by Kimberly A. Tessmer, RDN, LD
Kimberly A. Tessmer, RDN, LD is the author of many nutrition books including Tell Me What to Eat If I Am Trying to Conceive (July 2011, New Page Books)and The Complete Idiot’s Guide to the Mediterranean Diet (Dec. 2010, ALPHA). Kim’s books focus on getting and staying healthy through nutritional intake.
Proper nutritional intake before, during and after pregnancy is vital for successful outcomes and happy, healthy babies.
If you have had children, you know all too well the impact it can have on your body and your weight following pregnancy. Take this time to begin re-evaluating your nutritional needs, weight goals and lifestyle habits. Increased energy and good health are a must once you have a newborn to take care of! If you are breastfeeding then it becomes even more important.
It is just as important to consume a healthy well-balanced diet following childbirth as it is during pregnancy. Eating a variety of healthy foods is essential to sustaining much needed energy as well as managing extra weight that can occur during pregnancy. Now that baby is here it is time to restore your nutritional and health needs. Good nutrition is extremely important whether you are breastfeeding and/or simply healing your body from childbirth. Women who follow a less healthful diet and lifestyle after childbirth are more prone to neglect of self-care, negative body image, weight-related issues, depression, fatigue and stress.
Fortunately, just following some general guidelines can make a big difference. In fact, the newest 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans just made their appearance on January 8, 2015. These Guidelines are designed to help all Americans, including new Moms, consume a healthier diet and feel their best.
The General Guidelines include:
- Follow a healthy eating pattern across the lifespan. All food and beverage choices matter. Choose a healthy eating pattern at an appropriate calorie level to help achieve and maintain a healthy body weight, support nutrient adequacy, and reduce the risk of chronic disease.
- Focus on variety, nutrient density, and amount. To meet nutrient needs within calorie limits, choose a variety of nutrient-dense foods across and within all food groups in recommended amounts.
- Limit calories from added sugars and saturated fats and reduce sodium intake. Consume an eating pattern low in added sugars, saturated fats, and sodium. Cut back on foods and beverages higher in these components to amounts that fit within healthy eating patterns.
- Shift to healthier food and beverage choices. Choose nutrient-dense foods and beverages across and within all food groups in place of less healthy choices. Consider cultural and personal preferences to make these shifts easier to accomplish and maintain.
- Support healthy eating patterns for all. Everyone has a role in helping to create and support healthy eating patterns in multiple settings nationwide, from home to school to work to communities.
The Key Recommendations include:
Consume a healthy eating pattern that accounts for all foods and beverages within an appropriate calorie level.
A healthy eating patterns INCLUDES:
- A variety of vegetables from all of the subgroups- dark green, red and orange, legumes (beans and peas), starchy and other
- Fruits, especially whole fruits
- Grains, at least half of which are whole grains
- Fat-free or low-fat dairy, including milk, yogurt, cheese, and/or fortified soy beverages
- A variety of protein foods, including seafood, lean meats and poultry, eggs, legumes (beans and peas), and nuts, seeds, and soy products
A healthy eating pattern LIMITS:
- Saturated fats and trans fats, added sugars, and sodium
- Consume less than 10 percent of calories per day from added sugars
- Consume less than 10 percent of calories per day from saturated fats
- Consume less than 2,300 milligrams (mg) per day of sodium
- If alcohol is consumed, it should be consumed in moderation- up to one drink per day for women and up to two drinks per day for men- and only by adults of legal drinking age (avoid if breastfeeding)
- Meet the Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans
The Guidelines for Americans are the perfect parameters to help you eat healthier and maintain a healthier lifestyle. All Americans are highly encouraged to read more detail concerning the NEW Guidelines for Americans at: http://health.gov/dietaryguidelines/2015/.
After pregnancy, speak with your doctor about the possibility of continuing your prenatal vitamin for an additional length of time, especially if there might be concern for any type of nutritional deficit and/or you are breastfeeding. In addition to eating a healthy, well-varied diet, be sure to drink plenty of fluids, especially water. Don’t skip meals in hopes of losing weight! That will make it much more difficult to get back to healthy nutritional stores, keep your energy up and to lose weight.
If taking care of a new baby makes it difficult to prepare meals on a regular basis, when you DO have time to cook, cook extra to freeze or have as leftovers. Eat small healthy meals/snacks throughout the day. Combining a good source of complex carbohydrates along with a lean protein can help to fight fatigue and keep blood sugar levels stable throughout the day.
