Laura Clark is a registered dietitian and sports nutritionist at LEC Nutrition who writes monthly here at Honest Mum, sharing her wisdom and experience.
Over to Laura with this vital post on nutrition from bump to baby…
This blog is designed to give you some top line practical advice for the later stages of pregnancy into those first few months of parenthood. Relevant for Dads too but more tailored to those that are cooking the offspring. If you’re still in the glowing phase of pregnancy, you can bookmark this for later. If you’re passed glowing, and now just feel a bit more uncomfortable and grumpy, then this is for you!
Luckily I think the message that we don’t need to eat for two has got through – that’s not to say there won’t be a tendency to eat a bit too much during pregnancy but officially it isn’t until the third trimester (months 7-9) when calorie requirements legitimately increase by 200 calories a day.
This was always my justification for iced sticky buns (although full disclosure I think these probably started around week 6)!
200 calories could be a small ring doughnut if desired, or more nutrient dense perhaps a banana and a handful of nuts or a handful of blueberries with a yoghurt. Your capacity to eat bigger meals will diminish so nutritious regular snacks to keep energy levels up and prevent heart burn type symptoms are useful.
Nutrients wise you should be taking vitamin D – 10µg a day meets your needs and this will be incorporated into any pregnancy supplement.
As you head into your final trimester, calcium demands on your body are high – the body is clever at dealing with this though and will ensure you hold onto more as well as increasing your placenta’s production of vitamin D for maximum calcium absorption for your baby’s skeleton. Iron is also very important to provide for the second blood supply you’re making and again your body will increase absorption to meet these needs. Eating a good quality diet as well as taking your pregnancy vitamins will help you to stay nourished.
After birth, no matter whether it arrived in 20 mins or 20 hours, you will probably feel like you’ve been hit by a bus. It seems so unfair that for the biggest job interview of your life you’re feeling exhausted and disconnected with your body. As your baby surveys the scene and begins the questions – what does this cry mean Mummy? What do you do when I don’t latch properly Mummy? How and when do you change me Mummy? Grandma seems to have loads of opinions Mummy, how are you going to handle that?! – Nutrition is probably the last thing on your mind and yet think of it like an old friend, it really can help you.
Sleep deprivation will cause cravings for carbs. Carbs feed your brain as it works on overdrive but try to team them with protein to balance out blood glucose levels whilst also aiding your wound healing and recovery. Don’t be tempted to skip carbs for quick post baby weight loss – but choose the right ones as often as you can; whole wheat pasta, wholegrain bread, sweet potato, couscous, basmati rice or wholewheat noodles for example provide your body with essential energy and b vitamins.
Proteins include fish, lean meat, pulses or low fat dairy products. Enjoy oily fish once a week to boost omega 3 intake which benefits brain function and may ward off depression. Don’t neglect red meat, a valuable iron and vitamin B12 source. Dark green leafy veg such as spinach, curly kale and broccoli are an excellent source of folate, low levels of which have been linked to risk of depression.
Fibre is also important to keep the bowels going, especially as you won’t be moving around much. I felt like I’d run a marathon when I made it out of the bedroom and down the stairs for the first time (why is no one clapping my achievement?!) Your bowel motions make take a while to settle after birth and the first one may feel like you’re giving birth all over again.
And let’s not forget fluid – really important for healthy bowels, but also for milk supply.
All vitamins and minerals that were important in pregnancy remain important after you give birth but a pill won’t give your recovering body all it needs – you need to build the wall before you decorate it. Balance meals with wholesome carbs, lean proteins and plenty of fruit and veggies.
So that’s all the theory but now let’s go back to reality.
You open the fridge, you have the best intentions… but you’ve only got one hand because there’s a new born in the other. You may fancy the yoghurt (full of calcium and some protein) but that requires a spoon and probably 2 hands. You can see a carrot in the veg drawer but it might need peeling and you’re not sure you want a whole one so you close the fridge door and grab a biscuit.
You made a cup of tea earlier, at least you think you did but you can’t remember where you put it and anyway it was too hot and far too dangerous to be close to your baby’s head. You’re conscious that you need to drink water but it’s been sat there a while and it’s not very appealing.
Well-meaning people will tell you that you need to look after yourself in order to do the best by your baby (which of course is true) but in reality this is tough as there is now this new life to look after, which you’ve just cooked for 9 months and it is all consuming 24/7. Don’t be surprised if you behave as if someone is going to eat your baby when you leave the ‘cave’ – things that you are able to prioritise now, you may forget about. Those people hovering over you with joyous concern need to be helpful, in a helpful way so here’s what you tell them.
‘I need snacks people, snacks I can eat with one hand!’
Ideal snacks include healthy muffins, with some fibre in them to keep bowels moving. Nutritious snacking is more likely to take place if its prepped in advance – veggie sticks, mini pots of dip such as hummous, trial mix consisting of savoury popcorn, pretzels, dried fruit, nuts, seeds, and breakfast cereal make great nibbles. Oatcakes with a peanut butter or cream cheese dip, fresh fruit, mini malt loaves, edamame beans. 3 meals a day is unlikely to happen so nutritious grazing is essential to get the nutrients in.
‘I need reminders to drink’
Pretty water bottles, with iced water and perhaps more than one – one upstairs, one downstairs help to keep water cool and a bit more inviting. It seems like the most obvious thing in the world to drink, but it’s easily forgotten with a preoccupied mind. Even reminders on your phone or friendly nudges from those back at work can help! Keep hot drinks hotter for longer with lidded containers which are again easier and safer to hold whilst juggling other things.
‘I need healthy meals that satisfy me but I’ve got to be able to eat them with a fork or maybe even a spoon!’
Risotto works, as does lasagne or a vegetarian stew. Sandwiches do not unless they’re cut into small pieces, couscous is a nightmare and you might not have a steak for a while. One pot meals are great for making in bulk and freezing and work on the basis that a balanced meal can be created with minimal fuss. To boost your iron absorption, eat iron-rich foods together with those containing vitamin C at a meal for example citrus fruit, peppers and tomatoes. It’s also wise to avoid drinking tea at meal times as the tannins it contains will inhibit iron absorption.
Check out these meal ideas for a nutritious iron and vitamin C combination:
- Lasagne served with curly kale
- Salmon and cashew nut stir fry
- Beef and broccoli stir fry
- Prawn pad thai with wedges of lime.
- Smoked mackerel , red pepper and chickpea salad
- Jacket potato and baked beans followed by a kiwi (I admit you’ll need 2 hands for this)
- Chicken, lentil and apricot stew.
- Spinach Omelette
- Tinned Sardines on wholemeal toast
I hope this helps. When you get through the early months and start eating with a knife again, you may also like to read my 7 habits of highly nutritious parenting (and how to keep sane in the process).
Read more of Laura’s posts here: How to Lose Weight Healthily, How to Lose Weight as a Busy Mama, Food Assumptions and How They Affect Their Children, and Confessions of a Dietitian Mum: What I Actually Feed My Children.