When my son was a newborn, I didn’t understand how people could enjoy breastfeeding. My nipples were drier than the Sahara desert, and I literally felt like I had boulders attached to my chest. I was discouraged by how hard it was to get a successful latch, because I thought that it would come naturally for both baby and me. I told myself that perseverance and practice would be worth it for my baby’s health and my dream of breastfeeding. I had high hopes for producing a sufficient milk supply while maintaining a vegetarian diet. I kept going.
Flash forward to today: My son is just over a year old, and we are still going strong with breastfeeding. I am now one of those mamas that loves to nurse, and nursing a one year old is a completely different ball game than nursing a newborn. The thought that I used to look at my phone while nursing almost makes me laugh, because these days I can’t imagine him not grabbing the phone and swiping away. There is only a fine line between nursing an older baby and performing acrobatics, but I wouldn’t have it any other way. The way he looks at me and holds me back as I wrap him in my arms is a gift that he doesn’t even know he has given me.
There is not a single key to successful breastfeeding. Rather, my journey is due to multiple decisions that I have made and some wonderful blessings. I’m happy to say that I haven’t had any troubles with my supply and have enjoyed playing with new recipes. While each mama is different, I can only speak to my experience and provide insight on what has worked for me and my son.
Even if you aren’t conscious of it, making milk is hard work. On top of postpartum healing and maintaining your own health, your body needs energy to produce enough milk to sustain a rapidly growing child. I always heard the phrase “eating for two” when I was pregnant, but I didn’t realize how much that is even more true when you are breastfeeding. If you want to breastfeed but you focus more on dieting to get back to your pre-baby body, you may find that your milk supply is insufficient for your baby’s needs. A quick search online will tell you that breastfeeding mothers need 300-500 calories more than they normally would to support milk production. You can find calculators that will tell you what your macros are, but they don’t know you and your body. Every time I feel like I should get a pulse on how much I am eating, I find that I don’t feel energized or happy when consuming the number of calories that I am “supposed” to need. It sounds simple and hokey, but only your body can tell you what it truly needs. Getting in tune with your hunger cues is easier said than done, but it is extremely worth it. I know to eat more food when I start to get cold even when the temperature hasn’t changed or when my mood starts to dip for no reason. For me, those signals often come before a growling stomach. Because I have tracked calories in the past and have done so recently to get an idea of how much I am currently consuming in a day, I know that I average around 2500 calories- sometimes less and sometimes more. That number is considerably higher than what the online calculators say that I need; however, I don’t have issues maintaining my weight (which is back to what it was before having a baby).
Eating 2500 calories is easy to do when you are consuming calorically dense processed foods, but you have to be more intentional when you live (or strive to live) a healthy vegetarian lifestyle. I tend to eat foods similar to what I did before; however, my portion sizes are substantially larger. For example, I eat about ⅔- 1 cup of oats for breakfast instead of ½ cup, and I add a handful of walnuts and a larger amount of peanut butter than I would have previously. If I’m feeling extra hungry, I will add a scoop of vegan protein powder as well, but I don’t do that on days when I’m making the oatmeal to share with my son. Recipes that claim to serve 4 people often produce the right amount of food for my husband and I to feel satisfied in one sitting. We honestly don’t have leftovers unless it’s a recipe with 6 or more servings. My basic staples for each food group are:
- Protein: Tofu, tempeh, soy curls, lentils, beans, pasta made of chickpeas or lentils, beans, and meatless beef substitutes
- Fats: Peanut butter, nuts (almonds, cashews, walnuts, and pecans), olive oil, and avocado
- Carbs: Rice, both sweet and regular potatoes, high quality or homemade bread, pastas, quinoa, fruits, and vegetables
With a little creativity, you would be amazed at the many different combinations of foods and recipes that can be made from the items on this list. Whenever I set out to make a meal, I ask myself “what fresh ingredients do I have available” and “what will the protein source be”. I find a recipe or combine pieces of recipes that have the vegetables and protein as the crucial building blocks.
