Postnatal Care: Caring for Your Body After Pregnancy
Congratulations! You created a tiny human! You carried it for nine months, gave birth to it, and brought it into the world. You are amazing. Celebrations aside, it’s no secret that the first few days, weeks, and months of motherhood can put almost every new mum on the brink emotionally. And often, you’ll pick up unhealthy habits – from loading up on junk food to skipping breakfast – to make your round-the-clock baby-filled schedule a little easier. Of course, you have just given birth; you absolutely deserve to be gentle with yourself and indulge once in a while. But if you avoid cutting corners and rethinking your health choices now, you’ll feel so much better in the long run. The wellbeing dividends will pay off.
As every new parent will know, babies have very different body clocks to their adult counterparts. Typically, a new-born wakes every three hours to be changed, comforted or nursed. Even if this isn’t your first baby, such a demanding routine can leave parents, especially mums, overwhelmed with exhaustion. Though a solid eight hours of slumber probably won’t be on the cards for several months (*sighs*), there are several ways to sneak more sleep into your baby-orientated schedule.
Firstly, try to get some shuteye when you’re little nut sleeps. Sure – this may only be a few minutes here and there, but they all add up. Alongside this, make sure you’re relieved of all duties besides feeding baby and looking after yourself. This means enlisting an extra pair of hands – be it a partner, mother, aunty or friend – to support other areas of running a household. Never underestimate how helpful it can be for someone to unload the dishwasher, buy groceries, or do the laundry when you’ve got a new-born in the house. Finally, save yourself steps (literally) and time, by having your little one’s cot near your bed for easy feedings at night.
Your babe wakes you at the crack of dawn. And after countless nappy-changes, feeding-sessions and those all-important snuggles, you’re still in your nursing pyjamas, ravenous. You’re in desperate need of a quick fix – ideally, a sugary pick-me-up to boost your depleted energy levels. But resist the urge to nosedive into that pint of ice cream or get elbow-deep in a bag of crisps. Though it can be tempting to scoff anything and everything in the hope it will fight the exhaustion, implementing healthy eating habits from the get-go will serve you well throughout motherhood. Poor nutrition will only make you cranky, susceptible to sickness, sleep deprived, and, frankly, unable to enjoy this amazing new chapter of your life.
Nursing mums require an additional 300 calories a day to sustain optimal milk supply. These extra calories should be healthy, of course. Sadly, this isn’t an excuse to have a doughnut on the daily. Experts propose having six small meals over the course of a day. This way, you’ll be eating when you’re comfortably hungry – not starving. Another important weapon in your arsenal: breakfast. If you fail to jumpstart your day with a nourishing meal, chances are, you’ll overeat later. Plus, your food choices aren’t likely to be all that healthy, either.
So what do you fill your plate with? Make a conscious effort to embrace a colourful, smorgasbord of whole-foods – that is, the unprocessed kind. In particular, you’ll need iron-enriched foods, such as lean cuts of red meat, spinach, egg yolks, and legumes to promote strength and the transportation of oxygen throughout your body. Healthy fats are important, too. Oily fish, seeds, avocados, olive oil, and walnuts will help your body produce healthy breast milk for your hungry babe. For extra ‘oomph’, turn to whole grains, like quinoa, brown rice, oats, and wholegrain bread, pasta, and cereals. These will pack a punch of slow-release energy – perfect for those round-the-clock baby demands. Finally, don’t forget to eat up your fruit and veggies. These foods are jam-packed with antioxidants, iron, calcium and other powerful nutrients that assist with immunity and reinvigorate your post-pregnancy body. Quick wins include citrus fruits, blueberries, sweet potatoes, broccoli, and kale.
A final word on pregnancy weight loss. New mums are constantly bombarded with a narrative that stresses the importance of losing baby weight – and fast. Celebrities who shed their pregnancy pounds are celebrated and pinned-up as role models worth emulating. But it’s time to dispel this toxic myth. Just think it about it: you’ve taken nine whole months to grow a tiny human inside you; your body isn’t going to ‘bounce back’, to use the media jargon, overnight. Extreme dieting and rapid weight loss can actually be damaging to both you and your little babe, especially if you’re breastfeeding. By sticking to a healthy eating regimen, your body will return to it pre-pregnancy self naturally. But it’s going to take time, so be patient and kind to your body.
Alongside balanced meals, it’s crucial to increase your fluid intake. If you’re nursing, you may become very parched, very quickly. To keep your body properly hydrated, be sure to drink 8-10 large glasses of water every day. It could be useful to keep a jug of water beside your bed or breastfeeding chair, too. Not a fan of straight-up water? Add sliced citrus fruits, berries or mint to your H20 – and just watch if you don’t guzzle more. Oh, and don’t forget herbal teas also count towards your aqua intake.
Make time for exercise
Many new mums are preoccupied with exercising to loose their pregnancy weight, but using physical activity to improve your overall fitness is much more important. Focusing on fitness will fuel your body with more energy, bolster your immune defences, and improve your emotional wellbeing. Simply put, it’s as vital as brushing your teeth. Of course, with a new-born, the main obstacle is time – or indeed, a distinct lack of it. Don’t be afraid to ask loved ones for help to free you up.
When we talk about exercise, we don’t mean jumping on the running machine the minute you leave the labour ward. Be gentle with yourself. When you feel ready to start exercising again, you need a two-pronged attack: strengthening your core and improving your cardio fitness. For cardio, think walking, hiking, swimming or biking. And to improve your core strength, you could practice yoga, Pilates or do some good old-fashioned crunches. Aim for 20 minutes of physical activity, three to five days every week. Your baby is only going to get bigger – don’t forget, so you’ll need all that energy and strength! Why not read our guide to help you in getting that pre baby body back?
Nothing really prepares you for the reality that is motherhood. The physical stress from giving birth. The surging hormones. The lactating. The dog-tiredness that comes from broken sleep. The 24/7-baby care. Overwhelmed? You’re not alone. It’s the infamous ‘baby-blues’ (although, whoever coined this term, probably clearly had no idea of what postpartum actually feels like. A lot of mums would argue it has the capacity to feel much stronger than ‘blues’, that’s for sure!). The good news is this cloud should lift after two weeks – and many women feel more or less themselves six weeks into motherhood. That said, give yourself permission to feel emotions, too. Allow yourself to cry. Don’t cast judgment on your headspace. If, however, the stress and anxiety and low-mood doesn’t dissipate, do seek help. Postnatal depression affects a small percentage of new mums, and the sooner you vocalise your concerns, the sooner you can receive treatment.
Speaking of mental wellness, let’s talk self-care. Despite having a new-born on your hands, it’s vital to carve out time for yourself. In fact, it’s a cornerstone of thriving in postpartum. Heck – even five minutes can rejuvenate you! If a friend or loved one can take baby off your hands for an hour or so, let them. Use this as an opportunity to squeeze in some quality ‘YOU’ time. Self-care doesn’t need to be anything decadent or luxurious. Simply have a bath. Stretch. Go for a walk and catch some rays. Call a friend. Write in a journal. Read. Sleep. Whatever you choose, the respite will be immensely restoring. And boy, you deserve it.
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Keri Filtness has worked in the Nutrition Industry for 19 years. She is regularly called upon for her professional comments on health and nutrition related news. Her opinions have been featured by BBC3, Prima, Vitality, The Mirror, Woman’s Own and Cycling Weekly, amongst others. She has also worked one to one with journalists, analysing their diets and health concerns and recommending changes and additions, where appropriate.