Diet and exercise postpartum

Sharon Reid

Healthy Eating Tips

If you have been there done that you will know that diet and exercise after giving birth isn’t the first thing on your to do list and from experience, it’s not the easiest thing to just get up and get on with it.

I hope with some tips and advice from this article it will help you to understand the dos and don’ts for diets and exercise after pregnancy and how you can slowly get into a rhythm and routine of getting back to either the old you, or even the better new version of you. So, ladies don’t panic if you don’t want to start with anything right away, take your time listen to your body and above all make sure you and your little one is healthy!

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Here are some helpful tips on what you should be looking to eat postpartum:

Eat a variety of foods. Try to eat a balanced diet of fruit, vegetables, grains, protein foods and diary each day (unless your lactose intolerant).

Drink plenty of liquids. Your body needs lot of fluid (about 6-10 glasses a day) especially if you are breastfeeding your baby. Drink mostly water, milk, and fruit juice.

Eat foods that have protein such as milk, cheese, yogurt, meat, fish and beans. Protein rich foods are important to help you recover from childbirth and keep your body strong. If you are under 18, or were underweight prior to pregnancy, it is recommended you need to eat more protein.

Eat your fruits and vegetables. Try to make half your plate fruits and vegetables. Fruits and vegetables have vitamins and minerals that keep you healthy. They also have fiber, which helps prevent constipation. Make sure to wash fruits and vegetables under running cold water before eating them.

Lose weight safely. Talk to your doctor about safely losing weight after your baby is born. Losing weight too quickly can affect your breast milk supply. Do not take diet pills. They contain harmful drugs that can be passed to your baby through breast milk.

Take prenatal vitamins. If you are breastfeeding, it is a good idea to continue to take your prenatal vitamins. Your doctor can prescribe these pills so that your health insurance will cover a portion of the cost.

Limit junk foods. Soda, cookies, donuts, potato chips and french fries are okay sometimes, but don’t let them take the place of healthy foods!

If you are breastfeeding, the food you eat helps your baby grow strong and healthy, too. Good eating habits and exercise will help you lose the weight you gained.

Avoid these Foods when Breastfeeding

There are some foods and other substances that can be harmful to both you and your baby if you are breastfeeding.

Alcohol: Wine, wine coolers, beer, drinks like hard lemonade and other malt liquor beverages, shots and mixed drinks contain alcohol that passes to your baby through your breastmilk and can harm your baby’s brain and body development.

Caffeine: Caffeine is a stimulant that passes through breast milk to the baby and may affect growth. Caffeine is found in tea, coffee, chocolate, many soft drinks and over-the-counter medicines.

Swordfish, Shark, King Mackerel and Tilefish: These fish have high levels of a toxin called mercury. Mercury is harmful to your growing baby’s brain. If you eat tuna, it is okay to eat up to 6 ounces of canned tuna a week but make sure to choose light tuna.

 So that’s just some of the key points that are important for you to know at the beginning. Now let’s go into some of these points in a little bit more detail.

1. Prioritize Protein (Almost) Every Time You Eat

I have never experienced such intense, almost constant hunger, as what I felt during the first weeks and months of postpartum recovery and breastfeeding. It was such a strange thing to be eating all day and, mostly, all night long, too!

One of the most helpful ways to not only increase satiation — because sometimes your meals must last you a few hours — but also to promote tissue repair and healing, is to prioritize protein every time you eat.

Here are a few simple examples:

  • A smoothie with a scoop of protein powder or collagen powder
  • A wrap or sandwich with deli meat or chicken
  • Two scrambled eggs with hemp hearts mixed in
  • Some Greek yogurt with banana and honey
  • A good guideline is to aim for 20 to 30 grams of protein at each meal. If you can hit this three to four times per day, you’ll be feeling much more satisfied after eating and between meals.
  • A good way to gauge this would be to eat a portion of protein with each one of your meals — that’s about the size of your palm — and a half portion with every snack. Remember, this doesn’t have to be perfect. If you can eat one hard boiled egg, which has five to six grams of protein, 

2. Eat to Support Recovery

With pregnancy and birth, your body goes through an intense process. Recovery requires even more work, not to mention the huge amount of energy you’re expending caring for your newborn, and possibly your other children as well, might have to include your husband on this list to.

