Having a baby is the most rewarding yet challenging time of your life, especially for first-time mums. Everything is new and you aren’t quite sure just exactly what you are doing or if you are doing it right! You become consumed by this little person who is solely relying on you for their every need. For this reason, it is so easy to forget about your needs.

Many days it’s a struggle to even get out of the house when trying to get that sleep, feed and play time balance right, all while being sleep deprived and fuzzy brained! There are days when you end up eating breakfast at lunchtime and lunch in the afternoon and generally neglect your own nutritional needs.

However, what I found, especially with breastfeeding, if you don’t take care of yourself your energy levels lag, your mood changes for the worse and looking after your little one becomes a lot harder. And if your body shape has changed and you are carrying excess body fat, this can be a cause of unhappiness and negativity towards yourself.

So here are my top tips to help mums gain more energy, improve their moods and get back in shape after having a baby.

Do start as soon as you can to get into a good self-care rhythm, both mentally, emotionally and physically.

Do make time to get outside and go for a walk every day or do some strength exercises, no matter how tired you are. Exercise (even gentle walking is fine) will help with the birth recovery, produces feel-good hormones endorphins (which are important for preventing post-natal depression), and can help burn extra calories to help with reducing body fat.

Do get into gentle resistance training to help with muscle strength and tone. Strengthening muscles like your pelvic floor, deep core muscles, back, shoulders and arms not only reduces the risk of injury as bubs gets heavier, but gaining muscle increases your metabolism and thus helps with reducing that baby weight. You can lie baby next to you on the floor while you do a few press ups, tricep dips, back extensions and pelvic floor / core exercises, to name a few. Fifteen minutes every other day is a good start. Check with your maternity health care provider what may be suitable to you.

Do make time for creating nutritionally balanced meals, no matter how much time you think you have/ or don’t have. Filling your tummy with food that is going to help provide important macro nutrients like protein, low glycaemic carbohydrates and healthy fats that all contain a variety of essential micro nutrients like iron, B vitamins, magnesium, zinc, omega 3, antioxidants and more, will provide your body support with repair and recovery, sustained energy levels and provide nutrition to your baby. You will thank yourself when you are creating a healthy you.

Do eat three balanced meals per day. Meals can be super quick; frozen veges are always easy as there is no chopping or prep required. Same with pre-made bags of coleslaw or washed spinach.

Pre-cooked chickens are always helpful, along with tins of tuna or salmon, and there is nothing wrong with scrambled eggs with spinach on wholegrain toast for dinner! When you are getting the right nutrition, you are less likely to go picking on unhealthy choices.

Don’t snack throughout the day as you can lose track of time. Nibbling all through the day can also lead to overconsumption of food – and not necessarily good food.

Don’t have refined carbohydrates around the house. Cookies, chocolate, cakes and sweets can become ‘go to’ foods for quick energy or hunger fixes but provide very little or no nutritional benefit. The refined sugars leading to energy peaks and lows (as if we need more of these!) cause imbalances in mood and gut flora, resulting in a vicious circle of calorie imbalance and fat storage from insulin spikes.

Do have wholesome snacks in plentiful supply; things like fruit, veges, cheese sticks, nuts, peanut butter and wholemeal crackers, roast chickpeas, yoghurt and fruit, and smoothies.

Don’t think that you will lose your baby fat faster just because you are breastfeeding. Yes, you do burn an average 400– 500 calories, which is the equivalent of an hour’s powerwalk or 30-minute run; however, going out for coffee and ordering a large mocha and piece of cake or having a few Tim Tams at home will equal this calorie amount and therefore your weight loss efforts will be minimised.

Do keep treats to when you might be out and about on special occasions. Treats over the day, every day, can really start to add up! I tried not to have any in the house as even the best willpower starts to fade when you are tired.

Do keep a food journal or app to record the food you are eating. Due to mummy brain, I found this very helpful as it gives you a better sense of the nutrients you are consuming and your calorie intake. I also found planning and writing a meal plan was very helpful for providing the direction and motivation for cooking. This can also help provide direction to others cooking for you!

Do fill your plate during the day with wholesome foods like oats, fruit, vegetables and protein (dairy, meat, lentils, nuts, seeds), all of which burn more calories through the process of digestion than refined carbohydrates. This will not only provide essential building blocks and antioxidants for your and baby’s health but will also help you lose any excess baby fat.

Good nutrition and exercise are essential for your emotional, mental and physical health as a new mum, so get started today.

Kate Walker is the director of Lifespark Nutrition Bay of Plenty.

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