As a step mum of 3 between the ages of 9-15 I thought balancing motherhood and self care was easy – then I had my baby. Hello reality! We all know the difference that eating well, sleeping well and exercising regularly can make. However, even the healthiest and fittest of us can lose momentum in the whirlwind of those early months.
While there are many articles and resources for optimum Nutrition while breastfeeding, most seem to focus on the ideal diet of wholefoods, organic where possible etc. Of course, as a Nutritionist I completely agree with this advice as the ideal. I endorse the guidelines of eating a diet rich in vegetables, protein, fibre and healthy fats.
However, most new mums will tell you that a healthy diet is tough when caring for a newborn. Honestly in the first couple of months it’s quite an achievement if you’ve managed to brush your hair, take a shower and eat anything at all.
So today I want to offer some real-talk and practical advice on the cheats and quick-fix substitutions that can help you maintain a healthy diet through this crazy busy time.
Life as a new mum
As a proud and blissfully happy new mum, I have to admit, the early days of motherhood were a lot tougher than I expected. Even as a Nutritionist, with all the knowledge and passion I have, my healthy lifestyle was traded for eating whatever whenever I could and exercise traded for 24/7 feeding, rocking, bouncing, burping & changing my daughter.
Like most women, I thought pregnancy was the hard part. I swallowed down the intense “morning sickness” (which lasted all day everyday) through back to back appointments. I maintained my fitness regime throughout the pregnancy fatigue – swimming 300-400m every day until the day before I gave birth. I even moved house while heavily pregnant and I continued seeing patients until I was in my 8th month. “I’ve kicked pregnancy’s butt” I thought. But I’d soon find out that the toughest times were yet to come.
Running on love
Running on nothing but love in those early weeks, my days and nights rolled into one with round the clock breastfeeding and a newborn who needed 24hrs of cuddling each day (which I more than happily provided). Like most new mums I struggled, sometimes skipping lunch, ordering takeaway and snacking on chips, chocolate and ice-cream.
I was becoming progressively more and more exhausted, my weight was creeping up and I literally never, ever felt full no matter how much I ate. It was time to change – back to healthy eating. But who on earth has the time with a newborn right?
Luckily, as a Nutritionist, I have a foundation of knowledge that helped me to get quickly back on track with just a few simple changes so that I could start feeling healthier and happier – and knowing that I provide the best quality milk for my baby.
So today I’d like to share with you my Top 5 Nutrition Tips for New Mums. Hopefully this post helps you to sail through the 4th Trimester with more energy to help you enjoy this precious time.
Tip 1: Do whatever you can to always have a healthy, hearty breakfast
So, you’ve been up all night breastfeeding, you’re exhausted, stiff and sore from inadequate rest and being in all sorts of positions over night. You probably don’t feel all that hungry just yet – or if you’re like me you’re absolutely famished and want to eat everything in sight but you’re too tired to get out of bed.
A great tip here is that babies are always their happiest first thing in the morning. So, use this time to get in a good breakfast. If you can, get up early enough so that you can shower and eat before your partner leaves for work and then enjoy cuddles with your smiley baby afterwards. If not, then here are some tips for making breaky-with-bub a little easier. Each should take only a few minutes and contain lots of healthy fats, protein, Vitamins and minerals to ensure a healthy milk supply and a happy, satisfied mum:
- Pre-boiled eggs plus avocado on toast: Pre-boil eggs at the beginning of the week. Then add to your toast with avocado, salt and pepper in the morning.
- Smoothies: Mix the night before while your partner watches bub. Mix a cup of fruit, half cup of yoghurt, water and nuts/seeds such as almond, walnut, chia or flaxseed.
- Overnight oats, muesli or quinoa flakes: Soak the oats/quinoa flakes/muesli overnight in a mix of water, yoghurt and cinnamon. In the morning add some fresh fruit. This is a great option for when bub is clingy as it can be eaten a spoonful at a time with one hand while you breastfeed with the other.
