Breastfeeding Hunger and Thirst
The wonders of breastfeeding! You know your breasts will engorge in the beginning, you understand the benefits of “feeding on demand”, what nipple creams work (and don’t), and you are becoming acquainted with your new position on the sofa- Boppy pillow primed and remote control/cell phone at the ready. You’ve read many publications on the subject of lactation and you are aware of how your caloric needs may change as you feed your newborn. However, what you may not expect is how absolutely drained, thirsty, and hungry you feel all of the time! If you are reading this and feeling like you are alone in wanting to put your favorite local diner out of business by eating up their entire food supply: you are not alone. Here, I will outline common concerns and possible solutions to the hunger and thirst woes one faces during breastfeeding.
When I nursed my second child, I noticed the weirdest sensation. The second I put her mouth to my breast, I suddenly felt as though I was a lone drifter in the midst of the Sahara Desert. I would have fantasies of dipping my entire head into a cool, freshwater brook. I sucked down liters of water, and still, I would be unquenched as soon as another nursing session would arise.
As it turns out, this is a very common phenomenon. So common, in fact, that there was a study done at the University of Durham (UK) Department of Psychology in 1995. Due to anecdotal reports of thirst during breastfeeding, scientists measured the thirst of ten healthy breastfeeding women, 28-52 days postpartum. The results indicated that thirst increased significantly during a suckling period compared to a control period. It was confirmed that it may be the release of oxytocin within the central nervous system that stimulates such a strong thirst response. In other words, you’re not crazy, it’s science!
It is generally advised that those who are lactating drink to their thirst, or at least (8) 8-10-ounce servings of water each day, depending on their specific needs. No babbling brooks.
Did I just finish a marathon? Nope! Just finished a 35-minute nursing sesh with baby, though my appetite would leave me feeling otherwise.
I will never forget the first postpartum meal I enjoyed at a restaurant when my daughter was two weeks old (when cluster feeding was all the rage). It was right down the road, and I was able to go without baby in tow while my in-laws were in town. I ordered a medium-rare bacon and pepper jack cheeseburger, with a side of seasoned fries and a frosty cold pint of Guinness. I devoured everything in its delicious, frothy, greasy glory, and it went on record as the best meal I’ve ever had, even to this day. Five years later, I could never attempt to finish a meal of this magnitude—I would probably get halfway through and feel as though my gut were going to burst. This was clearly not the case while I was nursing!
Just like with the overwhelming sensation of thirst, it is advised that a nursing mother also eats to her own appetite. Kellymom, a reliable source on breastfeeding information, advises that mothers consume no less than 1500-1800 calories (1500 being the extreme low end, 1800 being the ideal absolute minimum). Caloric needs depend on one’s own physical activity levels and size (I am nearly six-feet tall, so my daily requirements would vary significantly from someone who is five-feet tall). 1800-2200 calories (or more) seems to be the general rule of thumb, considering one may burn a reported additional 500+ calories a day from breastfeeding alone.
Contrary to popular belief, you do not need to adhere to a special diet while breastfeeding (barring any food allergies, of course). Your body will produce the nutrients your baby needs via your milk, whether you have a “perfect” diet, or not. Eat reasonably and all is well!
However, if you do not have the time to graze 24-7 to satiate your newfound appetite, I recommend checking out great breastfeeding recipes that are high in protein and nutrients in order to satisfy you longer, like these, from Today’s Parent.
Written by: Justine Robinson of Stars and Stripes Doulas of Washington DC