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Postpartum Diet & Nutrition

May18

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postpartum_food_and%20drink.jpgWhen we were trying to think of ways to “keep the Zero to Forty conversation going” (translation: I wanted to keep getting paid, and stuff), I seized upon the observation that the postpartum chapters of pregnancy books are all about the baby. After 40-odd chapters about you and your body and your emotions and you you you, there’s a little bit about childbirth and then…the baby gets like, 95% of the word count after that. The only postpartum stuff that gets talked about is stuff that is directly related to the baby and taking care of the baby and being all you can be simply for the sake of the baby.

Exhibit A: Postpartum nutrition.

“You need to consume 300 – 500 additional calories a day if exclusively breastfeeding. Continue to take your prenatal vitamin.”

Aaaaaand…scene!

If you’re not breastfeeding, you do not exist. And if you are breastfeeding, there’s not much hardcore guidance about how to get those additional calories if, say, you’re nursing a baby who will projectile vomit if you so much as THINK about drinking some milk or orange juice or your favorite spicy burrito that sustained you all through pregnancy. And what about those days when you suddenly realize that it’s 2:00 pm and you’ve successfully kept the baby fed and changed and moderately happy all day but the only calories you’ve remembered to consume are the ones in your toothpaste?

It’s HARD to take care of yourself when you’re taking care of a newborn. There should be entire chapters of books about how to take care of yourself. Long ones, typed all out in caps lock for emphasis. Like this:

REMEMBER TO EAT. Seriously, I had trouble with this twice now. It was probably even worse the second time around, since I’ve had a few years’ practice at putting my needs behind my child’s. Nurse baby, feed preschooler, feed pets, think about making some toast, oh wait preschooler wants more milk baby needs a new diaper dog wants to go outside the phone is ringing oh hi it’s LUNCHTIME. And then I’d swing in the opposite direction because I was sooooo hungry — I’d just consume every convenient nutritionally-questionable food item in sight. I had food aversions for nine months! I haven’t wanted to eat anything! I’m starving! OH LOOK LET’S EAT A ENTIRE PACKAGE OF HOT DOGS.

I ended up tasking my husband (and later my mother-in-law) with reminding me to eat, just like I tasked them with dosing out my pain medication. I requested someone make me a good breakfast every morning for a good month or so, and I DESERVED IT.

STAY HYDRATED, BUT DON’T BE A FREAK ABOUT IT. Increasing your water intake does not increase (or decrease) your milk supply. You’re not pregnant anymore, so feel free to relax with the constant water chugging. Drink when you’re thirsty, drink enough to keep yourself from getting dehydrated, and if you’re totally sick of water after nine months of drinking gallons of it, drink something else. Juice, tea, milk, soup, whatever. I found that I actually WAS thirsty a lot, but didn’t have the issues with actual constant dehydration that plagued my pregnancy. (I also like vitamin supplement water packs — they’re technically meant to be used before exercising but some days producing enough breastmilk while wrangling multiple children feels like running a marathon. I’m a soda addict who neeeeeeds my can of Coke in the afternoon but lately I’ve been drinking these instead.)

MAKE IT COUNT. And on that note, when you do remember to eat? Try to eat well. And I mean that totally and fully for your benefit only. For nine months you’ve had the damn diet police obsessing over your every bite — caffeine! mercury! listeria! oh noes teh bayyybeee! — and now they are officially off your back. Even if you’re breastfeeding, what you eat isn’t getting passed into your breastmilk the same way it went into your placenta. Sure, you can make your baby gassy with too much broccoli (Noah had tummy problems ANY time I drank OJ), but you can more or less eat what you want. But! Balance!

