Supporting Postpartum and Nursing Moms + Pumpkin Granola
As it turns out, practically everyone around us recently welcomed or is expecting a new addition to their families. What an incredible blessing to be surrounded by all these tiny fingers and toes and tummies and sweet faces!
Working in clinical, community and private settings over the years, I’ve helped many expectant and new moms and their babies with issues ranging from prenatal nutrition and pregnancy complications to postpartum weight loss and breastfeeding. It’s truly a passion, and now more than ever the work that excites and challenges me professionally also allows me to be a resource and champion for my loved ones. I am beyond delighted.
What in the world does all of that have to do with granola?
A few things, actually. First, you might call me a granola enthusiast. In addition to fresh breads, it’s come to be something I’m known for among friends and family. And it’s always something I include in my care packages for new moms.
After an intensely demanding nine months, the period shortly after delivery is a time to revitalize, recover, and rejuvenate. A diet incorporating a variety of healthy, nutrient-packed foods helps replenish lost stores, eases and hastens the recovery process, and provides much-needed energy. My pumpkin granola is packed with important nutrients, including fiber, protein, omega-3 fats, and a variety of essential vitamins and minerals.
It just so happens that this granola also features a number of the core ingredients believed to be galactogogues. Galactogogues are foods that may help nursing moms naturally promote lactation. On the list: oats, flaxseed, dried fruits, nuts and seeds. To account for the increased calorie needs during breastfeeding (300 to 500 additional calories per day on average), granola is a calorie-dense breakfast or snack option. On its own or served with milk or yogurt, it’s a great way to ensure adequate calories and, if nursing, promote a healthy supply of breastmilk.
What’s so great about it?
Oats are comforting and may help a new mom relax, which in turn may trigger release of the hormone oxytocin and stimulate milk let-down. Dietary fiber is one of the nutrients most important for postpartum moms, particularly for its ability to improve digestion and conquer constipation, and oats are positively packed with it.
Pumpkin provides a subtle natural sweetness and is rich in fiber, antioxidants that can ward off sickness, B vitamins and iron to boost energy, magnesium for stress relief, and potassium to balance the body’s fluids and electrolytes. Flaxseed also contains fiber, as well as phytoestrogens — a plant-based compound that can mildly mimic the hormone estrogen to enhance lactation, and omega-3 fatty acids that not only improve the quality of breastmilk, may also boost quantity, regulate out-of-whack hormones and decrease the risk of postpartum depression.
Cashews and pepitas provide zinc, which can potentially increase concentration of prolactin — the primary hormone for regulating milk protein synthesis. In addition to their lactogenic properties (stimulate milk production), cashews and pepitas provide iron and magnesium for energy, and protein for healing.
Dried cherries and plums are excellent sources of dietary fiber, and offer tons of vitamin C and a good amount of copper for tissue health (important to repair stretched skin); dried cherries are also a moderate source of iron.
Some of the other reasons I love homemade granola: It’s simple and forgiving — basic ingredients you can toss together casually, no need for strict measurement. It’s a healthful, delicious way for anyone to start the day — a balance of sustaining protein, complex carbohydrates and dietary fiber, plus essential good fats from nuts and seeds. It keeps well — breakfasts (or snacks) for the next week or two are a breeze. It’s perfectly portable — take it on the hoof by filling a pint jar with layers of crunchy granola, plain yogurt, and fresh fruit if desired.
And it’s an infinitely customizable “template recipe” that can stay in your stack year-round. Stick to the template of wet to dry proportions, but make it your own with unique flavors and embellishment. In spring and summer, try dried berries and lemon zest, dried peach slices with ginger, mango with coconut shreds, or pineapple with lime zest. In fall and winter, dried fruits like pear, cranberry, fig, currants or dates are marvelous paired with orange zest and warming spices like cinnamon, nutmeg, clove, anise, cardamom and allspice.
Some final notes
While many moms swear by these foods for increased milk production, others report little to no noticeable improvement. Each individual mom and her body are unique, and as such, including galactogogue foods in the diet may or may not boost milk supply. Myriad factors go into making milk and there can be many different causes of low supply, with the most common culprits being inadequate calorie and water intake, high levels of stress, feeding the baby infrequently and/or poor latch, fatigue and lack of sleep. These should be addressed first and foremost, and if low supply is truly a concern, please seek the counsel of an IBCLC (lactation consultant) or your physician/midwife.
