As a Physical Therapist I am used to giving advice on exercise, body mechanics and suggestions on injury prevention as part of my day to day. I have never thought too much on the importance of nutrition and what we eat as being an important part of the recovery process with my postpartum population…
Just to clarify I am not a nutritionist or registered dietician, in fact I have a weakness for chocolate and pizza just like the next gal. I have my own struggles with making healthy choices, and currently trying to work on my own health journey (for another blog in the future). 🙂
However those days when I make the right choices, there is no denying how much better I feel! I have more energy, not as crabby with my kids, and just feel more motivated to accomplish my to do list for the day!
Now imagine what women who are home with a newborn feel day to day…fatigue from sleep deprivation, hormones raging while trying to recover physically, all with the demands of taking care of a newborn.
The temptation to grab the coffee in the morning to help kick start the day, or heating up that frozen entrée for ease, or grabbing that cookie when we need a pick me up, is just too easy.
Women also tend to feel that pressure to fit back in those skinny jeans asap, but understanding the importance of eating good food to promote deep healing ( and not stress out about “dieting”) to help with the recovery process should come first.
While exercise is viewed as the main way to recover after baby, nutrition should also be right up there on the totem pole. Nutrition is seldom mentioned to the new Mom after having her baby, as all nutrition talk is normally aimed toward the baby’s needs. Yet another way Moms are pushed off to the side during their time of need.
So let’s discuss the ways that what women eat as well as lifestyle choices can really contribute to that recovery period.
So why care about nutrition? Simply put having a baby has put your body through the ringer and it needs to heal itself….
First off let’s look at the trauma that Moms go through having a baby-
- The abdominal wall muscles are stretched and in some cases left with a diastasis recti, which is a separation of the abdominal muscles.
- C-section surgery, which may to some seem like “minor surgery”, is actually major surgery that involves cutting through muscles all the way down to the uterus
- The tissue between the vagina and rectum known as the perineum can be intentionally cut as with an episitomy, or torn naturally during delivery to allow room for baby to come out.
- The pelvic floor muscles themselves are stretched to the max during delivery (including the nerve responsible for keeping us from leaking by keeping the pelvic floor muscles strong) and in up to 36% of cases can result in levator avulsion, where the pelvic floor muscles actually avulse or are torn away from the pubic bone (1)
- Ligaments attached to our abdominal organs such as our bladder can become compromised or stretched, resulting in pelvic organ prolapse
Don’t worry ladies, we are strong and we can and have totally handled all the above! Not trying to freak anyone out here about the birthing process, but just wanted to demonstrate that women and the recovery process their bodies go through after having a baby is just not taken seriously enough.
It seems that people that undergo knee or back surgeries are given more attention than someone who has just birthed a human!
At the 6 week post baby checkup women are NOT “healed”, not by a long shot. Even though they are “cleared” to resume activities such as intercourse and exercise, it can actually take a year for our body to fully recover. Another reason jumping into some of those baby boot camps too soon can be detrimental in the long run.
So in order to promote healing we need to have a nutrient rich diet full of REAL food. Since collagen is what makes up our muscles, ligaments and fascia, we want to promote collagen production by including plenty of protein in our diet.
Examples of quality protein include meat, chicken, fish, nuts, eggs, leftover chicken soup, bacon, etc
Another collagen rich food is bone broth. You could either make your own or buy at the store. There are also collagen protein powders you could add to a smoothie. Bulletproof Executive is a reputable brand that sells collagen protein powder, as well an upgraded whey. Other reputable protein powder brands include Vega Sport, Thorne Vegalite and Designs for Health Pea.
The ideal combination at every meal and snack is to have protein, fat and fiber. Smoothies are an easy go to meal and convenient. Example of a good smoothie would be to add greens such as spinach, kale, cucumber, or celery, along with fruit for a big shot of fiber, then for the fat component you could add avocado, coconut oil, nuts, nut butters or seeds. Then add some coconut milk or water. Add it with a protein powder and there you go easy meal! I have recently added coconut water to my smoothies and really enjoy it! The brand I like is Vita Coco.
Other collagen promoting foods include sweet potatoes, mangos, wheat germ, dates, cocoa, crab, blue cheese and sesame seeds.
An example of a snack could include a slice of roast turkey, a green apple with some peanut butter, or some almonds with berries. I like to make eggs with sautéed sweet potatoes and veggies, add some bacon and pour into muffin pans and bake and then you have a go to snack throughout the day. My 9 year old even likes these!
Another good reason to have protein at every meal is to avoid that sugar crash that we feel when we eat foods high in sugar. Breakfast is the most important meal of the day. If we can have protein at breakfast to start us off then that will help set us up for the rest of the day. What new Mom does not need all the energy she can get!
Drink at least 6 cups of water a day to stay hydrated. Collagen molecules are made up of 70% water. Dehydration impairs oxygen delivery to wounded tissues. Water of course is important for those breast feeding moms as well!
Minimize stress levels. Yes I know that sounds like an impossible task when you are sleep deprived taking care of a newborn. Cortisol is a hormone that is elevated in the postpartum body, and can be further elevated by stress, which in turn slows down the healing process. Stress can include both the physical part of recovery, as well as the emotional part. This is when you need to delegate tasks in your home, or take up that neighbor when they offer help. This is hard for most Moms, including myself, as we think we need to be super moms and do it all without complaining. So important to just slow down and get your rest, and get help when you can!
YES! What a great site ladies! A man with a vacuum! Then tell his butt to get in that kitchen and make dinner!!
Watch your posture. For those of you that had c-sections, do not stay slouched or in sitting positions for long periods of time. Collagen will learn to remodel in those “bunched up” or shortened positions. You need to move your body into full extension and flexion motions to allow for optimal function without restrictions.
If you have a diastasis recti, do not stand with your belly protruding forward. Be aware of those abdominal muscles. Imagine there is a zipper running down your stomach and it is gapping open. Now imagine with a slight contraction your abdominal muscles keeping it together or closing that gap. Picture this when doing activities such as housework or lifting kids, laundry so the muscles begin to learn to activate in that more optimum position.
Stay away from those inflammatory factors. This includes smoking, eating foods high in sugar, caffeine and alcohol. Try to get as much sleep as you can (yes another laughable thought with a newborn) and don’t be shy to delegate household tasks with the hubby. Try to avoid watching TV or going on your facebook 2 hours before bed. Being exposed to the blue light on the computer or phone can suppress melatonin secretion, which you need for restful sleep.
Just being mindful of our habits and planning or thinking ahead when it comes to meal planning can really be a game changer. Making the right choices to help balance blood sugar, trying to get enough sleep (with baby’s schedule of course), minimize stress levels, eating real food versus quick pick me ups will all help new Moms to return to their previous levels of energy while promoting the deep healing they need to recover from the inside out.
If you have certain conditions that warrant specific recommendations, do not hesitate to ask your doctor or seek guidance from a registered dietician. While trying to implement nutritional advice to encourage optimum healing, a registered dietician may be more helpful with your specific needs!
Until later ladies,