Congratulations, you just delivered to your baby! After you shake off the shock from what happens after birth, let’s talk about postpartum recovery and how you can do it right.
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This is a guest post from Amanda @ Happily Nourished – she is a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist whose specialty is helping moms achieve their health and fitness goals. She shares with us her postpartum nutrition and wellness secrets to help postpartum moms recover from giving birth and feel confident in their new body.
To all postpartum mamas out there worrying about their post baby body while also trying to hold onto some sanity and enjoy motherhood – I know exactly what’s going on in your mind right now!
“Is it too soon to start losing weight after giving birth?”
“How do I lose weight without hurting my breast milk supply?”
“How can I maintain my sanity and have enough energy to keep up as a new mom?”
“What should I be eating and how can I possibly find time to feed or take care of myself?”
I hear you. Becoming a mom is not easy. You have this new little human to take care of, so all your brainpower is going towards every little teeny decision that you’re inevitably going to worry about anyway. It feels impossible to also think about your postpartum recovery.
But you need to. I don’t want to be the person that adds one more thing to your “Be A Super Mom with Superpowers List”. But you simply cannot take care of others if you’re not also taking care of yourself. And while you’re in postpartum recovery it is ESPECIALLY important to focus on your wellbeing.
During this time, your body is healing from birth, from pregnancy, and if you’ve had a c-section, you’re ALSO recovering from a major surgery.Your body has never gone through anything like this (unless you’ve done this before, of course). You NEED to give your post baby body time to heal, and you need to do it properly.
The 3 Pillars of Postpartum Wellness
Nutrition is absolutely essential to healing your post baby body. You need so many nutrients and energy from food (aka calories) in order for you to actually heal from the trauma (yes, trauma) of childbirth. This means eating carbs, fats, and proteins. It means lots of nutrient dense, whole foods with no restrictions (unless necessary due to allergies, intolerance, or a medical condition). In this post, I will take you through each stage of postpartum recovery and help you focus on exactly what you need for whichever stage you’re in!
Staying active is also vital during recovery. Yes, even in the first 6 weeks. This doesn’t mean go out and start a workout routine before your doctor clears you. But you can stay active as long as your doctor doesn’t order bed-rest.
This may sound contradictory to the last pillar, but just as much as you need to stay active, you also need to rest! Your body went through so much to get your little miracle here, and you’re going to need a lot of energy to be his or her mama. So stay active, but make sure you’re also getting enough rest. Each stage will require a different amount of rest, and you’ll also need your own individual amount because every person is different.
Nutrition, Your Post Baby Body, & Breastfeeding
The First 6-12 Weeks:
During this time, you are literally healing from trauma: your uterus is healing from pregnancy and from birth, your hips and back and legs are recovering from the strain, your muscles are recovering, your joints are recovering, and your body is likely holding onto fluid.It is crucial to take care of yourself and get the right nutrition.
This is NOT the time to try to lose weight. Instead, make sure you’re getting enough energy to support the healing that goes on in your body during this time. Your body needs all 3 macro-nutrients to do this: carbohydrates, protein, and fat.
Tips to Ensure You Eat Properly
Of course, you have to do all of this AND take care of this brand new little human being who literally needs you to survive. Here are some tips to ensure you get to eat while adjusting to being a new mom:
Set up a meal train.
Ask a friend to set up a schedule for friends and family to bring you meals. Each week, a friend or family member can bring by a meal or 2 so that you don’t have to cook as much. You can ask for the meals to be nourishing, not restrictive, and not processed, but you obviously don’t want to be too picky or controlling of this. Whatever they bring is helpful, so just feel grateful instead of worrying about the cheesy pasta dish your mother-in-law brought.
Talk to your partner.
Your partner will likely not understand what you’ve just gone through. They want to (and they think they do), but they just can’t. And their world just got blown wide open with a newborn, and they need time to adjust to their new life as a dad. Therefore, they may not remember that they have to help take care of YOU as well. Just make your needs known and be patient. They’ll catch on eventually!
I remember this one morning, all I wanted to do was take 5-10 minutes to make some oatmeal before I had to spend the next hour breastfeeding (anyone who has breastfed before knows the type of hunger I’m talking about).The baby was screaming his lungs out. I was in panic mode and so starving that I thought I’d pass out, and my husband was… in bed.
For the record, Dan was so amazing and seriously impressed me up until this point. He was anticipating my needs, taking care of both me and the baby while we were still in the hospital (I was in rough shape after my unplanned c-section). He took turns staying up with the baby those first few nights at home. So when this happened, I was blown away. How could he NOT KNOW?? Just wake up and PICK UP THE BABY! You see… even the best of the best just don’t get it. So you’ll have to tell them. Point blank. And A LOT.
Prepare freezer meals.
If at all possible, put together some freezer crock-pot meals in Ziploc bags before the baby comes. This way, you’ll have at least a few meals you can just throw in the crock-pot in the morning that will be ready for dinner.
