Sunday, March 21, 2010

No need to count calories when breastfeeding

Welcome to the March Carnival of Breastfeeding: The joys of breastfeeding

This month, we're sharing our positive experiences of breastfeeding. Be sure to check out the links at the end for the other participants' excellent posts! I'll be adding more throughout the day Mar. 22.




baby hating solid foods rice cereal
Is your breastfed child not yet thrilled with solids?
Not to worry.
I've been thinking about my blog post on not worrying too much about children's eating and how that relates to breastfeeding.

At some point I want to do a follow-up to that post more generally, since it spoke to various (including non-nursing) ages, but here I want to address one joy of breastfeeding that sprang to mind in connection: When you're breastfeeding your infant as you first introduce solid foods after six months of age, and even later when that exploring baby turns into a picky toddler who won't eat anything solid that's not, say, a french fry or huckleberry ice cream (ahem, we've had our phases), breastfeeding takes away so much of the worry.

Breast milk contains an average of 22 calories per ounce and 1.15 grams of fat per ounce. (This varies based on several factors: foremilk to hindmilk, mother to mother, different times of day, age of the nursling — but those are the averages.)

If you don't know what to make of those numbers, check out this chart from kellymom comparing the calorie and fat content of human milk vs. a number of other common baby foods.

First, you'll notice that breast milk has more calories and fat than formula or whole cow's milk. As you scan down the list, you'll see that the calories of breast milk are comparable to or higher than most other baby foods except for calorie-dense fruits and few other items, and that breast milk annihilates most other baby foods in terms of fat, except for fat-rich avocados. On this list, only whole-milk yogurt, whole milk, and formula even come close in terms of fat, but breast milk still beats them.

If you still have a mindset from the 1990s that fat is bad, abandon it now, at least (especially) in terms of your growing child. Little developing brains require ample amounts of fat to grow. Fortunately for breastfeeding mamas, breast milk has just the right proportion and type of fats to feed baby brains. You can see from the chart at the bottom of this journal extract that the fat in breast milk increases the longer a mother breastfeeds, to ensure that a toddler who's eating more and more complementary foods will still get the needed fat. Pretty cool the way our bodies are designed that way, huh?

Breast milk helps ensure that your kids get the right kind of nutrients as well. It's sadly easier for babies and toddlers who depend on solid foods for all nutrition to get some of those calories from convenient junk foods that aren't as nutritious. It also might be surprising to note that it's easier to overfeed babies and toddlers who eat primarily solid foods than who eat breast milk. If you're still concerned that your nursing-happy baby isn't eating enough, consider that mothers who breastfeed are less likely to control how much their children eat, and breastfed children are more likely to eat to satiety and then stop.

When breastfeeding, you don't even have to over-worry about what you as the mama eat. I mean, you should prioritize whole and healthful foods to make your milk as whole and healthful as you can, but consider that even if you yourself survive on french fries and huckleberry ice cream for a time (ahem), your body will prioritize making sufficient nutritious breast milk, even if it's at your body's expense (which, admittedly, is another reason to eat healthfully yourself as a nursing mother, but I'm not one to judge, trust me!).

So if your baby or toddler seems more interested in breastfeeding than solids, or if your nursling's choice of solids seems woefully limited, just keep on nursing and rest assured that essential fats, proteins, calories, micronutrients, and (bonus!) immunological benefits are being passed along from you to your picky eater. What a relief, and what a joy!

How does or did your nursing child handle solid foods? What are your favorite joys of breastfeeding?

By writing these posts about solid food and children, I'm seeking only to reassure parents with an unreasonable degree of nervousness over variations in solids consumption by normal, healthy infants and toddlers. But please remember I'm a blogger, not a health professional or scientist (despite my unholy love of Google Scholar). If you have concerns about your child's diet or weight gain, please consult someone qualified to help your child with a personal evaluation.

Photo courtesy dennyschmickle on flickr (cc)



Enjoy these posts from our other carnival participants:

I'll be adding more throughout the day Mar. 22.

23 comments:

Pat Grace said...

I know what you mean about trying to eat healthy. It's hard! And then I splurge, once in a while, on all those greasy foods. (and ice cream, and cakes...)

Melodie said...

I love reading posts on this subject because like I have said in the past, this is one area I struggle with with my toddler (almost pre-schooler) who dearly loves her milkies more than her meals. I know she's not starving by any means as she is healthy and in the top percentiles, but a mom wants to see her *child* eating food too. Reading this makes me feel better about the days on end that she spends practically only nursing. Thanks for another wonderful post Lauren!