Tip 2: Know your cheats – healthy doesn’t need to be complicated
These little quick fixes can help you to prepare a nutritious meal in just minutes and yes you can eat while your baby is feeding or sleeping in your arms. Now let me preface this by saying of course these are a slight compromise on the fresh alternative but most mums with little bubs will tell you there really isn’t often time for chopping, peeling and preparing fresh ingredients.
These quick fixes help to ensure you have time to both make and eat your food – BONUS. You may even be able to do so uninterrupted:
- Easy carbs and fibre: Microwave brown rice, tinned lentils/beans, good quality bread.
- Quick veggies: Frozen vegetables, coleslaw mix, cherry or grape tomatoes, bags of salad leaves, canned tomatoes.
- Ready to go protein: Tins of tuna, smoked salmon, organic tofu, cheese, Greek yoghurt, frozen edamame, tins of beans and lentils.
- Simple snacks: Nuts, fruit, cheese, rice crackers, protein bars/muesli bars, Greek yoghurt.
- Condiments: Balsamic vinegar, olive oil, honey soy sauce, curry paste, tomato paste, pesto, grainy mustard.
With your kitchen stocked up on the above ingredients you can make simple meals which are healthy, tasty and satisfying in just minutes.
Simple meal ideas include:
- High protein tofu and veggie stir-fry (serves 1): 100g organic tofu, 1 cup frozen green beans, ½ a cup of broad beans, 1 cup mixed cauliflower and broccoli, 1 pot of microwave brown rice dressed with honey soy.
- Lentil and veggie curry (serves 2 plus leftovers for your lunch tomorrow): take 2 tbsp curry paste (choose your favourite flavour), 2 tbsp Greek yoghurt, 1 tbsp tomato paste a splash of olive oil and mix together in a large hot pan. Add 1 can of cooked lentils (drained & rinsed), 3-4 cups of your preferred veggie mix. Stir until mixed well. Add salt, pepper and a can of crushed tomatoes. Allow to simmer until it thickens (about 5 mins). Serve with microwave brown rice.
- Vegetarian bean chili (serves 2 plus leftovers for your lunch tomorrow): 1tbsp tomato paste, 1 clove garlic roughly chopped (or a tsp of minced garlic), 1tbsp olive oil, 1tsp salt, 1 tsp pepper, 1 tsp chili flakes- add together to a jar and shake until mixed well. Add to a large heated pot before adding 1 can of mixed beans (drained and rinsed). Finally add 1 tin of crushed tomatoes. Add more chili if you like it spicy. Serve with microwave brown rice, 1tbsp of Greek yoghurt and top with some grated cheese.
- Veggie omelette scramble (serves 1): take 2 eggs, 2 handfuls of coleslaw mix, 1 cup frozen green beans, 1 tsp of olive oil. Add oil to the pan, next add all veggies. Finally, crack the eggs and pour on top – mix through to scramble. For carbs, serve with bread/toast or even add a half tin of lentils (drained and rinsed) to the omelette.
- Nutritious tuna salad: microwave 1 serve of brown rice. Take 1 tin of tuna (chili tuna is my favourite), 3 handfuls of mixed leaves, 1 handful of coleslaw mix, 1 handful of raw nuts, 1 handful of mini tomatoes and half an avocado – mix well. Dress with olive oil and balsamic or lemon/lime juice. I also add chili flakes, salt and pepper.
Tip 3: Stay hydrated to reduce hunger
When you finish a meal and think you’re still “STARVING” – try drinking some water. As breastfeeding mums in the southern hemisphere our water requirements are through the roof! Most of us are dehydrated. I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve cured my all-consuming hunger by drinking 2 glasses of water. Early signs of dehydration often present with hunger pains. It’s hard for our tired brains to distinguish the two sometimes.
Of course you don’t want to be using this trick to skip meals though! Let me just make that clear. I’m purely talking about when you’re on track with regular healthy meals and snacks and still finding you’re hungry. The telling sign here is when you’re craving salty or sweet food- both carry water into the cell quickly which is probably why you’re craving them.