While you are nursing your baby, you can shop for groceries on your phone and a few hours later, your order will show up on your doorsteps. Or if that’s not an option, ask a friend, neighbor, or family member to run to the store for you.
Make a Meal Plan!
Meal planning and prep is not a diet. It’s simply a way to ensure you have food available. During this time, you’re going to need to keep it simple. Do only what it takes to get you through the week. Have a friend or your partner help – either ask them to prep some of it or entertain the baby while you do.
Nutrients to Focus On
During these 6 weeks, if it’s at all possible to control what you’re eating, focus on these few things.Remember, you are NOT restricting. Restricting your calories and nutrients will only prolong the healing process, so don’t try to lose weight. Your post baby body needs to heal and recover before any weight loss can happen safely, and it’s going to do that with real food.
Make sure you have protein with every single meal. Protein is ESSENTIAL for any type of healing. So no matter how that little babe was delivered or what your labor and birth story looked like, and whether or not you’re breastfeeding, include protein every single time you eat.
Here are some ideas to add to meals/snacks to increase the protein at each meal.
- Greek yogurt
- Cottage cheese or ricotta cheese
- Nuts, nut butters, seeds *Great for breastfeeding mamas*
- Meat, poultry, fish
- String cheese
Whole grains are super important for energy at all stages, and you’ll definitely need it in this stage. Whole grains are also highly concentrated in micro-nutrients, all of which are important for healing.
Here are some easy ways to get whole grains into your day!
- Oatmeal *GREAT for breastfeeding mamas*: Try Q’ia instant packs. They’re super easy and not processed like other brands.
- Whole wheat pasta
- Brown rice
Tip – Make a batch for the whole week instead of trying to make individual servings.
Vitamin C rich fruits and veggies.
Vitamin C plays a huge role in the healing process. Choose fruits and veggies that are rich in this vitamin and incorporate them into your day. Here are some ideas:
- Red bell pepper
- Potatoes (sweet and white)
Foods rich in zinc.
Zinc is also vital for the healing process. Incorporate foods like the following that are high in zinc into your day for optimal healing.
- Legumes: Chickpeas, lentils, beans
- Dark chocolate
- Pumpkin seeds (also a great source of healthy fats and protein)
- Dairy: milk, cheese, yogurt
- Whole grains
Extra info for breastfeeding mamas.
Keep in mind that in order to make milk, you need more energy (aka calories). Until your supply is established (3-4 months), weight loss will be difficult if not impossible, so do not try to restrict until you know what your supply is going to be like moving forward. If you do, you could hurt your supply and weight loss in the long run. Just focus on getting lots of nutrients as stated above. Whole grains, fats, and protein are all important for a healthy milk supply.
I seriously only craved oatmeal and peanut butter the entire time I was breastfeeding. There’s a reason for this- these things are nutrient dense, and we need SO many nutrients! You can also supplement with Fenugreek and Brewer’s yeast if you’re worried about your supply. I took Fenugreek capsules, and I added Brewer’s yeast to my oatmeal every morning. You could also make or buy lactation cookies (they usually contain at least one of those things).
12 Weeks and On
If you’re not breastfeeding, you can assume after 6 weeks that it’s safe to start losing weight unless otherwise told by your physician. If you are breastfeeding, wait until your milk supply is established which could take 12+ weeks.
Weight loss as a mom of a baby or young child is just not the same as it was before becoming a mom, so please keep this in mind. Even though at this point, it is safe to “restrict”, I urge you to be careful with your restriction.
Your goal to lose weight should be to increase your metabolism instead of decreasing your intake. Yes, you can track calories and macros, limit desserts and other high calorie foods that don’t add nutrition, and yes at this point, you can start exercising.But you still need nutrients. If you aren’t getting an adequate amount of calories and nutrients, you won’t have the energy you need, and you won’t be able to focus and manage your time the way you need to in order to be there for your family AND for yourself.
Activity & Your Post Baby Body
First, I want to make sure I’m clear that I am not an expert in fitness. The following is simply pieces of what I know from my personal experiences, others’ experiences, my doctor’s recommendations, information I read when I was going through this, and what I know professionally about the human anatomy and physiology.
The First 6 Weeks
During this time, you’re not cleared for exercise, regardless of your method of delivery. But you should still stay active. This is the time that you should be walking as much as your new and healing body can stand without overdoing it (as long as your doctor has said you are safe to do so).
You can also begin to re-engage your core after the first couple weeks. This does NOT mean doing ab exercises. You are definitely not cleared for that yet. But you can practice core engagement through kegels and pelvic floor exercises if you don’t have pain while doing so and if your doctor says it’s ok. You can also simply practice engaging your core muscles while you walk.
Staying active in this stage is not about weight loss- it’s all about recovery. Staying active is shown to help speed up recovery and healing and it decreases your risks of complications, so even though you’re tired mama, do your best to get up and move!
I cannot stress how important it is to walk as much as you are able. It will be crucial to gaining strength back and speeding up your recovery.
Once your doctor says you are ok to exercise (it may be 6 weeks, it could be later, depending on your labor and delivery and your healing process), you can begin to SLOWLY begin a workout routine.
