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Healthy Mum, Happy Baby

Healthy Mum, Happy Baby

How to Feed Yourself When You're Breastfeeding Your Baby
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You thought you were prepared. You did all the prenatal things you were supposed to, from taking vitamins to practising yoga and taking birth classes. You read all the books, chose a theme for the nursery, and stocked up on an alarming amount of baby necessities from diapers to nasal aspirators. But as your due date drew near, you started to freak out about actually having this baby. Perfectly normal. Many mums, not surprisingly, fixate on the whole pain-of-childbirth thing, which can overshadow thoughts of the early days with your baby. But childbirth, as painful and protracted as it may be, doesn’t last more than a day or two.

The early days of parenthood, on the other hand, threaten to never end. You’re beyond exhaustion and you wonder if your baby–and consequently you–will ever sleep for more than two or three hours at a stretch. (Don’t worry, you will!) And you worry. You worry that you haven’t bonded with your baby, because despite what the books say, you can’t seem to distinguish between her different cries. You’re sure that the contents of the diaper you’re changing can’t possibly be normal. You worry about your baby’s growth and progress, compare her development to that of the other babies in your mums’ group, and wonder how some other mothers seem to have time to apply mascara when you haven’t even mastered the art of applying diaper cream.

And then there’s breastfeeding, which brings a whole different set of worries and challenges. Why is it that something that’s supposed to be so natural doesn’t necessarily come so naturally? Do you have enough milk or too much? Does your baby nurse too frequently or not frequently enough? My first daughter refused point-blank to nurse. She’d shriek angrily at the merest whiff of a nipple, as though I were offering poison rather than breast milk. “I’ve never seen anything like this,” announced the mystified lactation consultant I visited. But I was determined to breastfeed. Breast milk was, after all, best. All the experts recommended exclusive breastfeeding for six months, and my milk was brimming with long-term health benefits for my baby (and don’t think thoughts of increased weight loss hadn’t entered my mind). So, I rented an electric breast pump and spent many hours boiling bits of pumping paraphernalia while the rest of my household slumbered. We fed my daughter my milk with spoons, syringes, cups, and finally, despite my fears of nipple confusion, bottles. Mysteriously, when she was three and a half weeks old she took the breast and never looked back.

My trials and tribulations meant I amassed quite the extensive breastfeeding library. In one book by the well-known Dr. William Sears, I discovered a list of nutrient-dense, more bang-for-your-buck foods for breastfeeding mothers. Despite all my reading and preparation for motherhood, it wasn’t until I came across this list that I twigged to the fact I was still eating for two. I knew that what I ate would flavour my breast milk, and that I needed to stay well hydrated and eat more than I had pre-pregnancy, but I’d never really considered how much my diet would affect my baby’s growth and development or my health and energy. Great. Now I had something else to worry about. Was my baby getting enough of the vitamins she needed? Would her IQ be forever affected if I didn’t eat enough fish or flaxseeds? If I existed solely on fast food would my breast milk still be better for my baby than formula? And how exactly did I go about feeding myself so I could feed her better?

Most books I’d read recommended that a nursing mother continue to eat as healthily as she had done while she was pregnant. Easier said than done. In those early, hazy days of new parenthood, we were subsisting on freezer meals, takeout, and dinners my mother brought over. Not a recipe for long-term success (but awfully nice while it lasted). What I needed was more than just advice on the kinds of foods I should be eating. I needed some sort of sense of how exactly a new mum can still manage to eat healthily while caring for a newborn. How do you carve out time to cook and eat when you don’t even have time to empty the dishwasher? There didn’t seem to be anything out there to help me figure all of this out. And my need was increasingly desperate. Rifling through the kitchen cupboards at three in the morning trying to find something to eat that wasn’t toast or chocolate seemed crazy. My husband and my two-month-old daughter were both sound asleep, but my desperate need for food was outweighing even my desperate need for sleep. I just wanted something, anything, healthy to fill the enormous and permanent hole that seemed to have taken up the space recently vacated by my baby. As I wolfed down yet another bowl of cold cereal, I wished my prenatal classes had covered eating with a newborn and stressed more firmly the importance of stocking your freezer with more than a few frozen meals. I wished I’d had some inkling of how hungry I’d be, how my diet would affect my energy and my breast milk, how eating well would help with the transition into motherhood, and, quite frankly, how much help I’d need. I realized I really needed a guide to stocking my pantry with handy snack foods and ingredients for quick meals. I needed a set of healthy recipes that would be fast to make and easy to double and store in the freezer. I needed reliable, uncomplicated, up-to-date nutritional information. I needed to know that if ever there was a time to ask for help and to be specific in what I needed–like washing the dishes or cleaning the bathroom or bringing over dinner–this was it. And I needed to know that sometimes, no matter how good my intentions and how well stocked my pantry, there would be circumstances that would call for a guilt-free chocolate bar, a big bowl of chips, or a glass of wine. And if I needed this, surely other mums did too.

Tina’s Hummus

Start to finish time: 5 minutes with food processor, 10 minutes with blender
Prep time: 5 minutes

Tina and I met in a prenatal yoga class. Our due dates were one day apart and both our babies ended up coming two weeks late. She can be counted on to bring hummus and soup to every new mum she knows. Madeleine is so enamoured of her hummus that she won’t accept any substitutes.

1 can (19 oz/540 mL) chickpeas
6 tbsp virgin or extra-virgin olive oil
4 tbsp freshly squeezed lemon juice
1/4 cup tahini
4 cloves garlic, peeled
1 1/2 tsp cumin
1/2 tsp salt
Cayenne to taste
1/4 cup water, approximately

1. Drain and rinse chickpeas, and place in the bowl of a food processor or in a blender. Add oil, lemon juice, tahini, garlic, cumin, salt, and cayenne, and process until smooth, adding water to reach desired consistency. Makes 3 cups.

Variations: Have fun adapting this recipe to your taste. Add more garlic or cayenne if that’s your style, or try a splash of hot pepper sauce. You can also substitute black beans for the chickpeas for a change.

Hummus is amazingly versatile: it can be eaten as a dip with pita bread or veggies, used as a sandwich spread, or stuffed into a pita with cucumber, tomato, and lettuce. Although you can buy hummus ready-made in the supermarket, making it yourself is almost as quick and much cheaper.

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