Seriously — you eat like crap in the early postpartum days, you are going to feel like crap. If you skip breakfast and then frantically eat half a package of Oreos at noon, you’re not going to feel well. I mean, you’d NEVER feel well after a day like that, but when you add in sleep deprivation and wildly fluctuating hormones, you’re going to feel ESPECIALLY bad. Depressive bad. Anxious bad. Coming-down-with-every-virus-in-the-neighborhood bad (trust me on that one). So think eggs, whole-grain toast with butter, and juice for breakfast. Peanut butter or tuna fish or a good salad for lunch. Proteins! Carbs! Lean meats and vegetables and food pyramids and what-have-you! Keep the energy bars stocked and handy for when your day (and nutrition) goes off the rails. Even if you’re not breastfeeding, don’t look at the early crazy hazy days as a nice built-in crash diet. There will be time for that later. Not to sound all patronizing and stuff, but you need to keep your strength up, both physically and mentally, while your body and mind adjust to your new reality. Eat well. I mean it.

Next week, in a similar sort of theme: Exercising. Getting back in shape. Ugh. And etc. So go get your carbo-loading in this week, because next week I’m going to make you all do push-ups until you cry.

If you landed here but are still pregnant, visit Amalah’s Pregnancy Calendar. You won’t regret it.

Illustration by Secret Agent Josephine.

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About the author

Amalah

http://www.amalah.com
Amalah is a pseudonym of Amy Corbett Storch. She is the author of the Advice Smackdown and Bounce Back. You can follow Amy's daily mothering adventures at Amalah. Also, it's pronounced AIM-ah-lah.

If there is a question you would like answered on the Advice Smackdown, please submit it to amyadvice@gmail.com.

Amy also documented her second pregnancy (with Ezra) in our wildly popular Weekly Pregnancy Calendar, Zero to Forty.

Amy is mother to rising first-grader Noah, preschooler Ezra, and toddler Ike.


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12 Responses to “Postpartum Diet & Nutrition”

  1. samantha jo campen May 19 at 12:39 pm Reply Reply

    So true. The forgetting to eat thing? Oh lord it toally happens. And as a pregnant woman it may be hard to believe when (if you’re lucky and not puking)you remember to shove food in your face every five minutes.
    My hunger was out of control after the baby was born. I was breastfeeding and he was literally sucking the life out of me. I’d eat an entire cake/pie every single day and I’m not even making that up. I felt like crap. Huh. Wonder if they are related.
    Excellent post. Almost makes me want to get pregnant again. ALMOST.

  2. charlotte May 19 at 1:27 pm Reply Reply

    “If you skip breakfast and then frantically eat half a package of Oreos at noon.”
    Have we met before? Or did you install one of those nannycams in my house?
    Seriously. I know I need to shape up with the eating. Thanks for the kick in the butt.

  3. Catherine S May 19 at 1:43 pm Reply Reply

    Great post!! Yeah, so much writing dedicated to what to eat while pregnant and not a damn word about it afterwards. I have NEVER been one to forget to eat, but in the months after my sons birth, that was the first thing to go. It is a whole lot of effort to fix something for yourself and scarf it down before it is time to feed baby again. With only one babe, I can only imaging that it gets harder with each addition.
    I totally wish I had stocked up on some good, healthy ready to eat stuff for the postpartum phase. My mom did a good job of feeding me for the week that she stayed, husband, not so much. He finally caught on after about a month and I am still salivating over the egg, serrano ham, and cheese on baguette that he would serve up for breakfast. Giving it to him as a task next time though is brilliant!!
    Would also say that it is a good idea to snack a lot. A granola bar and a glass of milk did a LOT to restore my sanity in the early days. Oh, and lots of fruits and veg for the lovely constipation…

  4. Elizabeth May 19 at 2:31 pm Reply Reply

    I’m a big fan of those fruit “bouquets” as Welcome Baby gifts, because having a big pile of chopped, easy, visible fruit is great for new moms. If you can wrangle someone into making you a big bowl of fruit salad, it’s a good “I have 14 seconds to eat something, anything, everything before someone else needs something” snack.

