Honoring Your Hunger (And Breastfeeding Hunger) as a New Mom

  Mar 20, 2019  |  #Intuitive Eating
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I’ve been meaning to write this post to new moms for quite some time now. Breastfeeding hunger is a real phenomenon, and it can be easy to miss hunger cues as a new mom. Although I technically have been a mom for close to a year now (!), I still feel very new. I can’t tell you all the times I’ve felt inadequate or that I have no idea what I’m doing. One minute I feel like I know Camryn and her schedule like the back of my hand, and the next she’s a whole new baby with new cries and demands.

But, one thing is for sure – I have no trouble honoring my hunger and respecting and acknowledging the breastfeeding hunger that comes with nursing. Many of the new moms I work with are intimidated by this feeling of constant hunger, whether they’re breastfeeding or not. They feel as if they’ve done something wrong to feel hungry all the time. So, I’m going to talk about what I see and the main reasons for this. While I’m talking in terms of breastfeeding hunger for much of this post, many references can be made to hunger in general. Feel free to drop any more questions below and I’ll try to get to them.

How to handle breastfeeding hunger

While people should probably be googling “breastfeeding hunger” and how to help it, instead they are googling “how to lose weight while breastfeeding” or “breastfeeding diet plan to lose weight,” which tells me they are both ashamed and scared by these feelings of hunger.

Yet, they’re only perpetuating diet culture in not honoring them. So, let’s talk all about hunger and why it’s a good thing.

Why Do I Have Breastfeeding Hunger?

Well, think about it – you are producing food (breast milk) for a baby. That takes a lot of work and energy on your body’s part and it’s resulting in your own breastfeeding hunger. To make milk, your body is using your fat stores and energy reserves, and it can disappear almost as quickly as you make it. Most babies eat every 2-4 hours, so if you think about it, that’s a ton of energy your body is making and using around the clock so it certainly requiers extra calories. This is on top of the other energy your body requires around the clock, like for your heart to pump, kidneys to filter, lungs to breathe, and more. And if you’re exercising on top of that, we’ll that’s even MORE energy you need to replenish. Eating enough is also important for maintaining milk supply.

Now that Camryn is older, I’m not nursing as much since she relies more on solids now. But, I remember the early days. I remember breastfeeding hunger being more potent than any post marathon hunger I’ve ever had. Again, this is a constant thing your body has to devote energy to. I would eat, be satisfied for a minute or two, and then feel the need to eat again.

I relied on so many bars, bites and packaged snacks, anything that I could get my hands on quickly when hunger strikes. In the early days, I remember needing a snack every time we woke up during the night. Now, I still even have nights where I wake up hungry and need to eat. I feel very in tune with my hunger and while it hasn’t happened overnight, it’s something I never think to question anymore.

toast with yogurt and peanut butter

Becoming Aware of Your Hunger

This is where most of my clients get hung up because when you’ve ignored your hunger for so long, you may not know what hunger feels like. Your body may have blunted some of the signs. The other reason this is so hard for clients is because hunger is scary. It forces you to think about food (maybe something you’re actively trying not to think about or something you overly focus on already). Whether it’s primal hunger, breastfeeding hunger, or any type of hunger, I encourage you to take some time to become familiar with your early hunger warning signs. Some of the common signs of hunger include:

  • Tired or lethargic
  • Growling or grumbling stomach
  • Headache
  • Inability to Focus
  • Nausea
  • Irritated
  • Can’t stop thinking about food

There’s no exact blueprint since all of us are different but you should know what yours are. For me, hunger manifests as a complete inability to think about anything else other than food. I can’t focus on Camryn without getting frustrated, I can’t keep my mind on task for work, and I keep thinking about what food I want.

Normalizing Hunger & Breastfeeding Hunger

Hunger gets a bad rap, but I love working to normalize it. It is a good thing.

What should hunger feel like?

Like my other nondiet dietitians, I like to use the hunger scale with my clients. I like the general idea of it, to help bring awareness of what hunger feels like for you. Sometimes, it takes a little journaling and recognizing trends to understand signs from your body that are actually hunger.