Lauren @ Hobo Mama said...

Pat Grace: I know it! Ack. I say this as I'm eating chocolate pie a friend made for us...

Melodie: Absolutely. I definitely don't write this from a vantage of having achieved perfect zen when it comes to my child refusing to eat solids. I'm writing as much to calm myself down as anything else! :) When you've made or have a really quality meal, and every bite is refused ... it's hard. But I have to remind myself it's fleeting. He won't be nursing all day still when he's — what? 25 or so?

SaRAW said...

This is a great post- I love breastfeeding, and I eat a ton without gaining any weight! Woohoo! I'd like to join the breastfeeding carnival, how can I do that?

(This is Sarah from Consider Eden, by the way... you have my email.)

Maman A Droit said...

1.) I am now having massive huckleberry ice cream cravings, especially since it's unavailable where I live so I only get it when I visit family near Seattle
2.) This makes me feel much better about the fact that my MIL keeps telling me I'm not feeding Baby enough solids and he must be hungry and think I should just trust my mommy-gut on the pace of weaning.

Lauren @ Hobo Mama said...

SaRAW: I usually go to Motherwear's Breastfeeding Blog or Blacktating for news of upcoming carnivals. They announce the theme and deadlines a couple weeks ahead of time. You can subscribe to their feeds and then be on the lookout for a post that says "Join the next carnival of breastfeeding" or similar.

Maman A Droit: 1.) Huckleberry ice cream is definitely one of the biggest benefits of living in Seattle! (and temptations...)
2.) Ugh. Sorry you're getting negative messages. If he's hungry, then he'll nurse more, right? Good for you for trusting your mommy-gut.

Dionna @Code Name: Mama said...

Excellent post!! I did some research on breastfeeding & found similar info re: your diet doesn't much matter to your breastmilk. Baby will get the best of what you have to offer :) Our bodies are miraculous.

Jenny said...

yes yes yes!!! definitely it is a JOY that breastfeeding takes out feeding worries. the immunological benefits passed is likewise a big bonus.. here in the phils, babies are already given vitamins at age 0 months. i never gave naima any before she turned 1 but she was still a healthy baby. the wonders of mommy's milk :D

Olivia said...

I love this post! My baby (almost 1 yr) is still just trying out solid foods, and she is refusing cow's milk. But, I keep telling myself as long as she is nursing, she will get what she needs.

Hey, maybe a slogan for nursing a toddler could be, "Skip the Ensure and breastfeed your toddler!"

the grumbles said...

This was nice to read today. My family has been putting the pressure on to start our six-month-old on solids but I'm not ready and he's not very interested AT ALL. I needed this push to keep me hanging in there. It'll happen in its own time.

jorjedatoy said...

Sasha just turned 6 months and has been showing signs of being ready for solids. We've only started with carrots so far and I feel a little nervous. Thanks for the reminder that breastfeeding can still continue to be her main source of nutrition!

So... do you nurse Mikko before meals? or did you when you started solids?

And to Jenny's comment above... I wonder how many of us "crunchy mamas" give our babies vitamins. My mom seemed shocked when I declined them.

And to Olivia - LOVE that slogan!!

theadventuresoflactatinggirl said...

Peanut really likes solids, but still wants to breastfeed even if she just ate a whole meal of solids. It's almost like breastfeeding and solids are two different foods for her and she must get her fill on both! lol

My husband and I always joke that you can pick out formula fed babies out easily by their huge puffy cheeks. Of course not all of them have it, but a lot of them do because they often over eat.

Dr Sarah said...

Oooh, yes! This is one of the advantages I listed as well. I love not having to worry about food intake. ;-)

Olivia said...

lactatinggirl, my daughter likes to nurse after eating solids, too. For her it seems like a meal can't be complete until she washes it down with some breastmilk.

Inder-ific said...

Yes, I read the title of this post and nodded - I have been breastfeeding for almost a year now, eat whatever I want, and have continued to lose weight! This is the best diet I've ever been on! For every pound of chub the baby gains, I lose one! Buttermilk pancakes! For dinner! Awesome!

Oh, wait, you're talking about the benefits to my picky, spoon-adverse baby!!?? Oh, right! Well, there's that too! ;-)

Elita said...

Great submission. I always nursed my son and then offered solids afterwards. I found that he ate very little solids from me, but would take them from our daycare provider or hubby better. I also think it's important to stick to whole foods when introducing solids. Kids have a lifetime of processed food eating ahead of them, why start with oatmeal flakes when you can make them real oatmeal or just mash up a sweet potato or give them a chunk of avocado.