  5. Caitlin May 19 at 2:45 pm Reply Reply

    I was also STARVING after my baby was born. I had one of those weird pregnancies where I lost weight, and I think I was finally getting back on track with my regular weight.
    I was hungry in the middle of the night too so my husband was tasked with making me a snack each night so I’d have something good to eat handy by my breastfeeding chair.
    One thing I’d also like to say is that it’s ok to let your baby squawk a little while you eat. I always say that if mama don’t eat, baby don’t eat either, so it’s really important to have your meal or snack or whatever.
    And good nutrition totally makes me happier – and happier mums are better mums for sure!

  6. Elizabeth May 19 at 8:17 pm Reply Reply

    You know that “sleep when your baby sleeps” thing? I would also like to recommend “eat when your baby eats.” If you are bottle-feeding, great! Take the opportunity to eat grown-up food with real silverware. Breastfeeding? Who cares if the baby gets a few crumbs on their blanket; you know you’ll need to change outfits all the time anyway. Once we got comfortable with the whole breastfeeding thing I ate anything I could one-handed while nursing. My husband would cut my food into bite-size chunks much the way I now do for my son. When the feeding was over we both got to nap.

  7. Wallydraigle May 20 at 10:38 am Reply Reply

    My problem was that I was so worn out that, given the choice between grabbing a package of Oreos and spending five minutes reheating last night’s supper or, worse, preparing something new, I’d choose Oreos every time. Just putting something on a plate to go in the microwave was more work than I could handle. But I’m a lazy slob to begin with. Add in sleep deprivation and oh my gosh why’d they give me this screaming thing I’m a total failure, and I had an all-Oreo, all the time diet for a couple months.
    Now that I’ve fumbled my way into some semblance of a good routine, I make myself eat three eggs and two pieces of high-fiber bread every day. I usually scramble the eggs with a tiny bit of oil and lots of yummy spices and go easy on the butter for the bread. It’s hard. I’m crazy for butter. Anyway, that breakfast actually keeps me full for whole hours, which is crazy. I’ve always been one of those people who’s constantly eating and constantly hungry anyway. Add in breastfeeding, and the black hole that is my stomach screams out for MOOOAAAAARRRR! every minute and a half.

  8. Cobblestone May 20 at 1:19 pm Reply Reply

    I made sure to have calorie-dense stuff in the house that didn’t take much. I was off diary almost immediately and didn’t realize how much I counted on cheese for a calorie/fat hit. Here were my favorites -
    Nuts {well, cashews for me} in a bowl on the counter.
    Avacado
    Liversausage {the Oscar Myer goop in a tube}
    With those I could get about 150 calories in about 2 minutes with enough fat that I didn’t crash right after.

  9. paranoid May 20 at 2:54 pm Reply Reply

    I cannot imagine forgetting to eat. I think you could chop off my hands and my legs and throw me in a pit, and I’d still find a snack somewhere.
    However, this time around, I do find myself forgetting to drink. It takes 10 seconds to grab and unwrap a granola bar, but longer than that to down a glass of water. So I won’t drink anything all day then find myself insanely thirsty in the evening.
    ONe thing I’m wondering about — is anyone else gaining weight while nursing? I didn’t gain weight during my pregnancy and, in fact, had lost 34 pounds by a month postpartum. But now those pounds are creeping back on, even though I’m nursing. It’s very annoying. I really don’t want to diet, but I guess I have to.

  10. dcfullest May 20 at 7:46 pm Reply Reply

    Just read in Barbara Luke’s book for parents of multiples about the nutritional requirements needed for breastfeeding moms– she by far has the most information about these issues than anybody else I have read.
    For moms of singletons:
    Servings needed:
    Dairy- 8 (1 oz)
    Meat- 2 (3 oz)
    Eggs- 1
    Veggies- 4
    Fruits- 4
    Whole Grains- 8
    Fats/Oils/Nuts- 5
    Twin moms need 2 more servings of dairy a day.

