When I had Sofia I ended up with an emergency c-section.
I was on bed rest in hospital for 2 weeks following her delivery. By day 5 I felt like a caged animal and began slowly walking the circuit around the ward, pushing her in her bassinet.
As someone who is usually active this new ‘me’ was overwhelming.
I didn’t feel like me. I didn’t even look like me.
Do not get me wrong here, it was completely worth everything, and my new daughter was the ultimate distraction. However I realised that if I wanted to retain postnatal sanity, I needed to get my health on track.
A Mother's Dilemma
Here in lies a mother’s dilemma. Focus on you a little or focus entirely on baby.
I think most people would go ‘sure totally give some time to yourself you need it!’ But when it comes to the reality of actually taking time out, away from your precious little one, so that you can do some exercise or a spot of relaxation…well the guilts kick in.
There are two things which helped me through this pain.
One was the realisation that in order for me to be the best mother, I needed to spend some time on me.
The second was figuring out ways I could keep healthy without sacrificing time with my baby.
So this article is all about ideas for being healthy post baby. Some will be with baby in tow, some will be just for you – pick and choose what will work for your situation.
What Happened to Your Body During Pregnancy
First it is important to understand what your body went through in pregnancy and labour. Your pregnancy weight was comprised of;
- 3-4 kg for the baby at full term
- 0.7kg for the placenta
- 0.6kg for the fluid in baby’s amniotic sac
- 1kg for the muscle layer around your uterus
- 1.2 kg equals the increase to your blood volume to cope with the extra demands of pregnancy
- 1.2kg for fluid retention
- 0.5kg for your breasts as they get ready to feed your child
- 4kg of fat to sustain you during the first six months when you are your child’s only source of nutrients!
This equates to around 12 – 16kg of weight gain in a healthy woman.
What I’m trying to illustrate is that you should not expect to lose all your ‘baby weight’ the minute you give birth. There are other parts of your weight gain that take time to change regardless of what you eat – uterine muscle size, blood volume, and fluid retention can take weeks or months to get back to pre-pregnancy levels.
If you exclusively breastfeed, it can help to burn off the extra fat accumulation which the body gains to help feed your child during the first 6 months. Of course some of us gain a little bit more than that extra amount and some had a bit extra to begin with.
This means that any weightloss should be realistic for the changes your body is going through.
Healthy Calorie Intake
A good rule of thumb for calculating daily calorie intake is to take your basic metabolic rate (how many calories your body burns by itself) and add an extra 500 calories for breastfeeding. For example, the average sized female’s basic metabolic rate is between 1200-1500 calories. You would then add the 500 calories for breastfeeding.
At this calorie intake, the amount your weight settles at is what it needs to be to nourish your child.
If you exercise as well then you would need, on average, an additional 150 – 300 calories. As you need to be properly nourished to stay healthy and well to feed your baby it is recommended that you eat all your calories, with the exception of those burnt during exercise. That way you can still create a deficit without taking away nutrients from your body or your breast milk.
How do you create a healthy diet to aid weight-loss post pregnancy but also retain nutrients for the nourishment of a breastfed child?
As with any nutrition program adequate water intake is vital.
You should try to have a glass of water or a mug of herbal tea every meal time and each time you sit down to breastfeed (three to four meals and eight to 12 feeds). On average a breastfeeding mother needs around three litres of fluid per day, which is around 14 cups, however this varies greatly depending on body size, metabolism, climate, and so on.
As in pregnancy, if you allow yourself to get a little dehydrated it should not affect your breast milk, baby always gets first dibs on your nutrients!
It is you that becomes overly dehydrated which can lead to fatigue, headaches, general unwell feeling and a false sense of hunger. This is also particularly important if exercising, and even more important when exercising in the hot temperatures such as in NZ and Australia over summer.
The ratio of carbohydrate, protein and fat in your diet, whether you are lactating or not, should be around 55% carbohydrate, 30% fat and 15% protein.
The amount of carbohydrate or protein you consume has no influence on the composition or quantity of your breast milk. However your intake of certain micronutrients (vitamins and minerals), such as Omega-3 fatty acids, is absorbed into breast milk and consumed by your infant.
Studies have shown that children fed breast milk from a mother consuming a good amount of Omega-3 fatty acids score better in visual and developmental testing; particularly when compared with formula fed children. Foods high in Omega-3s are fish, eggs, flax seeds, walnuts, tofu, soybeans, cauliflower and winter squash.
The easiest way for a new mum to keep track of her diet is to break it down into smaller segments.
Each day should consist of three 400-500 calorie meals and two to three 200-250 calorie snacks. These should add up to the total amount you need to consume for the day. Counting calories is not advocated in general as it can lead to an unhealthy fixation with dieting.
However, if you can get an idea of what a 500 calorie meal and a 250 calorie snack looks like, then you will easily keep an eye on your intake without having to continually look at calories.
More important than calorie intake is the nutritional composition of your food.
Lactating mums need to have, on average, 125 – 150% more Vitamin A, E, C, B6, B12, Folate, Niacin, Riboflavin, Thiamine, Iodine, Zinc and Selenium, than the average woman.