In general, I tell my clients that physical hunger usually comes on gradually, while emotional hunger may be more sporatic. But, breastfeeding hunger isn’t always gradual either. It can come on very suddenly, which is why it’s important for new breastfeeding moms to be equipped with easy snacks nearby.

Kind Protein Bar

But, more about being in tune with hunger signs from your body. Maybe you’re not tired at the supposed 3 pm slump like you think you are, you’re just hungry. Or, no wonder you can’t concentrate in your 10am meeting – it’s usually 3 hours after breakfast and you’re not having a morning snack – you’re very hungry! As new moms, this hunger scale becomes even more important because we can lose track of time (and energy), and before we know it, breastfeeding hunger has the best of us and we are long past the initial signs of hunger.

The Hunger Scale

Increased hunger while breastfeeding is completely normal and warranted. It makes so much sense as to why we would have it. What I see being most important here is acknowledging the early signs of hunger and preventing ourselves from getting to the “starving” and “hangry” levels. Once you to a certain point, the end goal is just to get food. We lose all mindfulness, we lose enjoyment and we can’t gauge our fullness levels as easily. It’s easier to overshoot our hunger, meaning go from one extreme (very hungry) to the other (very full), without feeling the in between.

Hunger Scale, how to honor your breastfeeding hunger

Ideally, you notice your hunger before you get to a 1 or a 2 because those are unpleasant feelings that no one likes to feel. I like to eat when I am a 3 or a 4 because I’m not so hungry that I can’t enjoy my meal. I can think clearly and have time to put something together or eat my meal mindfully, when possible. While this may seem foreign at first, the more you do it, the more natural it becomes. Soon enough, you won’t have to think about the feelings of hunger, you’ll instinctively eat when your body gives you a sign.

Why Is It So Important To Listen To Your Hunger?

Breastfeeding hunger, primal hunger, stress hunger, whatever hunger you have, all are important signs from your body. We never want to ignore hunger. Hunger is a sign from our body, just like thirst or the need to pee. And we don’t question those signs do we?

Developing Trust With Your Body

One of the main reasons to honor your hunger is that it helps establish trust with your body. Every time you feed your body when it’s asking for food, you’re establishing trust. You’re saying, “hey body, I hear you. I got you.” It’s important to be aware that sometimes this isn’t a physical sensation of hunger. You may want to eat something to reminisce, to socialize, or just because you’re feeling emotional. They also provide opportunities to enhance trust.

I also want to mention that this may be new as you experience increased hunger with breastfeeding. Maybe it’s to a level you’ve never experienced before. Your body is smart – it needs more energy to perform everything it has to do.

Ignoring Hunger Can Lead to Overeating and Binge Eating

The other reason to listen to hunger is because it can prevent over eating or binge eating tendencies. If we think about the hunger scale, if we ignore early hunger signs and maybe wait until we’re a 1 or a 2 to eat, we’re more likely to eat more than is comfortable for our body. While binge eating is a classified eating disorder with criteria, it usually happens because people are not eating enough. The bodies natural response to restriction is to try to get a lot of food.

Easy Snack Ideas For Breastfeeding Hunger

Now, with all of this being said, I think it’s important for new moms to keep easy-to-grab snacks on hand and available for when hunger does come on. Carbohydrate-based snacks are usually the easiest to grab on the fly and are great for quick energy. However, adding protein and fat alongside can keep you satiated for longer so I encourage clients to try to keep some options on hand when possible. I love making snack plates, too.

Snack plate with carrots, turkey, strawberries and peanut butter

Here are some of my other favorites:

I plan on also writing a post about snack hunger vs. meal hunger and I’m doing an instagram live on hunger soon.

Do you have any other hunger questions?

Anyone else experience breastfeeding hunger? Did you have any go to snacks?

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5 responses to “Honoring Your Hunger (And Breastfeeding Hunger) as a New Mom

  1. I loved this post; even though I haven’t gotten married and don’t have the prospect of a baby any time soon; so many of these principles are ones that I’m learning right now when it comes to honoring your hunger and not getting too hungry. I love the hunger/fullness scale. 🙂

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