I’ve linked a few of my favorite recipes that I frequently make- all vegetarian of course and many vegan. For more, I share recipes that I enjoy on my Instagram page @its.just.that.c.z.
- Spicy Vegan Fried “Chicken” Soy Curls
- If you want some vegetarian comfort food, this recipe is a winner. Soy curls can be purchased online if you can’t find them in your local stores.
- Vegan Tempeh Maple Breakfast Sausage Patties
- This sausage has become a regular in my household. I make the patties to serve with pancakes or other breakfast foods. Sometimes, I skip forming the patties and brown it as crumbles to use with biscuits and gravy. My husband has even used it as filling for a breakfast inspired crunch wrap. I can’t recommend this recipe enough.
- Sheet Pan BBQ Tofu
- This tofu is simple, easy, and delicious. It’s great for a mac and cheese topper!
- Garlic Herbed Baked Tempeh This tempeh tastes like Thanksgiving to me. I like to prep the tempeh in the morning during my son’s first nap and let it marinate until dinner time. Serve it up with mashed potatoes and veggies for a nice, cozy meal.
- Indian Red Lentil Dal
- This recipe never fails me. Add some rice, naan, and some veggies (really good with butternut squash), and you’ve got yourself a delicious meal.
While we can all be in control of our diet (for the most part), I can’t deny that I have been blessed by how much time I get to spend with my son. I had a wonderful 18-week-long maternity leave, worked from home while family members watched my son nearby, and ultimately became a stay at home mom. I have not had to use my breast pump much in the last year, and I don’t have a stash of milk. For the most part, where I go, he goes. I can’t really offer advice on how to breastfeed while working full-time outside of the home or while on trips away. I have never spent a night apart from him, and I don’t know if doing so would be harder at this point for him or me. Not everyone gets this opportunity, and I am very thankful for my situation.
At this point, I nurse my son when he tells me to. Ever since he learned how to point a few months back, he is highly effective at communicating when he wants to eat. He comes right up to me, pulls at my shirt, and points at my boobs. He takes nursing “on demand” to a new level, but I enjoy the understanding that we have. There is no one else that can provide the comfort and fuel that he desires, and he knows that. It’s a great privilege and a huge responsibility. I know some people may stick to a stricter schedule, but for me, I want him to know that his mama will always be there for him if he needs it. Personally, I’ve found that answering to him and comforting him creates a confidence boost that promotes independence.
I would be lying if I said that breastfeeding only has positive consequences. I’ve lost track of how many times I’ve had a clogged duct, and I’ve gone on antibiotics at least twice for mastitis. The fever that I experienced with my last bout of mastitis made me feel about as bad as I’ve ever felt. For the first part of my recent vacation, I was so nervous that the clogged duct I got from my son refusing to nurse on the airplane would turn into mastitis even though I had finished antibiotics the day prior for the same thing. Beyond the purely physical negatives of having your body support another’s is the odd feeling that your body is being used. Even though my body looks similar to how it did before having a baby, I still don’t 100% feel like myself. I have to be conscious of the safety of what I ingest or do. I can’t just skip feeding him or not pump. Otherwise, he will be hungry and/or I will be in physical pain from being full of milk. This awareness that my body is not just my own isn’t bad per say, but I do imagine a sigh of relief once my breastfeeding journey is complete.
Overall, breastfeeding my son for the past year has been one of the greatest blessings of my life. It has bonded us in a way that I never imagined. A vegetarian diet can provide the nutrients and energy needed to produce milk and thrive. I am not blind to the fact that not all people are able to produce the milk that their children need, and I am thankful that I was able to. I have nothing against those that choose not to or don’t have the option to breastfeed. “Fed is best” really is the important thing. This is my personal experience with my one child, and it’s where I am at the moment. My son shows no signs of wanting to wean, so I’ll probably be here for a little bit. I’ll be here as long as he needs me to be.