Breastfeeding moms need to consume about 500 extra calories on top of their regular diet every day to keep up their milk supply. It takes good nutrition and lots of energy to produce breast milk. But the question is, does breastfeeding make you hungrier? Or, do breastfeeding mothers feel increased hunger for other reasons? Many breastfeeding moms have wondered if breastfeeding hunger is a fact or a myth.
The good news is, for breastfeeding mothers, that increased hunger is not a pseudo-symptom of breastfeeding. It is a fact. Breastfeeding hunger is a real thing, and your milk supply demands that your calorie intake be higher than before you started breastfeeding.
The Constant Hunger of New Moms
Breastfeeding hunger is real. New moms need to eat more than they were used to produce milk and keep enough milk supply for their babies. But what are some of the reasons you feel this intense hunger and crave certain foods? Will you experience weight gain? Will you be able to lose weight at some point?
This article will give you the answers and information you need to deal with breastfeeding hunger and the hunger cues you feel as a breastfeeding mom.
Does It Matter What You Eat?
When hunger strikes, it is easy to reach for the first food you think of or the easiest quick snack you can manage. Moms, who breastfeed need about 500 extra calories a day, so when they feel hungry, what should they eat? Does it matter?
1. Healthy Fats and Fiber
All foods are not created equal. While it is always best to try to eat healthily, there are some foods that are explicitly recommended to breastfeeding parents that will aid in milk supply and strengthen your body at the same time. Consuming healthy fats, Vitamin E, and magnesium are great ways to get those needed calories and look after your health. These things also increase your milk supply or at least do not diminish it. Other foods like yogurt, oatmeal, and nuts like almonds can also help you stave off hunger and restore the body’s energy.
2. Never Ignore Hunger
If you are hungry and breastfeeding, it is something you should not ignore. Get up, grab some food, and eat. Babies eat round the clock. You will be getting up every two to three hours with a newborn to breastfeed each night, and all of that extra time awake burns calories. If you are hungry, you should eat. If you are concerned about weight gain, many women find that avoiding foods full of empty calories will keep them from feeling constantly hungry. They can also lose more weight through exercise when they feed the body appropriately with healthy foods.
3. Choose Foods That Will Help Sustain Lactation
Empty calories make you hungry faster, raise your blood sugar and cholesterol, and can make you feel tired and sluggish. When you feel hungry, reach for foods that provide natural energy and nutrients. This is especially true for moms who have underlying health issues or have had blood sugar issues tied to diabetes or gestational diabetes when pregnant. Eating good foods, like oatmeal and whole grains, will give you more than one payoff. Oatmeal is a “breastfeeding superfood” that will help you keep up your supply, and it is also hearty food that will help keep you from feeling constantly hungry.
Gaining Weight While Breastfeeding
By now, we have firmly established that breastfeeding does make you hungry. And while, in a perfect world, no one would care if you gained a few extra pounds, it can be a shock and even frustrating if you are gaining weight while breastfeeding but still feel hungry all of the time. So this begs the question: If you are supposed to eat more food to keep up with your milk supply, should not all of those calories be burned in making the milk? Why are you gaining weight? There are several reasons for this, and we will break them down in this article.
1. Blood Sugar
Breastfeeding makes your blood sugar dip and rise. It does not help that products and snacks marketed to help in milk production are usually packed with sugars that can make you feel even hungrier. This constant fluctuation in your blood sugar can confuse your body and make it harder to direct the nutrients where they need to go. If you switch to fresh foods containing nutrients like complex carbohydrates, iron, and fiber, you will see a difference in hunger and weight gain in just a few weeks.
Childbirth and breastfeeding create a perfect storm of imbalanced hormones that can take a long time to regulate. Weight loss is more difficult when your metabolism is out of whack and insulin production is off its ordinary course. If this is your first child, your body may be having more trouble regulating the hormone shift and creating enough energy to produce milk, so you experience hunger more frequently. The food choices you make, combined with your hormones, can make you experience some weight gain.
3. Are You Really Hungry?
Breastfeeding is a time-consuming thing to do, and it often has a new mom sitting in one position for long periods of time, either nursing or pumping to feed the baby. A newborn baby especially, eats very often, which can make for some boring times for a new mom who must suddenly spend a lot of time stationary. It is a common practice to eat when bored. And most of the time, when we eat impulsively out of boredom, we are not eating foods with more nutrients to help with our health and energy levels. We do not reach for brown rice or greek yogurt. We reach for cookies or potato chips.
The physical sensation of eating provides comfort and a boredom buster. It is just a comforting thing for many of us. The way around that is learning intuitive eating.
Intuitive eating is when we make conscious decisions when planning meals and snacks, grocery shopping, and eating. It includes thinking about what to eat, when to eat them, and how to eat them. Thinking about each thing you eat before you eat them will help you assess whether you are really hungry or just bored. Also, it allows you to assess whether the food you will eat contains any nutritional benefits.
