Postpartum Nutrition: What New Moms Really Need
“Eat when you’re hungry. Stop when you’re full. Listen to your body.” I got these words of wisdom from Jessica Diamond, MPH, RDN as she helped me understand what new moms really need to replenish, rebuild and recover after childbirth. Those fancy letters after her name mean that Jessica is a maternal and child registered dietitian and nutritionist, and she’s taught me so much about the good, the bad, and the don’t-feel-guilty of postpartum nutrition.
FEEDING THE NEED
After giving birth — breastfeeding or not — new moms’ bodies are seriously depleted. Three square meals are definitely not happening while juggling a newborn, so we moms need to get creative. After having Sonny, I didn’t feel like myself, was hungry-slash-ravenous 24/7 and my body had new demands. I learned that a nutritious, well-balanced postpartum diet is one of the most important things you can do for yourself, and here are some tips for making it happen.
- Go on a Guilt Fast
Guilt is a four-letter word in postpartum nutrition. Between the lack of sleep, the slew of hormones and the little person now living outside your body and in your house, life’s a rollercoaster. The same goes for food, so don’t feel guilty about the two c’s: calories and carbs. Jessica mentions “intuitive eating” and letting your body tell you what it needs. For the first six months of Sonny’s life, I ate anything I wanted. I had always been pretty mindful about my diet, but after childbirth, I let go like whoa.
Had I consulted a nutritionist during those tough first months, I wonder if smarter food choices would have improved my state of mind. But it is what it is and I did what I did, and some of my fondest memories of those early days are lying in bed with Sonny asleep on my chest eating fistfuls of challah bread. It was so peaceful, and I would think, “This. Is. Amazing. But it won’t last forever, so enjoy it now.”
Jessica recommends whole grains, especially oats, to provide valuable carbs that help rebuild bodily tissue. Think easy-recipe oatmeal chocolate chip cookies, oat bars with nuts, seeds and fruit and single-serve oatmeal. The snack bars and bites from Bundle Organics are full of oats and other purposeful ingredients. Whole-grain loaves of bread are great too, and one of my postpartum must-haves was sourdough with nut butter. Net net: new moms need more calories than they used to, so feel free to dig in and help yourself heal.
- Say YES
Your friends and family want to help, so say “Yes!” Jessica talks about how real foods are the best way to get the nutrients you need postpartum, yet we often reach for processed options because they’re fast and easy. So, when people offer to bring you food, don’t be shy. Tell them what you want, like personal favorites and anything made of real foods…organic if they can. I remember asking my comically caretaking mom for brisket and roasted potatoes, and it was so comforting for both my body and heart. When friends would ask if they could pick something up on their way over to visit, I would ask for fresh-pressed juice. I was obsessed with orange, turmeric, apple and ginger options, which provided much needed vitamins, fiber and refreshment.
- Chug! Chug! Chug!
You lose a lot of fluids when you have a baby, and it’s important to replenish them starting…immediately after that kid comes out. After giving birth, the hospital gave me huge jugs of fruit punch (a mix of orange, cranberry and apple juices), and I remember it tasting like pure, fruity magic. At home, I made my own version using organic juices and a splash of sparkling water to keep my fluid intake up. I’ve actually always disliked plain water, and drinking more of it has been a new year’s resolution for probably the past seven years. But SURPRISE! Hydration isn’t just water. Jessica notes that any non-alcoholic beverage counts toward your daily fluid requirements (8–10 cups if you’re not breastfeeding and 13–16 cups if you are). That means tea, juice, coffee, broth…all fair game.
My not-so-healthy habit when I first had Sonny was to walk and get a milk tea boba every day. But I don’t feel bad about it — See? Down with guilt! — because it got me out of the house, hydrated and made me happy. I also love sparkling probiotic drinks, Arnold Palmers and coconut water.
- Set Up Snack Stations
You have to get those calories in you somehow, so why not make it easy? When you have a baby, even getting to the kitchen is like running a marathon, so set up snack stations around the house (by the couch, next to your bed, anywhere you hang out) so that you always have nourishing, satisfying snacks at hand. Oh! And keep a bottle of your fave beverage there too. As you get into habits and start learning what you crave, make sure you have those items stocked up and readily available. This is also a great way for your partner to contribute: grocery runs!
NEW MOM NUTRIENTS 101
Obviously, I love sharing what worked for me, but the reason I brought Jessica in is to offer some hard and fast facts. Here’s the lowdown of what our new mom bods truly need:
Protein is EVERYWHERE, and we actually need a lot less than we think. Protein provides energy, nourishes your gut and is anti-inflammatory. Go for clean, plant-based sources like seeds, nuts, quinoa, beans, whole grains, fruits and veggies. Peanut butter powder is an epiphany if I’ve ever tasted one, and if you want protein powder, my favorites are flavored, pea-based options.
Get your fill of key micronutrients — magnesium, zinc, vitamin B6 and folate — in fruit, veggies, whole grains and legumes. TIP: have a fruit salad cut up in the fridge or bananas on hand for easy snacking.
Sometimes the truth hurts, and real talk: going to the bathroom after giving birth is painful, especially #2. Fiber helps with digestion and bowel regularity to make things move a little smoother and help bring your body back into balance. I love organic shredded wheat cereal with cashew milk for a high-fiber breakfast or snack.
Diary and dark, leafy greens. Boom. There’s your calcium. In my early postpartum days, I would start every day with a smoothie of Greek yogurt, cashew milk, a banana, cinnamon and dates. Add a little spinach, broccoli or kale for bonus calcium, vitamins and minerals.
- Omega 3 Fatty Acids
These are anti-inflammatory and help in postpartum recovery. Specifically look for sources with DHA. If you like fish, salmon and tilapia are great low-mercury options. Or you can take fish or algae oil supplements. Omega 3s are also found in seeds like chia, flax and hemp. TIP: blend two scoops of hemp seeds with a cup of water for instant hemp milk. Yum!
Okay, I think that about covers it. Big thanks to Jessica, and I hope these tips are helpful to all the hungry (and hangry) new moms out there. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m starving and need to get a snack.