As someone working in postnatal nutrition, I get asked a lot what my tips are for helping new mums to recover after birth. Sometimes this comes from a place of wanting to make sure that you are feeling well-nourished and looked after. Other times it comes from a desire to get up and active and moving again.
Whatever your mindset, the postnatal period is an incredibly special time and one that can really set the pace for your journey into motherhood. The first 3 months after birth are known as the Fourth Trimester because they are so critical to the continued development and growth of you as a mother, and your baby. How we treat ourselves in this period can have a huge impact on our physical, emotional and mental health, and that of our babies. So when I work with pregnant women, we always focus on postnatal nutrition too.
I recently spoke to Rosie Cardale, a women's health physiotherapist, about my top 5 tips for women who are in the postnatal period. Rosie was a huge support to me during my pregnancy and for postnatal recovery - I honestly cannot recommend her more highly! Seeing a women's health physio wasn't something that I was really aware of but I am 1000% glad that I did - I really feel that the time I spent with her whilst I was pregnant had a very positive effect on my pregnancy, birth, and ease of recovery. You can follow Rosie on Instagram and watch the postnatal nutrition IGlive we did together here.
So what are my 5 top tips for postnatal nutrition? Well, they aren't all specifically nutrition related, but I think that they are all incredibly important for helping you to recover wholly as a person after birth. They are true whether you had a home birth or hospital birth, vaginal birth, or an emergency section. If you're reading this in pregnancy, then I strongly encourage you to spend some time thinking about how you will recover after birth and the foods that you want to have in your house to support that. Maybe you're coming to this after having your baby already (congratulations) - please know that it's never too late to start considering your health and that these tips can very much still be applied whatever stage of recovery you are at.
1. Heal & nourish
What you eat is important for recovering - your body has been through a major event, perhaps surgery, and needs to replenish itself so that you have the energy to look after this new little baby. I find it incredibly odd that you can go through major surgery, like a c-section, and receive very little support from dietitians or physios in hospital, and yet for other forms of surgery, you would be given a whole recovery plan! (birthing in a patriarchal society - a post for another time!).
Even if you haven't had surgery, the energy that you use in birth is often said to be like running a marathon - only after a marathon, you get to sleep and recuperate, without being woken every 2 hours to feed a newborn!
At the most basic level of postnatal nutrition, you need to eat enough and you need to eat often to keep your energy levels high. Beyond that, there are some nutrients that can support your recovery which you could consider building into the food you eat after birth. I'll write a post on these in more detail, but build your meals around these food groups:
2- healthy fats
3- grains & legumes
4 - veggies or fruits
If most meals that you eat contain those 4 food groups, then you are on your way to recovering well.
2. Hydrate, hydrate, hydrate!
Whether it's water, herbal tea, flavoured juices or decaf coffee, drink what you to stay hydrated. It's important for keeping your bowels and your pelvic floor healthy - avoiding constipation is a must, especially if you've had any stitches after birth.
You don't need to overhydrate, as this can affect your milk production if you are breastfeeding. Instead, listen to your body and keep an eye on the colour of your wee, aiming for a pale yellow colour most of the time.
You can have coffee if you're breastfeeding (see my post here) but in those early months, having caffeine to keep you awake at night isn't really recommended. After all, you will be woken regularly by a crying baby, so get all the sleep you can in between!
Have a drink by your side whenever you are sat feeding your baby, and take one to bed with you.
3. Honour your hunger
This principle is borrowed from Intuitive Eating, which is a practice I really found helpful during pregnancy and postnatally. After your body has birthed your baby, you can really trust and respect it to know what it needs to do - so listen to it! If you feel hungry, EAT! Whether it's 10 am, 5 pm or 2:30 am, it doesn't matter - your body knows when it needs to eat, and if you learn to listen carefully enough it will also tell you what to eat as well.
Perhaps you've been worried about weight gain during pregnancy (check out my blog here) and you might be thinking that this is the ideal time to start restricting what you eat to lose weight.
This is not the time to focus on weight loss. Your body has been through such a huge event, that you need to nourish it, and thank it for doing such an amazing job. And that means feeding it! In the same way that you will be learning to listen to your baby's cues to tell you that they are hungry, tune into your body and recognise the signs that it gives you.
Hunger isn't only felt in our stomachs - maybe you start to get lightheaded, or you get a bit grumpier, perhaps you feel a bit weak. Start to pay attention to those signs, and give your body the food it needs. Particularly if you are breastfeeding - that hunger can be insatiable!!
4. Ask for help
In times gone by we would have had a whole village of people to make sure we were well fed after giving birth. Now it's left down to us to ask for help from friends and family. Instead of waiting until you really need it, ask friends and family to send food or homecooked meals, rather than baby grows or endless soft toys. In those early weeks, when you don't know what's up or down, you will be so. very thankful of every meal that is in your freezer, or the fact that someone has left some tea, milk and cake on your doorstep.
Ask people to make food that can be frozen or left in the fridge for a few days - think big stews, hearty curries, nourishing soups or tasty cakes and pastries. And if you don't have family close by, why not ask for someone to do a supermarket online shop for you, or to send a voucher for a takeaway? Anything that means you aren't the only one having to cook or shop whilst trying to recuperate.
One of the best things I received, as well as the endless meals cooked by visiting aunties, was a giant snackbox of flapjacks, energy balls, dried fruit & nuts, and chocolate! It really kept me topped up whilst stuck on the sofa feeding!
5. Eat what makes you happy
This applies to life full stop, but even more so when you're in the postnatal period. Don't eat things if they make you miserable. You deserve to enjoy the food you eat. Yes you might need to take a supplement and that isn't the most joyful thing to do, but when it comes to cooking and eating food, half of the taste is in the enjoyment of it.
So take the time to savour foods that you love, whether it's a big slice of carrot cake, some warm cinnamon porridge, or baked beans and cheese on toast. You will often find yourself having to eat one-handed, or in a rush, or picking at cold food - that's just how it goes when you ahve a newborn. So when you do get the opportunity to sit and eat, pick foods that make you happy, and sit and savour them for all they're worth. Don't let anyone, not even yourself, make you feel guilty for it.
The first few months after giving birth can be a whirlwind, and sometimes the thought of food and nutrition can be too much. That's why I work with you during pregnancy, to take the time to make some simple plans for that fourth trimester, so that when you're in it, it's one less thing to worry about.
On my pregnancy programme, we spend time looking at the foods you should fill your cupboards and freezer with, depending on how you hope to give birth and your feeding choices for baby. We look at what supplements you might need and whether there is anything you can start doing in the last few months of pregnancy to prepare. I help you to plan for postnatal nutrition in the same way that you are planning for that beautiful nursery!
If you're currently pregnant and haven't yet started to think beyond the birth of your baby, or if the thought of those first few months terrifies you, then book a call with me today and let me calm your nerves and help you plan something that's right for you.