Set realistic expectations.
Do not expect to be able to jump back in to where you were before you got pregnant, or even before you had the baby if you were exercising while pregnant. Your body is different now. Your joints are different, your abs are different, your muscles are overworked, and your hormones are changing everything about your body.
Start with walking.
When it comes to resuming your exercise routine, strength and cardio are both important. Start by continuing your walking from the previous 6 weeks, and add strength in a few days per week, working your way up.
When it comes to running, while not everyone agrees with this, it is a good idea to postpone running for a while. Your pelvic floor needs to be strong because the impact can be very hard on that area of our bodies. Running too soon could further weaken the muscles and worsen incontinence and joint pain.
Be mindful of your abs.
Crunches are not typically recommended until your abs and pelvic floor strengthens, so start with simple exercises that simply re-engage your abs. Use total body movements instead of ones that force your abs downward toward your pelvic floor.
You also want to be careful of diastasis recti. Any ab exercise that forces your muscles to bulge forward, would worsen this condition. Any exercise that you do, you should be able to keep your ab muscles in close to your spine while you exert force. There are a ton of great postnatal workouts and programs out there, which are a great idea to make sure you are safe while you re-enter the world of exercise.
Be patient with yourself.
This is going to be a long journey. I remember feeling so weak after my c-section. I could not wait to start exercising again. It made me realize how much I had taken it for granted in the past, so even though I wanted to do so much more than I was able, I just focused on the gratitude I have for being able to move my body at all. Each week, I was able to do a little more and those little accomplishments really kept me going.
Personal suggestion- I loved Piyo by Beachbody and Chalene Johnson during this time. I had to modify A LOT, especially the abs, but it really helped me build strength and endurance in a safe, low impact way.
Something else to keep in mind is that you won’t be able to fit exercise in the same way you did before the little one came along. Find whatever works for you and stick with it. If that’s taking the baby for a walk after work a few days a week, great! If you can do more, that’s great too. Personally, I did the best I could to get up early (if the baby slept well that night) to get a 20 minute workout in, and as the baby’s sleep habits got better, I was able to do it more and more, and for 30-45 minutes instead of 20. It happens slowly, you just need to start where you are, and not where you want to be. You’ll get there!
Here are some tips to make exercise easier:
Make it fun!
Find something new. I tried kickboxing for a while and loved it. During the period of time when sleep was a little harder to come by, a good kickboxing class was the only thing that could get me out of bed
Don’t jump right into a 6 day per week routine.You’re a busy mom. You won’t have time or energy to do that. Start where you are, no matter how small it is, and work your way up to where you want to be.
Combine strength and cardio for efficiency so that you don’t have to work out as long.
Incorporate your kids!
Go for a walk or dance around the room while holding them. We had lots of dance parties when Gordon was a baby! I would do it during his “witching hour”, and it would calm him down and give me a little extra activity! For toddlers, you can play a game of chase. Gordon LOVES when I pretend to chase him around the room, and really dramatic games of peekaboo where I’d hide behind something and pop out.
Keep your energy up with proper nutrition and hydration.
Keep good sleep habits for energy.
Even if your babe isn’t sleeping through the night or is getting up super early, try to keep good bedtime routines and habits for yourself. It will make whatever sleep you do get more effective and help you stay well rested for activity.
Rest & Mental Health Tips
During the first 6 weeks, rest is just as important as staying active. It sounds contradictory, but you really just need to find a good balance between rest and activity. Try to rest and sleep whenever the baby is sleeping, go for a walk once or twice a day (for as long as it feels good to, and doctor permitting), take breaks while doing light housework, or make sure to get up every once in a while if you’re resting on the couch.
After the first 6 weeks, you’ll be resuming normal activities and maybe even some exercise, but you need to make sure to continue to take care of yourself. You may not be sleeping all night but try to set up good sleep routines and habits for yourself each night.It will help make whatever sleep you do get more effective, and it will ensure that when the baby does start sleeping longer, you’ll already have good habits in place! Sleep, nutrition, and exercise are all beneficial to both your physical and mental health, but there is more you can do for your mental health.
I don’t care if your child is 10 days old or 10 years old. You NEED to take care of your mental health. Always. I’m not talking about postpartum depression. While the things I suggest can be beneficial to those with depression, actual depression needs to be dealt with by a doctor and therapist.
What I mean when I say to take care of your mental health, is to simply take care of your mind. Give it a break once in a while, practice self care, manage your stress. This will give you the energy and mindset you need to help you become a present and happy mom, wife, daughter, sister, friend, person.
Set Goals, Make a Plan
So I just gave you a lot of information. All of this information goes to waste if you don’t know how to implement it! Set some goals for yourself and make a plan to work towards those goals. It can be so hard to know where to start. Click here to see how one client ended her diet cycle once and for all after she became a mom, and also within the article, you can get my FREE download- The Tired Mom’s Ultimate Snack Guide. This guide will help you use real food for your snacks in order to boost your energy and your metabolism, and even heal your postpartum body!