What is bespoke, unique, never-to-be-repeated, 100% organically homemade with love and cooked to perfection? A baby.
Often while going about busy-ness as usual, an entire skeleton, a hundred organs and a heart with soul culminate in the creation of a tiny human. All within another human being, sustained by a massive, totally disposable, spherical organ – the custom built, life- making placenta.
During the 40 weeks spent creating this mega babe, the amount of blood in mum’s body doubles (that’s an extra 1.5L) and in order to pump all this extra blood around, mum’s own heart may actually increase in size too! Room for all that extra love! The womb itself grows to 5 times its original weight, as the mothership converts into a life-sustaining, baby making marvel.
The demands on mum’s body don’t stop there either. If she’s fortunate enough to breastfeed, over her breastfeeding career she could whip up more than 270,000 mL of milk to feed bub that year. Yes – two hundred and seventy THOUSAND millilitres of immune boosting, life sustaining, microbiome feeding liquid gold. No wonder mums are so often tired.
So, with all the making and creating of this physical undertaking, it’s no surprise that 1 in 7 women develop post-natal mood disorders – such as depression and anxiety – following the birth of a child.
Aside from the physical demands, many mums find their hearts wide open in the postpartum and breastfeeding period, owing to a magical concoction of hormones and custom brain changes. This is exactly as mother nature intended as the body crafts itself to attend to every need of a tiny human. All of this attending to bubs may leave mums extra vulnerable too.
Alongside the profound hormonal and metabolic changes, other sociological factors impact new mums such as individualist (lonely) Western culture; an economy absorbing two incomes (which may mean pressure for families to return to work) and the massive life adjustment required, on so many levels. Scrolling through social media and seeing the highlight reel of genetically blessed humans returning to their pre-baby bodies, seemingly untouched by motherhood may further add pressure to our vulnerable mums.
It’s certainly not all take in utero. Pregnancy offers life-long, extra protection from a multitude of cancers for the mama and in a nod to symbiosis, bub’s stem cells are left behind to help repair headquarters once her little creature has emerged.
The deeply profound task of mothering a child and all of the creating involved takes strength, sustenance and yes, nutrients. Loads and loads of nutrients. A nourishing diet is one of the ways a new mum can protect and care for themselves during this life-changing time.
Before I jump into my wish list of foods, for all mums, on their long term recovery from the bodily upheaval of baby making, I acknowledge you’re busy. Really, really busy. And tired. So very tired. In some cultures, an entire household of people support new mums in their post-partum recovery. This is the wisdom behind Chinese Confinement or “zuo yue zi” and practices observed in Indian Ayurvedic medicine. So new parents should welcome all the help they can get and put any energy they may have into building a supportive tribe, who can nourish the new family. And not just in the immediate newborn stage.
There is no better time for mums to aim for the most nourishing diet possible than after growing a human to help repay the body for all of its magic– baby mamas need food. Good, nourishing food. Here is my wish list for all mums:
Fish du jour!
We know that mums (and dads) are vulnerable to depression and anxiety after popping baby out. Fish and all its omega-3, selenium, zinc and protein goodness could be part of the protective elixir new parents need. In fact Omega 3, which is highest in oily fish can positively affect the good bugs in your gut and a happy gut is linked to a happy brain! Eat oily fish twice per week to give yourself all the nourishment that these little swimmers have to offer. No need to be fancy either – peel some sardines out of a can or add salmon into a toastie or mix anchovies through your pasta, pop a salmon fillet, trout or herring in the pan or fish patties in the oven. All quick, easy and nourishing! If fish is just too fishy for you then try some walnuts, flaxseeds, green leafy veg or tofu.
The mighty nutrient that delivers oxygen to the brain and muscles and makes baby’s growth possible. Without it you may wake up feeling like you’ve been hit by a small motorcycle or even a large bus. Which is bound to affect your mood and ability to cope. Get it into you sista! Red meat – dice it, mince it, steam it, turn it into balls for all I care – just have some. Preferably most days of the week.
