The postnatal period (first three months) for a woman is a new and challenging time.
Sleep deprivation for parents is the most critical. Having experienced sleep deprivation myself, I know how easy it is to make poor food choices, lack energy and suffer from postnatal depression.
No matter your best-laid plans to eat well in this postnatal period, it very simply just doesn’t happen amidst the chaos of having a newborn, unless you are fortunate enough to have someone prepare all your meals for you.
The health and wellbeing of a new mum is just as important as the care of a baby in the postnatal period. The mother has just given birth and still continues to be the vital source of nutrients for her breast-fed baby for up to six months and beyond. Her body is adjusting to the trauma of childbirth, her mind and emotions are feeling it all, and her hormones are adjusting to dealing with all the loved up cuddles and the terrible toddler (if there is one!). And, although some women are unable to breast-feed their baby, most are able to. Good breast milk production, as well as energy required to function, relies on rest and good nutrition.
I know how difficult it is to eat well and stay hydrated in the postnatal period. I did it 4 times and each time didn’t get easier.
I know how easy it is to reach for the most calorie rich and energy dense foods in times of absolute exhaustion.
Unfortunately some of these foods can alter our moods, and make any anxiety or post natal depression symptoms worse.
Often you have your baby in your arms either breastfeeding or settling. Trying to eat something at the same time. Breastfeeding can make you VERY hungry.
Or, you are trying to catch up on sleep while your baby is asleep.
So when exactly do you fit in eating meal preparation or even eating?
Here are some of my top tips to try to keep on top of your nutrition and feeling your best.
- Stay hydrated! Breast milk is approximately 70% water. Always drink a large glass of water when breastfeeding. Aim to drink at least 2 litres of water a day.
- Postnatal mums need to consume more calories and nutrients to help breast milk production and recovery after birth. Try to eat regularly i.e. six snack size meals or three main meals, whatever is easy and works for you. This will also help to keep your immune system strong which is vital during this period.
- Try to keep your fridge stocked with as many fresh vegetables as you can. Remember to EAT THE RAINBOW to try to consume as many micronutrients as you can. Even better – get your partner, mother, or a friend to slice, dice and julienne your veggies so that you can snack on them throughout the day.
- Don’t be in a rush to lose your pregnancy weight. Rapid weight loss can effect breast milk production. When you finally feel up to it, daily exercise such as walking with your baby in a pram or sling can be very beneficial.
- Increase protein rich foods i.e. fish, meats, dairy, eggs and legumes. Protein helps the body to recover and satisfies a ravenous appetite.
- Increase calcium rich foods i.e. dairy, salmon, sardines, legumes, dark leafy greens, tahini and dried figs in your diet. 1300mg/day of calcium is required for breastfeeding mothers and the production of breast milk. Enough calcium now may also help prevent possible osteoporosis later in life.
- Sleep deprived and low in energy, we often look to carbohydrates for that quick energy fix i.e. biscuit, muffin, cake, and toast with jam etc, because it’s easy and accessible. Carbohydrates are really sugars. The more we eat them, the more we crave them – a vicious cycle. Opt for complex carbohydrates i.e. wholegrain breads and cereals over simple carbohydrates i.e. biscuits, muffins, cakes etc, for longer lasting energy.
- Combine your complex carbohydrate with protein for a satisfying snack or meal i.e. peanut butter on toast, cheese on wholegrain crackers, cereal with milk and/or natural yoghurt.
- Quick and easy one-handed healthy and nutritious snack/meals include fresh fruit, dried fruit, nuts and seeds, yoghurt, smoothies, crackers with peanut butter or cheese, sandwiches (if your fillings don’t need to be pre-cut) and cereal.
The nutritional aim for women in this postnatal period is to stay hydrated, eat wholesome nutritional food and rest where possible. It sounds easy but it isn’t. Pre-planning of meals is essential. So is getting someone to help out with the chores around the home. If friends and family offer to help, take them up on their offer. Don’t be a superwoman. No one is expecting you to be. Enjoy being a mum and enjoy the quality time with your precious baby.
And remember to ask for help if things get a little overwhelming.