Eat like a mother: 4th trimester nutrition

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The first few months with a newborn are a whirlwind of sleepless nights, diaper changes and feedings (all wrapped up in lots of baby snuggles though😊). After spending 9+ months focusing on eating the right foods and getting certain nutrients, new moms often shift this energy to taking care of their new bundle of joy and put their needs on the backburner. I mean, how many new parents feel like they really have time to eat, let alone prepare, 3 square meals a day?

The 4th Trimester 

As busy as the newborn baby phase is, the first few months after childbirth (aka the 4th Trimester) is a key time for moms to focus on healing their bodies through nutrition. Think of the 4th Trimester as an extended recovery break. Pregnancy and childbirth, while beautiful and natural, do a number on the body and mind. Proper nutrients are needed for healing physically as well as mentally and emotionally to help ward off postpartum depression.

You've made it through pregnancy and delivery, but what are you supposed to eat now that your baby is born? Check out these 4th trimester nutrition tips. #saslife #postnatal Click To Tweet

Pillars of Postnatal Nutrition

First and foremost, remember that your body went through a great transformation. Give yourself time and space to heal and lean into your new routines and body. Eating a well-balanced diet and being physically active help ease the transition into parenthood, but it doesn’t need to be complicated.

1. Nourish your body with healthy, balanced meals and snacks.

Certain nutrients, such as calcium and iron, are depleted during pregnancy and childbirth while other nutrients, like protein, vitamin D, omega-3s and B vitamins, are essential to postnatal healing and recovery. Eating a variety of minimally processed fruits, vegetables, proteins and whole grains will help ensure you’re giving your body what it needs. Plus, if you’re breastfeeding, certain foods and nutrients can help support your milk supply (stay tuned for more on this topic).

Be sure to always include some protein and healthy fat when you eat to help sustain energy levels – a must when you’re short on sleep! It’ll also help quench some of the insatiable hunger that comes with breastfeeding.

If you’re breastfeeding, you’ll want to limit caffeine and alcohol since they are passed to babies through breast milk. Caffeine in moderation (2-3 cups per day) is fine for most but if you find your baby is fussy or irritable after your morning joe, you may want to cut back. Not drinking alcohol while breastfeeding is the safest option, but 1 drink enjoyed on occasion is not known to be harmful to babies.

salad of mixed greens topped with slices of grilled chicken, avocados and cherry tomatoes

2. Eat enough!

In the midst of the newborn baby haze, it’s easy to forget to eat. You may not have the ability to eat at set times like your little one, but do your best and try to not skip meals. You may need to eat one-handed while bouncing your baby on your knee, but it works!

If you’re breastfeeding, you need an additional 300-500 calories per day to support lactation (that’s more than you needed when you were pregnant!). To help keep up with the increased calorie needs while breastfeeding, enjoy a healthy snack while you’re nursing or pumping in between meals.

Pro Tip: Lean on your friends and family to help provide meals so you can make postnatal recovery a top priority. Set up an online sign-up tool before baby arrives that can be sent out after you’re home with baby…say yes to anyone that offers to cook or bring you a meal…and enjoy every bite!

3. Hydrate often.

Not being properly hydrated can exacerbate muscle cramps, constipation, headaches, brain fog and/or fatigue that you may already be experiencing post-delivery. To speed up the healing process, aim to drink at least 8-10 cups of water per day. Keep a water bottle (or 3 – I kept them strategically placed around the house) within arm’s reach so you can sip on it throughout the day.

If you’re breastfeeding, your water needs are increased, so aim for 10+ cups of water daily to quench thirst and help support breast milk production and supply. If you drink 1 large cup of water every time you nurse or pump, you’ll be well on your way to achieving this goal.

four water bottles alternating glass and stainless steel

4. Take appropriate supplements.

Postnatal supplementation is a key part of mom’s recovery and provides micronutrients in breast milk for those who choose to breastfeed. While there is no definitive recommendation on postnatal supplementation, the general consensus is for new moms to continue taking a prenatal vitamin for at least three months, especially if anemia is a concern. You may also need additional supplements such as iron, vitamin D or omega-3 fatty acids, but check with your healthcare provider or registered dietitian nutritionist to determine appropriate supplementation based on your individual needs.

Quick Note about Weight Management

As always, a sensible plan combining healthy eating and regular exercise is the best prescription for sustainable weight loss. However, don’t make getting back into your pre-pregnancy jeans a priority; it’ll happen eventually (or maybe not and that’s okay).

Instead of focusing on the scale, shift your energy to healing, recovery and wellness (sense a trend here 😊), and hopefully the weight will slowly start to come off as you follow the postnatal nutrition pillars above. If not, once your baby is a little older you can focus more on weight loss.

If you’re breastfeeding, weight management can be trickier due to increased calorie needs and fluctuating hormones. Some struggle to lose those last few pounds until they’re finished breastfeeding while others find it difficult to keep weight on and not negatively impact their milk supply while breastfeeding and exercising. Remember, it’s a year in the grand scheme of your baby’s life – you can focus on weight loss when you finish breastfeeding.

Bottom Line: Do your best!

At the end of the day, eat what you can, when you can. It may be a handful of nuts and a piece of fruit or a muffin your neighbor dropped off and that is okay! Enjoy this precious time bonding with your newborn. Just don’t lose yourself in the process and take time to fuel your body so you can fully enjoy your bundle of joy.

Tuna Sweet Potato Bites

Makes 3-4 Servings
Recipe Adapted from Nom Nom Paleo

PRINT RECIPE

These portable, poppable bites are delicious, tender and packed with healthy fats and antioxidants. Plus, they're perfect to eat one-handed while you're feeding or entertaining baby.

Ingredients

10 oz canned tuna packed in water, drained
1 sweet potato, cooked and mashed (~1 ⅓ cup)
3 green onions, thinly sliced
1 Tbsp butter or ghee, melted
1/2 lemon, zested and juiced
2 large eggs
1/2 tsp red pepper flakes
1 Tbsp minced jalapeño pepper (optional - spicy!)
salt and pepper, to taste

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 350°F.
  2. Line a 12-cup regular sized muffin tin with silicone or parchment liners or spray with cooking spray.
  3. Gently mix tuna, sweet potato, green onions, butter, lemon zest, lemon juice, eggs and red pepper flakes in a large bowl until combined. Be careful to not break up the chunks of tuna too much.
  4. Season with salt and pepper, to taste. (If you’re not sure how much to use, take a small portion and cook
    up a mini pancake to see if the seasoning is right before baking.)
  5. Scoop a ¼ cup of the mixture into the prepared muffin tin cups and flatten the tops with the back of a
    spoon.
  6. Bake for 20-25 minutes or until an inserted toothpick comes out clean.
  7. Serve with a squeeze of fresh lemon juice if desired.

Notes

  • Leftovers can be stored in the fridge up to 5 days or in the fridge up to 3 months.
  • When ready to eat leftovers, skillet-fry the bites in a little olive oil or butter over medium heat until the edges are crispy and they're heated through.

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About Author

Ashley Bailey, MS, RDN, LDN

Nutritionist

Ashley is a Nutritionist at SAS Institute in Cary, NC. She is a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist, Certified Biofeedback Instructor, and has a Certificate of Training in Adult Weight Management. Outside of work, Ashley enjoys spending as much time as possible at the beach, running, cooking and crafting. Follow @abaileyRD on Twitter.

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