Postpartum nutrition tips for fuel, energy, and satiety.
As a Personal Trainer who's recently had a baby, it's only natural that at some point in the (not too distant) future I'll be thinking about regaining my pre-pregnancy figure. That said, right now I'm feeling fairly relaxed about my post-natal body. I'm still in awe about what it's just achieved and more than a little besotted with our little man. It also helps that it's winter, mid-lockdown and I'm only four weeks postpartum. The pressure is most definitely off, for now at least (great timing for a baby). I'm in no rush to jump on the diet train just yet and am instead focusing on healthy habits to keep me fuelled, energised and fuller for longer.
Culturally we live in a world where it’s wrongly acceptable to comment on a women’s weight. A quick online search for ‘post-baby body’ reveals an array of opinions on how women should look in the post-natal period. Whether a woman ‘snaps back’ or doesn’t lose any baby weight, chances are they’ll feel some form of judgement about their body along the way.
In an ideal world, you’d give birth, immediately lose most of the baby weight and the rest would naturally drop off over the next few weeks. Unfortunately, this ignores the somewhat challenging impact of exhaustion, hormones, breastfeeding, new-born celebrations (only fair after nine months of sobriety), and the huge life and priority shift occurring shortly after birth.
So just how important is this weight loss in the grand scheme of things?
From a health perspective, unless your weight gain is bordering on the unhealthy/obese side of things, there’s no specific time when you should start focusing on weight loss. It’s completely personal to you, what feels right, and your goals. Unless you have an urgent need to regain your pre-pregnancy figure (not sure how many supermodels read this blog), you should be able to give yourself a break and enjoy those first few months. You have just grown and birthed a human being and your body requires a certain amount of energy to fuel your recovery, your capacity to ace mum life, milk production, and the growth of your baby.
The first 12 weeks are tough enough trying to figure out keeping your baby alive, sleep deprivation, and the simple fact that life will never be the same again. So, unless you’re super committed (or have a nanny on call 24/7) I’d probably lose any thoughts of dieting or calorie counting for the time being. Instead, switch your mindset to eating for nutrition and fuel by adopting some healthy post-natal nutrition habits (particularly if you went slightly off the rails during pregnancy). I’ve listed my top habits below (note - these also work pretty well for general life too). The upside is that many of these also help stabilise blood sugar which keeps you feeling fuller for longer, so you might just find that weight loss occurs naturally anyway. Win, win.
Start the day with a high protein and fat breakfast – I’ll admit this went completely out the window during pregnancy when cereal was the only way forward however because cereals (and other carb-based breakfasts) are predominantly sugar, they cause a spike in your blood sugar first thing and can lead to more cravings for carbs during the day. A high protein and fat breakfast promotes a steadier blood sugar release, keeping you fuller for longer and preventing cravings. Good options include Greek yogurt and nut butter, nuts, eggs, bacon, and avocado. Boiled eggs (fat and protein) are excellent if you’re short on time.
Meals should combine protein, fat, and carbs – Eating this macronutrient combination balances blood sugar to keep you full. Ideally, carbs should be from unrefined (unprocessed) sources such as potatoes, oats, rice, vegetables, and fruit. Cake is also a carb should this be necessary, but this will spike blood sugar.
Increase your protein - Protein is particularly satiating so, by increasing protein, you will stay fuller for longer (spot the pattern here). Your body also burns proportionately more calories digesting protein than the other macronutrients so a double win for appetite control and calorie burn if that’s your goal.
Fill up on fiber – Fiber is highly satiating so once again, you’re less likely to overeat and snack on less nutritious foods. High fiber foods include fruit, vegetables, legumes, and whole grains. Get involved.
Avoid processed food – This is full of hidden calories with little nutritional benefit and won’t fill you up. Remember the goal is FUEL.
Vitamins & Minerals – Try to load up on as many vitamins and minerals as you can throughout the day to increase energy levels and promote optimal functioning of your body. Easy ways to do this are via the fruit bowl, smoothies, snacking on nuts and seeds, and having a couple of portions of vegetables with every meal.
Hydration – Every cell in your body contains water so for optimum daily performance you need to stay hydrated, particularly if breastfeeding. Thirst is often mistaken for hunger so drink before you eat and you'll avoid eating when you might not need to.
Supplement – You’re recovering from birth, probably not getting much sleep and your baby is also relying on you for nutrients which can leave you depleted. Taking supplements will give you an extra boost and provide a safety net to guard against illness. The world of supplements is vast but as a baseline, I’d recommend a decent multivitamin, magnesium, vitamin D & fish oil.
Being in a huge calorie deficit immediately post-birth is really not the answer so take your time. You’ll enjoy that fourth trimester much more if you’re well-nourished and feeling energised (well you can try). Remember the goal is to fuel your recovery, your life, and your baby.