- Whole-grain cereal with Light Soy Milk or Fat-Free Milk
- Low-fat yogurt topped with fresh fruit and nuts
- Chicken or tuna salad on whole-wheat toast or crackers
- Celery topped with peanut butter and raisins
- Hummus with whole-wheat pita bread or whole-grain crackers or veggies
- Oatmeal topped with cinnamon and raisins
- Scrambled egg sandwich on whole-wheat bread with low-fat cheese
- Baked potato topped with cottage cheese
- ½ Whole wheat bagel thin topped with turkey and melted low-fat swiss cheese
- Apple sliced and topped with peanut butter
Choose foods that will give you the most bang for your buck. In other words, have the highest nutritional content per serving. Ensure your kitchen is stocked with good healthy snacks that you can grab quickly! Along with healthy food, grabbing cat naps when possible and exercising/staying active regularly will go a long way in helping you to feel your best and get you back in tip top shape.
Nutrients to pay special attention to include B vitamins, vitamin B12, folic acid, calcium, vitamin E, vitamin A, zinc, iron and omega-3 fatty acids. Omega-3 fatty acids are beneficial to both mom and baby’s health and are the healthy building blocks of breastmilk. Docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) is a type of omega-3 fatty acid that is vital for babies as they develop both in utero and after birth. DHA is needed for proper brain functioning, central nervous system and eye health.
Moms, especially those that are breastfeeding, need to supply their diet with this essential nutrient in order to boost the health of both themselves and their child. Fatty fish are one of the main sources of omega-3 fatty acids, including DHA. However, some fish can also be high in mercury, which can be toxic to infants. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has specific guidelines for fish intake that apply to women who are breastfeeding, women who are pregnant or might become pregnant, and for young children.
The women and the children should:
- Consume no more than 8 to 12 ounces of a variety of fish weekly.
- Choose fish lower in mercury such as salmon, shrimp, light canned tuna, tilapia and cod.
- Avoid tilefish, swordfish, shark and king mackerel. Limit white albacore tuna to 6 ounces per week.
- If eating fish that someone has caught, pay special attention to fish advisories on those bodies of water.
This doesn’t mean that all fish are possible hazards and that you should avoid all fish. However you should follow the guidelines above if you enjoy fish. Fish is a great lean source of protein and provides all types of essential nutrients.
If you are trying to consume much needed omega-3 fatty acids, including DHA, but are falling short or not consuming any at all, you can do something as simple as incorporating the MommySlim® Shakes into your daily diet. These products contain life'sDHA, which is a vegetarian source of DHA that is free from contaminants such as mercury. Read more on DHA and pregnancy.
Breastfeeding moms should limit caffeine intake, which can be passed through breastmilk to the baby. The delicate systems of a newborn cannot quite break down caffeine and some research suggests that this can cause babies to become irritable. Be aware of medications either prescribed or over-the-counter, which may not be safe while breastfeeding. Always ask your doctor before taking anything they themselves have not prescribed for you.
Postpartum Weight Loss
Unfortunately, the majority of women keep some of their pregnancy weight postpartum. That doesn’t mean it needs to stay there. With consistent healthy eating, portion control, drinking plenty of water and staying physically active (with doctor’s permission) you can get your pre-pregnancy body back. It takes patience though as it can take a good 6 months to lose the excess weight you gained during pregnancy.
Unlike normal dieters, women who are postpartum and looking to lose weight need to follow special rules, especially if breastfeeding. First off, always check with your doctor before taking steps to lose weight. Weight loss needs to be slow and steady, preferably 1 to 2 pounds per week, and good nutritional intake is a must.
Following anything drastic including eating too little can have detrimental effects on both your health and your baby’s health. Eating too little and/or losing weight too quickly can lessen the quantity and quality of milk production. Breastfeeding itself can help to burn additional calories so be patient.
Most postpartum moms need to consume about 1,800 to 2,000 calories per day. An additional 400-500 calories per day is recommended for women who are breastfeeding to ensure a good milk supply and plenty of additional energy. Following the Dietary Guidelines for Americans can give you a great start to a healthy weight loss after childbirth.
Weight loss for some new moms can be tough when you have so much on your plate, no pun intended! But there are programs out there that are plenty healthy and are geared directly toward those women who need help after childbirth. The MommySlim® Weight Management Program is a great example. MommySlim® has programs that fit the needs of both those women who are nursing and those who are not. They provide you with all of the necessary nutrition and calories you need for a safe but effective weight loss.
The programs combine MommySlim® Shakes, WonderSlim® Meal Supplements and grocery store foods to provide you with the ideal amount of portions, calories, vitamins, minerals, high quality protein, and omega-3 fatty acids to achieve consistent weight loss results, much needed energy and good health. Following recommendations from nutrition experts, the MommySlim® Plan is structured so that you eat every 2 to 3 hours, helping you keep blood sugar levels steady, energy up and cravings down.
The most important issue for women following childbirth is good nutritional intake and a healthy lifestyle. No matter which route you take to address these issues, the key is to educate yourself and keep up these good habits for life. Not only will this benefit you but eventually you will hand down those good habits to your children.