Craving sugar while breastfeeding is common with nursing mothers. By the time you read this post to completion, you will know why and how to fix it.
Have you ever felt like you could eat a whale and you’d still not feel full while breastfeeding? If your answer is yes, I can definitely relate!
When I was pregnant, I had different cravings per trimester. For my first trimester, I craved ‘buka food’ (street food). In my second, it was specifically TFC’s chicken and chips (the security guard always saved me a parking spot. Bless him!). For my third trimester, it was solids and any kind of soup! I suddenly developed a dislike for sweet things while pregnant and I hoped it remained that way beyond pregnancy. So, imagine my surprise when I started to breastfeed and I was constantly craving SUGAR! And by sugar, I really mean anything sweet. CONSTANTLY! Turns out, this is really common while breastfeeding and there are reasons why. Here’s what you need to know about sugar cravings while breastfeeding:
Basic Reasons for Craving Sugar While Breastfeeding
There are several hypotheses for the causes of sugar cravings. Let’s discuss the 3 major ones:
- The Brain. The area of the brain responsible for memory, pleasure, and reward seems to be activated when one is experiencing cravings. This seems to suggest that your brain attaches some memories to a particular food.
- Hormones. Serotonin and leptin are hormones that have been seen to play a role with sugar cravings. Leptin is a hormone responsible for appetite suppression. It is produced by fat cells in the body. This is how it works; when you eat, your body fat goes up and leptin is produced. Leptin then sends a message to your brain that you don’t need to eat as much. Conversely, when you don’t eat, leptin levels are low, this then triggers you to crave food and the cycle continues. Serotonin is a hormone that plays a role in regulating your mood and impulsive behaviors. When in good amount, serotonin is your best friend, keeping you happy and filled with positivity. In low levels, serotonin can leave you craving carbs like never before.
- Stress. The common six-letter word every new mum is familiar with. The words stress and restraint don’t exactly mix well. Stress triggers impulsive eating behaviors in the hopes of feeling better. This is called emotional cravings. Most times, you may find yourself craving sweet, fried or fatty foods.
Now that we’ve established the three main reasons for sugar cravings, let’s add motherhood into the mix.
The Big ‘M’ and Cravings
If you’re still wondering, the big ‘M’ is mummyhood! A land where everything changes! Being a mum comes with some amount of stress, plenty of hormonal changes and of course ‘mum-brain’. The cravings for unhealthy stuff can certainly double. Mums are at higher risk for cravings due to some reasons:
- Sleep is foreign to you. You just had a baby! He only sleeps for a max of four hours and is awake every two hours to feed. Where’s the time to sleep?
- You’re not getting enough sleep so stress is almost inevitable. On top of that, you may have other children and other things to attend to. This predisposes you to stress which then leads to emotional cravings
- You’re not eating well. And by well, I mean healthy! I know this one is particularly hard when you have a little human to care for
- You’ve stopped taking your prenatal vitamins. Some studies show a relationship between some nutrient deficiencies and sugar cravings. Plenty of new mums think that prenatal vitamins are not necessary beyond pregnancy. This is simply untrue. It is even more important to take them after pregnancy as you’re likely to suffer rather than your baby when you don’t consume some nutrients
Is Sugar Really Bad for Me
The simple answer? No! sugar isn’t bad for you. It’s the excess of it that can be bad. In our culture, there are a lot of myths surrounding sugar consumption. I remember the day we were discharged from the hospital after I had my son, I was really craving for a soda. I reached for one in the fridge and all hell broke loose. My mum, aunt, and uncle all kept saying I couldn’t take the drink as it would make my baby stool. It didn’t make sense to me that it was fine to take a soda while pregnant but suddenly become taboo while breastfeeding. The occasional soda drink is fine Mama. Sometimes you need that quick burst of energy. Just don’t overdo it. It’s best to settle for complex carbs with high fiber content as they leave you feeling full longer and can help curb your cravings. Examples of complex carbs are oats, potatoes, whole wheat bread, whole-wheat pasta, and other whole grains.
What can I do to Control My Cravings for Sugar While Breastfeeding?
- Avoid Hunger: As easy as this sounds, this may sometimes be difficult especially in the first few months postpartum, aka the fourth trimester. This time is usually an adjustment period for a lot of mums and food may sometimes not be a priority. Try to make it one! In my prenatal breastfeeding classes, I usually advise mums to cook soups and stews and store them in the freezer ahead of time. This helps shorten the preparation time and can even save you from wondering what to eat each time.
- Drink Water A lot: Hydration is pretty essential for breastfeeding. You may find that you feel thirsty after a feed. This is normal. Aim to drink three liters of water daily. Not only does it help with your supply, but it can also help keep you full and can ward off your cravings.
- Eat Good Carbs: Okay, let me talk a bit more about serotonin. It’s a pretty important hormone. Remember I said it regulates mood changes? When in sufficient quantity, you’re happy and full of life. Mood disorders are usually treated with medications that help increase serotonin levels in the body. Now the question to ask is, can I get serotonin from my diet? The answer is yes and no. it is believed that when you eat foods high in ‘tryptophan’, you can boost your serotonin levels.
‘’Tryptophan is an amino acid found in foods high in protein, iron, vitamin B2 and vitamin B6. Carbs cause the body to release more insulin, which promotes amino acid absorption and leaves tryptophan in the blood. If you mix high-tryptophan foods with carbs, you might get a serotonin boost. Good carbs like oatmeal are especially useful’’.
- Take Your Prenatal Vitamins: As stated previously, some deficiency in nutrients has been associated with cravings. Magnesium, in particular, has been linked.
- Get some zzzs (sleep): Yes, I mean get some sleep. I know sleep when the baby sleeps isn’t practical advice but delegating is. Express some milk so someone else can feed the baby while you catch a nap. Aim for short 15–30-minute naps. Sometimes they’re all you need to feel better. Have someone take the baby out for a walk down the street for 15 minutes. Take a nap while someone else gives the baby a nap. Have your partner carry your baby skin to skin for a few minutes and take a nap. Find a way, your health depends on it!
- Eat Nuts and Seeds: Remember what I said about high tryptophan foods? Nuts and seeds are chock full of tryptophan.
- Exercise: Nothing scares away cravings like the pain you feel in your muscles the second day after you begin a new routine of exercise. Take a walk, change your scenery. It may be all the distraction you need to curb that craving.
Did you find this helpful? Please share (with credit of course) to other mums who may find this helpful as well. If you have any questions, feel free to drop them in the comments or send me a mail at firstname.lastname@example.org
IBCLC, B. Pharm