Nutrition in the Post Natal period – Looking after you and feeding your baby
The third blog post in the series by our expert nutritionist – Claire Glazzard
Looking after you and feeding your baby
Congratulations on your new born baby! This is such an exciting and wonderful time. Caring for a baby can be demanding and tiring so look after yourself. Give yourself time, slow down and enjoy the early days of being new parents.
It is important to eat healthily, drink plenty of fluids, try to relax, as well as include some physical activity daily to help you recover, sleep well and support your mental wellbeing.
Top tips for eating healthily
- Aim to eat at least 5 portions of a variety of fruits and vegetables a day, including fresh, frozen, tinned and dried fruit and vegetables and up to 150ml of fruit juice.
- Base meals around starchy foods, such as bread, pasta, rice, potatoes. Increase your fibre by selecting wholemeal varieties and protein rich pulses (beans and lentils) – fibre can help to alleviate any bowel problems and constipation.
- Opt for lean meats and fish, alternative sources of protein such as eggs, nuts, seeds, dairy and soya products.
- 2-3 portions of dairy foods, such as milk, cheese and yogurt. All great sources of calcium.
- Aim for 3 meals per day and 2 nutritious snacks as appropriate to appetite. Keeping meals simple can help to reduce preparation times.
- Try cooking more than you need and freeze the extra portions for another day
- Steaming is a healthy and quick way to cook vegetables and fish
- If friends and family are keen to help, take them up on an offer of a healthy home-cooked meal.
- Keep a list of healthy meal ideas that you like – this will make it easier when you shop
- If you are struggling to find time to go to the shops, why not try shopping online.
Here are some healthy meal ideas and suggestions:
- Chicken and vegetable stir-fry with reduced salt soya sauce and boiled brown rice or wholewheat noodles. Why not add garlic, ginger and plain cashew nuts
- Grilled or steamed fish with lemon and some pepper, serve with steamed potatoes and vegetables
- Lentil and vegetable soup, served with crusty bread
- Spaghetti Bolognese with added vegetables
- Fishcakes made with mashed potatoes, tinned salmon and herby low fat cream cheese serve with peas and sweetcorn
- Baked potato with baked beans and a small portion of grated cheese, with a side salad
- Eggs, scrambled with chopped onion, peppers and mushrooms on wholemeal toast
The following snacks are healthy, quick and simple to make, and will give you energy:
- fresh fruit
- sandwiches filled with salad, grated cheese, mashed salmon or cold meat
- yoghurts and fromage frais
- hummus with bread or vegetable sticks
- ready-to-eat dried apricots, figs or prunes
- vegetable and bean soups
- baked beans on toast or a baked potato
- small wholemeal pitta or wrap with an oily fish dip (made with canned oily fish, low fat cream cheese, lemon and pepper) and lettuce leaves
- wholewheat crackers/crispbreads/oatcakes and reduced fat cheese
- rice cakes with peanut butter
- breadsticks or carrots/red pepper/cucumber with houmous
- nuts and seeds (without added salt)
- smoothies – made with plain yogurt/milk, banana and frozen berries (maximum of 150ml of smoothie a day)
- fortified unsweetened breakfast cereals, muesli and other wholegrain cereals with milk
- milky drinks or a 150ml glass of 100% unsweetened fruit juice
Breast is best?
For the best start for your baby, breastfeeding is recommended for the first 6 months. Breastfeeding can help protect your baby from infections and diseased in adulthood and has health benefits for new mums too, like reducing risk of breast and ovarian cancer.
Some women are unable to or choose not to breastfeed their baby. Infant formula is the only suitable alternative to breast milk in the first 12 months of your baby’s life. Your midwife or health visitor will be able to give you information on preparing, and feeding your baby if this situation applies to you.
There is no special diet for breastfeeding mothers, but it is a good idea to eat healthily.
While breastfeeding does require energy, the amount will be different for every mother, depending on babies feeding patterns and consumption of milk. If you are exclusively breastfeeding for the first 6 months you may need between 300-500 extra calories a day. Less if you are mix feeding with formula. For some women, the additional energy needed for breastfeeding may help towards returning to your pre-pregnancy weight.
Any food to avoid during breastfeeding?
Small amounts of what you are eating and drinking can pass to your baby through your breast milk. There are some foods and drinks that may cause sleep disturbance, digestions problems or other complications and therefore the recommendations are to be careful or to limit these while breastfeeding.
Fish is a great source of essential fatty acids and protein. Certain fish have higher levels of mercury or pollutants and therefore should be limited while breastfeeding:
- Oily fish: It’s recommended to limit oily fish to two portions per week (one portion is 140g) due to higher levels of certain pollutants that can build up in the body when eaten regularly and could be harmful to your baby.
- White fish: Most white fish is fine to eat without limits, but sea bream, sea bass, halibut, turbot and rock salmon contain similar pollutants to oily fish and should be limited to two portions per week as well.
- Shellfish: The only recommendation for shellfish is to limit the amount of brown crab meat eaten.
- Other: Shark, swordfish and marlin should be limited to once per week due to the higher levels of mercury, although this is the same recommendation as for all adults.
Ideally you should avoid consuming alcohol whilst breastfeeding. If you do have an occasional drink it is unlikely to harm your baby but the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists advise that you should not drink more than one or two units, more than once or twice a week when breastfeeding.
