Are you craving sugar while breastfeeding? Don’t worry, there are ways to get your postpartum sugar addiction under control.
Nursing a newborn can have you reaching for a snack. Nursing women should eat a meal of nutrient dense foods, rather than grab a quick sugar fix to relieve stress.
For some new mothers, breastfeeding is an activity that is draining both physically and emotionally. There are good physical reasons as to why you might be feeling a little exhausted and down, and unable to control your sugar cravings.
To breastfeed, your body needs to constantly replenish its milk supply because it uses 25% of your body’s energy levels daily. You’re burning around an extra 500-700 calories a day while nursing. This affects your brain activity and causes you to lose weight.
If you are feeling like you could eat an entire chocolate cake, to satisfy those cravings, you are not alone. Breastfeeding a new baby is hard work!
Sugar Rush or Sugar Crash?
Breastfeeding mamas often crave a sweet treat to energize and relieve stress. The problem is that the feeling of well-being quickly dissipates, leaving nursing mothers to feel worse than ever.
In 2019, a study called “Sugar rush or sugar crash? A meta-analysis of carbohydrate effects on mood” was published in the Neuroscience Biobehavioral Review.
This study found that eating sugar did not lead to lasting improvements in mood or energy. Unfortunately, the good mood caused by the release of the neurotransmitter serotonin in the brain lasted less than 30 minutes, compelling their subjects to reach for the sweets again.
The cycle of feeling tired, followed by a bit of a lift in mood, and then even more fatigue creates a cycle of sugar cravings that qualifies as an addiction.
Why Do Breastfeeding Moms Crave Sugar?
Breastfeeding mamas experience sugar cravings for the following reasons.
Treats Are A Reward
Few things in life are more rewarding, or more sentimental than the taste of sugar. Shortly after satisfying a sugar craving, that part of your brain that responds to memory is stimulated, creating feelings of bliss.
Sugar was the reward for good behavior when you were a child. Sugar cravings for certain foods may actually mean that you are craving some love and appreciation.
Sugar Cravings Are Hunger Signals
The two main hormones that trigger sugar cravings are leptin and serotonin.
Leptin is a hormone produced by fat cells in the body. This messenger chemical tells your brain to stop eating when you are full.
However, breastfeeding mothers lose 1000 calories a day when nursing. The hormone leptin interprets this as a physical state of stress and famine. It signals the state of calorie deprivation to the brain, and triggers the need to eat more calories.
It does not matter if you are eating empty calories. Your body will just want the quickest glucose fix it can get.
The hormone serotonin also plays a role in regulating hunger, impulsive behavior, and sleep
Low serotonin levels create anxiety and depression The fastest way out of your funk is to reach for sweets like chocolate. A healthier option, such as a protein rich food like cashews might be a better idea.
Disrupted Eating Patterns
If a newborn baby is demanding that you feed it every three to four hours, you may be too exhausted to make healthy meals.
To generate enough quality milk you should aim to eat three to five meals a day. Sugar cravings may be a sign that it is time to take a break and pay attention to diet and nutrition.
Every meal should contain some kind of protein. Foods like fish, chicken, beef, cheese or beans should be part of your daily diet. Each meal should also be accompanied by healthy carbs such as salads, cooked vegetables and whole-grain breads.
When you are sleep deprived, you feel depleted. Your body then tries to generate more energy by consuming more calories. Unfortunately consuming extra calories cannot fix a sleep deficit.
The only cure for a lack of sleep is to try to get more. However, that’s generally impossible when your baby only sleeps for three and demands to be fed again and again!
The constant interruption of your sleep cycle can predispose you to cravings. A healthier option than gorging on sweets is to eat some cheese on a whole wheat cracker.
Serotonin also makes you feel sleepy. To a sleep-deprived mother of a high-maintenance newborn, eating ice cream just before bed is almost as good as a sleeping pill. It is known that carbohydrates before bed can stimulate melatonin production, but instead of icecream, choose a whole food option along with some protein and fat – like an egg on toast with some butter.
Why Is Sugar So Bad for Breastfeeding Mothers?
Sugar is cheap, tastes great and is widely available, but it is not a food. Even natural sugar is not good for breastfeeding moms and their nursing babies.
Sugar Is Addictive
A study from St. Luke’s Mid America Heart Institute published in “The British Journal of Sports Medicine” revealed that sugar is as addictive as some illegal drugs. The study concluded that sugar has the “binging, craving, tolerance, withdrawal and reward effects” characteristic of cocaine and heroin addiction.
