Several factors influence your road to recovery after pregnancy and childbirth. Two of these factors are nutrition and exercise. It may take more or less time than expected to fully recover, but following these postpartum nutrition and exercise guidelines can help speed up your recovery. It can also help improve your physical and mental health as well as your overall wellness.
Tip 1: Eat a healthy postpartum diet.
How you nourish your body during the fourth trimester is equally as important as how you nourished it during the first three. Good nutrition is important for your mental and physical health, as well as for the health and growth of your baby if you’re breastfeeding. Eating a healthy postpartum diet can help you properly recover from childbirth, as well as help boost your energy (you’re going to need it as a new mom), mood and overall wellbeing.
So what does a healthy postpartum diet look like? A healthy diet is a well-balanced diet; one that contains a variety of foods covering all of your nutritional needs. Here’s what a balanced postpartum diet should include:
- Healthy fats
- Lean protein
- Whole grains
- Complex carbohydrates
- Iron-rich foods.
Whole wheat bread, brown rice, lean meats, fish, avocados, nuts, seeds, yogurt, eggs, fruits and vegetables are all excellent, healthy food sources that provide needed nutrition for postpartum moms.
Taking care of yourself is one thing you need to do after giving birth, and one way to do that is by eating foods that nourish your body, mind and baby. Some mothers turn to a Mediterranean diet during pregnancy and after giving birth to help them do just that. A Mediterranean diet focuses on eating plant-based foods, such as whole grains, fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds and legumes. It’s a heart-healthy diet that includes less dairy and meat than most typical adult diets. A prospective study of 1,675 pregnant women found that eating a Mediterranean-based diet during pregnancy was associated with a reduced risk of cardiovascular risk factors, namely metabolic syndrome and insulin resistance syndrome. You can also check out “The Postnatal Cookbook” by Jaren Soloff, a Registered Dietitian and International Board Certified Lactation Consultant, for simple and nourishing postpartum recipes.
Tip 2: Know what you need to consume more of.
Really, a healthy postpartum diet is similar to a healthy diet for most adult females. But if you’re breastfeeding, you may need to consume more of certain things, such as an increased amount of calcium, Omega-3s, zinc, iodine, choline and B12. Breastfeeding is a time of increased nutritional demand for mothers. The proper use and consumption of certain minerals, macronutrients and micronutrients can reduce maternal and fetal complications during pregnancy and while breastfeeding your baby. Some doctors and midwives may also recommend that women continue taking their prenatal vitamins after giving birth, especially if they’re breastfeeding, while others may advise new moms to start taking a multivitamin to help meet their daily nutritional needs.
Tip 3: Know what foods to limit or avoid.
Some new breastfeeding mothers ask if there are certain foods or drinks they should avoid. The answer is yes. But even if you’re not breastfeeding (fed is best!), there are certain things you may want to avoid or just limit as a new mom so you’re getting the proper nutrition to help your body recover and boost your energy.
First, let me say that no foods or beverages are totally off-limits. The cops won’t be called if you drink a soda or glass of wine every now and again – you just might want to wait a few hours to breastfeed to be safe. But there are some foods and beverages that doctors recommend you limit, especially if you’re breastfeeding so that certain things don’t get into your breastmilk and passed onto your baby:
- Sugar (it can cause you to dehydrate)
- Fish high in mercury (tuna, swordfish, mackerel, shark and others)
- Any foods your baby may be allergic to
- Foods that can give you gas (if they give you gas, they can give your baby gas or digestive issues).
Tip 4: Keep track of your calories.
You don’t need to download a calorie counter and keep track of every single calorie. But it is good to know in general how many calories you’re consuming each day. The CDC recommends breastfeeding mothers consume an extra 330-400 kilocalories a day, putting your daily total between 2,000 to 2,800 kcal. However, individual calorie needs vary due to factors like age, height, weight and activity level. You can use the Dietary Reference Intake (DRI) Calculator for Healthcare Professionals to estimate your individual calorie and nutrient recommendations.
Kathy McManus, R.D., director of the department of nutrition at Brigham Women’s Hospital in Boston, has a simple piece of advice for new moms who are trying to consume the right amount of calories. “It’s important to spread food throughout the day so that you get an even amount of calories,” she said. So along with eating your normal daily meals, make sure to add healthy snacks into your postpartum diet.
Tip 5: Eat to fuel your body, not to lose weight.
