Julia Santerre is a mom and a health coach who works with women to help them live healthy, vibrant lives through her business, Catch the Moon Wellness. She is a graduate of the Institute of Integrative Nutrition and attended the George Washington University Law School. She is passionate about helping women have a healthy pregnancy and postpartum period. You can find Julia at Catch the Moon Wellness as well as her blog about motherhood at Happy Mom Musings.
The postpartum period is beautiful, emotional, overwhelming, and exhausting. Your world revolves around this precious little person that you miraculously created and brought into this world, and everyone in the family is getting to know each other again. As all of this is happening, don’t forget that you need to nourish yourself with healthy foods - your body put so many resources into growing and birthing a baby, and your physical and emotional health, as well as your quantity and quality of breast milk depend on your nutrition.
You want to eat well for yourself and your baby, but where do you start?
1. Eat Whole, Nutrient-Dense Foods. The main principle of healthy eating – for pregnancy, postpartum, and life in general – is to focus on real, whole foods. This means a focus on fresh vegetables and fruits, whole grains, legumes, meats from animals raised without antibiotics and growth hormones. Try to avoid too many packaged foods and those devoid of nutrients, such as chips, white breads and pastas, and pastries (although homemade baked goods are fine in moderation).
2. Eat! Many women are impatient to lose the weight from pregnancy, but postpartum is not the time to diet or restrict calories. Your body needs nutrients to recover from pregnancy, labor, and birth, and actually needs more extra calories for breastfeeding than it did during pregnancy. The best way to safely and healthily lose weight postpartum is to focus on nutrient-dense foods and avoid sugar and refined flours. Many women also find that breastfeeding helps them lose the pregnancy weight faster.
3. Focus on warm, easily digestible foods in early postpartum. For the first several weeks postpartum, you need to be gentle with your digestive system and also maintain your warmth. Traditional cultures feed new mothers hot soup and stews (chicken soup is a popular postpartum meal), porridges made with whole grains, such as rice and barley, eggs, and cooked fruits and vegetables, especially leafy greens if available. These foods are all nutrient-dense and easy to digest.
4. Eat lactogenic foods. This one is for breastfeeding mamas. Different foods can increase or decrease milk supply. Foods that help increase milk supply include oats, barley, root vegetables, green leafy vegetables, and stone fruits (such as peaches and plums). Eating nutrient-dense foods and plenty of healthy fats, such as those in coconut oil, olive oil, butter, and fish will ensure that your breast milk is high quality and fatty.
5. Avoid herbs that decrease breast milk (unless you want to decrease it) and foods that irritate you or baby. Just as foods can increase the amount and quality of your breast milk, herbs such as sage, rosemary, thyme and peppermint may decrease the amount of milk that your body makes. There are also foods that may irritate you or your baby. If you are having any digestive issues, fatigue (beyond what is normal for the parent of a newborn), headaches, or other mild symptoms, or if your baby seems to be uncomfortable, especially after eating, you may want to look at your diet for any allergies and irritating foods. Broccoli – and other cruciferous vegetables, onions and lentils may cause excess gas and discomfort in babies, and dairy, wheat and citrus are also common allergies. Caffeine could also be a culprit in both digestive issues and milk supply, so reducing or eliminating coffee, soft drinks, caffeinated teas and even chocolate may be helpful.
6. Prepare ahead and get help! Now that I have recommended that you avoid processed food and eat cooked meals with fresh ingredients, I must acknowledge that I remember how hard it was to find time to eat, let alone cook, in the first few months following my first daughter’s birth. It is really hard in the early postpartum (and later as well) to prepare nourishing foods for yourself. Therefore, I recommend planning ahead by freezing some healthy meals towards the end of pregnancy, and, if possible, have your partner and any other visitors make or bring you food. (A postpartum doula can help with this!) When you do cook, try to make plenty of leftovers, and have snacks on hand that require little preparation and, preferably can be eaten with one hand. Nuts and seeds, hummus with vegetables or crackers, yogurt, smoothies (after the first few weeks), healthy cookies, breads and muffins are all great options. Lots of mothers depend on slow cooker meals.
7. Drop the guilt. Do the best you can. If you do have some takeout or prepackaged meals, don’t stress and give yourself grace. Sometimes, you just want a burger, or pizza. And that is ok. You grew a baby; you are nourishing a baby. You are amazing!
Some of my favorite postpartum meals include:
· Oatmeal with butter and sautéed peaches or plums
· Eggs with leafy greens
· Homemade chicken soup
· Beef stew with root vegetables
· Quiche or frittata with green vegetables
· Lasagna with lots of vegetables (meat optional)
For more information, I recommend the following resources:
· Mother Food by Hilary Jacobson
· Real Food for Mother and Baby by Nina Planck
· Natural Health After Birth by Aviva Jill Romm