For many of us, our children inspire us to do better, to be better. We want to give them the very best of ourselves, mind and body.
Having Little Miss join our family has made that all too real for me. I’m so glad I was able to heal as much as I did before we fell pregnant. I look at her peaceful sleeping face and want to be the bestest mummy ever for her, which means looking after myself, too!
So what does it mean when your healing journey takes you to the autoimmune protocol while breastfeeding?
Taking on the autoimmune protocol at any time is a huge step, requiring 100% compliance for often longer than you might have expected or liked. It’s an even bigger mountain to climb when you take it on while caring for a young baby and breastfeeding!
While pregnancy takes a certain toll on the body, breastfeeding does even more so! I’m not gonna lie – taking up AIP while breastfeeding is tough and requires some very serious consideration to ensure your and your baby’s health and well-being doesn’t suffer. When doing my research about AIP while breastfeeding, I didn’t find much out there. For those of you who find yourselves in a similar boat as I, here are some of my top tips for nourishing yourself while you nourish your new little human!
You are going to need to eat. A. Lot. I was honestly not prepared for how much food I would be eating. You will need to be eating almost constantly (at least that’s what it feels like). You don’t necessarily eat for two during pregnancy, but you definitely eat for two while breastfeeding!
Eating enough while on the autoimmune protocol can be a challenge for the best of us. I know it is for me. Eating enough while on the autoimmune protocol AND breastfeeding…
I’ve never been a calorie-counter and don’t plan on starting now, but according to calorie-counting medical professionals, my required calorie intake increased over 50% with breastfeeding! At peak production, I was eating upwards of 4,000 calories per day and still lost more weight than I would have liked! And not all calories are created equal.
Smoothies, though not highly recommended when following the AIP, are a lifesaver! They physically take up less room in your stomach and you can stuff them full of all kinds of good, nutritious veggies, fruits, gelatin, and healthy fats. Just be sure to have them alongside something that requires chewing to ensure your digestive processes are adequately stimulated.
Keep a stash of nutrient-dense AIP grab-and-go foods on hand at all times. When people offer to help you out or cook for you after baby comes, TAKE THEM UP ON IT! Make up little recipe cards and hand them out to anyone who offers. Having readily-available, convenient foods on hand that you can eat with one hand and won’t spoil if they sit out for a while are an absolute God-send and will help keep you eating. EPIC bars were a staple for me, as were these AIP Gnocchi, and the AIP muffins a very dear friend created for me. As babe gets older and you guys settle into your new normal, bulk cooking, the Instant Pot, and freezer meals can all play a starring role in keeping you eating.
Bone broth is going to be your new best friend! I was going through easily 6 cups per day, on top of my regular water intake, and could have probably afforded more.
Bone broth is one of the best sources of a very wide array of micronutrients that are essential for your healing. A breastfeeding mum’s micronutrient demands are going to be higher yet because she is also supplying baby’s micronutrient intake. Micronutrient intake must be sufficient to adequately supply the breastmilk and prevent depletion in the mother’s body, as well as supply enough micronutrients for the mother to not just maintain but heal.
My recommendation is to have a pot or slow cooker going at all times with bone broth, or make very good friends with the Instant Pot. I was able to amass a stash of bone broth in my freezer for when Little Miss was born and that carried me through the first couple weeks. After that, we had bone broth going pretty much non-stop to keep up with my needs.
Of course, bone broth doesn’t necessarily supply all micronutrients, but it’s an important starting point. Being sure to eat multiple servings of every colour of fruit and/or vegetable every day is also a must, as is making sure you have lots of healthy seafood and offal choices in your diet! I found it very helpful to track my diet intermittently on cronometer.com. This program allows you to enter in the foods you eat and tells you where you’re at with respect to meeting your macro- and micro-nutrient needs (which are totally customizable). It’s not perfect, as every food will be slightly different, but I felt it gave me a good idea where I was low and needed to look at supplementing.
Carbohydrate intake can be a tough one. Milk supply depends on hormones and hormones depend a lot on carbohydrates.
When common carbohydrate sources (namely grains, legumes, and potatoes) are removed from the diet, some people start falling short on their carb intake. AIP is not a low-carb diet, it’s just not a high-carb diet. Most people do well somewhere in the neighbourhood of 100-200g of carbs per day, and some will need more or less. A breastfeeding mother’s macro-nutrient ratio should include a minimum of 35-40% caloric intake from carbohydrates. And starchy carbs are particularly helpful for supporting healthy hormones and milk production.
While harder to come by, there are several sources of starchy carbs that are AIP-friendly. Some nursing mums will eat one (or more) sweet potatoes every day. Don’t worry, there are lots of delicious AIP sweet potato recipes and several different kinds of sweet potatoes out there so you will hopefully not get bored. Tapioca is another good one. I went through a lot of tapioca pudding when I was in the thick of breastfeeding. You can add different things to it to keep it interesting, too, vanilla, carob, banana, etc. Tigernuts are much more readily available now than they were even last year when Little Miss was born and are a great source of safe starchy carbs (and healthy fats!). Some people find that they can tolerate nutritionally prepared white rice as a reintroduction which would also help out in the carb department. Unfortunately, I was not one of them…
We already know that healthy fats are extremely important for a healing diet (and for health in general), and they are additionally so for a breastfeeding mum.
Babies go through rapid growth in the first three years of life, but especially in the first year, and since breast milk is the exclusive source of sustenance for a breastfed baby for roughly the first six months and primary source until a year, that means there’s a lot riding on mum’s body being able to continue healing AND produce quality milk to support optimal health and growth of baby. This growth requires a lot of energy and a lot of healthy fat, especially for brain development. A 2009 study found that lactating mothers on a high-fat diet (high-fat being 55% of caloric intake coming from fats) produced milk with a higher fat and, as a result, energy content. This means more energy and fat to support baby’s growth and development. Increasing healthy fats will also help the breastfeeding mother consume enough calories (see above) in greater concentration than other sources.
I significantly increased my fish oil supplementation and consumption of fatty fish to start with. Fat bombs were a staple snack food for me to have on hand to help encourage fat consumption. Adding some extra fat to my bone broth also helped, though you want to make sure you don’t add too much or the taste and texture become somewhat unpleasant. I also got into the habit of stirring in extra spoonfuls of coconut oil or rendered lard or tallow into a bowl of soup, as much as I could mix in before it started negatively effecting taste and texture. I drenched my salads in homemade dressing made with olive and avocado oils. Most other dishes I ate got a drizzling of olive or avocado oils for good measure. Tapioca pudding (mentioned above) is made with coconut milk, so there’s lots of healthy fats in there, too. And aaaallll the avocados! For good measure, I also incorporated organic coconut oil capsules into my supplements.
While taking on the autoimmune protocol while breastfeeding is a unique challenge, it is not impossible with the right information and the right help. Like so much else on our healing journey (and motherhood), our support network is crucial. I wouldn’t have made it if it hadn’t been for Scott’s committed help. Plan ahead, ask for help, and if you have to ease into it, that’s OK, too! Happy healing (and breastfeeding)!
Do you have any other suggestions to add? I’d love to hear them!