Once you have delivered your baby and are now in what many refer to as the 4th trimester, you may marvel at how tricky it is to accomplish the simplest of tasks. Finding a moment to simply take a shower, much less cook a meal may seem like a major accomplishment in those first few weeks, and it is!
During pregnancy, there is a lot of focus on diet and increased calorie and nutrient needs. Calorie and nutrient needs postpartum, especially if you are breastfeeding, are just as important for you and your baby, and in many ways actually more important.
600 more calories a day
Among women exclusively breastfeeding their infants, the energy demands of lactation exceed pre-pregnancy demands by about 600 kcal/day during the first 6 months postpartum compared with 300 kcal/day during pregnancy. Another way of looking at this is the milk produced in 4 months of exclusive breastfeeding represents the amount of energy roughly equivalent to the total energy cost of your entire pregnancy! Wow! If you are currently breastfeeding you may already have a hunch about this. Many new moms report a voracious appetite in those first few weeks, unlike anything they experienced during pregnancy.
Diet for breastfeeding and for recovery
That extra 300 to 600 calories (depending on partial or exclusive breastfeeding) will be providing extra protein, fat, and calcium first and foremost and also the micronutrients Vitamin A and B vitamins, Vitamin C, Vitamin D, Iron, Iodine, and Zinc. These macro and micronutrients are not exclusive to the demands of breastfeeding but also support and nourish your own body’s recovery from labor and delivery while also providing brain and endocrine support as you transition through significant hormonal changes postpartum.
Plan, Plan, Plan!
Don’t assume you will just figure out the real thing once you get home with the baby. Consider having at least a two to four-week game plan for your food intake in place and ready to go!
- Batch cook meals ahead and freeze meals like soups, stews, ragu, lasagna, casseroles, meatballs, and burgers as well as plant based veggie patties.
- Set up a meal train or better yet ask a family member or close friend to set up a meal train for you, there is even a free site that helps you organize the meal drops offs. If you are not familiar with a meal train read here for meal train etiquette.
- Schedule a meal delivery service for the first month or more. Many parts of the country have healthy and delicious meal delivery services that will deliver nearly a week’s worth of food already cooked and ready to just heat and serve! Many of these services will accommodate any dietary needs or restrictions, including postpartum needs.
- Plan ahead with your partner, members of your household, and any friends, family, or postpartum doula that will be staying with you in those first few weeks. Find out what they feel comfortable cooking while they are there to support. Many postpartum doulas focus on cooking nourishing meals from their own recipe repertoire and will often cook any recipes you have shared with them in advance as well.
- When cooking meals aim to cook for multiple servings. Don’t make a single serving of oatmeal, make a large pot of oatmeal that you can eat over the course of the week. Don’t bake one sweet potato, bake 6 to 12 at a time and dress the sweet potato in different ways each day, one day you might add almond butter and bananas, the next day top the sweet potato with a fried egg and avocado. Most meals and snacks can be batch cooked so you can cook the same item once that week and heat and serve the rest of the week.
Breastfeeding? Pass the grains and the water!?!
Many approaches to healthy eating these days tend to limit or downright exclude grains. Grains however play a key role in breastfeeding. Towards the end of the third trimester aim to start slightly increasing your grain intake, especially oats, barley, and rice. These are major lactogenic foods, significantly increasing milk supply and sustaining energy. Traditionally these grains have been prepared as congees, a nourishing porridge that can be made plain, savory, or sweet. These can be very soothing meals, especially in the first few weeks. These three grains however can be prepared in any way, including a healthy lactation oatmeal cookie that you can also batch cook and snack on along with a tall glass of water!
If you have concerns over gluten, oats can be purchased gluten-free, all rice is naturally gluten-free. Barley does have naturally occurring gluten and cannot be made gluten-free. At the end of the day, no food will make milk flow without the milk-making power of plain ol’ water….when you are breastfeeding your water intake is critical. The average person needs 8 glasses of water a day, a breastfeeding mom needs anywhere from 12 to 15 glasses of water a day. Keep water handy! Keep water bottles around, always have water within arm’s reach. Water infused with citrus fruits, cucumbers, or berries as well as coconut water, nettle leaf tea, raspberry leaf tea, and hibiscus tea can all count towards your water intake for the day.
Planning ahead for what your food intake will look like during the first weeks postpartum can make all the difference for a smooth transition and plenty of nourishment for both you and baby!