Food for thought: looking after yourself as a new mum

After having a baby, women more than ever need energy to get them through the day.
After having a baby, women more than ever need energy to get them through the day.  Photo: Getty Images

When my son arrived, my life became a whirlwind of first time motherhood. Days were survived through a haze of caffeine and the promise of a cat nap when the little fellow was snoozing himself; my hours were consumed with juggling a schedule of changing nappies, trying to come to grips (quite literally) with breastfeeding, and fretting about every new little thing he was or wasn't doing.

Of course this isn't news to mums the world over: we've all been there, done that, and got the milk and vomit stained t-shirt to prove it. Because as soon as your baby enters the world, everything and everyone else takes a back seat, and life as you once knew it fades into the background. Even the necessities of daily life such as eating are severely compromised. After all, who's got time to eat well and think about cooking with a newborn in the house? 

I know I certainly didn't, but I take comfort in the fact that it appears that I am far from alone. A survey commissioned by online UK supermarket Ocado has revealed that 57 per cent of new mums aren't eating three meals a day. Breakfast is the first meal to be forfeited, followed by lunch, then dinner. 

Why are all these mums not looking after themselves properly? According to the survey, it comes down to one main thing: they quite simply forget to eat.

Attributing their forgetfulness to the stress of new motherhood, 60 per cent of these women also confessed that any prior healthy eating habits were broken once their baby arrived, admitting they were more likely to grab an unhealthy or convenience food if they ate anything at all.

It's certainly something Bianca Kloti can relate to. "It's hard enough trying to be healthy during your pregnancy, what with morning sickness and that constant craving for cheesy-loaded carbs, let alone trying to be healthy after your body goes through the dramatic change that is childbirth and becoming a mother," she says. 

"My postnatal diet has been a mix of convenience and catching up on all the things that I couldn't eat when I was pregnant. I have also been consumed by an overwhelming need for sugar, and with willpower next to zero, have developed an unhealthy addiction to creamy soda and lemon squash."

Melanie McGrice, a Melbourne-based dietician and author of the Pregnancy Weight Plan, says that post-birth is the time when women, more than ever, need energy to get them through the day.

"Food is your fuel, so if you're not topping up your fuel tank will be running on empty, and you'll struggle to make wise decisions for you and your baby," she says. "Not only this, but if you aren't eating regularly and healthily there is more likelihood that you will binge later."

Advertisement

McGrice highlights that a good diet is also essential during the first few months after pregnancy in order to replenish and maintain nutrient levels in your body. 

"In particular you need iron to replenish the iron you lost in your blood stores through giving birth; protein, vitamin C and zinc to help heal the wounds of delivery; carbohydrates and B vitamins for energy; and fluid to help avoid dehydration and fatigue while you are producing breast milk," she says.

For women who are skipping meals or not eating particularly healthily, McGrice warns that side effects can include increased tiredness and a decrease in the body's ability to heal pregnancy wounds. She also advises that for some it can impact on metabolism and weight for decades to come.

Short of moving in a full-time personal chef post-baby, McGrice offers the following tips to help avoid falling into the bad habits that may find us either starving or justifying a chocolate bar as dinner.

  • Prepare meals in bulk, and freeze them in small portions so you can just whip them out of the freezer to reheat
  • Stock up on healthy snacks such as fresh fruit, nuts or raw vegetables, and place them somewhere that is easy to spot
  • Ask others to make a meal for you – there are usually plenty of people around who would love to help but don't know how
  • Try grocery shopping online if you struggle to get out to shop
  • Pack yourself a 'lunch box' which includes snacks (or ask your partner to) so that you have a variety of nutritious foods to eat during the day
  • Try NOT to snack during the night, even if you're waking up to feed your bub. Try a cup of herbal tea; if you're really hungry, have a glass of milk or some vegie sticks, but don't get into the bad habit of turning to treat foods during the night as a reward for being awake.