So you just brought a new little miracle into the world… amazing! But dealing with the ups and downs of being a new mom is no easy task. In addition to caring for a baby, there are so many changes going on with you physically, mentally, and emotionally.
When I became a new mom, I can remember how my life changed overnight. All of a sudden my schedule was dictated by a 6 pound human… Eat, burp, poop, sleep, cry… REPEAT! And when I wasn’t actively taking care of baby, I was either hooked up to a breast pump, washing bottles, or folding piles of laundry (seriously, how can such a tiny human go through 8 outfits in a day?!) I was living in survival mode. Less time and less freedom felt like the name of the game in this new stage of my life.
And then those nighttime feedings and the sleep deprivation… I remember so many well meaning family members reminding me to “sleep when the baby sleeps” (like during daytime naps). Yeah right! Not when there’s a house to clean, laundry to do, and dinner to cook… Plus, it was kinda nice to have an uninterrupted shower every now and again, and sometimes BONUS—- long enough to shave BOTH of my legs… now, that’s a good day! While sleep deprivation just comes with the territory of early parenthood, it also comes with exhaustion, irritability, and hormonal changes that lead to cravings and an out of whack appetite. So much for getting that “body back!”
Don’t get me wrong, I love my daughter to the ends of the earth and she is totally worth every minute of the craziness! But there came a point when I realized motherhood is not the only thing that defines me… I wanted some time for JUST ME, to take care of myself. I wanted to feel good again, confident again, I wanted my BODY BACK, I wanted ME back! And if you are at this point, just know that YOU DESERVE IT!
If you’ve had good intentions of getting physically active and eating healthier, but haven’t gotten very far, give yourself some grace! It’s a lot easier said than done, especially during this new phase of “motherhood” life when so many things are working against you… but I assure you, IT CAN BE DONE!
Let’s first talk about some common “nutrition” mistakes:
- Skipping meals- Between cluster feedings, changing diapers, washing bottles, and all the other things… it can seem like all you’re doing is taking care of baby, which makes it very easy to skip meals. Whether it’s intentional, or because you are so busy you forget to eat, skipping meals can backfire in so many ways! For one, you could miss out on getting enough calories and overall nutrients for adequate milk production for your little one. Skipping meals could contribute to low energy, on top of already being sleep deprived! From a health and weight standpoint, not giving yourself regular fuel can put your body into “survival mode” slowing the metabolism which makes it harder to lose weight. On top of that, it could also trigger overeating and/or poor choices once you finally do eat!
- Fast food or eating out- As a busy mom of a newborn, it can be tough to get out of the house for an hour to get groceries, let alone, cook a meal! I don’t blame you for resorting to the drive thru or take-out at times, but if it’s becoming your new norm, the FAST FOOD has GOT to GO… FAST! The typical fast food meal tends to be high in fat and refined carbohydrates (think burger and french fries). In other words, these foods can pack ALOT of calories with very little nutritional value… this is a one way ticket to weight gain (or difficulty losing) and feeling overall crummy! Additionally, eating large high fat meals, which also tend to be high in sodium, can lead to indigestion, heart burn, and bloating. How fun! Now, I understand many restaurants are offering “lighter” or “healthy” options, but you still only have so much control over what is in your food and how it’s prepared. Bottom line: minimize the fast food, and make eating out a special or occasional treat!
- Lack of nutritional value- lack of time to prepare meals and snacks could equate to lack of nutritional value. This is one I was guilty of right after having my daughter. When I would get hungry (usually too hungry), I would grab whatever food was the most convenient and shove it in my mouth without any thought. I would literally be pumping, cleaning bottles, and eating all at the same time. Multi-tasking leads to mindlessness, and mindless eating leads to poor choices OR eating too much! Some common easy but “low nutritional value foods” are things we may find to grab out of our cupboards or a convenience store that require no preparation such as crackers, chips, pretzels, fruit snacks, cookies, candy and other sweets. And even more dangerous is eating straight from the package which guarantees overdoing it… this girl is guilty as charged! The problem with these types of foods, is that they lack important nutrients such as fiber and protein that can sustain energy levels and keep us feeling satisfied. Refined carbohydrate snacks such as those I mentioned cause our blood sugars to spike, and then comes the crash which leaves us craving more… and more… and more… Disaster! But it does NOT have to be this way! Later in this post, I’ll talk about ways to set yourself up for success by making healthy food choices and snacks easily accessible.