Finally, I hope it should go without saying, but to alleviate any fears you may have: this granola can be eaten by anyone looking for a nutritious and flavorful breakfast or snack, not just new moms. I promise it will not lead to spontaneous milk production. You’re safe.
There’s no granola better than homemade, and I highly recommend my autumnal spin with pumpkin and warming spices. I’m enjoying it with the very last of our hand-picked figs and a scoop of plain yogurt. On chillier mornings it’s incredible with steamed or gently warmed milk. So grab your biggest bowl and get to mixing. It’d be a thoughtful, nourishing gift for an expectant or new mom to celebrate her pregnancy — or anyone, really!
Tell me… Are there new or expecting moms in your life who would appreciate a batch of granola? Any personal experience with galactogogue foods? I’d love to read your comments!
- 3 cups rolled oats, GF-certified as needed (see HGN Notes)
- 3/4 cup raw (un-roasted, unsalted) cashews, very coarsely chopped
- 3/4 cup raw pepitas (see HGN Notes for alternative ideas)
- 2 Tbsp + 1 1/2 tsp flaxseed meal (ground flaxseed)
- 1 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
- 1/4 tsp sea salt
- 1/4 cup coconut oil, melted
- 1/3 cup pure honey (or pure maple syrup for vegan -- Grade B is best)
- 1/2 cup unsweetened homemade or canned pumpkin puree (not pumpkin pie filling)
- 2 tsp pure vanilla extract
- 1/4 cup unsweetened dried cherries, coarsely chopped
- 1/4 cup unsweetened dried plums, coarsely chopped (see HGN Notes for fruit alternatives)
- Preheat your oven to 340° F, and set a rack in the middle.
- Mix together the oats, nuts, flax, cinnamon and salt in a large bowl. Set aside.
- In a small saucepan set over medium-low heat, warm the coconut oil, honey (or pure maple syrup), pumpkin puree and vanilla; whisk until everything is combined. Pour over the dry ingredients, and mix well with a rubber scraper or wooden spoon.
- Spread the mixture evenly between two large, unlined baking trays -- you can also bake it in 2 batches, if needed. Bake for a total of 20 to 25 minutes, until the granola is beginning to brown.
- At the halfway point, remove the tray from the oven and stir gently. If you prefer clumpy granola, skip the stirring and instead rotate the pans from top to bottom and front to back for even cooking.
- In the last 5 minutes of the baking time, add your dried fruit.
- When the granola is browned to your liking, remove from the oven and let the granola cool completely on the tray. Transfer granola to a tightly-sealing container or bag, and store at room temperature. Granola will keep about 2 weeks.
I personally find commercial varieties are way too sweet, so this recipe uses only a modest amount of honey (or maple syrup) and relies on the additional natural sweetness of the pumpkin, cinnamon and the fruits. To sweeten it a bit more, you could add unrefined muscovado, maple or coconut sugars, or light brown sugar. I'd start with 1/4 cup, melting it in with the coconut oil, honey, pumpkin and vanilla.
+ This recipe includes a mixture of cashews and pepitas (pumpkin seeds), but any nut or seed combination works. Pecan, hazelnut, macadamia, pistachio, peanut, brazil nut, sunflower seed, sesame or chia seeds. [Or omit altogether, if needed, for dietary or personal preference.]
+ It seems you can find almost any fruit in dried form these days, so play around with different combinations here as well -- black or golden raisins, currants, cranberries or any other berry, apricot, mango, pineapple, papaya, dates, figs.
+ If you wish to include brewer's yeast as an additional potential galactogogue, you may need to look at a natural foods store to find it. I don't personally have experience with it, but have heard that the taste is quite distinctive. You might want to start with 1 Tbsp and see how that goes in terms of flavor, and probably don't go over 2 or 3 Tbsp total. (GF NOTE: Brewer’s yeast is often a by-product of brewing beer, and is very likely contaminated with malt and grain, making it an unsafe ingredient for anyone following a GF diet.)
Recipe adapted from Minimalist Baker.
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