Crohn's Disease & Motherhood: Breastfeeding (Nursing or Pumping) and Diet

During my pregnancy, I knew I wanted to breastfeed my daughter, but that my ability to do so would very much depend on my body, my Crohn’s disease, and my baby’s body too. In preparation, I asked my doctor several questions about my health and the medications I used to manage my disease, which you can read more about here.

Although I talked to other breastfeeding moms, and other IBD moms who both nursed and pumped, there was SO much I learned as a crash course postpartum. Staying hydrated was a challenge for many moms, but staying hydrated as a breastfeeding mom with Crohn’s disease was both hard and critical. So was getting nutrition. My daughter arrived 4.5 weeks early, and although she was healthy and only spent 24 hours in the NICU, she was a small baby with a small mouth who struggled to nurse. Several weeks into our feeding journey, I became an exclusive pumping mom, and four months later I’m still at it.

Here’s what I’ve experienced regarding diet in the time that I’ve been breastfeeding:

Safe foods during and after pregnancy:

I have previously written about my safe foods and how pregnancy and IBD were similar in that regard. While my Crohn’s stayed in remission during my pregnancy, I had morning sickness for all 35 weeks that I carried my daughter. This meant that my food choices were extremely limited. After delivery, I had no idea how my body, my Crohns, or my food aversions would respond, but I knew that I would be hungry much more often.

It was clear too that I'd have much less time to food prep/make meals, so having “grab and go” type items or reliable carry out restaurants readily available was really important. I knew with my history that if I got too hungry I’d get nauseous, and if I ate carelessly, I’d be running to the bathroom far more often than I could afford with a newborn in my hands.

This was my first priority - stocking up on safe foods. Things that I knew before and during pregnancy worked for my specific stomach. Personal examples included crackers, Belvita biscuits, Nature Valley peanut butter biscuit sandwiches, uncrustable peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, bagels, chicken nuggets, plain hamburgers. I know from experience this list varies not just person to person, but as pregnancy hormones fluctuate post-delivery too, it took time for my taste buds to reappear and pregnancy nausea to disappear.

Re-introducing protein:

As you can see, my list above involves a lot of carbs. I found that foods like protein that could sustain me for longer were imperative. Breastfeeding made me hungrier than I’d been in a long time, maybe as hungry as I was when I was on prednisone steroids for my Crohn’s disease, but I had to always remember to be sensitive to my stomach.

As my list of appealing foods increased after the arrival of my daughter, I tried to incorporate proteins as often as possible. Peanut butter was always an easy and safe way to do this, but I did learn that there were only so many meals in a row I could eat peanut butter.

This is where it was important to re-introduce lean proteins like eggs, meat, and chicken for meals, and things like oats, nuts, cheese and yogurt to my snacks. Of course, some of these items are easier to eat while holding/feeding my daughter than others, so those usually take precedence.

Diet impact on breastmilk

Because I was my daughter's primary source of nutrition, I knew I needed to make sure I was eating as much of a balanced diet as I could manage. As was during pregnancy, sticking to safe foods, carb life, or easy to digest junk foods would “protect” my guts but not give my developing baby everything she needed. This was a hard balance to find, but I have found it easier during breastfeeding than I did during pregnancy. The now-gone morning sickness has helped immensely in relieving me of food aversions, daily nausea, and vomiting!

Diet impact on bowels

As a new mom, I was so nervous about finding time to be in the bathroom. I was also nervous about needing to poop while breastfeeding (nursing or pumping). Here’s what I learned. There’s NO WAY to avoid this. In the beginning, I nursed my daughter while also on the toilet. I currently still have had to pump while on the toilet. It felt really awkward and even gross at first, but guess what, I had no choice. My stomach told me I had to go, and my daughter told me she needed to eat. This - I began to just smile at. What a great multitasker I’d become hahaha.

Please feel free to share below any questions you have or anything you’d like to share about breastfeeding and diet with Crohn’s disease, I’d be happy to chat more about my experiences and what I’ve learned!

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