Now to the nitty gritty on Nutrition…
- Let’s talk nutritional needs while nursing- If you are exclusively breastfeeding, it is estimated that you burn an additional 500 calories per day to establish and maintain your milk supply. This amount is an average so will vary for each woman, and will decrease as milk production decreases (i.e. as baby starts to eat solids and/or if supplementing with formula). So basal metabolic rate (BMR) which is the energy we burn at rest, PLUS the additional “lactation” calories burned, gives us breastfeeding moms more wiggle room for a higher caloric intake that can still support weight loss. While it’s important to take in enough calories to support lactation and your overall health, breastfeeding should not be a warrant to overeat. But on the flip side, as a new mom it can be very tempting to start a more strict diet in efforts to “get your body back.” However, this can backfire as it can have a negative effect on milk production and quality, your energy level, metabolism, and leave you feeling hungry. The goal should be to lose no more that 1/2 to 2 pounds per week. Plus, it’s not just about calories… our bodies need adequate amounts of all the other nutrients, and a balance of carbohydrates, protein, and fats. So a restrictive diet, could mean a lack of certain nutrients that your body, and your baby needs.
- Calories vs. Food choices- So to the common question… Do I need to count calories? Ultimately if your goal is weight loss, the bottom line is to consume less calories than your body burns. In other words, you need to be in a caloric deficit to lose weight. But does that mean you have to track calories all day long? Not necessarily! Now for those of you who are “numbers” people and who like the idea of tracking to stay within a specific (caloric) budget, then it may be for you! I also suggest it for anyone who may have hit a plateau or is not seeing results- tracking can help them get a better idea of their average caloric intake as it may be too high or too low. I’m sure you’re now wondering “well. how many calories do I need?” The answer will vary depending on the woman and so many factors such as height, weight, age, activity level, lactation, etc. For most breastfeeding moms, I would suggest a minimum of 1800 calories/day. Now with that being said… the quality and nutritional value of our foods does matter for our health and the health of our growing baby. So staying within a certain caloric budget of mainly “junk” food will not do you any justice! Choosing “nutrient dense” foods such as fruits, vegetables, lean meats/proteins, low fat dairy, and whole grains can make it a lot easier to keep calories under control without having to count them! Healthier swaps are also ways you can slash calories without tracking… so for instance, choosing fruit rather than a candy bar when you want a sweet snack, or having a Greek yogurt instead of ice cream for dessert, or light popcorn in place of potato chips, etc. Or it may just be that your work on decreasing portion sizes of certain foods, and fill in with more veggies and fruit. So there is no “one size fits all” approach. Whether it be tracking food intake or just making healthier choices, do what works for you!
The components of a balanced meal:
So now let’s talk about what nutrients to include in your meals and snacks…
Fiber- because fiber cannot be digested by the human body, it will take longer to pass through our stomachs and therefore keep us feeling fuller for longer, and promotes sustainable energy. Fiber is also important for digestive regularity.
Good Fiber sources include:
- Fruits- fresh, frozen, dried, or canned (no heavy syrup)
- Vegetables- fresh, frozen, canned with “no added salt”
- Legumes such as beans or peas
- Whole grains- *** READ LABELS: Good fiber source = 3 grams of dietary fiber or more per serving. Examples include whole grain breads (such as whole wheat or rye), whole wheat pasta, brown or wild rice, quinoa, oats/oatmeal, bran or other high fiber cereals.
Protein- assisting with satiety (keeping us feeling satisfied) , protein can reduce hunger and cravings soon after or between meals. It can also support sustained energy and stable blood sugar when we balance it into our meals and snacks.
*** For some insight on how much protein is really necessary, and protein values of common foods, check out How Much Protein Do You Really Need?
