Congratulations on your new baby or babies! As new parents this is a hugely exciting time for you; but it for some mothers, it can also be extremely daunting, with a new level of worry, doubt about their ability, and mum guilt that they could have somehow done better.
After giving birth, there are so many other things to concentrate on other than our diet, but I’ve written this guide to provide you with some practical time-saving tips. It can be challenging enough having a baby, let alone eating well too, even more so with an active toddler in the day time to look after! However, making sure that you are eating healthily can help your energy levels to cope with the extra demands of motherhood. Each day you breastfeed you need approximately 400-500 extra calories. I’ve also got lots of tips to help you ensure you meet your own micronutrient needs while breastfeeding.
Top tips for optimising your nutrition after your baby is born
Prepare food in advance
Batch cooking can be a good way of filling your fridge and freezer with lots of nutritious meals that are ready to reheat when time and energy are in short supply. It also reduces some of the pressure from cooking every day.
Ensure your vitamin D is topped up
Vitamin D is vital for optimal functioning of 20% of our genes. Many people can’t make enough from sunshine alone all year and so the NHS guidance is to supplement during autumn and winter months. Sunscreen doesn’t prevent you making vitamin D from sunshine.
Choose wholegrain carbohydrates
Swab out refined carbohydrates, and change to wholegrain foods such as brown pasta, bread and rice. These are better for your sugar profile, contain more vitamins and minerals, and also contain more fibre, to support the friendly bacteria in your gut.
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Eat the rainbow
Aim to eat at least 5 portions of fruit and vegetables per day. Different colours in are due to different polyphenol compounds that function as antioxidants. So aim to have variety and try to eat all the different colours of the rainbow.
Check you have enough fibre
Try to eat 30g of fibre every day (especially important immediately after giving birth when going to the toilet can be tricky). Think about enriching your diet with extra dried fruit, lentils, and beans. Fibre is also important for your gut health and is associated with reduced risk of bowel cancer.
Ensure you have enough calcium
Check you are eating foods rich in calcium in your diet. Dairy products, or non-dairy such as tofu, pulses, dried fruit, and fish that have edible bones, such as sardines, or tinned salmon are a great source of calcium. If you need to exclude dairy because your baby has Cow’s Milk Protein Allergy (CMPA), ensuring you get enough calcium is particularly important. When you choose a plant-based milk, ensure that it meets your nutritional needs, especially calcium and iodine.
If you are struggling, try a smoothie
Smoothies can also be a great way of getting calories and nutrients in quickly in the early days postpartum. They are better than juices, as they contain more of the soluble and insoluble fibre which is so good your gut.
Check you are eating enough iodine-rich foods
Another important micronutrient is iodine, which until recently has been largely thought to be sufficient in our diets. However, recent research raised concerns that pregnant and breastfeeding women are at risk of deficiency. People following a vegan diet are also at risk of iodine deficiency, since dairy products and fish are iodine-rich foods. If you are excluding dairy from your diet, it’s a good idea to choose a plant-based milk alternative that is fortified with iodine.
The importance of selenium
For our thyroid gland to work properly, we need enough selenium in our diet. Selenium deficiency can lead to fatigue. Breastfeeding mothers and pregnant women need the highest levels of selenium (60 -70mcg per day). Foods rich in selenium are meat (organs more than muscles), eggs and whole grains, fish, but brazil nuts have a huge amount compared with other foods, with just a couple of nuts providing our entire daily requirement of selenium.
Don’t fear healthy fats
Avocados, nuts and extra virgin olive oil are healthy mono-unsaturated fats important for health and energy. Try to have a handful of mixed nuts per day. They make a great snack while breastfeeding too.
Remember to keep hydrated
Drink plenty of fluids but try to avoid sugary drinks and caffeine, instead choose water. To make water more interesting try adding herbs like verbena or slithers of vegetables such as cucumber.
Ensure your diet is rich in Omega 3 from seeds, nuts, seaweed and oily fish. Consider having fish night twice a week and enjoy some grilled salmon and vegetables, or a big mackerel salad.
Have healthy snacks to hand while you are breastfeeding such as fruit, vegetables, nuts and wholegrain crackers.
Article by Dr Harriet Holme.
Dr Harriet Holme is a registered Nutritionist (AfN), and former experienced paediatrician. After studying medicine at Cambridge University, Harriet worked in the NHS for over a decade, ultimately specialising in paediatric oncology. Harriet also has a PhD in genetics. She lectures on nutrition and was commissioned to write a novel degree combining culinary skills, nutrition and health.
How Harriet can help…
Harriet now uses these uniquely developed skills for the benefit of clients and students, consulting as a Registered Nutritionist and lecturing in culinary science and nutrition. Her focus is science-backed nutrition, and she’s passionate about sharing credible information to empower people to eat for their health. She has lots of nutrition and health articles on her website or follow Harriet’s ‘facts not fiction’ on Instagram @healthyeatingdr so that you can eat for health today.
To help new mums she’s designed a free ‘nutrition while breastfeeding’ checklist. Totally confused what 1250mg calcium or 30g of fibre looks like? It’s all on the free checklist.
Postpartum Nutrition: An Expert’s Guide to Eating After a Baby
As a mother who breastfeed and had babies with cow’s milk protein allergy, Harriet has written a book on postpartum nutrition, to help other mums-to-be to have easy access to all the information they need, without endless searching on the internet.
What do you and your baby really need?
The book contains lots more science-backed information including topics such as the evidence about placental encapsulation, which supplements do you and your baby really need, your postpartum body, weight loss after giving birth, and a guide to starting weaning.
With a foreword by General Practitioner, Dr Preeya Alexander, who said, “Harriet has beautifully broken down what the body (both mum and baby’s) needs in the postpartum period. She gives you the nuts and bolts so that you can make informed choices when it comes to diet and food choices. This is a really helpful guide for mothers – I just wish I had read it sooner!”
Available on Amazon.