From here to recovery: Bouncing back after birth
By Annemarie Aburrow RD
By Annemarie Aburrow RD
It took you nine months to make your baby, so it’s likely to take your body several months to recover. Despite what the celebrities say, don’t expect to be back into your pre-pregnancy jeans two weeks after giving birth. Celebs have a whole host of health and fitness gurus to help them get back into shape, and often go to extreme measures. You will no doubt be concerned about your post-pregnancy body – you may still look pregnant for a while, and you will have gained weight, but there is plenty of time to work on all that. Following the birth of your baby, take the time to look after yourself and get to know your gorgeous newborn.
Whether you’re breastfeeding or not, it’s important to keep your strength up. Being up at night and the constant energy required to look after a newborn will take its toll on you. If you are hit by the ‘baby blues’, this may leave you feeling even more anxious and emotional. Try and make time for regular meals, including breakfast.
Fluids are important too, to prevent you feeling tired and dehydrated – drink at least 8-10 cups a day. If you don’t feel up to cooking, ask your friends to make a meal rota for you, taking it in turns to bring round a home-cooked meal. Don’t be worried if you need to rely on convenience foods / ready meals for a short period while you recover.
Try to continue eating a healthy diet after pregnancy. A healthy diet includes the following:
As you will have lost some blood during childbirth and continue to bleed after birth (lochia), try to include some iron-rich foods to help prevent anaemia. Excellent sources of iron include red meat, oily fish, eggs, tofu, kidney beans, baked beans, chickpeas, lentils and other beans/pulses. Good sources include fortified breakfast cereals, bread, dried fruit and green leafy vegetables, e.g. spinach and kale.
Constipation is a common problem for all women after pregnancy. It’s more common in breastfeeding mums due to the extra fluid required to make breast milk. Try to include plenty of fluids and fibre in your diet. Good sources of fibre include fresh and dried fruits, vegetables, wholegrains, beans, pulses and nuts. Including some pure prune or orange juice with your breakfast often helps. Porridge oats are particularly good for regulating the bowels.
If you are breastfeeding, there are a few extra things to consider:
Breastfeeding mums should take a supplement containing 10 micrograms of vitamin D every day. Research has shown that breastfeeding mums are at risk of vitamin D deficiency. Vitamin D is needed so that calcium can be absorbed from food. Taking vitamin D supplements will also ensure that your baby receives this essential vitamin in your breast milk, to help prevent rickets (bone deformities). Pregnancy or postnatal multivitamin and mineral tablets and Health Start Vitamins contain the recommended dose. Ask your Health Visitor if our are eligible to receive free Healthy Start Vitamins.
Pregnacare is a well-known and trusted brand and as a result an obvious choice for many women throughout their pregnancy. As expected, it doesn’t disappoint new mums either with not one, but two different formulas suitable for the postnatal period.
Pregnacare Breastfeeding, as the name suggests, is aimed at nursing mums. It contains a combination of the most vital nutrients required for you and your newborn baby, including vitamin D, omega-3 fatty acids, calcium and vitamin K.
Their other formula, Pregnacare New Mum, focuses on general post-pregnancy recovery. Although it can be used while breastfeeding, it was created more with the needs of new mums in mind.
Another option is New Chapter Perfect Postnatal. It’s an organic, whole food supplement rich in high quality nutrients, including multivitamin complex and probiotic blend of three bacterial strains to support lactation and meet the needs of new mums. Although quite expensive, the supplement is very highly rated on the other side of the Atlantic and you can buy it in the UK from Amazon or small online vitamin retailers.
Your breastfed newborn will drink around a pint of breast milk every day (based on an 8lb baby). Drink enough to satisfy your thirst and stay hydrated. The best fluids to include are water, squash, herbal teas, fruit juices and milky drinks. A good plan is to have a large drink during every breastfeed, with the addition of other drinks in between.
Watch out for foods and drinks containing caffeine, e.g. tea, coffee, energy drinks, chocolate and cola. They may affect your baby and keep them awake. Alcohol can pass to your baby through breast milk in small amounts. Try to limit alcohol to 1 or 2 units once-twice a week, although some women prefer to avoid alcohol altogether.
Breastfeeding is a great way to lose weight naturally. Making breast milk uses around 500-600 kcal per day, so it’s completely normal to feel more hungry. Eating 3 meals a day with additional snacks is important to maintain a good milk supply. Try to make sure your snacks are healthy, rather than relying on sugary snacks, which often contain empty calories. Healthy snacks include fruit, nuts and seeds, crackers, sandwiches, scones and teacakes. Your body is super efficient at producing milk, so just be guided by your appetite, and eat something when you’re hungry.
Breastfeeding women have higher calcium requirements of 1250mg per day (instead of the usual 700mg). You need calcium to replenish bone stores of calcium that may have been depleted during pregnancy, and your baby needs it to grow. These requirements can be met by including 3-4 portions of dairy produce per day, in addition to other foods containing calcium, e.g. bread, tinned fish with bones, green leafy vegetables, beans and pulses. To give you some guidance, the following foods contain 250mg of calcium:
Some women find it easier than others to shift their baby weight. Give your body time and try not to worry if you are struggling. If you’re breastfeeding, you’ll probably find that you lose weight naturally over time. You should not actively diet whilst breastfeeding as you may miss out on essential nutrients. If you’re not breastfeeding, or stop breastfeeding, wait until your 6-week check before actively starting to lose weight. Eating healthily and doing some regular exercise will help get you back into shape.
Physical activity has a range of benefits to the recovering post-pregnancy body:
It’s best to wait until you’ve had your 6-week check before embarking on an exercise routine. Discuss your activity plans with your doctor if you are concerned.
British Dietetic Association (2013) Food Fact Sheet: Pregnancy (Accessed August 2013).
Great Britain: Committee on Medical Aspects of Food Policy and Great Britain: Department of Health (1991) Dietary reference values for food energy and nutrients for the United Kingdom. Stationery Office Books.
McCance RA and Widdowson EM (2002). McCance and Widdowson's The Composition of Foods Sixth Summary Edition. Royal Society of Chemistry
NHS Choices (2012) Healthy lifestyle and breastfeeding (Accessed August 2013).