Postpartum Diet & Nutrition
When 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.”
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?
3 Simple Ways to Take Care of Yourself
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 — when 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.
Published May 18, 2009. Last updated January 23, 2018.