Lean and healthy protein sources include:
- Lean meat- turkey, chicken, fish, ham/lean pork, lean beef, and wild game
- Eggs and egg whites
- Low-fat or fat-free dairy- 1% or skim milk, cottage cheese, yogurt, cheese
- Legumes- beans, soy nuts, tofu, soy milk
- Nuts or natural nut butters- peanuts, almonds, cashews, pistachios, walnuts, pecans, etc.
- Seeds- sunflower, pumpkin, chia
- Protein powders (as needed)
Healthy fats- When fat is included at meals, it can help us to feel satisfied. Healthy fats also have heart healthy, ant-inflammatory, and brain function benefits.
Healthy Fat sources include:
- Monounsaturated fats:
- Olives and olive oil, canola oil, peanut oil
- Nuts and seeds, and natural nut butters- peanuts, pecans, almonds, pistachios, cashews, sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds, chia seeds.
- Omega 3 fatty acids:
- Fatty fish- such as salmon, mackerel, herring, tuna, and sardines
- Ground flaxseeds or flaxseed oil
- To find out why not all fats are created equal, check out The good, bad and ugly Fat Facts!
Putting these nutrients together…
Breakfast- Whether you work outside of the home or your full-time job is as a stay-at-home mom, mornings can be hectic! If you struggle to fuel your body right in the morning, check this out!
Here are a few quick and easy ideas-
- Smoothie- made with 1 cup of fresh or frozen fruit, 1 cup milk or yogurt, and 1 Tbsp. of natural nut butter, chia or ground flaxseeds.
- Hard boiled egg with a piece of fruit.
- Yogurt topped with berries and crushed nuts or sunflower seeds.
- Breakfast sandwich- Whole grain english muffin or toast spread with avocado/guacamole, egg, and fresh spinach.
- Oatmeal with fresh or dried fruit, and crushed nuts or seeds mixed in. For something all ready to go in the morning, try overnight oats!
Lunch- The middle of the day may be just as hectic or even busier than your mornings! Planning ahead and/or packing your lunch is a must.
- Simple sandwiches with whole grain bread and lean protein such as turkey, or tuna.
- Prep ahead by making a large salad with all of your favorite veggies to use throughout the week. Then just before serving, add your protein (such as hard boiled egg, beans, or lean meat such as chicken, turkey, fish, or lean beef) and small amount of dressing. Consider mason jar salads for on the go!
- It’s also okay to have a few healthy snacks to make up your lunch- for instance, sometimes a lunch for me may include cottage cheese with fruit, whole grain crackers and veggies with hummus.
- Check out Make lunch easy for other ideas!
Dinner- And then there’s the evening… this is the common time of day I feel like I’m living in survival mode! Trying to prepare dinner with a hungry, nursing newborn always attached to you, can sometimes feel like a lost cause, especially when you did not plan the meal ahead of time. I am guilty of not meal planning ahead of time most weeks and I REFUSE to cook every night! So I try to make the dinner meal as simple as possible, and always have healthy back-up options when I’m running on pure chaos.
Try these “meal planning” tips on for size:
- Take inventory of what you already have in the house. Are there any fresh food you need to use soon? Plan to have meals or snacks that include these items.
- Write in your meal/dinner plan on the calendar for the week. If you are like me, you cook in batch and have just 3-4 dinners that you plan to cook that week, while the other nights consist of leftovers.
- Plan to have at least one crockpot meal each week- I love my crock pot nights… Dinner is ready when I get home, no cleaning multiple pots and pans, and there are usually extras for leftover. Score!
- Consider another 1 dish meal for the week, such as a casserole or skillet meal that can be prepped ahead of time and then just cook/heat up that night.
- Be sure to save and compile meals/recipes that work well (and that the family loves!). Store either hard or electronic copies of recipes (or online- Pinterest works great!). Organize by category (i.e. slow cooker, casseroles, chicken, beef, fish, vegetable, side dish, etc.). Having a good collection of meals/recipes will save you tons of time in the future from having to search new recipes or come up with ideas during the meal planning phase.
Here are some things you can do to prep ahead:
- Chop up all of the fresh vegetables you will be using in the meals for the week.
