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Post-Partum Nutrition Survival Guide

AMY GARDNER / September 2, 2014

The first six weeks after the arrival of a new baby are nothing less than hectic to say the least. All women experience this period differently but I think it’s safe to say that we all get our fair share of extreme fatigue and wide-swinging emotions. Whether you are a first-time momma or an experienced pro, taking care of your nutrition during this period is key to boosting your energy and allowing your body to heal after delivery.

Although the importance of feeding yourself can seem like a no-brainer, when you tack on exhaustion, frequent feedings, diapers, a mounting hill of laundry and perhaps an older child to take care of, you may find that caring of yourself takes a back seat to taking care of your little one(s). Here are a few quick tips on nutrition survival during the first six weeks.

1. Quality. When your body is tired it is natural for cravings for sweets and starchy comfort foods (mac & cheese, pizza, etc…) to increase. Your body is simply looking for a quick supply of energy. Although these foods are fine in moderation, they often don’t keep your energy up in the long-term and will cause a ‘crash’ a few hours after eating. Although the double chocolate chip muffin may be calling your name, try to maximize your intake of options that will fuel your body (think whole grain toast with peanut butter OR yogurt topped with fruit and nuts). Selections like these combine protein and carbohydrate which will help your tired body feel energized for longer periods of time.

2. Reality. At the risk of now sounding contradictory, don’t go overboard and become crazed about the every meal you eat. Do your best to eat as nutritiously as possible but cut yourself some slack. If you are managing a small meal or snack every 3-4 hours, you are doing a great job. Keep easy and nutritious options handy: yogurt, fruit, cheese sticks, granola bars, whole grain crackers, nuts, cut veggies & hummus, hard-boiled eggs, etc.
3. Protein.  Whether you had your baby vaginally or via C-section, you’ve got some healing to do. Your body utilizes protein to repair wounds so don’t skimp here. Aim to have a 4-5 oz. serving of protein at each meal (or at least 3 times daily). Protein options include: chicken, beef, fish, milk, soy milk, yogurt, cheese, nuts, seeds, beans, lentils and tofu.
4. Vitamin C.  In keeping with the theme of healing, vitamin C is crucial to tissue as it repairs itself. No need to seek out vitamin C supplements – It’s always better to get vitamins through foods anyways. Vitamin C can be found in fruits (citrus, berries, kiwi) and vegetables (leafy greens, bell peppers, broccoli).
5. Fluid.  Keep yourself hydrated with non-caffeinated, non-alcoholic beverages. Becoming dehydrated can make fatigue worse which is definitely not a bonus these days so aim to get a minimum of 6-8 cups (48-64 oz.) each day.
6. Vitamins? If you are breastfeeding, definitely keep up with your prenatal vitamins in the post-partum period. If you aren’t breastfeeding, check in with your doctor on what he/she recommends. If you were taking extra iron during pregnancy for anemia, also check with your doctor about whether or not to continue this – many docs will have you continue with the additional iron until your 6-week check-up.

7. Caffeine. It may be tempting to jack yourself up on caffeine if you are tired. If you are breastfeeding this is not a good idea because it could make your baby jittery and/or sleepless (horror!).  Even if you aren’t breastfeeding, too much caffeine should be avoided because it provides little nutritional value and can wind up keeping you from catching those zzz’s that you desperately need.
Leslie Judge MS, RD, CSO, LDN