The need to “bounce back” right after having a baby is a need you don’t need to have. Your body just did something out-of-this-world amazing. You created and birthed a baby! Your body changes after having a baby, and it changes for the better. You may always look and feel a little different, or you may look like you did before you got pregnant. Either way, be proud of your body and take care of it while also caring for your baby.
After giving birth, it’s not recommended that you eat to lose weight. You also shouldn’t restrict yourself or go hungry. You want to eat foods that nourish your body. You want to fuel your body with whole foods so that you are healthy and have the energy to care for your baby.
Tip 6: Stay hydrated.
Whether or not you’re breastfeeding, it’s important to stay hydrated. The human body needs water to function, and staying hydrated will help with your recovery from childbirth and your overall health.
You may have heard that if you want to increase your milk supply, increase your water intake. That may or may not be true. Different studies have shown that there isn’t enough unbiased scientific data or a significant relationship between milk production and increased fluid intake by mothers. However, not drinking enough water can cause your milk supply to temporarily decrease. Dehydration can also cause dry mouth, headaches, dizziness, fatigue, muscle cramps or muscle weakness and constipation.
Some people may tell you that you need to drink a certain number of cups of water a day. But really, you just need to drink as much water as your body tells you to. How much water you drink may be different from what your sister, best friend or neighbor drinks, and that’s OK so long as you stay hydrated. Many breastfeeding mothers drink more fluids while breastfeeding because they lose some of the fluids in their bodies as they’re diverted to producing milk.
Use these tips to help keep yourself hydrated after having a baby:
- Drink enough water so that you don’t feel thirsty.
- Drink a glass of water before or after you feed your baby. You’ll definitely stay hydrated this way considering newborns breastfeed about 8-12 times a day during their first month of life and 7-9 times a day around 1-2 months old.
- Keep water bottles in the spots where you breastfeed.
- Take a bottle of water with you whenever you leave the house.
- Add natural flavors to water if you don’t like plain water. You can infuse it with fresh fruits or add in a flavor packet.
- Get water from food. Drinking water isn’t the only way to stay hydrated. You can also get water from water-rich fruits and vegetables, such as cucumbers, celery, tomatoes and watermelon.
- Watch the color of your urine. Darker-colored urine is a sign of dehydration.
- Try different types of water bottles. Like your baby, you might find yourself favoring a tumbler with a straw or a spill-proof bottle.
Tip 7: Walk as a form of daily exercise.
The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists recommends women get at least 150 minutes of exercise a week after having a baby. You could easily hit that goal by going on two 15-minute walks a day for five days a week. You could also go on a 10-minute walk every day of the week, and then sprinkle in some postnatal yoga time to get in more exercise minutes.
Walking is such a great postpartum exercise because it’s easy on the body. Most postpartum moms are cleared to walk right after giving birth. Plus, walking is also beneficial for you and your baby. It allows both of you to get some fresh air, get moving and put your new baby stroller or baby carrier to good use!
Tip 8: Take advantage of at-home workouts.
At-home workouts are the perfect way to safely ease back into exercise after giving birth. It’s also the more convenient way to work out because you don’t have to worry about leaving your house or your baby. There are even at-home workouts you can do with your baby. For many of these exercises, all you need is an open area and a baby carrier. For others, you may need dumbbells, a stability ball or a yoga mat. Whether you look up postpartum workouts or follow online postpartum exercise programs like CARiFiT, you can find safe and effective exercises that aren’t too intense for recent childbirth.
Tip 9: Push through.
Those first few workouts after having a baby can be hard and uncomfortable. That’s OK and normal. But just because it’s hard or you feel uncomfortable doesn’t mean you should give up. Get through those first few postpartum workouts, even if it takes you longer than you expected. You may need to take more water and rest breaks. But eventually, you won’t. Your energy, endurance and coordination will come back.
Keep in mind that being uncomfortable and in pain are two different things. Listen to your body. If you are in pain while exercising, stop and don’t hesitate to call your doctor or midwife to double-check if what you’re feeling is normal or not.
Tip 10: Don’t go at it alone.
“It takes a village to raise a child” may be an old African proverb, but it’s a saying that’s still true today. You don’t have to cook or eat alone. When someone asks you how they can help, ask them to pick up some groceries or make you dinner one night this week. How, when and what you eat is important, and your partner, friends and family would love to help you this way. You don’t have to exercise alone either. Ask a mom friend to be your exercise buddy. Take a mommy-and-me workout class or join a gym that has a good daycare.
Taking care of your baby is your top priority nowadays – but taking care of yourself is equally as important.