Hayley Moore

Only a Mum can truly understand that first sense of complete and utter exhaustion that sets in during the initial few days following childbirth.

No matter how hard we try to prepare, or how desperately we like to believe we are ready NOTHING can compare to the shock to the system that delivering a child creates.

Food is so important during the recovery period because it nourishes your body, providing the triggers for many of your most important physical functions for recovery. The quality of the food that you eat determines the amount of energy you will have and your ability to both focus and to rest.

During the long period of conceiving, pregnancy, childbirth and breastfeeding the body becomes depleted of vital nutrients because whatever the baby requires the mother provides, through the placenta and through breast milk. The result is your body is left lacking in energy, and most importantly without the capacity to repair tissues efficiently.

Pregnancy, childbirth and breastfeeding put particular demands on your protein and fat metabolism - more so than your carbohydrate metabolism and so it is important to replenish proteins and fats first, with less of an emphasis on carbs. That’s not to say that you should cut out carbs completely, but you should aim to get them through vegetables in the initial few weeks rather than through white rice, pasta and potatoes. It is important to get the balance back in your favour as soon as possible so you can concentrate on enjoying being a Mum!

When you are pregnant you need 200-300 additional calories per day, when you are breastfeeding you need an extra 500 calories. But it is the quality of these calories that count, not the quantity!

Your body uses three sources of fuel for energyFats, Carbohydrates, and Proteins which are all converted for energy in different ways and for different purposes.

Fat – slow and steady controlled release of energy over a long period

Carbohydrates – are transformed into sugars to be used quickly when needed for a short burst of energy

Proteins – only utilised as a last resort when your glycogen (sugar) stores and fat stores are low.

Fat is important in your diet when you give birth because it is vital for long lasting energy and for the production of hormones – and don’t we know what a roller coaster those hormones can put us on!

But we need good quality fats – unsaturated fats like nuts, seeds and vegetable oils (coconut oil, olive oil, avocado oil, butter and nut oil).

One very important fat is Omega 3 DHA – mostly found in fish. DHA is what the majority of your brain is made up of. When you are pregnant this is taken directly from your brain to your baby’s developing brain and leaves you with a deficiency…this leads to postnatal anxiety and “baby brain” YES it is an actual thing! So the more Omega 3 fats you can get into your diet the better you will feel and the better your cognitive function will be.

Good sources are Salmon, mackerel and sardines. Flaxseeds and Cod Liver Oil are also good sources although you have to be careful with how much Cod Liver oil you take. Protein provides the building blocks for muscles and collagen (for strength and flexibility), as well as for repairing tissues, detoxifying and cleansing of your body. When you are recovering from giving birth you need protein to recover and rebuild your tissues, if you are breast feeding you continue to be drained of protein. As a general rule you need to incorporate a palm sized portion of protein rich food with each meal (both in diameter and thickness).

Good sources are legumes, fish, eggs, nuts, vegetables, dairy and poultry. You do not need a lot of red meat – about once or twice per week and it should be good quality.

Carbohydrates can basically be divided into two types – simple (sweet, sugary carbs like sugar, dairy and processed grains and fruit) and complex (wholegrains, green vegetables, beans, peanuts, potatoes and corn).

Simple carbs are quickly digested resulting in the rollercoaster of high energy for a short while followed by a crash leaving you tired and sluggish, whereas complex carbs take longer and will usually contain fibre which makes you feel fuller for longer and keeping you with stable long lasting energy.

When thinking about the carbs you are eating you primarily should go for wholegrains and fresh colourful vegetables. Most recommendations are 5 portions of fruit and vegetables per day, however it is becoming increasingly difficult to get enough nutrients from the vegetables we eat so you should aim to eat more like 8 portions per day. Also think about how you cook as steaming preserves the most nutrients from your veggies.

Best sources are cabbage, broccoli, leeks and onions, beans, brown rice and legumes.

Micronutrients - vitamins and minerals are responsible for healthy growth and development. During pregnancy these are used up in the development of the growing baby and often leave Mum incredibly lacking by the time it comes to birth. The important micronutrients to replenish quickly are:

Iron - important for fatigue. Iron is hard to absorb and requires that you chew your food really well. Get more iron in things like red meat, dark green leafy veggies, bean and legumes, seafood and poultry.

Zinc – important in the overall functioning of the body, particularly keeping the immune system strong. Get more Zinc in things like Shellfish, chicken, eggs, dairy, legumes, nuts and seeds, and grains

Vitamin B12 – Building, repairing and detoxifying. Get more Vitamin B12 in miso, eggs, mushrooms red meat, dairy and seafood.

Vitamin D – Increases absorption of calcium, iron, magnesium and zinc – important for healthy bones. You can get Vitamin D from sunlight, mushrooms and fortified milk.

Superfoods – these are foods that are particularly high in nutrients:

Berries – high in antioxidants, Vitamin C and fibre

Oats - excellent for milk production

Avocado - high in potassium and healthy fats

Cacao and dark chocolate – high in magnesium, iron and antioxidants

Chia – high in omega 3s, antioxidants, fibre and calcium

Green tea – high in antioxidants

Seeds – high in fibre and healthy fats

If you are considering supplementing your diet I suggest seeking advice from a clinician who can recommend certain supplements individual to your needs. It is important to understand that taking supplements of one mineral may counteract the absorption or efficiency of another which can lead to problems if not monitored by a professional.

Created by Hayley Moore (HM Fitness and Nutrition) for Mother Hen Club. Hayley is a Pre and Postnatal Personal Trainer and Nutrition Coach.