My online (and now 'in-person' friend) Leah Gilbert from Body Positive Athletes contacted me a few months back when her beautiful baby boy, Ravi was born. Basically she was fed-up with the expectations placed on new mums to loose 'that' baby weight and quickly get back to their pre-baby weight (ASAP)! She believes that receiving the comment of “wow you look like you never had a baby!” has essentially become an indicator of success in motherhood. Well, we disagree.
One of her priorities once Ravi was born was to find information that would help her make smart food decisions that would not only fuel her body’s recovery, but get her through the day with as much energy as possible. Needless to say when she entered ‘post-natal nutrition’ into the search engines, all she got back was ‘lose that baby weight fast’, or ‘baby belly diet’. Even so-called resource sites for parents provided a tone of ‘eat well, but don’t go eating too much’ in their information. Not one site provided information from an ‘eating for performance’ perspective, which is a main focus of hers given she is a runner and triathlete. Not only was she looking after a new-born AND a 3-year old, but focusing on base training with interrupted sleep. I feel exhausted just thinking about this!
So Leah got in touch and we created this 3 part instalment around eating for recovery post-birth and preparing for a training come back! For this fist part Leah asked the simple questions of "what are some important nutritional considerations for all new mums?"
First and foremost I believe it’s important to obtain the right mindset when it comes to nutrition when you’re a new mum. Everyone will want to tell you how to get rid of (that) baby weight. But your body has just endured the most taxing (yet amazing) experience, and you now have a tiny bundle that angelically demands your energy and steals your sleep. You now need to focus on eating well so your body can recover, to keep you healthy and make sure your energy levels are as high as they can be.
You will find that focusing on eating for health will lead to a natural shift in weight, without compromising your nutrition and zapping your energy (I’m looking at you FAD DIETS)! Having regular meals and snacks is the cornerstone of optimal nutrition post child-birth. This will ensure that you’re getting all of your nutrients and maintaining good energy levels at the same time.
Although it may sound easier than it is, always take time to eat your three main meals and be prepared with nourishing snacks. This may mean sneaking in lunch when your new bub is asleep, setting yourself up with a ‘snack box’ for feeding time, or getting creative with one-handed snacks and meals such as fruit, nuts, smoothies, boiled eggs, sandwiches and wholegrain crisp breads with avocado or hummus. To help you get organised, try to pre-plan your weekly meals and snacks and do some meal prep when you can. This may mean using a day during the week to prepare some meals that can be reheated or hold-up well in the fridge, utilising on-line shopping and saying yes to help offered by family and friends.
In regards to key nutrient considerations, the Australian Guide to Healthy Eating is a good guide for any new mum. These guidelines will point out the variety of food groups (and amounts) required during this stage of your life and can be found here. These guidelines underpin some key considerations including:
Adequate protein You have probably heard that eating enough protein is important to help repair, build and maintain the trillions of cells in our body. This is extremely important for recovery after child birth, particularly to help to make haemoglobin, the part of red blood cells that carries oxygen around your body (remember all of that blood you lost), build muscle cells to support strength and maintain the cells to support the immune system. Good sources of protein include dairy foods, eggs, nuts, seeds, seafood, poultry, beef, tofu and legumes.
Adequate calcium Calcium deposits as a crystal on our bones to give them their hard strength. Our body also requires calcium (along with vitamin D) to help transmit nerves, regulate the hearts rhythm and assist with blood clotting. If our body doesn’t get enough through food, it will borrow it from our bones, which therefore decreases their strength. This bone loss can occur more frequently during lactation proving how important calcium is after the delivery of your bub. Good (readily absorbed) sources of calcium include milk, cheese, yoghurt, fortified soy milk, tofu and the bones of sardines and salmon (just mash them before eating). Calcium is also found in almonds and green leafy vegetables, however the absorption of calcium from these foods is quite low, meaning they are not very good sources.
Adequate iron The amount of blood lost during delivery will vary from woman to woman, but it’s important to remember, that where there is blood loss, there is also iron loss. This may lead to iron deficiency anaemia, especially if iron levels were already low during pregnancy. Anaemia will lead to exhaustion – maybe it isn’t just the lack of sleep that you are experiencing! We chat about iron later on.
Adequate carbohydrate Although the first nutrient to get shunned by the media, carbohydrate is essential to support the immune system and maintain good energy levels while you juggle your duties as a new mum. Also, foods that contain carbohydrate often provide fibre to help prevent constipation – a common post-natal complaint! Eating carbohydrate foods that break down to glucose more slowly can really help to stabilise your energy levels. These foods include legumes (chickpeas, kidney beans, baked beans, lentils etc.), oats, fruit, milk, yoghurt, quinoa, barley, corn, sourdough, rye and wholegrain breads and low GI brown rice.
Next week’s instalment focuses on key considerations to make when planning to return to training after baby has arrived.