Eating for Breastfeeding: What Every Nursing Mom Needs to Know About Calcium (Hint: it can support your milk supply)

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National Breastfeeding Month is still in full swing through August 31stso lets keep up the good work celebrating, promoting and normalizing breastfeeding.  Furthermore, we are celebrating Black Breastfeeding Week through August 31st to bring awareness to the benefits of Black mothers breastfeeding too. As The Breastfeeding Chef, I have had the opportunity to work with many mothers creating a sustainable eating lifestyle that helps milk production. I’d love to share a few of my tips with you!

Breastfeeding moms often ask themselves:

  • Am I producing enough milk for my baby?
  • Why does it feel like I have more or less breast milk from one day to the next?
  • Is there something I can do—or eat—to support my milk supply?

As a mom who breastfed for over 3 years who is also a plant-based nutritionist, I’m happy to share that there IS something you can do to support your milk supply!  And the best news is, it starts at the end of your fork (or spoon). How delicious is that?! (VERY!)

The list of foods that can support your milk supply is- happily-robust (that’s right, it’s not just limited to oats, brewers yeast, and fenugreek). You can get a copy of the Ultimate Breastfeeding Food List–a FREE and comprehensive list of foods and recipes that support your milk supply.

Thankfully, many foods that support breastmilk production are high in calcium.

Right now, I can imagine you saying to yourself, “Great!  I’ll start drinking plenty of milk and eating more yogurt and cheese!” Contrary to popular belief, dairy products are NOT your best source of absorbable, usable calcium for your bones or your breast milk supply. Plus, there are some challenges associated with dairy that can affect your baby that you may want to consider.

Here are my top 4 reasons why dairy is not your best source of calcium to boost your breastmilk supply:

  1. Dairy is the number one dietary cause of colic symptoms. In many cases, when dairy is removed, baby’s symptoms improve within 14 days — the amount of time it typically takes for dairy to clear the body. (I saw this firsthand when I was breastfeeding my baby Cayenne who suffered endlessly (and needlessly) from colic until I removed it from my diet!).
  2. Calcium is better absorbed when it comes from plant sources, according to Dr. Joel Fuhrman and other plant based-nutrition experts. 
  3. Dairy products can cause cradle cap and eczema to flare up or become more severe (another disturbing symptom Cayenne suffered from as a baby – until I took dairy out of my diet).
  4. Dairy is deeply linked to constipation (NOBODY wants or needs that!).

If you are like most milk-making mamas I know and work with, you may be wondering Well, if dairy isn’t my best source of calcium, what is?

You may also be thinking, How am I going to replace the dairy products I so enjoy– many of which I eat every day?

Below are some of my favorite high calcium foods for breastfeeding PLUS recommendations to replace some of what may be YOUR most-used dairy products.  

Blackstrap molasses:
Found in the same place as honey at the grocery, 1 tablespoon contains 20% of the RDA for calcium.  Drizzle it on your morning oatmeal or make a tea by stirring 2 teaspoons into 1 cup of hot water then add a squeeze of lemon. 

Collard greens:
This leafy green is a calcium powerhouse. One cooked cup contains 357 milligrams. Sauté it with ginger or garlic (or both!).  Finish with a splash of low sodium tamari, serve it up over brown rice and sprinkle with baked tofu and dry roasted cashews and you’ve got a delicious dinner–or lunch-that will help keep your milk flowing! 

Figs:
Just 4 pieces of this sweet fruit contains 124 milligrams of calcium.  Try slicing them on toast with almond butter (almonds are the most milk supportive nut, by the way) or sauté them with greens like kale, collards or spinach for a sweet and savory treat. 

Whole Soybeans (organic):
One cup of boiled soybeans has 261 milligrams of calcium.  Add them to soups and stir-fries or eat them on the go–just throw them into your diaper bag.

Turnip Greens:
One cooked cup of this delightfully peppery green provides 249 milligrams of calcium.  Sauté them with onions and vegetable stock or bone broth and serve them over spelt pasta with a side of roasted mushrooms…YUM!

After you digest these (pun intended) I’d love to know which ingredients feel easiest to incorporate into your diet and which you need more support around adding to your recipe repertoire. Please leave your thoughts in the comments below.

What can you use to replace your favorite dairy products? Really… What can moms eat and drink besides dairy, milk, and cheese?

I’m happy to tell you there are lots of dairy-free milk and cheese products on the market… several of them are even healthful, delicious AND lactogenic!

For milk, I like almond, oat, hemp, and rice milks because they are all galactagogues (a scientific term for boosting milk supply!).  These kinds of milk can be made at home or store-bought. In case you’d like to explore making your own boobie milk boosting milk here’s my video on how to make homemade hemp milk. 

As for cheese, my favorite is a non-dairy brand is called Kite Hill (www.kite-hill.com). Using old world cheese making techniques, Kite Hill turns almonds–which by the way are the most milk making nut (what luck!) — water, cultures and salt into delicious dairy-free “cheeses” that are amazingly like their cow-milk cousins. Also, I recently discovered they make almond-cheese filled ravioli that are absolutely DEE-licious!  

I hope you feel armed with a lot of new information about dairy and dairy-free replacements. If you’re feeling overwhelmed, just breathe. Know that you don’t have to change your entire diet – or your family’s diet – by tomorrow (or by the end of the week).  And if you’d like some guidance, don’t hesitate to reach out here or through my Facebook Page

Happy World Breastfeeding Month and Black Breastfeeding Week!

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Ebeth Johnson is mindful eating & well-life mentor for women who are ready to live deliciously. As a mom, professional chef, plant-based nutritionist and mindful eating coach, Ebeth marries her love of food, cooking, wellness, and mindfulness while supporting women and their families to incorporate nourishing foods and nurturing lifestyle practices into daily life. Ebeth was raised in DC and returned here (after a 15-year stint in the Big Apple) when her child Cayenne was born. When she's not in the kitchen, at the grocery store or DuPont farmers’ market you'll find her roller skating, reading, watching HGTV, making handcrafted beaded jewelry or briskly walking wherever she needs to go. One of her favorite meals is perfectly scrambled eggs with whole wheat toast, sliced avocado and a green salad. She could do without shopping for clothes and shoes.