Quick tip: mince and wet dishes are great for freezing – try the four C’s – cottage pie, con-carne, curry or casserole and throw in some iron-rich and gut loving lentils and legumes too. Don’t underestimate the simplicity and speediness of the meat and three veg number and there’s always a quick and tasty beef stir-fry option.
For a healthy pregnancy you need 50% more iron (27mg per day) and during breastfeeding a token bit more too. Many mums are low in iron when they give birth – having altruistically and umbilically delivered most of theirs to the little human inside. But again, it’s not all take, mums probably won’t menstruate for a while – nature’s way of holding on to more of this precious and invigorating metal.
And I don’t mean coffee!
By far the most controversial nutrient of our decade is the humble carb. Now is not the time to be controversial, save that for when your kids have grown up. They’ll love you for it. Eat carbs. Plenty of them. About 50% more (3 extra serves) if you are breastfeeding.
Have good quality, mood boosting, wholesome carbs with each meal in small amounts – wholegrain breakfast cereal, wholemeal fruit toast, pasta cups, popcorn, muesli bars, banana bread, my famous stuff cake – these all make great snacks and meal accompaniments for new mums and prevent you munching on too many of their less nourishing cousins (chips, chocolate, lollies) which are associated with a lower mood.
Now I’m going to be controversial. If ever I had a gripe with the Dietary Guidelines, it’s the fact that new mums need an additional 50% more vegetables per day to meet their vitamin and mineral requirements. This means another two and a half serves on top of the already five serves. So, we are talking seven plus cups of salad. Well – I have a confession to make. As a dietitian and foodie and mother of two– I did not eat seven and a half serves of vegetables per day. I gave it a go and these are my tips: veggie soups before a meal (freeze them up and thaw them out!), snack on crudités between meals for snacks, bulk your meals out with vegetables by adding tinned, frozen, pre-chopped veggies however you can get them into your wet meat dishes. If that’s all too hard then perhaps grab and extra piece of fruit or…… just Eat Rainbows?!
Surprisingly, your calcium needs are actually not greater during pregnancy and breastfeeding. In a bone-loving manoeuvre, expectant and breastfeeding mums make special hormones to preserve mama’s own skeleton. Your little bub really does love the bones of you! But many women do not meet their daily requirements for calcium at the best of times, hence one in four Aussie women will get osteoporosis. So, while I’m here – here’s my chance for the hard sell on calcium!
You may not be up to counting milligrams considering you’ve just handed over significant brain mass to your little offspring (fact), so here it is – simple. Drink milk, and eat yoghurt and cheese. A flat white at morning tea, a smoothie for afternoon tea. Some cheese in your sarnie or on crackers perhaps? Cheese – eat it curdled, creamed, cheddared or blue. Just eat it! Your body needs it.
If you’re really not into liquid gold from the heffer (aka cow’s milk) then go for some calcium fortified foods such as soy milk (Warning – you will need to read the fine print here to ensure it has calcium added – aim for 300mg per 250mL serve) or chow down on some bony fish, legumes, tofu or nuts.
To help motivate you with the task of nourishing yourself – a reminder to all mums: Take a look and a sniff of your gorgeous, precious sweet smelling bundle and fill yourself with love hormones to lift you from your tired, sleep deprived haze and fuel you up, to fuel up, on healthy food!
Here is a two second summary if you need it – I hear you!
- Growing and rearing a human is an epic undertaking
- Replenish and nourish your body
- Get heaps of help to do so
- Pregnancy is not all take there are heaps of biological bonuses for mamas
- For all mums and especially new mums make sure you have these things on your shopping list for your neighbour / friend / tribe to pick up when they go shopping for you:
- iron rich red meat or alternative
- something fish (preferably oily)
- good quality carbohydrates
- heaps and heaps and heaps of veggies…. And some fruit.
If you are struggling to meet your nutrition needs with the busy-ness of your new life carrying or chasing tiny humans, talk to your nearest perinatal Accredited Practising Dietitian who can be part of your tribe on this parenting ride!
Accredited Practising Dietitian and Counsellor & Psychotherapist (Gestalt)