Originally published in the GGMG Magazine – November 2014 issue
Prior to getting pregnant and giving birth, most women see food as fuel, a chance to taste pleasure, and an organizing force for social interaction. For many, however, these simple motivating factors belie a more fraught reality as we struggle with just how much weight to give the pleasure of consumption (“a moment on the lips”) versus the desire to maintain a certain physique (“a lifetime on the hips”), fight the influence of others’ eating habits, or even turn food into an instrument of control. Guilt and worry can become pervasive. Yet there also exist many folks who eat effortlessly, ingesting whatever strikes their fancy in quantities designed to stave off physiological hunger, regardless of what’s dangled in front of their noses.
The experience of breastfeeding moms is similarly diverse. For some, eating as a food producer requires very little thought – just consume a balanced diet and an extra few hundred calories a day, easy breezy. For others, issues surrounding baby’s weight, baby’s comfort, milk production, and mom’s new size and shape make “eating for two” far more complicated.
Trial and Error
My first daughter constantly screamed and writhed, bucked off the breast when liquid gurgled up her throat, and failed to gain weight. Increasingly desperate to help her, I first eliminated gas-producing foods (like broccoli and onions), then those thought to increase acid reflux (like tomatoes and oranges), and finally all common allergens (including dairy, eggs, nuts, gluten, and soy). I drove myself insane attempting to control the situation by blaming my diet. It didn’t work. My son, on the other hand, loved my milk – but he bellowed furiously when it didn’t let down immediately. Convinced that he was chronically hungry, I mainlined galactagogues (foods such as garlic and oatmeal which are said to increase lactation) as well as fenugreek supplements and mother’s milk tea. Again, it didn’t work. This third time around, breastfeeding is going so well that I have the luxury of worrying only about my own weight. Since I don’t naturally shed pounds while nursing, due to some combination of hormones, appetite, and sweet tooth, I’m trying to cut out refined sugar and make other healthy choices. It’s not working.
When one friend of mine stopped eating dairy, however, her colicky newborn morphed into a dream baby in a matter of days. Another buddy cried tears of joy when her milk supply shot through the roof after starting fenugreek. Meanwhile, a different pal overproduced milk so severely that she repeatedly developed mastitis; when she strictly limited her water intake, her supply decreased, but so did her ability to stand upright. Another mommy friend complained that she simply couldn’t keep weight on. As I fought to resist a third spoonful of Ben and Jerry’s, a part of me wanted to kick her in her rapidly disappearing gut. But I wholeheartedly sympathized with her after she ate a burger, shake, fries, and chicken sandwich on our lunch date, looked like she might vomit, and explained that her intake needs had started to put a strain on her family’s budget.
You Are Not Alone
Like nursing in general, eating as a food producer will either be simple physically and emotionally, or it will not. You may be able to make an impact by changing your diet, or you may not. You will be torn apart with guilt and/or powerlessness, or you will not. In any event, know that you aren’t alone. If postpartum eating causes you stress, consult the experts – but don’t stop there. Seek out other moms. Particularly when there are no diets or supplements that will fix things, a healthy helping of commiseration and validation can provide much-needed nourishment.