As a nutritionist, hormone specialist and toddler mom, I am often asked by my pregnant and recently postpartum friends and clients for the best dieting, nutrition, and exercise tips to help them lose the baby weight and regain their body quickly. As much as I hate this question and cringe when someone asks me how I “bounced back” so quickly, I also get it.
There is an enormous amount of pressure in our society to “bounce back”, not to mention the pressure we put on ourselves. After gaining nearly 50lbs in my first pregnancy and having a C-section, I thought I’d never be able to wear my old jeans again let alone be confident enough to put on a swimsuit in public.
Even though I eventually was back in my old clothes, it took well over a year to feel confident again, for many moms it can take even longer. Especially if you have back to back pregnancies!
So what is my advice?
Patience, consistency and a little grace. Let me break this down for you.
After giving birth our uterus has a dinner plate size wound on it from the detachment of the placenta. So regardless if you had an episiotomy, tearing or cesarean, your body has a massive amount of healing to do.
This requires adequate amounts of rest and nourishment to do. It is also why the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists recommend women take at least six weeks off work in order to recover. Add breastfeeding and sleep deprivation on top of this, and your caloric needs will only increase.
During this time the word “Diet” needs to be thought of in terms of “How can I nourish my body in the best possible way for recovery so that I can feel better and care for my family and new baby?” rather than the traditional, “How can I cut/burn more calories to lose my mommy pooch as fast as possible?”
Nutrition for new moms – Combating Cravings:
Protein is vital for recovery, helping you build muscle and to stabilize your blood sugar. With the added stress of being a new mom and sleep deprivation, it’s common for us to crave sugar. The brain wants glucose for immediate energy in order to compensate for loss of sleep and to release dopamine in order to calm and soothe us. Prioritizing protein each meal can slow the absorption of sugar and carbohydrates, which in turn helps to minimize the dips and crashes that lead to cravings.
Many protein sources also contain zinc, a beneficial mineral for hormone stabilization and wound healing. Zinc has the potential to reduce your healing time from surgery by up to 43 percent!
Protein is also a great source of B vitamins, particularly B12, an essential nutrient if you are breastfeeding and often one that is depleted during the early post-partum days. B12 helps with the energy levels and the production of healthy red blood cells, vital for both you and your little one. As B vitamins play a variety of roles in healing and the absorption of other nutrients, we don’t want to skimp on these. Additional nutrition sources of other B vitamins include Brewers Yeast as well as many grains, fruits and vegetables.
The “Right” Carbohydrates
I have many clients who still come to me either pregnant or postpartum, fearful of carbs in general. While I do think it is important to monitor carbohydrate intake for blood sugar and inflammation purposes, now is not the time to cut them out completely. Especially if nursing.
Complex carbohydrates such as sweet potatoes, bananas, broccoli and other fruits contain potassium, helpful for milk supply, water and sodium levels, blood pressure and muscle contraction. Fruits and vegetables also contain Vitamin C, one of the most crucial nutrients for wound healing.
Fiber in many grains, fruits and vegetables can help a great deal with blood sugar stabilization and cravings postpartum. Combining this nutrition with protein will help you stay fuller longer. Fiber also helps with bowel movements. As this in not a time to worry about straining to go to the bathroom, I encourage you to not hold back on the fruits, vegetables and grains. Getting your fiber sources from fruits and vegetables has the added benefit of additional nutrients
Finally, grains like oats, barley and brown rice, which are high in fiber, also are known for their lactation benefits. By including them in meals, nursing mothers can ensure they are getting enough fiber to help with satiety, while also increasing milk supply.
Don’t Forget Your Fats
Fats are another essential macronutrient for stabilizing blood sugar. Nutrition Sources rich in Vtiamin E and Omega-3 Fatty acids are at the top of the list of foods to include in your post-partum diet. Vitamin E aids in wound healing while Omega-3 Fatty Acids are anti-inflammatory. Eggs, olive oil, nuts, fatty fish and avocados provide satiety and even include additional nutrients such as the commonly depleted Vitamin D!
While I would like to believe that all of us will be prepping and consuming large platefuls of colorful fruits and vegetables, as well as a variety of rich protein sources, I also live in the real world and know what it’s like to have my hands full 24/7, plus the energy and brain function of a gnat. For that reason I encourage you to do the best you can, but to also help yourself out with supplements.
Now is not the time to stop taking your pre-natal vitamins. The Folate alone is essential for healing and can help with your milk-supply, not to mention the Vitamin C, A, other B vitamins and minerals that will help your body recover.
Vitamin D is one so many of us are low in. While it only takes exposing approximately 25% of your body for 8-10 minutes a day to produce enough vitamin D naturally, many of us can’t remember or find the time to do even that. Because Vitamin D speeds healing, increases milk volume if nursing, and promotes the creation of antimicrobials to fight infection, it’s worth adding to your supplement line up.
Due to our modern lifestyle and processed foods, many of us are low on Magnesium and Chromium, two minerals known for triggering sugar cravings when depleted. Chromium is essential for transporting glucose and blood sugar regulation, but is hard to come naturally unless eating a wide variety of fruits and vegetables, while magnesium helps our muscles and nervous system function properly and monitors blood sugar and blood pressure. You do not need high doses of either of these, but they can make a world of difference in your cravings and blood sugar regulation.
Have patience mama. By eating a well balanced and adequate diet you will be able to heal faster, sleep better and have more energy. With this comes the ability to exercise and strengthen your body, not to mention function better as a mom, partner, and general human being. Your body may take time to return to it’s pre-pregnancy size, but doing it in a balanced and sustainable way, will allow you to maintain your health and fitness levels for years to come.