- For one-dish meals (such as stew or slow cooker meals, or casseroles), put all of the ingredients together/assemble ahead of time, so the only thing left to do is cook/heat it up.
- If possible, cook some meat up ahead of time, such as ground beef or turkey, grilled chicken, or a roast to be used in some meals during the week. It can be used in at least 1 dinner that week, as well as in lunches (perfect in a sandwich or on top of a salad).
- Prepare a large salad to be kept in an airtight container and used throughout the week.
- Chop up any fresh fruits and vegetables for handy snacks.
- Consider making lunches ahead of time for the week. Make sandwiches, and/or prep-portion out items to be included in packed lunches.
Snacks– Between meal snacks should serve a purpose. They should be eaten when you are truly physically hungry to carry you over until your next meal. They should be satisfying, and portion controlled rather than “grazing” which can turn into mindlessness and overeating. If you have any cravings between meals, you’ll want to focus on healthier alternatives rather than eating the refined sugary or salty snacks that just spike and crash your blood sugar, causing you to crave more. Therefore, I highly suggest planning out and possibly pre-portioning snacks out ahead of time. I recommend protein and/or fiber for snacks, and to keep them within 200 calories so they don’t turn into another full meal. Some simple ways to set yourself up for snacking success would be to plan ahead by having a bowl of fruit on your countertop, fresh cut veggies at eye level in the fridge, and ready to eat protein sources such as hard boiled eggs, string cheese, yogurt or cottage cheese, nuts and natural nut butters.
Here are some ideas:
- 6 oz light Greek yogurt with 1 cup berries
- 1 medium apple or banana with 1 Tbsp. natural peanut butter
- 1 piece of fruit with a hard boiled egg
- 5-6 whole grain crackers with 1 oz cheese (or string cheese)
- 3 cups plain or light popcorn
- 1 cup raw veggies with 1/4 cup hummus
- 1/4 cup trail mix (nuts and dried fruit)
- Homemade granola bars
Drink up! I can remember how thirsty I was during those early months postpartum. Within the first minute of nursing or pumping, I would get this strong thirst sensation and needed to chug some water right away. Did you know that when you are thirsty, your body is already dehydrated? Also, it’s very common to mistake thirst for hunger, and turn to unnecessary snacking when all you really need is a big glass of water! You can monitor hydration status by paying attention to your urine. If your urine color is lemonade or lighter, this is a good rule of thumb that you are adequately hydrated. If it’s darker in color, you should drink up! To support your hydration and energy level, and to promote adequate milk supply for your baby, it’s a good idea to drink fluids at meals, and between meals throughout the day. I recommend keeping a water bottle with you when out, and having a glass of water nearby when nursing or pumping. Watch out for juices and other sugary drinks such as soda which can contribute a lot of empty calories. If you’re not a fan of plain old water, try squeezing lemon or crushing some fruit into your water for some flavor.
What about working it off? Once cleared postpartum by your doctor, it is highly recommended to exercise. Not only can it help you get your body back and increase energy, but many experts say it can help reduce the risk of postpartum depression. One of the easiest ways to begin a postpartum exercise routine is walking, especially since you can have baby in “stroller tow” right there with you. Not only for the physical activity, but getting out in some fresh air to walk can work wonders for your mental health and sense of wellbeing. Start slowly and listen to your body. You can gradually increase your duration and speed/intensity to continually challenge your body as tolerated. Another area you may want to work on is strength, especially in your core since that tends to get lost during pregnancy. Try out some of the exercises to rebuild your core after pregnancy.
- Bonus: Helpful tools to try out…
- MyFitness Pal- A website and smartphone app to track food and nutrient/calorie intake. Very user friendly with a bar code scanner function on the app.
- FitBit- device to track your steps/distance, food/calorie intake, sleeping patterns etc. that syncs with an app. An awesome motivation and accountability tool.
I know this is a lot of information, and I don’t expect you to tackle everything all at once. But decide on the top one or two changes you can start today. You’d be surprised how just getting started and taking small steps can add up to huge progress over time. The key is to just START and FEEL the DIFFERENCE!
Please share what you are doing to get your body and yourself back!