In the weeks after welcoming your bundle of joy into the world, you may find yourself eager to lose your pregnancy weight and fit back into your pre-maternity jeans, sharpish. However, it’s important to remember the incredible journey your body has been through and the changes you may see and feel once you’ve given birth. Initially, your focus should be on supporting your body’s recovery from the pregnancy, as well as supporting your energy levels and mood. It may be that you are breastfeeding as well, in which case you will need to consider ‘nutrition for two’.
Nutritional strategies that may be particularly important in supporting energy levels and mood include overall diet, B vitamins, vitamin D and omega-3s. The first few weeks and months of motherhood can feel overwhelming so it’s important to find time to look after yourself, as well as your beautiful new baby. Postpartum depression is the most prevalent mood disorder associated with childbirth. No single cause of this has been identified, however the increased risk of nutritional deficiencies incurred through the high nutritional requirements of pregnancy may play a role in the onset of depressive symptoms.
Sleepless nights can make reaching for sugary snacks a temptation. However, these will give you a quick burst of energy and then leave you feeling more drained than before. To help with energy levels try these tips:
- Avoid sugary snacks and foods – biscuits, cakes, commercial breakfast cereals, as well as dried fruit and fruit juice which are high in sugar. These foods raise blood sugar quickly but within a couple of hours you are likely to be reaching for more
- For a ‘healthy snack’, combine protein with carbohydrate. E.g. a handful of (unsalted) nuts and some fresh fruit, or oatcakes plus peanut butter
- Eat some good quality protein food with each meal to help keep blood sugar balanced – eggs, chicken, fish, lean meat, nuts/seeds, beans/pulses
- Healthy fats are also important for keeping blood sugar balanced and are needed for hormone synthesis and other vital functions – choose avocado, nuts (not peanuts), seeds, olive oil, coconut oil, coconut cream plus oily fish (however if you are breastfeeding then limit oily fish to one portion per week and choose small, wild fish such as sardines and wild salmon which are lower in mercury)
- Choose starchy carbohydrates such as sweet potatoes, oats, rice and wholemeal bread and eat these in moderate amounts alongside plenty of non-starchy vegetables of all colours (e.g. dark green leafy vegetables, salad vegetables etc.)
- Bulk cook, portion and freeze meals to save time
- A blender can be a useful addition to the kitchen – making a homemade smoothie can provide a quick, satisfying and energy boosting meal or snack (see recipes below)
Supplements to consider
Even with a balanced diet it can be difficult to obtain optimal levels of all the nutrients needed for health, due to what we call the Nutrition Gap. The Nutrition Gap describes the difference between the level of nutrients the average person is obtaining from a reasonable Western diet, and the levels that may be needed for health. Nutrient shortfalls are caused by a number of different factors, including our food choices; food growing/processing and preparation methods which affect nutrient content of the food we eat; the ability to adequately digest and absorb nutrients and lifestyle factors which give rise to extra nutrient needs. In view of this, you may like to consider continuing with your pregnancy multivitamin/mineral in the post-birth period. Ensure that it includes a full spectrum of vitamins and minerals, including all the B vitamins which are important for energy production.
In addition to your pregnancy multi, there are a few other supplements you might want to consider which are safe to take whilst breastfeeding:
- Vitamin D: The government now recommends that everyone takes a vitamin D supplement. This may be particularly important post pregnancy as low levels of vitamin D have been associated with depression. Check the levels included in the multi and if necessary take an additional supplement. You should aim for a total intake of around 50 mcg (2000 i.u.) per day
- Omega-3 fatty acids, EPA and DHA: these are needed for hormone synthesis and proper brain function. Low levels have been shown to increase risk of depression.
Breastmilk contains high levels of DHA, which is important for the baby’s developing brain and vision
- Live bacteria: in particular, if you have noticed changes in your bowel habits during or post pregnancy, choose a supplement that has a mix of different bacterial strains. Live bacteria are safe to take if breastfeeding
Deconstructed Black Forest Gateau – 200 ml plain yoghurt, 20 almonds (preferably soaked overnight), 10 frozen cherries, 2 teaspoons cacao powder. Blend thoroughly. Serve and drink immediately (alternatively the yoghurt can be swapped for 100 ml coconut cream plus 100 ml water).
Beetroot Smoothie – 1 raw red beetroot (peeled), 5 walnuts (preferably soaked overnight), 40 g of frozen blueberries, 40 g frozen raspberries, ½ avocado, 300 ml filtered water. Blend thoroughly. Serve and drink immediately.
Article by nutritional therapist, Clare Daley from Cytoplan