By: Cherie Lyden, Nutritionist
The immediate postnatal period (first three months) for any woman and her partner, especially first time round, is a new and challenging time. Newborns unfortunately don't come with a manual and can be very unpredictable. Sleep deprivation for parents, especially new mums is the most critical. Having experienced this myself a few months ago, it's easy to see how women can experience 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, unless you are fortunate enough to have someone prepare all your meals for you.In my opinion, staying hydrated with water is most important. 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.
I need to emphasise that more focus should be placed on the health and wellbeing of a new mum, and not just the baby in this postnatal period. After all, 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. Although some women are unable to breast-feed their baby, most are able to. Good breast milk production, as well as energy required to simply function, relies on ample rest and good nutrition.
As a new mum, I realise how difficult it is to eat well and stay hydrated in the postnatal period. Often you have babe in arms either breastfeeding or settling. In your delirious state you are often trying to catch up on sleep whilst your baby is asleep. So when exactly do you fit in eating? How do you prepare a nutritious meal with one hand, whilst your baby is in the other? Breastfeeding can make a mum feel quite ravenous. How do you control yourself from attacking the fridge like a wild animal, because you've just realised that you haven't eaten for several hours and it's finally caught up with you? How do you avoid an excess of carbohydrate consumption? What gas producing foods for babies need to be avoided so your baby will be more settled? Here are some simple solutions to help you tackle these problems:
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.
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.
Prepare homemade meals in advance. In your last trimester of pregnancy, fill up your freezer with nutritious meals. And get your family and friends to bring you ready-made meals, to refrigerate or freeze, once you've had your baby.
Organise your partner, a family member or close friend to help out with chores around the house, including reheating or making a meal for you, as well as doing the grocery shopping. Having a well-stocked pantry, fridge and freezer helps.
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.
If breastfeeding, minimise or avoid foods that may have adverse reactions for your baby i.e. colic, wind and abdominal bloating. These foods include caffeine, garlic, chilli, broccoli, cabbage, citrus fruits, chocolate, cucumber, eggs, cows milk and dairy products. Dairy products are a good source of calcium, so only minimise or avoid if you know this is causing the adverse reaction.
In addition to a healthy diet, take a prenatal vitamin and mineral supplement to ensure your vitamin and mineral intake is adequate.
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 simply 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 quality time with your precious baby.
By Cherie Lyden, nutritionist of Lyden Vitality www.lydenvitality.com