  11. Meg May 24 at 11:50 pm Reply Reply

    I have to say (without any shame even) that I did not even get any calories from toothpaste half the time.
    My baby was so colicky for months that even the thought of squeezing toothpaste onto my toothbrush was exhausting and/ or a trigger for an emotional breakdown. Because I can’t even pay the electric bill on time or pick that paper clip up that I think was there when we moved in how am I going to take care of a baby?
    When I did have the energy I just made tons of whatever was for dinner to ensure a lot of leftovers. Luckily I am not picky and could eat the same thing every day.
    Also, Praise Be To Baby Jeebuz for Super Target’s Deli! Their lunch meats and cheeses are half the price of a regular supermarket. And they aren’t all sneaky like telling you the price by the half pound. I ate sammiches for breakfast, lunch and dinner.

  12. Della May 26 at 2:41 pm Reply Reply

    Wow. I’m right there with Charlotte, wanting to know how long you’ve had the ‘cams up in my house.
    My son is 15 months old when I’m writing this comment. I STILL have probably 3-4 days a week when I have to tell my husband [the cook in our house] at 3pm either (a) that I’m so starving I can’t wait any longer and he’ll have to move his dinner plans back by a couple hours so I’ll be hungry again by the time it’s ready, or (b) that he needs to start making dinner RIGHT THEN because I swear I won’t make it past 5pm unless dinner is ready.
    At this age, that’s more of a poor planning issue. Immediately postpartum, though, you just can’t help it.
    To me, the most important thing was (and will be again, this time) having something that I could just grab and eat, because I usually didn’t think about it until I was running to take care of the baby, and since I hadn’t thought of it the night before, I hadn’t put the tub of frozen homemade chicken soup into the fridge to thaw. And rushing around the house while the baby cried, I didn’t have time to stand in front of the microwave for 2 minutes waiting for it to thaw, open, see if I can finally scoop out a serving of it, put the serving in to actually heat for another 2 minutes…
    So, I say, spend whatever it takes to have easy-open, ready-to-eat, APPEALING somewhat nutritious foods on hand at all times.
    If I have Oreos, goldfish, and ice cream on hand, I’m telling you, that’s going to be what goes into my mouth. Just open and shovel, plus, you’re getting that insta-carb payoff when you’re starving.
    So the thing is to make sure you have on hand something that is basically just open-and-eat, and something that appeals to you (all the granola bars in the pantry won’t help you if you know you’ll never crave them). Even if that means stocking something that is just partially nutritious. Better to have something partially nutritious and actually eat it, than to stock GOOD nutrition and ignore it for the Oreos.
    If that means stocking up on Stouffer’s single size French Bread Pizzas because at least that way you get three food groups instead of just plain sugar, then do it! If that means stocking up with Sams Club size containers of string cheese sticks and mixed nuts and Nutri-grain bars and a case of the high-fat, high-sugar creamy yogurt you would normally avoid, then by all means, do it!
    If you know you would eat healthy food if it was just available to grab and go, maybe ask your husband to make you a sack lunch each morning, and leave it in the fridge for you. Maybe if you have serving-sized portions of appealing homemade food frozen ready, that you can throw in the microwave unsupervised, it can heat while you fetch the baby and then be ready so you’re both eating at the same time. (Good project for the month or two prior to delivery, right? Make use of those nesting urges!)
    One last thing that applies for breastfeeding moms:
    If you have a designated place where you’ll be nursing, make sure that you practice picking things up and setting them down on the side table, one-handed. Practice with a baby doll or something. I found that arms of the love seat I used as a nursing chair were so high, that I couldn’t reach the side table. So if I had a bowl of soup? I couldn’t set it down OR if it was already set down, I couldn’t scoop bites out of it. So it was just there, tantalizing me, and I couldn’t have it. Normally, if I’m not holding a baby, I can just sit up on my knees or sit all crooked leaning over the edge and I had never really thought about it. When nursing, you don’t have a lap, so think about where your food is going, make sure it’s accessible, and make sure you can put the “empty” container down easily when you want to. Nothing worse than having to set a 90% empty bowl of chicken soup on the couch cushion next to you and then trying not to knock it over.

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