Tip 4: Protect your milk supply, energy and sanity – don’t skip meals!
For those trying to lose the baby weight, or just struggling to find time to eat, please try not to skip meals. This is incredibly detrimental to your energy, your emotional wellbeing and your milk supply.
The average female requires a minimum of 1800 calories per day while breastfeeding – even if you’re trying to lose the baby weight. Your milk supply relies on a regular intake of calories, micronutrients (vitamins, minerals and antioxidants) and macronutrients (carbs, proteins, fats). Don’t forget that your milk must provide essential nutrients for growth and development of your baby – a varied diet rich in healthy nutritious foods is essential.
If all you can manage is raw veggies, fruit, yoghurt, sandwiches and muesli bars some days – that’s ok! Just try your hardest to get regular meals and snacks. I can guarantee your hardest days will always be harder when you’re running low on fuel.
Tip 5: After dinner healthy snacks
It’s highly common for breastfeeding ladies to feel hungry at night. This is due to the energy and nutrient demands of taking care of your bub, the high amount of nutrients that have been flushed from your body through your breast milk and of course stocking up on the additional nutrients needed to create energy to keep you going through the night to come.
Many mums tend to give in to post-dinner cravings by eating chocolate, chips or ice-cream. Yes, I’ve done it too – however these snacks often make you even hungrier. Now of course there’s nothing wrong with indulging here and there. You deserve a treat more than anyone right now! Just as long as it is still a treat and not a staple or a daily survival technique.
To help break this habit and truly satisfy the late night munchies I recommend after dinner healthy snacks. My go-to options are:
- A couple of cups of frozen veggies – microwave-steamed and topped with salt, pepper and chili flakes.
- Edamame – also in the freezer section of the supermarket, this is a satisfying, protein and fibre-rich snack that is best enjoyed salted and spiced (go the chili flakes!). This is a great snack when you’re craving chips. Don’t eat daily though – it’s not good to overload on soy.
- Olives – no cooking required here. Just grab a handful of olives and enjoy. Olives help to stimulate digestion and detox pathways – giving you a healthy and gentle cleanse. They are also rich in healthy fats for glowing skin (something we all need help with when sleep is lacking) and fibre to give those bowels a kick. Finally olives are a natural source of good bacteria – helping your immune system to thrive and yes you’ll pass that benefit on to your little bub too.
- Yoghurt and berries – another super simple snack that requires little effort. I really enjoy the Chobani Fit pots or YoPro – both offer a high protein boost and taste great. Top with fresh berries and a tablespoon of chia seeds for a powerhouse of a snack that can help to take away a sweet craving without the need for willpower.
- Chopped veggies and dip – Woolworths and Coles sell pre-chopped carrot sticks, celery and baby cucumbers which can be dipped into hummus or nut butter for an excellent evening snack. Chobani also make excellent, high-protein, low calorie dips with a yoghurt base that makes an excellent quick and easy snack. They’re tasty too!
- A handful of raw almonds/walnuts pus 1 banana: Both help with milk supply and contain valuable nutrients which support energy production and help to reduce stress.
I hope that this article helps you to feel more on track while also relieving some pressure. I hope you feel more energised and less stressed. And if you have a bub who absolutely loves cuddles and never wants to leave your side (like mine) then I hope this helps you to have more relaxed cuddle time without the stress of hunger or fatigue.
Until next time, stay deliciously healthy.
Jennifer is a Nutritionist, Author, Health Speaker and proud Mum. Jennifer is the Director and founder of both Sydney City Nutritionist and Food Intolerance Australia. In her “spare time”, Jennifer runs a mentoring program for students and new graduates of Nutrition and Dietetics. While pregnant with her daughter, Jennifer finished and published her book Pure Health & Happiness – 8 Weeks to Change Your Life which is available on Amazon.