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Breastfeeding and Nutrition: Getting the Right Postpartum Diet

Mom holding infant doing meal prep for the right postpartum diet.

On the postnatal journey, how do you navigate the intersection of breastfeeding, cooking, diet, dieting, nutrition, and intuitive eating? How do you do it all, and do it all right? Or is there no right or wrong? Here are some ideas on getting the right postpartum diet.

Pregnancy is the prep time

Pregnancy is a time to establish or improve your nutritional status. Good maternal nutrition can have a strong positive impact on the mother, fetus, infant and even the young child.

Take a look at one of my favorite books, “Real Food for Pregnancy” by Lily Nichols.

Get a birth plan

I know, I know, you think a birth plan is just a big wish-list. I agree, it can be! But I beg you to suspend disbelief for just a minute.  Evidence has shown that having a birth plan and using visualization can help to turn that wish into a reality.

Birth practices and birth interventions often result in nutrient-depletion, and/or nutrient need. Practices such as NPO in labor can deplete the body of nutrients. Operative procedures mean that the body needs adequate protein to build and repair cells and tissues.

Shortly after giving birth, new moms have a lot going on. Hormonal changes. Postpartum cramps that make eating unappealing at times. Then, hunger pangs that make them ravenously hungry. Ideally we all — including the babies! — are intuitive eaters.

The right postpartum diet is one that doesn’t need to make up for deficits that occurred during pregnancy or birth.

Get a postpartum plan

Yes, you read that right. I said a postpartum plan. Listen to my podcast guest postpartum doula Erin Huiatt and author of The Postpartum Plan Workbook explain how this plan is so important.

Get a meal prep plan

I can’t help saying this. When I got my first book contract in 1995, a nurse-author friend of mine warned me: “Almost all of your mistakes will happen during the outline and planning phase. Don’t skip the outline or short-change the planning.” She was so right.

The same is true for the meal planning. Here are few suggestions:

  • Make a list of the 20 most popular meals in your household. All of the adult-friendly and kid-friendly meals that everyone raves about. Be sure to include several easy prep and easy clean-up meals.
  • Make a list of all of the ingredients that go in those meals. If some foods are available at some grocery stores but not others, make a note of them.
  • List ways to make clean-up and prep faster. I’m too stingy to buy pre-cut this and pre-cooked that. But after having a baby, or maybe even having major abdominal surgery (which is what a cesarean is, right?) we can all take a little help from the store.
  • Get a bunch of meals in the freezer ahead of time.
  • Stock your pantry ahead of time.

The right postpartum diet is one that gets food on the table!

Seek and accept help

If someone wants to bring you food after you give birth, accept, and say thank you.

If someone wants to help with your clean-up, same thing.

And, if you want grocery or meal delivery, go ahead and order. If someone else offers to swing by to pick up groceries or meals, say thank you. Then, congratulate yourself for accomplishing a small miracle (conceiving and birthing a baby) and for doing the hardest job in the world: parenting! 

There are no postpartum police, and no rules for how to get the right postpartum diet!

Get some good cookbooks

Don’t miss “The Ultimate New Mom’s Cookbook” by dietitian Dr. Allison Childress and Chef Aurora Satler. Allison and Aurora are full of practical tips and tricks to save you prep time and still get a delicious, nutritious meal on the table.

You’ll also want to explore “The Postnatal Cookbook” from Jaren Soloff RD. The book contains recipes to replenish and rejuvenate the postpartum body. Be sure to stay tuned for an upcoming podcast with Jaren!

Forget about magic foods

Eat what you like. I’ve explained that chocolate isn’t all the villain it’s cracked up to be. On the flip side, feel free to have fennel, oats, beer, but remember they have never been proven to make more milk as some claim.

The right postpartum diet is for your whole body, not just your milk.

Forget dieting

At least in the early days, we have no evidence that purposeful “dieting,” i.e., calorie restriction is good during the early postpartum period. That extra baby-fat is hanging on in case you need those extra nutrient stores.

If you want to lose weight, you’re better off exercising. Read Dr. Linda May’s book, “Physiology of Prenatal Exercise and Fetal Development” Listen to my podcast with Dr. May about exercise during pregnancy. Meanwhile, listen to my podcast with Sheila Watkins about how to find a postpartum exercise program.

Stop worrying

Follow your instincts. Eat when you’re hungry. Drink when you’re thirsty. Respect your body for what it has accomplished. You are amazing!

How have you found the right postpartum diet? Did you prep during pregnancy to take the pressure of making meals after giving birth? Share your tips in the comments below!

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