Lauren @ Hobo Mama said...

Dionna: They really are!

Jenny: Exactly! And formula has to have so many vitamins added, but breastmilk just has it all naturally. Love it!

Olivia: Love the slogan! We should get that printed up.

The Grumbles: Glad you're feeling better about holding out! My son seriously didn't really swallow solids till maybe a year old? And even at 2.75, he's ... flighty about them. Sometimes he eats, sometimes not. It's a process, right? Your baby has plenty of time, for sure.

Jorje: I would say at 6 months to nurse first and offer solids after. KellyMom recommends waiting till 12 months to offer solids first (also in this section). I also really found this little chart there helpful in showing the gradual replacement of breastfeeding with solids over time. Of course, at Mikko's current age, he chooses nursing and solids back and forth and back and forth at whim (within the same meal!), so I just go with the flow! At 6 months, Sasha can just enjoy the exploration of tastes and textures, and you don't have to worry that she's not eating a "balanced" diet, because the breastfeeding will do that for you. (Yea!)

Lactating Girl: I love that observation. They're definitely two different experiences for them, aren't they? Breastfeeding is so much about comfort and connection.

Inder: Dying here! I really do love that aspect of breastfeeding, though. Love! The only thing is, breastfeeding makes me ravenous. I lost all my pregnancy wait within, seriously, like 2 weeks, but I can't seem to lose any more than that, because I'm always starving (and therefore shoveling in food)! It's funny, though — I can eat more than my husband and not gain weight. I will miss that greatly! Might just have to have another baby... Ha ha!

Elita: That makes sense that your son would take solids better from other people. I've had the same experience, because if I'm around: Hey, nummies are available! Whereas, Mikko can go off with Sam for the day and be totally fine snacking on solids. And I totally agree with the whole foods thing! We totally just gave him "real" food, often off our own plates, not making a big deal about "baby" food. Whole fruit, steamed veggies, brown rice, whatever it was — he'd give it a try. And, of course, breastmilk is a whole food, too!

blissful_e said...

Love this post and the comments!

For those of us with children who aren't overly keen on solids (I've got a 7mo who could care less at the moment), I read somewhere that breastfed children who delay solids might be waiting until their digestive system is ready for certain foods. (This is a good one to use with concerned grandparents.)

Our digestive systems mature at varying rates, and you're right, breastfeeding takes all the stress out of when and how much they start eating solids.

Thank you especially for the pains you took to clarify that good fats for children are HEALTHY. It makes me sad sad sad to see mums feeding their thin little 3yo girls lowfat yogurt. Also, my sister-in-law (a nurse) was very upset with me feeding my kids egg yolks because they have cholesterol. Guess what? Breastmilk has cholesterol, too - it's scientifically proven to be critical for brain development.

Too many people just have no idea that (a) breastfeeding beyond a year is beneficial, and (b) what kids should be eating - breastmilk first, then other whole foods.

Sheryl said...

I have always been relieved to depend on breastmilk as the perfect source of nutrition for my now 2 yr old son. I always knew he was getting enough from my milk and never fretted when he didn't feel like eating dinner one day or was sick and refused all solids for a period of time.
He actually is a great eater and I'm not sure if that has to do with our relaxed attitude towards food, or if it is just plain luck.
Great post!

Lisa C said...

This is so reassuring! I know my son is healthy and thriving and that's all the reassurance I really need, but he's also so tiny! But something inside me was saying that the breastmilk was complimentary to the lower calorie foods he likes to eat, so it's nice to know that that milk fat actually increases as they get older. It makes so much more sense now how he can eat so little!

Dagmar said...

I have written about this as well, that I am so glad that my almost 3 1/2 year-old son is still nursing.

http://dagmarbleasdale.com/2010/02/extended-breastfeeding-past-the-toddler-age/

I don't have to freak out about him being a picky eater! He might be a picky eater because he loves his baba so much, but I'll address that problem when it becomes a problem. So far L is thriving, the one kid who isn't constantly sick in his preschool class, and happy. :)

Thank you for compiling all this wonderful information and for reassuring moms!

Best,
Dagmar
Dagmar's momsense

Anonymous said...

Thank you so much for writting this. As a mother of a very picky, tiny toddler. I am so glad to see some numbers that put my mind at ease. Ruth.

Alexandra said...

great post and comments! I also worry a little bit about that. But I know she will let me know if she is hungry. I really worry about my toddler who barely eats anything and doesn't nurse. I have contemplated pumping some milk for him. Would that be weird??

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