Pregnancy truly is a transformative period, but it can also be challenging. I don’t think I need to reiterate the fact that nutrition is a very important aspect during this time. Good nutrition during, but actually even before pregnancy can make a difference between health and sickness and support the general constitution of the child for life.
I won’t focus on nutrition for pre-pregnancy and pregnancy in this post, because those are two very extensive topics, which I will try to cover another time. I will only mention here that it is important to EAT during pregnancy, and by eat I mean consume wholesome, nutritious foods, that will provide you and your growing baby with nutrients.When you’re pregnant you need more of everything– calories, protein, calcium, iron, zinc, B vitamins as well as most of the other vitamins and minerals. You need these so your baby can take what it needs, to build the placenta, but to also make sure you will not be left depleted after your pregnancy. And this is what I want to focus on with this post today. We have all heard the phrase that the baby takes what it needs, but if we are not eating a healthy and nutrient-rich diet, it will take from our stored nutrients from our bones and tissues and will leave us depleted. This can potentially unlock some health issues postpartum. So the first step is to take care of your nutrition pre- and during pregnancy to minimize this risk.
If you have not done that for whatever reason, don’t despair. There are still plenty of positive changes you can do after you have given birth to replenish and restore your body.
This blog post is inspired by a recent podcast I listed to about “Postnatal Depletion”. I listened to it on goop’s podcast and I’m sharing the link here with you if you are interested:
Dr. Oscar Serrallach defines postpartum depletion as fatigue and exhaustion, combined with a feeling of “baby brain”.
He lists some symptoms of postnatal depletion, such as:
- fatigue and exhaustion
- tired on waking
- falling asleep unintentionally
- sense of guilt and shame around the role of being a mother
- loss of self-esteem
- loss of libido
- brain fog or “baby brain”
While I can agree on a lot of what Dr. Oscar Serrallach shares in this podcast, it can also feel overwhelming and alarming to listen to him suggesting that a postnatal depletion can be a thing even 10 years after giving birth.
I want to take a positive approach here.Yes, it is common and normal that you might feel more tired, emotional and just overwhelmed after giving birth.
There is an interplay of many factors here that go beyond nutrition. Such important factors include the change in our sleep routine, getting used to your new role as a mom, hormonal changes, relationship changes, lack of help and support and many more.
So instead of telling you that you may be depleted after giving birth, I want to share with you WHAT YOU CAN DO to feel more energized and to be able to bounce back from your pregnancy easier.
Focus on the following areas of your life and tackle them one day at a time. Try to make easy changes in each area every day and go from there. You don’t want to create any additional stress on you by trying to make a huge change in your lifestyle at once. This is also not necessarily healthy.
Let me just say that this is a big big factor that each new mom has experienced (yes, me too for maybe a little too long!). Your sleep pattern and schedule will change after giving birth; there is just no way around that. Your baby will wake up in the middle of night for feedings, or she might need your comfort and support. It is important that you are there for her. This means, you’ll wake up multiple times at night. And it means you’ll feel sleep deprived more than you can imagine. This is part of the package you get postpartum, so it is also important to accept it. 🙂
Proper sleep hygiene is very important for our health. It is the only opportunity our brain and body get to reboot in order to function properly. I have written in detail about the importance of sleep and how lack of sleep can impact our health here, so you can go and check out this post if you want to learn more about it. But there are a few things you can do, and should do to make up for the interrupted sleep at night. I know you heard of it, but it is so important to sleep during the day, when the baby is sleeping. I have been facing this dilemma for a long time, thinking: “Should I go to sleep now, or should I try and finish some of the thousands of things I need to finish, while baby is napping?” It is a tempting thought! But I have learned to give myself a little rest during the day, for just about 15-20 minutes. You don’t need more than a power nap to make up for the lost sleep at night, to feel more energized, but yet to not disrupt your sleep routine even more. Sleeping for longer periods during the day could actually leave you feeling more tired, and makes it harder for you to go to bed at a reasonable time in the evening.