It means learning your own hunger cues and honoring your body. When breastfeeding, dieting is a definite no-no. Listen to your body, try to find the source of your hunger, and eat when you are hungry. Be comfortable with who you are, whether that means you have a little more weight or not. If you are worried about your diet, speak to your lactation consultant and/or a registered dietitian to help you plan your meals out.
Does breastfeeding make us crave junk food? Possibly. But do you have to choose junk food? No. However, it is essential to remember that if you are hungry, you should eat. The more nutrients you consume, the more nutrients the baby can get. Just reach for snacks like trail mix and dried fruit instead of chips and processed snacks.
Baby Still Hungry after Breastfeeding
If your baby is still hungry after breastfeeding, it could mean several things. Your health is unique to you, and you should always consult with a lactation consultant before making any drastic changes to your diet or lifestyle. However, the following are some general reasons a baby might still fuss over food after breastfeeding.
Many Factors Affect a Baby’s Hunger
Whether your baby was born at a healthy or average birth weight, was premature, or had any health or gastrointestinal issues at birth will shape the type of hunger your newborn experiences when breastfeeding. If there are any health concerns regarding your baby, be sure to speak to your doctor, your child’s doctor, and any specialists they recommend to get you and your baby on a plan, diet, and feeding schedule that works for you and your baby’s needs.
If everything mentioned above is normal, other things could be leaving your baby unsatisfied at the end of a feeding.
1. Nursing Too Infrequently
Many people tell a new mother that nursing is to be done like clockwork every two to three hours. However, when to feed your baby is your decision. Just like how you pay attention and honor your hunger cues, your baby’s need to eat should also be honored in the same way. Feeding on demand is a better option for babies who hit the cluster feeding stage frequently, and it will make a big difference in their overall hunger and weight. This means nursing your child when they are hungry.
Signs of hunger in an infant range but often include one or more of the following:
- Turning head towards mother’s breast
- Rooting or shaking the head in search of a nipple
- Sucking on hands or other objects
- Turning the head when you brush the baby’s cheek with your hand
If your baby shows one or more of these signs, your baby is likely hungry.
2. Your Breast Milk Lacks Nutrients
If you are not eating a balanced diet or are not hydrated enough, your breast milk can suffer. Eating well and having breast milk that is chock full of nutrients will help to make your baby feel full and satisfied after breastfeeding.
If your infant seems affected by hunger right after nursing, try adjusting your diet to include more healthy fatty foods and nutritious snacks to see if it makes a difference. During pregnancy, your body can go from balanced to deficient in a vitamin or nutritional need quickly, so staying on top of nutrition can play a significant role in the hunger your baby experiences right after nursing.
3. Your Baby Doesn’t Have a Good Latch
Newborns may experience hunger right after nursing if they do not have a good latch. It may seem like they are getting full feeding, but the actual amount of milk they can consume is diminished if the latch on the nipple is not tight and full.
Consult a lactation expert if you are not sure whether your infant has a good latch when nursing. Simply observing you feeding your baby will give them insight into whether or not your infant is getting a full belly at each feeding. The good news is that an infant who does not have a good latch can be corrected quickly, and you will start to see a difference in hunger almost immediately.
4. Your Supply is Low
Your infant can be latched for a long time and not get the milk s/he needs the whole time. If you have a low supply, an infant experiencing hunger will continue to try to get milk until they exhaust themselves or are frustrated, which results in a hungry and fussy little one. You can easily track how much you are producing if you pump, although typically, you will produce more than what you can pump. It will still give you a basic idea of whether or not you are producing enough breast milk to satisfy your baby’s eating needs.
5. Your Infant is Self Soothing Instead of Eating
Sometimes a newborn or infant will experience hunger right after feeding because while they were latched and could eat, they were simply self-soothing by being latched. It can be challenging for mothers to tell the difference, and when this happens, the infant will often show signs of hunger immediately after they nurse.
When in Doubt, Feed Your Infant
Any time you are unsure what the cause is of your child exhibiting signs of hunger when breastfeeding, you can try to feed the baby. A child who does not want to eat will not eat.
Honor and Love Yourself
The main takeaway is that childbirth and breastfeeding are beautiful experiences, and real-life is messy. You may not like the way you look all of the time, and you may also not like how you feel all of the time. You may look at that pair of jeans that are too tight and feel a pang of sadness, and all of that is completely normal. It is important that you give yourself some grace and you honor yourself in these times. You created and brought life into this world, and as frustrating as it may be, you and your little one are in this together, and you will figure it out together.
Babies are only babies for a little while. You should use this precious time to bond with your infant, love yourself for the amazing thing you did, bringing such joy into the world, and remember that jeans are just denim, and the tag on the inside of those pants has a number on them that is just that: a number. That number does not define you.
Live true to yourself, honor yourself, and give yourself some grace. There will be plenty of time after your breastfeeding journey ends that you can work on yourself and fit back into those jeans. What truly matters is that you do your best for yourself and your child and try to be as healthy as you can be by eating foods that are good for you and your baby, ignoring the diet culture of the world, and honoring the body that brought your baby to you.