Just like when you take a flight to some exotic land and the flight attendant suggests that “In the unlikely event of a loss of cabin pressure, please be sure to secure your oxygen mask before securing the ones of those around you. ” a new mom needs to nourish herself in order to have the energy to nourish anyone else. Pregnancy, birth and round the clock nursing are a recipe for feeling worn out and low on energy. It is not uncommon for new moms to feel stressed out, exhausted and worried about caring for the new “bundle of joy” in their life. The good news is with a few simple steps to nourish yourself, you should begin to feel more energy to enjoy this time of your life and to care for yourself and the others that depend on you.
Eat Breakfast: Most have heard the saying that “Breakfast is the most important meal of the day.” Research has shown many times that those who eat breakfast have more strength and endurance in physical activity, better concentration in the classroom or at work, tend to eat a more nutritionally complete diet, and have lower cholesterol levels and lower body weight than non – breakfast eaters (Zelman, n.d.). All of these benefits translate into a more healthy, alert and energized mom!
However, what you eat for breakfast is just as important as eating breakfast. People who consume a lean protein with their breakfast report feeling full longer than those who have a breakfast of refined carbohydrates. Choosing breakfasts of organic eggs with whole grain toast and fruit or a fruit smoothie made with a protein rich organic whole milk Greek yogurt will get your day off to a much better start than grabbing a bagel or refined carbohydrate breakfast cereal.
A breakfast high in refined carbs will spike your blood sugar level, triggering your body to release insulin. Once the insulin is released, glucose is removed from the blood which sends blood sugar crashing. Once blood sugar crashes it becomes difficult to concentrate, induces lethargy, and can cause you to feel sick to your stomach- all states that make it difficult to keep up with the demanding job of being a mom. If you stay on this blood sugar roller coaster indefinitely, it can lead to long term complications like type II diabetes.
Eat a Varied Real Foods Diet: Eating a real foods diet means eating foods that come to you in their unprocessed form. They are not in a package. Don’t have a label. Don’t contain ingredients which you can’t pronounce. This means consuming as many organic fruits, vegetables, beans, legumes, nuts and seeds and organic pasture raised meats and dairy as you need to nourish your body. Of course, sometimes some of these real foods come in a package or carton but if a food contains ingredients which you can’t pronounce or have never heard of, it is probably a food to put back on the supermarket shelf. Try to consume as many different types of these reals foods as you can. Eating food in a rainbow of colors throughout the day gives you a better chance to get the vitamins and minerals you need to nourish yourself and your baby.
A Warm Meal: Try to eat at least one warm meal a day. Cooking food helps break down its cellular walls, making it easier to digest. By jump starting digestion, our body has to do less work to get all the valuable vitamins and minerals that come with a whole food diet. Also, many perceive warm meals as “comfort food”, bringing joy and relaxation to a meal. When a person eats in a relaxed state, it is easier for the body to digest food and assimilate its nutrients. As a mom, you excel at bringing comfort and relaxation to the little ones in your life- you deserve to enjoy the comfort a warm meal can bring to you!
Eat Protein: Protein is one of three essential macro nutrients which every body needs to survive. Protein is the building block of every cell in your body. Your body uses it to build and repair muscles, it makes enzymes, hormones and other body chemicals and it is a building block of hair, nails, bones, muscles, skin and blood. When you eat protein, your body breaks it down into amino acids. Your body then uses these amino acids to recreate protein for all the uses listed above. There are between 20-22 amino acids necessary for healthy functioning. Most of these amino acids can be made by your body. However, nine of them, termed “essential amino acids”, cannot be produced by the body and must be obtained from food. Our body cannot store amino acids so they must be obtained every day (Erdmann, 1987).
One of these very important essential amino acids is tryptophan. Your body uses tryptophan to make the neurotransmitter, serotonin. Serotonin, the feel good neurotransmitter, is important for healthy sleep and a stable mood. When our levels of serotonin go down, our mood becomes more gloomy and our desire for carbs and sugars increases (Erdmann, 1987). Tryptophan can be found in cheese, chicken, turkey, eggs, fish, milk, asparagus, peanuts, pumpkin seeds, sesame seeds, soy and tofu.
