Post-Natal Nutrition Special: Part I

As I mentioned in last week’s post-natal rant, its a tough job trying to ignore the expectation that once you have a baby you should be doing everything in your power to make your body look like it never happened. It seems to me, receiving the comment of “wow you look like you never had a baby!” has essentially become an indicator of success in motherhood.

One of the priorities for me post-Ravi was to find nutritional information that would help me make smart food decisions which would not only fuel my body’s recovery, but get me through the day with as much energy as possible. Needless to say when I entered ‘post-natal nutrition’ into the search engines, all I got back was ‘lose that baby weight fast’, or ‘baby belly diet’. Even so-called resource sites for parents provided a tone of ‘eat well, but don’t go eating too much’ in their information. Not one site provided information from an ‘eating for performance’ perspective. Now I don’t know about anyone else, but I class looking after a 3 year old and a newborn on my own for 12 hours a day as an exercise in extreme endurance. Throw base training and interrupted sleep in there and I may as well sign up for a 24 hour race three times a week.

As I always say, its one thing to complain about something that needs to change, and another to be part of the change that you want to see.

I have been a big fan of Nutritionist and Dietician Kerryn Boogaard for some time now. Follow her instagram account (@kerryn_boogaard_nutrition) and you soon realise that not only does she believe in eating real food in a balanced manner, she also has a great understanding of women’s health and eating for performance.

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Kerryn has very generously taken the time to answer some questions for me ranging from issues related to general post-natal nutrition to more specific ones regarding female athletes. Part One of this 3-part special is based on general post-natal nutrition.

Q1. What are some important nutritional considerations for all new mums? First and foremost I believe it’s important to obtain the right mindset when it comes to nutrition when you’re a new mum. Everyone will want to tell you how to get rid of (that) baby weight. But your body has just endured the most taxing (yet amazing) experience, and you now have a tiny bundle that angelically demands your energy and steals your sleep.  You now need to focus on eating well so your body can recover, to keep you healthy and make sure your energy levels are as high as they can be.

You will find that focusing on eating for health will lead to a natural shift in weight, without compromising your nutrition and zapping your energy (I’m looking at you FAD DIETS)! Having regular meals and snacks is the cornerstone of optimal nutrition post child-birth. This will ensure that you’re getting all of your nutrients and maintaining good energy levels at the same time.

Although it may sound easier than it is, always take time to eat your three main meals and be prepared with nourishing snacks. This may mean sneaking in lunch when your new bub is asleep, setting yourself up with a ‘snack box’ for feeding time, or getting creative with one-handed snacks and meals such as fruit, nuts, smoothies, boiled eggs, sandwiches and wholegrain crisp breads with avocado or hummus. To help you get organised, try to pre-plan your weekly meals and snacks and do some meal prep when you can. This may mean using a day during the week to prepare some meals that can be reheated or hold-up well in the fridge, utilising on-line shopping and saying yes to help offered by family and friends.

In regards to key nutrient considerations, the Australian Guide to Healthy Eating is a good guide for any new mum. These guidelines will point out the variety of food groups (and amounts) required during this stage of your life and can be found here. These guidelines underpin some key considerations including:

Adequate protein You have probably heard that eating enough protein is important to help repair, build and maintain the trillions of cells in our body. This is extremely important for recovery after child birth, particularly to help to make haemoglobin, the part of red blood cells that carries oxygen around your body (remember all of that blood you lost), build muscle cells to support strength and maintain the cells to support the immune system. Good sources of protein include dairy foods, eggs, nuts, seeds, seafood, poultry, beef, tofu and legumes.

Adequate calcium Calcium deposits as a crystal on our bones to give them their hard strength. Our body also requires calcium (along with vitamin D) to help transmit nerves, regulate the hearts rhythm and assist with blood clotting. If our body doesn’t get enough through food, it will borrow it from our bones, which therefore decreases their strength. This bone loss can occur more frequently during lactation proving how important calcium is after the delivery of your bub. Good (readily absorbed) sources of calcium include milk, cheese, yoghurt, fortified soy milk, tofu and the bones of sardines and salmon (just mash them before eating). Calcium is also found in almonds and green leafy vegetables, however the absorption of calcium from these foods is quite low, meaning they are not very good sources.

Adequate iron The amount of blood lost during delivery will vary from woman to woman, but it’s important to remember, that where there is blood loss, there is also iron loss.  This may lead to iron deficiency anaemia, especially if iron levels were already low during pregnancy. Anaemia will lead to exhaustion – maybe it isn’t just the lack of sleep that you are experiencing! We chat about iron later on.

Adequate carbohydrate Although the first nutrient to get shunned by the media, carbohydrate is essential to support the immune system and maintain good energy levels while you juggle your duties as a new mum. Also, foods that contain carbohydrate often provide fibre to help prevent constipation –  a common post-natal complaint! Eating carbohydrate foods that break down to glucose more slowly can really help to stabilise your energy levels. These foods include legumes (chickpeas, kidney beans, baked beans, lentils etc.), oats, fruit, milk, yoghurt, quinoa, barley, corn, sourdough, rye and wholegrain breads and low GI brown rice.

Next week’s instalment focuses on key considerations to make when planning to return to training after baby has arrived. I will also share a great recipe of Kerryn’s that I have personally lived off for the past week because it is easy, tasty and nutritious. 

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