So here are some ideas for healthy meals and snacks that are packed full of the nutrients needed for a healthy mum and bub!
Scrambled Egg, Spinach and Smoked Salmon
- Whisk two eggs with ¼ cup low fat milk, and a pinch of salt and pepper.
- Heat in pan over medium heat stirring regularly with a wooden spoon until eggs are nearly cooked. Add in a handful of spinach leaves and stir until eggs are completely cooked.
- Place on two pieces of toast with 50g of smoked salmon.
- (450-500 calories, plus Vitamin A, E, B6, B12, Riboflavin, Iodine, Zinc, Folate and Niacin)
- See the full receipe here
- Alternatively you can sub ham for smoked salmon and adding in a piece of wholegrain toast
Tuna and Rice Salad (Can use Chicken or Tofu if preferred)
- ½ cup brown rice cooked
- 2 hard-boiled eggs
- red and green pepper/capsicum finely chopped and lightly cooked in a pan
- 1 cup finely chopped baby spinach
- 1 finely diced tomato
- 1 small can of tuna in spring water (can be replaced by 150g chicken cooked or 200g Tofu fried with 1tsp oil).
- Dressing made by combining 2tbsp lemon juice and 1tbsp sunflower oil or almond oil.
- (500 calories, plus Vitamin A, E, Folate, Niacin, Riboflavin, Thiamine, and Zinc).
Pork with homemade sweet potato fries
- 1 pork cutlet baked in the oven with ½ tbsp olive or sunflower oil, rosemary and thyme
- Slice 150g Sweet potato into 1cm cubes, place in a bowl and coat with ½ tbsp olive or sunflower oil, salt and pepper
- Cook at 210 degrees Celsius for 10 minutes, turn and cook for another 10 minutes or until brown.
- Grill some capsicum, asparagus, mushrooms and 1/8 cup chopped walnuts to add some colour to your plate
- (600 calories, plus Vitamin E, C, B12, Folate, Niacin, Riboflavin, Thiamine and Zinc).
- See the full recipe on our page
- Packed full of Vitamin A, E, Riboflavin, and Zinc
Carrot and Celery sticks with salsa or hummus
- Great sources of Vitamin A (our recipes tab has heaps of dip recipes for you to try).
Rice Cruskets with cottage cheese and tomato
- Gives you a dose of Vitamin B6, Riboflavin, Iodine and Zinc
Piece of fruit bread with 2 tsp butter or 1 tsp jam
- To get your Niacin, Zinc and Iodine
Above all it is important to remember that breast milk quality is maintained at the expense of the mother’s body. It is therefore important for you to eat well for your own health and wellbeing. Restricting calories too heavily and quickly will leave you fatigued and suffering from brittle nails, dry skin and dull hair.
Exercise is the cornerstone of health and wellbeing. Dieting may cause weightloss, which in turn has health benefits, but real wellness comes from exercise.
I will speak of this more in another post when we tackle postnatal depression and anxiety - but for now let's just rest on exercise taking a 'whole body' approach when it comes to health.
The following is a list of mum friendly activities which will help keep you healthy post baby.
Taking baby for a stroll
You can do this in the pram or pop them in a carrier if they prefer to be close.
With my daughter we used to do nap, snack, walk. So I knew she was well rested and fed.
You might find it is better doing it around nap time and getting your exercise in whilst they're snoozing in the pram. As my little one entered toddlerhood I used to take her around snack time, so that she could occupy herself with a snack whilst we walked.
Baby friendly exercise classes
There are often exercise classes that allow you to bring baby along for the ride. They may included baby in the exercises or have an additional staff member on to help out whilst you do HIIT sprints.
On that note there are also gyms with creches...but let's face it, most mums are not as keen on that idea.
Exercise at home whilst baby sleeps
This is a tough one if you're not overly motivated but you have several options here.
Treadmill, exercise bike, or x-trainers can be hired at minimal cost. In the hot months when we lived in North Queensland I used to hire a treadmill because I didnt feel comfortable dragging Sofia out in the heat (also it was damn hot for running!)
I popped it in front of the TV and would catch up on my documentaries whilst cranking out the KMs as Sofia slept.
Again there are pools which have creches you can make use of, however my hubby and I found a great form of exercise we could include Sofia in when we went on holiday.
We headed to the local pool where one of us would play with Sofia whilst the other swam a lap, then we'd swap. Since the pool was the same depth at both ends we also ended the workout with a running race where one of us carried Sofia and we both ran in the water to the other end. She thought it was great fun.
Got a toddler too?? We recently bought a springfree trampoline. Obviously you can use it on its own just jumping, but ours also comes with a game console.
You can set up wack-a-mole type games where sensors on the trampoline pick up where your jumping and you try to jump on different objects to win points. There are also exercise programmes you can do with it.
Youtube or DVD exercises
Another at home option. There are tonnes and tonnes of free youtube workouts. I love the dance ones but you could do aerobics too.
If you want something personalised to you, then sign up for my Post-Baby Plan. An initial skype consultation for me to understand more about your goals, then I send you a personalised workout with me doing each exercise videoed for you. You will also get recipes tailored to your nutritional needs. Launching in the new year I'm taking bookings now - please email us to find out more and confirm your spot.