Eat Fat: Since the Eighties low fat diet craze, most people are extremely afraid to eat fat. Unfortunately, this fear has led some people to avoid consuming fats to the detriment of their health. Recent research suggests that fats are imperative for optimal functioning of our bodies. They are needed for vitamin absorption, immune system functioning, brain health and blood sugar regulation. They are the building material for cell walls, nerves, hormones and many other important chemicals in the body (Jacobsen, 2004). Our brain is made of over 60% fat.
Unfortunately, most people are not eating enough of the right kinds of natural fats like butter, olive oil, avocado, coconut oil and flax seed oil. Instead, they are consuming entirely too much of the wrong fat, trans fats, like those found in processed foods, fried foods, cookies, cakes and margarine. Trans fats have been shown to increase your LDL levels (the “bad” cholesterol) and lead to heart disease (Willcox, Willcox and Suzuki, 2001).
However, not all fat is bad. You and your baby need two essential fatty acids (EFAs), fats your body cannot produce, to function optimally. These two types of EFAs are alpha-linoleic acid, found in omega-3s and linoleic acid found in omega-6s. These need to be ingested in the right ratios. Optimally, a ratio of 1:1 is best but 4:1 Omega-6 to Omega-3 is a more realistic ratio. Unfortunately, most people eating a standard American diet have a ratio closer to 20-1. Research shows that getting enough omega-3’s can help with depression (Jacobsen, 39). Given that most women struggle with some level of “baby blues” after birth, be sure to add omega-3 to your diet as added insurance.
The more EFA’s a mother consumes, the more EFA’s that will present in her breast milk. Babies who consume milk higher in EFA’s may have lower incident of allergies, failure to thrive and colic. Also, since our brains are made of over 60% fat, why not provide our babies with as much healthy brain food as possible? Eating flax seed oil, walnuts, sesame seeds, spinach, salmon, fish oil, algae oil and albacore tuna will increase your omega-3 consumption.
*While fish is an excellent source of source of essential fatty acids, with recent concerns about nuclear contamination from Japan and longstanding concerns about the mercury levels of large carnivorous fish, some types of fish may not be the first choice for pregnant women to get their essential fatty acids . Consult your own health care professional for recommendations.
Stay hydrated: Water is absolutely essential for your body’s health. It takes toxins out of the body through urine and sweating, it moves water soluble vitamins to the cells and it helps with cell metabolism. It is estimated that up to fifty to sixty percent of our body is water. While nursing, mothers are advised to drink to thirst, usually about 8 cups of water a day. Don’t wait until you actually feel thirsty. Carry a water bottle and take frequent sips to stay hydrated. Water, juice, milk and herbal teas can all be good choices for hydration. However, coffee, sodas and alcohol should all be consumed in moderation to reduce mom and baby’s exposure to sugar, caffeine and the dehydrating effects of these substances. Use the color of your morning urine as a guide to your hydration level. You want your urine to be a light yellow, transparent color. Both drinking too much and not enough can cause problems with milk supply. Find the right balance for yourself.
Erdmann, R., & Jones, M. (1987). The Amino Acid Revolution. Chicago, Il: Contemporary Books, Inc.
Morell, S. F., & Cowan, T. S. (2013). The Nourishing Traditions Book of Baby and Child Care. Washington, DC: New Trends Publishing.
Planck, N. (2009). Real Food For Mother and Baby, The Fertility Diet, Eating for Two and Baby’s First Foods. New York, NY: Bloomsbury USA.
Willcox, B. J., Willcox, D. C., & Suzuki, M. (2001). The Okinawa Program. New York, NY: Crown Publishing Group.
Jacobsen, H. (2004). Mother Food: Food and Herbs that Promote Milk Production and a Mother’s Health (First ed.). Rosalind Press.
Bartlett, E. (nd). Holistic Squid. Retrieved December 2013, from www.holisticsquid.com
Zelman, K. M. (nd). The Many Benefits of Breakfast. Retrieved December 2013, from WebMD website: www.webmd.com
Coursework from The Wellspring School for Healing Arts.