This is Part 2 of a 3-part series on Paleo moms and babies. Part 1 discusses the benefits and challenges of breastfeeding. In this article, I cover nutrition and how a Paleo diet can be beneficial in achieving the right nutritional balance for breastfeeding moms and babies. Part 3 will cover baby formulas and which are best for your Paleo baby.
Have you been wondering if the Paleo diet is appropriate during breastfeeding? I assure you, it is. The Paleo diet provides the nutrient density that both momma and baby need during this formative time. Breast milk is produced by the mammary glands in breast tissue and these glands have been genetically programmed to follow an age-old recipe for milk, one that has been perfected over millions of years. The mammary glands have carte blanche over mom’s available dietary nutrients and nutrient stores to create milk that is remarkably stable in composition. However, if mom’s nutrition is suboptimal and her vitamin and mineral reserves are low, nursing will only drain her stores further and eventually, certain deficiencies can show up in her milk.
Breastfeeding Diet For Paleo Mom and Paleo Baby
Not every meal mom eats has to be perfectly Paleo for baby to have perfectly composed milk. In fact, adhering strictly to any diet during breastfeeding is contraindicated to success. Moms need at least 500 additional calories a day to support milk production and strict adherence to any diet can be stressful emotionally and physiologically. The 80/20 rule of 80% Paleo and 20% whatever-you-want-to-eat will keep mom and baby well nourished in a food climate that is flexible and non-stressful.
A diet that includes both muscle meat and organ meat (offal) and broth made from the collagenous joints and bones of animals (bone broth) preferably grass-fed and organic, as well as pastured eggs, wild fatty fish, seafood, fruit, vegetables (starchy, non-starchy and fermented), and healthy fats including rendered animal fats, avocados, coconut milk and coconut oil, olive oil and nuts and seeds provides perfect nutrition for breastfeeding moms and babies because these are nutrient dense foods that we have evolved to thrive on.
A nutrient dense food is one that contains a large proportion of nutrients compared to calories. The standard American diet is 70% grains, dairy, refined sugar, refined vegetable oil and alcohol. Yikes! The nutritional density of such a diet is lacking for sure. You might think that grains and dairy are nutrient dense but compared to other foods, they don’t hold up so well. A study comparing 13 of the most frequently lacking vitamins and minerals in the US diet showed grains and dairy to be nutritional underachievers compared to Paleo fare of meat, fish, vegetables, fruit, nuts and seeds. In fact, grains and diary came in at 5th and 6th place respectively behind vegetables, fish, meat and fruit. Let’s take a closer look at what some of these foods add to the nutritional table for nursing moms and babies.
Fruits and Vegetables
As we just saw, fruits and vegetables are incredibly nutrient dense. In addition to all the vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, phytonutrients and fiber found in these foods that benefit mom and baby, fruits and vegetables are net alkaline producing which is essential for calcium balance and the maintenance of a healthy and strong bone matrix in mom. Yes, fruits and vegetables are essential for bone health! If your diet is majority acid producing from processed foods, grains, dairy, legumes, meat, and salt, your kidneys respond by signaling the release of calcium as a buffering agent. Calcium reduces the acid load and is then excreted in urine. What a waste of this precious mineral! Fruits and vegetables create an alkaline environment so calcium can remain in bone. But that’s not all fruits and vegetables do for our skeletons. The picture is richer and deeper than that. In addition to being great sources of vitamin C, which facilitates calcium absorption, leafy greens and cruciferous vegetables are actually very good sources of calcium. For example, one cup cooked collard greens contains 266 mg calcium, one cup cooked turnip greens contains 197 mg and one large stalk of broccoli contains 112 mg and all this leafy vegetable calcium is is highly bioavailable, maybe even more so than from dairy sources. Baby will always get the calcium she needs even at the expense of mom’s bones which is why mom needs plenty of bioavailable calcium in her diet. Eat fruit and vegetables at each meal to provide vitamins and minerals for maternal and infant nutrition and produce a net alkaline environment that protects calcium balance and therefore, mom’s bones.
Offal refers to any part of the animal that isn’t muscle meat including organs, ears, tongue and other parts that aren’t considered normally edible. But of course, these parts are edible and they’re very good for us. Organ meats such as liver are particularly nutrient dense. Liver is a very good source of many of the most common micronutrients not met by nursing moms including vitamin D, vitamin B-12, copper, magnesium, folate, vitamin C, iron, vitamin B-6, vitamin A, and zinc. Eat 3 oz of offal once or twice a week for optimal nutrition during nursing.
Healthy Fats: Coconut and Fatty Fish
A pillar of the Paleo diet is the emphasis placed on healthy fats, which is a good thing for mom and baby because the composition of fats in breast milk is one of the things that’s directly related to mom’s diet. In fact, specific fats show up in breast milk at significantly increased levels as quickly as 6 hours after consumption. In other words, the type of fat mom eats directly affects the type of fat baby eats. Coconut oil and fatty fish, are “super baby foods.” Let’s see what they do for momma and baby.
Thirty five to fifty percent of the fat content of breast milk is composed of saturated fat and 20% of that is lauric and capric acid. Coconut oil is especially rich in lauric acid and contains capric acid as well. Lauric and capric acid have antiviral, antibacterial and antifungal properties that support the immune system of both mom and her nursing infant. Add coconut milk and coconut oil to meals and snacks regularly to boost lauric and capric acid concentrations of breast milk.
Fatty fish such as salmon, sardines and herring are excellent sources of anti-inflammatory EPA and DHA. DHA is important for the growth and maintenance of brain tissue and it has been speculated that higher DHA levels found in the brains of breast fed babies compared to formula fed babies is partly responsible for their higher IQs. Eating canned salmon and sardines with the bones is an excellent source of many vitamins and minerals including calcium and vitamin D. Crown Prince provides a line of BPA free canned fish and Wild Planet’s canned sardines are BPA free. 12 ounces of fatty fish a week is recommended for optimal health. Avoid pilot whale, shark, king mackerel, red mullet, swordfish and tilefish due to potentially high mercury levels. (I have to mention oysters here, which are a mollusk and not fatty at all but which are an excellent sources of hard-to-get zinc and selenium! Oysters don’t have to be eaten raw. Cook them up and eat them every so often to get more of these important minerals.)
For more information on the benefits of the Paleo diet for maternal and infant nutrition, Chris Kresser’s Healthy Baby Code is an excellent resource.
In the last segment of 3 part series on Paleo moms and babies, look for recommendations on baby formulas.