by drinking too much water. Vitamin A in high doses can cause tumors. Too much calcium causes painful bone deposits in the joints. So I would agree that too much sugar is not a good thing. But sugar in itself is not the problem--it's about the totality of the diet. 

It's interesting to me that major proponents of cutting out simple sugars or refined sugars often turn to alternative sweeteners such as honey, maple syrup, organic sugar, dates, etc. because they are "healthier" (don't get me started on people who say we should cut out fruit because of the sugar content...). But can we break those things down for a second? All carbohydrates--I'm talking ALL of them--regardless of whether they come from table sugar, maple syrup, white pasta, or beloved sweet potatoes (side note: did you guys know sweet potatoes are rated the #1 most nutritious vegetable?) are eventually broken down into the same three molecules--fructose, glucose, and galactose. The foods we eat are a complicated combination of those three molecules with varying linkages. Some have linkages that are easily digestible and some have linkages that our body can't actually digest (fiber). BUT, they are all going to be broken down into fructose, glucose, and galactose.

In defense  of sugar...carbohydrate breakdown

I get that this is an oversimplification and that a lot of other factors come into play. And I'm not saying that we should just forgo our veggies and whole grains and instead eat all refined carbs and simple sugars, but what I am saying is that we need to let go of the fear of refined sugar. It's broken down into useable energy, just as our sweet potato is. And energy isn't a bad thing. And if our sweet potato is broken down into glucose and fructose, then why do we fear table sugar that is broken down into glucose and fructose? The fear and morality we form around eating sugar is going to do far more harm that the sugar itself. Restricting sugar and then overeating/bingeing on it is far less healthy physically and emotionally than having moderate amounts on a regular basis. Fearing any food is going to wreak havoc physically on your body (um, hello cortisol!), your ability to foster relationships, and your ability to truly nourish yourself.

So I encourage you to challenge those beliefs you have around sugar. It's broken down into the exact same molecules as other types of carbs, and your body knows how to handle those other carbs. Again, I'm not promoting eating sugar all day everyday--your body is not going to feel good, and I promote eating in a way that makes you feel energized and good. But let's stop the fear-mongering that is going on around sugar and just eat our food, enjoy it, and move on.