Lastly, if your child wakes up too often in the night, cries or has trouble going back to sleep and this has been going on for too long and you don’t really know what to do anymore, then consider the help of a sleep coach. I’ll share a personal story here:
Our toddler had a major sleep regression around 18 months which was one of the hardest we have experienced to this point. Because she was older it was not so easy to put her back to sleep and she would only go to sleep if one of us was in the room with her, holding her hand. We did this for about a month, and we realized we can’t continue like this any more. Co-sleeping was out of the question also, because she simply refused to sleep in our bed. She specifically wanted her bed and us sitting next to it, holding her hand. After a while, you realize this is not healthy for either of us and we needed help. I only then sought help from a sleep coach. I specifically told her that I am not going to let her cry and that I need a gentle yet effective method to resolve the situation. It took us only one night of following the coaches’ advice to improve the situation (I learned so many things about soothing, and sleep patterns in this process!). No, we didn’t let her cry it out, and no, I did not betray my mother instincts with this decision.What I did was that I have improved my baby and our own sleep. Since then she’s sleeping through the night, goes to bed with joy, and we are waking up rested and well.
Creating good sleep hygiene for your baby is just as important for her health as it is for yours. 🙂
You will go through a major transformation after you give birth. Remember, this event marks not just the birth of your baby; it also marks your birth as a mother! You need to sit down with this thought for a little and let it sink in. The reality is that after you give birth everything and everyone will be focused on your newborn baby – just as you’d expect. Unfortunately not many will acknowledge or honor your birth as a new mom. It is a rite of passage that marks your biggest transformation. It is then normal that suddenly you might find yourself lost. Now that you have taken on this new role, you might notice that your old self is not there anymore and you might mourn it for a while. Or you might fully embrace and love this new you you’re experiencing. In any case, you won’t be the same person anymore and this is fine. Give yourself the time to transition into this new role, to figure out this new “mom thing” and to let yourself experience fully the sweet, tender moments of the fourth trimester, the cuddles, the nesting, the cooing, the sweet scents and sounds and the profound love you have for your baby. Soak it all up.
Then work on yourself. Find your purpose, do something that brings you joy that makes your day, which contributes to others in a positive way. This something should go beyond your baby. This something, this purpose is just for you. It might be a new hobby, it might be painting, it might be blogging, or it might even be a newfound motivation and joy in your job. Whatever it is, cultivate this. This anchor is important to fully embrace your new identity and to experience the multiple layers of your personality.
This is another area in your life that will change after you give birth. And it is important to work on it as well. Your relationship with your husband will change. You will find you don’t have so much free time anymore. And so time management should become an important part of your life too. You need to set aside some alone time every day in order to connect and share your thoughts and emotions.
But other relationships might change as well. Watch out for the relationship you have with yourself too. Set time aside, even if it’s just 5 minutes to sit still and focus on your breath to reconnect with your inner self.
You might find that some of your friends who don’t have a child yet, don’t really get you anymore. This is fine too. It is a good time to reevaluate your relationships and focus on the ones that uplift and support you. Cultivate the ones that do that!
And get support if you can! It does take a village to raise a child. So if someone wants to visit you after you have your baby, ask them to bring food, or to help clean up the house if they don’t offer it themselves. There is no shame in that!
Lastly, we come to the part of nutrition. If you are breastfeeding your child it is ever so important to eat wholesome and nutritious diet. You will need to eat more calories, as breastfeeding is an energy-intensive process. The food that you are eating provides the nutrients in your milk and thus your baby’s nutrition.
Focus on whole foods that contain calcium, protein, healthy fats, complex carbohydrates, iodine, and a wide spectrum of vitamins and minerals.
Here is a list of things to consider after giving birth:
- Supplement with Omega 3, especially DHA – vital for the nervous system and the brain, you will need more of this essential fatty acid during and post-pregnancy to meet your increased demand. DHA can be found in fish and algae and I recommend you supplement it to make sure you get enough of it. Here is a link to an algae based DHA supplement if you’re vegetarian or vegan, and here is a good quality fish-based one (fermented cod liver oil).
- Assess for nutritional deficiencies and if needed, supplement with iron, vitamin B12, zinc, vitamin C, vitamin D, magnesium, and copper
- Assess for hormonal imbalances
- Consider adding some adaptogens, after consulting your health practitioner, such as ashwaghanda.
- Get support from a health coach to optimize your diet and nutritional intake
It is also important to visit your doctor regularly the first two years after giving birth and to check for nutritional and hormonal deficiencies.
Take it all one day at a time, and try to make some easy changes towards better health every day, in each of the areas I’ve listed. Include some gentle body movements daily, and love and respect yourself for the miracle of birth you’ve just performed! And if you need some help with optimizing your diet or adopting some healthy lifestyle changes in your daily life, don’t hesitate to contact me! I’d be honored to help guide you during this magical time that the postpartum period presents.
Staying healthy with nutrition, Elson M.Haas, MD