To stop the relentless cycle of craving sugar while breastfeeding, try to replace your sweet treats with high protein ones such as nuts, yogurt and cheese.
Sugar Robs Your Body Of Vitamins and Minerals
Sugar is a carbohydrate that must be broken down by the body before it can be utilized as energy. To metabolize glucose, your body must utilize vitamins and minerals such as vitamin B, iron, zinc, magnesium and chromium.
Consuming too much sugar depletes your body and your breast milk of these minerals, which is not good for you or your baby.
Your baby may demand more milk to replace the depleted nutrient, or it may begin to crave sugar too. Be sure to eat enough vegetables to ensure a nourishing milk supply.
Sugar Lowers Your Immunity
A 2019 study published in Clinical Experiments Immunology showed that a diet high in processed sugar decreases of white blood cells to ward off viruses and bacteria.
These white blood cells, called dendritic cells, regulate the immune system. Acute or consistent consumption of fructose disables them.
Sugar also raises blood glucose. The excess feeds parasites, yeast and bacteria in your gut, leaving you vulnerable to all kinds of progressive illnesses.
Sugar Causes High Blood Sugar and Heart Disease
Sugar is “the silent killer” so it is not a good idea to increase your consumption of it during any time of your life.
According to a Harvard Medical School Publishing article, consuming too much causes heart disease, diabetes, high blood pressure, inflammation and weight gain.
To avoid raising your blood sugar, consume no more than 6 teaspoons of sugar a day (or 24 grams.) You can get all the glucose you need a day from fruit.
Eating fiber can offset the health consequences of having a sweet tooth. Adding whole grains, oatmeal and brown rice to your daily diet can assist with post pregnancy cravings.
If you eat too many sweets in one day, you can lower blood glucose levels by having a drink of water. Staying hydrated also helps keep mother’s milk flowing.
There are other ways that breastfeeders can boost their serotonin levels other than giving into their sweet tooth.
Eat More Tryptophan Rich Protein
It’s not sugar, but protein that is responsible for sustaining high levels of serotonin in the brain. However, for this to happen you need to consume a protein that contains tryptophan. This is an amino acid that converts into serotonin.
Animal products are the richest sources of tryptophan rich protein. Eat more meat, turkey, fish, eggs and dairy products while pregnant and during post pregnancy to enhance your mood and sleep.
Some carbs also contain small amounts of protein such as brown rice, sweet potato and nuts. These are filling foods with good fats that help fight sugar cravings.
Fruits high in tryptophan include avocados, kiwis, bananas, strawberry, melon, pineapple, figs, apricots, mandarins, grapefruit and grapes.
Get Some Fresh Air
Many new moms accidentally lower their serotonin levels by not getting enough fresh air. This is possibly because they are trying to catch up on their sleep between feedings.
Even a short walk around the block or sitting in the sun can help raise your serotonin levels and reduce your post pregnancy cravings.
Get Some Cuddles
Affectionate post pregnancy touching, such as cuddling from a partner can go a long way towards reducing cravings. Human touch sets off a feel good chemical called oxytocin that makes you feel comforted and content like glucose does.
Breastfeeding mamas can wean themselves off sugar, especially if it is caused by a lack of healthy fats and nutrient dense foods. The key is to add healthy foods to your daily diet that slow down the raising of blood glucose levels.
A lack of sleep during the first few months of motherhood, when your baby is constantly waking you up to be fed, is almost impossible to avoid. Maintaining a healthy baby weight through timely feedings is a priority.
The answer is to not focus on sleep for now, but be sure to drink at least ten glasses of water a day. Staying hydrated also lowers blood sugar levels.
To wean yourself off sugar, start off by eating four or five small meals of healthy food a day. This will result in a protein-rich milk supply and a resulting healthy baby weight.
You can ward off that sugar craving by having a tryptophan-rich snack that also contains healthy fats, such as nuts, avocado on whole-grain toast, or a deviled egg.
If you suspect your sweet cravings have an emotional trigger, then try and identify what that trigger might be, recognize or express the emotion and see if that helps combat your sugar cravings.
Don’t be too hard on yourself if you can quit sugar cold turkey. Glucose is an addiction. If you are feeling really depressed after a pregnancy, seek professional medical advice.
New moms will find quitting sugar harder because of the constant need to feed your baby. Once you are able to get more sleep, it will be easier to get your sweet tooth under control.