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To Eat or Not to Eat….That isn’t the question.

It is 2:38 AM and I have just finished nursing my daughter back to sleep and as I stumble back to bed my stomach lets out a frightening growl and that cold feeling of hunger creeps into my belly.  Knowing that I will have a hard time going back to sleep unless I put something in my belly; I groggily try to decide what to do. 

When I first came home from the hospital with my first child I had a hard time adjusting to the fact that I had to eat more than I ever had during my pregnancy to help maintain the needed calories for breastfeeding.  When none of your normal clothing fits, and you are looking for some semblance of the life you used to have prior to baby it is easy to understand why so many women are concerned about quickly losing all of our baby weight as soon as possible.  Grand plans for exercising and eating low calorie meals come to a screeching halt when faced with the reality of lacking energy as one recovers from labor and delivery and staying up with a hungry baby late into the night.

But, let us take a few steps back and look at the whole picture.  During pregnancy the average woman is told to eat an additional 300 calories a day and expects to gain anywhere from 15 to 35 pounds during their pregnancy.  The 300 calories add up to about 2 small snacks during the day and it takes a full 9 months (typically) for all of the weight gain to occur.  Following the birth, the new mom is told to take in about 500 calories in addition to normal caloric intake.  Usually upon leaving the hospital the mother has lost about 10 pounds of pregnancy weight.  The increase in calories, about the amount of a small meal, helps with production of breast milk to be fed to the baby.  Those extra calories are helping to feed your little person that gets bigger every day (not to mention bigger than they ever were in utero).  It is unrealistic to expect one to lose all of the weight gained in a 9 month period in 2-4 weeks.

So the question really isn’t to eat or not to eat.  Rather, it is a question of what and how much to eat?  New mothers need to remember they are feeding both themselves and their new baby. “Nature is very forgiving – mother’s milk is designed to provide for and protect baby even in times of hardship and famine. A poor diet is more likely to affect the mother than her breastfed baby” (Kelly Bonyata, IBCLC).

A couple things to remember when you are debating the food issue:

First, drink 8 oz of water.  As a breastfeeding mom, drinking plenty of water is important.  So much so that the letdown reflex when nursing often triggers a thirst sensation, prompting the mother to drink fluids.  It is also important to know that the body sometimes seems hungry when in reality it is need of fluids. So keep a water bottle nearby at night, and take a drink when hunger strikes in the middle of the night.

Second, if you have had your water and your stomach is still growling; opt for a small snack that is high in fiber.  The fiber helps one become fuller faster and stay full longer.  Whole grain crackers are a good choice.  Try just two or three and then reevaluate how you are feeling.  Often the stomach needs just a small amount of food to ease cravings.  Also with the small portion approach you are less likely to eat more than the recommended additional 500 calories.  Snack options that offer some protein are also a good choice.  Peanut butter, cheese slices, or some nut/seeds are all good options.

So, back we go to my half awake state, trying to figure out what to do.  In the end there wasn’t anything to decide.  I took a few long drinks from the water bottle on my night stand and munched on a few crackers followed by another drink of water.  Crawling back under the covers I quickly go back to sleep in preparation for the next feeding.

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