Nothing has tested my relationship with food like pregnancy and the early postpartum months did!
There are a couple main nutrition challenges that new moms commonly face:
- First, it can be incredibly difficult at times to simply remember to eat, or to eat enough, when you’re caring for a tiny human that demands the majority of your attention.
- Moreover, any eating you do typically has to happen quickly and easily, so consuming high quality, nutrient dense food can go by the wayside quickly.
If you’re a new mom, I’d encourage you not to strive for perfect nutrition. Eat in a way that makes you feel good in your body and satisfied after eating. Choose food that tastes delicious, is mostly nutrient dense, and that is easy to prepare.
1. Prioritize Protein (Almost) Every Time You Eat
I have never experienced such intense, almost constant hunger, as what I felt during the first weeks and months of postpartum recovery and breastfeeding. It was such a strange thing to be eating all day and, mostly, all night long, too!
One of the most helpful ways to not only increase satiation — because sometimes your meals must last you a few hours — but also to promote tissue repair and healing, is to prioritize protein every time you eat.
Here are a few simple examples:
- A smoothie with a scoop of protein powder or collagen powder
- A wrap or sandwich with deli meat or chicken
- Two scrambled eggs with hemp hearts mixed in
- Some Greek yogurt with banana and honey
- A pepperoni stick with a slice of cheese
A good guideline is to aim for 20 to 30 grams of protein at each meal. If you can hit this three to four times per day, you’ll be feeling much more satisfied after eating and between meals.
A good way to gauge this would be to eat a portion of protein with each one of your meals — that’s about the size of your palm — and a half portion with every snack. Remember, this doesn’t have to be perfect. If you can eat one hard boiled egg, which has five to six grams of protein, before feeding the baby and getting your oldest kid ready for school, that is fine. Do what you can!
2. Eat to Support Recovery
With pregnancy and birth, your body goes through an intense process. Recovery requires even more work, not to mention the huge amount of energy you’re expending caring for your newborn, and possibly your other children as well.
Do I need to point out that you’re doing all of this on very little sleep too?
It’s essential that you treat food, in part, as fuel for your recovery. Good nutrition — with protein, fats, carbohydrates, vitamins, and minerals — will help you overcome the physical depletion that inherently stems from having birthed a child.
Additionally, eating minimally-processed and nutrient-dense food can support you on a mental and emotional level. It’s easier to deal with a fussy baby who is refusing to nap when you aren’t starving!
Early postpartum is not the time to be restricting calories or to be thinking about dieting.
Your body needs fuel in the form of macro and micronutrients to support your energy demands and your healing connective tissues, and to keep your energy as even as possible throughout the days and nights.
You might have heard that you should eat 1,800 to 2,200 calories per day, and possibly more while breastfeeding. While this could be a good calorie recommendation for some moms, this will not be effective for everyone.
Your needs are likely to change from day to day, as well, and will be different whether you’re at the first month or the sixth month postpartum.
You might have days where you have been nursing every hour on the hour and you find yourself eating 750 calories at breakfast alone. You might have other days where your activity level is lower and you’re naturally not as hungry.
If you are breastfeeding, be mindful of the fact that your body will naturally prioritize breast milk production over your own recovery. This is why you should make sure to get the vitamins and minerals you need, so that your body has the means to both feed your baby and heal itself.
Try not to get too caught up in the numbers and instead do your best to figure out how you can eat in a way that feels good for you. This takes practice, but does not have to be complicated.
3. Eat Veggies at Two or More Meals per Day
Eating veggies can feel tricky when the majority of your meals are being eaten with one hand.
Do what you can to eat vegetables at two (or more) meals each day, with a goal of eventually eating five servings of vegetables or fruits on a daily basis. Vegetables are packed with vitamins, minerals, and are important for good nutrition and health.
Here a few ways to add veggies into your day:
- Breakfast: add a half cup of cooked leftover potatoes and a half cup chopped bell peppers into an egg scramble
- Snack: use one to two handfuls of spinach in a smoothie
- Lunch: make a sandwich and add lettuce, tomato, and pickles
- Dinner: roughly chop veggies and roast them in the oven
You can also give yourself a “daily veggies goal” where you strive to eat a certain number of vegetable servings per day.
For example, if eating three daily servings of veggies feels quite effortless, you might consider increasing to four to five servings. You can roughly keep track throughout the day, thinking about eating a cup or two of veggies at your bigger meals.
In Tip #5 below I give you more tips on making veggie eating simpler, so read on!
4. Do Not Try to White-Knuckle Your Way Through Cravings
Cravings arise during periods of low sleep and higher stress. During these moments, you’ll most likely be craving foods that are high in sugar and high in carbohydrates.
My advice is to prioritize protein and vegetables whenever you can, while also giving yourself some grace and eating moderate amounts of the foods that will satisfy your cravings.
When cravings hit and we choose to avoid the food we really want and instead eat other, less satisfying foods, we often end up eating a bigger serving, which in turn leaves us feeling overfull, bloated, or with a sugar crash. Not an ideal scenario.
Instead, determine what would be really satisfying for you to eat, and eat it.
The most important thing is that you feel good after eating, every single time. This is typically why it’s more enjoyable to practice tuning into your cravings, eating exactly what you want to eat (e.g. selecting the full fat ice cream vs. the sugar free ice cream), eating an amount that leaves you feeling satisfied yet not overfull, and moving on with your life.
Above all, do not beat yourself up over those cravings. It’s absolutely normal under the circumstances. It will change. Once you are getting more rest and your body is more recovered from birth, you will naturally crave less sugar and carbohydrates and be more able to eat in a manner that resembles what you’re used to.
5. Keep It Simple
Eating does not have to feel hard. In fact, it’s going to feel a lot easier as a new mom if you let yourself relax as much as possible about the specifics.
There is no meal planning that happens in my house. No specific plan when I go the grocery store. There is very little meal prep done.
That being said, there are things that I do on a weekly basis that helps make eating and mealtime easier:
- Buy a couple of pre-cooked rotisserie chickens
- Buy a few varieties of pre-made salads
- Buy two or three packets of microwavable rice
- Have smoothie ingredients on hand, including protein powder, spinach, cucumber, frozen fruit, and coconut, cashew or almond milk
- Get sliced deli meat, salami, and bacon
- Buy salad dressings, dips, and hummus
This works in my life. I’m not necessarily suggesting that you do this, but that you see what you can do to simplify the process.
- Does a local grocery store deliver?
- Can you order your groceries online and pick them up at the store?
- Can you buy pre-cut veggies or pre-made salads?
- Can you buy pre-cooked meat?
- Do you have an instant pot or crockpot?
- Can you batch cook veggies or protein sources once or twice per week?
As you go about finding ways to make your nutrition work for your life as a new mom remember the cardinal rule of eating: it should make you feel good.
Eating should be enjoyable, not stressful. Don’t get wrapped up in the minute details! You don’t have to sit to eat, chew each bite X times, or track your macros.
Follow the five tips above and eat in a way that works for your body and your life!