We all know how important nutrition is during pregnancy, but what about afterwards?
After delivering a baby, whether it is naturally or by c-section, your body is healing, recovering and starting to produce breastmilk. Proper nutrition is key for recovery and milk production yet many moms are so focused on their babies and other children (not to mention sleep deprived and overwhelmed) that they often neglect their own health and nutrition during the most critical time.
I get it, I had a baby two weeks ago. I remember, after I delivered my son, the last thing on my mind was eating balanced healthy meals and snacks. And I'm a Dietitian! I was so focused on nursing and nurturing my wounds that I forgot about the most important element of healing and nursing—proper nutrition. My mom or husband literally had to place food in front of me to remind me to eat and I'm so thankful that they did. Now that my second baby just arrived, I've made sure to do some planning to make sure that I eat and drink properly. If you are expecting a baby or have just had a baby, please read on...
Just because you don't have a regular or normal schedule doesn't mean that it's ok to skip breakfast. Make sure that you eat a balanced healthy meal when you get up in the morning (even if you plan on going back to sleep in an hour or two). I find it easiest to eat before my baby's first feeding to make sure that I fit it in. After all, you need proper nutrition to produce breastmilk and often in the beginning, feedings can take up to an hour. It doesn't have to be fancy or substantial, but it should include some protein, a source of whole grain, some fruit or veggies, and something to hydrate you (water, milk, milk alternative, diluted 100% fruit juice). If you need to, grab a muffin, a piece of fruit, and a glass of milk to eat while you feed.
Whether you prepare these meals before you deliver your baby or you have your friends and family deliver meals to you after your baby is born, it's essential that you have some healthy homecooked meals ready to heat up when you have a newborn. I delivered my baby 2 weeks ago and I can honestly tell you that we've only prepared 2-3 meals (extremely easy meals) ourselves—the rest of our supper meals have come from generous family and friends. With a two-year-old and a newborn, it's next to impossible to prepare balanced healthy suppers every night. You may not feel comfortable coming out and asking people to make you food—I get it. But I'm willing to bet there will be several offers to help and people who want to know what you need after your baby comes. Here's your chance to say something like "you know what would help so much? A meal."
Your focus should be on building a strong bond with your new baby, establishing breastfeeding if that's how you choose to feed your baby, resting when you can, and recovering from labour or a c-section. During the first week or two, you will need help with cleaning, laundry, meals, snacks and general upkeep of your home. It's important that you are able to rely on your partner, a parent or a friend to help you take care of your surroundings so that you can take care of your baby and yourself.
I've found that the best snacks are washed and cut up fruit and veggies, homemade high fibre cookies and muffins, individual yogurts, homemade trail mix, hard-boiled eggs, and granola bars. Do yourself a favour and stock up on healthy snacks before baby comes. Have your partner make sure that there is always a good assortment of ready-to-eat fruits and veggies so that you don't have to mess around with rinsing them and cutting them up. When you're 8 months pregnant, bake some muffins and cookies and put them in the freezer for when baby comes.
If you choose to breastfeed your baby, it's extremely important that you stay hydrated. You're always keep a full water bottle or glass of water within arms reach of where you nurse your baby. Drink frequently and before you feel thirsty instead of waiting until you're parched—you are dehydrated at that point. If your urine is dark yellow and/or concentrated, that is another indication that you are dehydrated so make sure that you make an effort to drink more frequently—your milk supply depends on it.
These three nutrients are extremely important for maintaining yours and your baby's health during breastfeeding and to help with recovery from labour, especially if you are a vegetarian. For protein, focus on lean meats, poultry and fish, eggs, dairy, beans and lentils, nuts and seeds and meat alternatives such as soy. These foods are all good sources of iron as well with the exception of dairy foods. To help absorb as much iron as possible, make sure to include foods that are high in Vitamin C (for example—citrus fruits) if you are eating non-animal sources of iron. Milk, yogurt and cheese are the best sources of calcium but dark green veggies and some nuts and seeds also provide calcium.
Tune into your hunger cues so that you avoid getting overly hungry. Most new Moms are so focused on taking care of their babies, not to mention completely exhausted, that they forget to eat at normal intervals, but it's really important to eat every 3 hours or so to produce nutritious breastmilk, to avoid major energy lulls (which can trigger irritability and loss of patience), to heal properly and to maintin your overall health. Don't wait until you are starving- this can lead to overeating and choosing less-than-healthy choices.
Some formula companies are not only marketing formula for babies but also—if you can believe it—formula for pregnant women and moms. You can read about why I strongly discourage the consumption of these "mom formulas" here. With the exception of your prenatal multivitamin and perhaps a Vitamin D supplement and Omega 3 (if you don't eat fish), you should focus on REAL food to nourish your body.
As much and you want to shed all of your baby wait NOW, it is not the time to diet. If you are exclusively breastfeeding, you are expending approximately an extra 400-500 calories per day, so it's important that you eat an additional 250-350 calories per day to maintain your milk supply. Don't worry, you will slowly and healthfully lose your pregnancy weight over a period of weeks or months if you are eating a well-balanced and nutrient-rich diet and limiting high sugar, high fat, refined and processed foods most of the time. Once breastfeeding is established, a weight loss of one pound per week is healthy and shouldn't effect your milk supply.
Too much caffeine can lead to dehydration and may agitate your baby and interfere with his or her sleep. Limit yourself to no more than 2 to 3 cups (16 to 24 ounces) of caffeinated drinks a day. Focus instead on hydrating drinks such as water, milk and other decaffeinated drinks. When it comes to alcohol, there aren't really any well defined guidelines. The effects of alcohol consumption on a breastfed baby depends on how much the mother is ingesting. According to the La Leche League, alcohol passes freely into a mother's milk and has been found to peak about 30 to 60 minutes after consumption, 60 to 90 minutes when taken with food. I usually suggest that breastfeeding moms (especially during the first few months) limit their alcohol consumption to one standard drink per day to be safe. If you plan to drink more, make sure that you have pumped breastmilk or formula on hand so that you can safely feed your baby.