You may wish to try using expressed milk. Expressing milk is a way of taking out your breast milk so you can store it and feed it to your baby another time. For more information on expressing milk see NHS Choices.
If you do choose to drink occasionally and you consume over the recommended limit of 1 or 2 units wait at least an hour before feeding your baby to allow the alcohol level to reduce.
Caffeine is a stimulant and consequently may keep baby awake or make them restless.
Caffeine is naturally found in coffee, tea and chocolate and is also added to some soft drinks and energy drinks, as well as some medications. Decaffeinated tea and coffee are good alternatives.
The guidance for breastfeeding women is the same as during pregnancy that regular caffeine consumption of up to 200 mg per day are safe:
- 2 mugs of instant coffee (100mg each)
- 1 mug of filter coffee (140mg each)
- 2 mugs of tea (75mg each)
- 5 cans of cola (up to 40mg each)
- 4 (50g) bars of plain chocolate (up to 50 mg each). Caffeine in milk chocolate is about half that of plain chocolate.
Do I need to continue to take supplements?
Everyone including breastfeeding women, is recommended by the Department of Health to take a supplement of 10 micrograms of vitamin D each day. We get most of our vitamin D through the action of sunlight on the skin, so a supplement may be particularly important during winter months. You should get enough of all the other vitamins and minerals that you and your baby need for breastfeeding by eating a healthy, varied diet.
If your baby is having more than 500ml (about a pint) of first infant formula a day, they do not need a supplement because formula is already fortified with vitamin D.
Note if you are vegetarian or vegan, speak to your midwife, health visitor or GP about additional supplementation requirements.
Healthy Start vouchers
Don’t forget if you have children under the age of 4 and are getting certain benefits or tax credits, you are eligible for Healthy Start vouchers. This allows you to get free vouchers every week to spend on milk, plain fresh and frozen fruit and vegetables, and infant formula milk, if you’re not breastfeeding. You can also get free vitamins. https://www.healthystart.nhs.uk/
Allergies and breastfeeding
There are no recommendations to avoid allergens, such as nuts or eggs whilst breastfeeding in order to prevent allergies. Occasionally an infant appears to have an adverse reaction to a food in the mother’s diet and there are some foods that your baby might be sensitive to. If you suspect your baby is reacting to anything from your breastmilk, consult your GP before cutting anything out of your diet.
Losing weight after your baby
If you are trying to lose weight, your 6 week postnatal check may be a good time to discuss this with your health professional (if you are not offered a postnatal check you can ask for it!)
There is support available to you that can help you, but the focus should be on healthy eating with a balanced, varied diet and physical activity. Make sure you have realistic expectations and you should always take into account any health issues you may have had in your pregnancy or the birth before undertaking any physical activity. Ask your GP, midwife or health visitor for more information on what is available near you.
Look after your mental wellbeing
It is important to look after your mental health, as well as your physical health. The five ways to wellbeing are a great starting point:
Connect: seeing friends and going to postnatal groups is a great way to socially interact (this can be done virtually during current lockdown restrictions).
Be Active: gentle exercise will lift your mood, reduce stress and anxiety and improve physical health.
Learn: do what you enjoy – paint, read, puzzles, games, write, keep your mind active.
Give: help others, reach out to other new mums or parents. Support and provide love, kindness and guidance.
Take notice: take time during your day to appreciate the moment: pause for a cup of tea, be aware of the world around you, reflect on what you are feeling.
If you are worried about how you are feeling, it is important to talk to your health visitor or GP.
When can I start to exercise?
Taking some regular physical activity can help to relieve stress and improve energy and sleep levels as well as contributing to weight loss. After 6 weeks you should be able to start building up your activity level. You should check with your GP, midwife or health visitor before resuming regular exercise.
Practical ideas for physical activity include:
- Postnatal exercise classes – local maternity units may offer classes or health visitors may be able to advise about local classes.
- Pilates or yoga – check out the Pilates programme of classes a CoActive Physio
- Have a brisk walk with the pram or buggy – it is important to keep a straight back.
- Make activities enjoyable and part of everyday life.
If you have had a caesarean section you will need to take things very easy. Your recovery time will be longer, so talk to your GP, midwife or health visitor before you start anything more strenuous.
Why not book in for a mummy MOT to help get you started.
- British Dietetic Association. (2018). Breastfeeding. Available at: https://www.bda.uk.com/food-health/food-facts.html
- British Nutrition Foundation (BNF). (2016). Nutrition for Baby. Available at:https://www.nutrition.org.uk/healthyliving/nutrition4baby.html
- MIND (2020) Five Ways to Wellbeing. Available at: https://www.mind.org.uk/
- National Health Service (NHS). (2020a) Your Pregnancy and Baby Guide. Available at: https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/pregnancy-and-baby/
- National Health Service (NHS). (2020b). Healthy Start at: https://www.healthystart.nhs.uk/
· National Institute of Health and Care Excellence (NICE) (2010) Public Health Guideline (PH27) Weight management before, during and after pregnancy. Available at: https://www.nice.org.uk/guidance/ph27
- Scientific Advisory Committee on Nutrition (SACN) (2004) Advice on fish consumption: benefits & risks. Available at: https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/338801/SACN_Advice_on_Fish_Consumption.pdf