Do I need to point out that you’re doing all of this on very little sleep too?

It’s essential that you treat food, in part, as fuel for your recovery. Good nutrition — with protein, fats, carbohydrates, vitamins, and minerals — will help you overcome the physical depletion that inherently stems from having birthed a child.

Additionally, eating minimally-processed and nutrient-dense food can support you on a mental and emotional level. It’s easier to deal with a fussy baby who is refusing to nap when you aren’t starving!

Early postpartum is not the time to be restricting calories or to be thinking about dieting.

Your body needs fuel in the form of macro and micronutrients to support your energy demands and your healing connective tissues, and to keep your energy as even as possible throughout the days and nights.

You might have heard that you should eat 1,800 to 2,200 calories per day, and possibly more while breastfeeding. While this could be a good calorie recommendation for some moms, this will not be effective for everyone.

Your needs are likely to change from day to day, as well, and will be different whether you’re at the first month or the sixth month postpartum.

If you are breastfeeding, be mindful of the fact that your body will naturally prioritize breast milk production over your own recovery.

This is why you should make sure to get the vitamins and minerals you need, so that your body has the means to both feed your baby and heal itself.

Try not to get too caught up in the numbers and instead do your best to figure out how you can eat in a way that feels good for you. This takes practice, but does not have to be complicated.

3. Eat Veggies at Two or More Meals per Day

Eating veggies can feel tricky when the majority of your meals are being eaten with one hand.

Do what you can to eat vegetables at two (or more) meals each day, with a goal of eventually eating five servings of vegetables or fruits on a daily basis. Vegetables are packed with vitamins, minerals, and are important for good nutrition and health.

Here a few ways to add veggies into your day:

  • Breakfast: add a half cup of cooked leftover potatoes and a half cup chopped bell peppers into an egg scramble
  • Snack: use one to two handfuls of spinach in a smoothie
  • Lunch: make a sandwich and add lettuce, tomato, and pickles
  • Dinner: roughly chop veggies and roast them in the oven

You can also give yourself a “daily veggies goal” where you strive to eat a certain number of vegetable servings per day.

For example, if eating three daily servings of veggies feels quite effortless, you might consider increasing to four to five servings. You can roughly keep track throughout the day, thinking about eating a cup or two of veggies at your bigger meal.

5.  Keep It Simple

Eating does not have to feel hard. In fact, it’s going to feel a lot easier as a new mom if you let yourself relax as much as possible about the specifics.

There is no meal planning that happens in my house. No specific plan when I go the grocery store. There is very little meal prep done.

That being said, there are things that I do on a weekly basis that helps make eating and mealtime easier:

  • Buy a couple of pre-cooked rotisserie chickens
  • Buy a few varieties of pre-made salads
  • Buy two or three packets of microwavable rice
  • Have smoothie ingredients on hand, including protein powder, spinach, cucumber, frozen fruit, and coconut, cashew or almond milk
  • Get sliced deli meat, salami, beef or turkey.
  • Buy salad dressings, dips, and hummus

This works in my life. I’m not necessarily suggesting that you do this, but that you see what you can do to simplify the process.

  • Does a local grocery store deliver?
  • Can you order your groceries online and pick them up at the store?
  • Can you buy pre-cut veggies or pre-made salads?
  • Can you buy pre-cooked meat? 
  • Do you have an air fryer, or instant pot?
  • Can you batch cook veggies or protein sources once or twice per week?

As you go about finding ways to make your nutrition work for your life as a new mom remember the cardinal rule of eating: it should make you feel good.

Eating should be enjoyable, not stressful. Don’t get wrapped up in the minute details! You don’t have to sit to eat, chew each bite X times, or track your macros.

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Exercise After Pregnancy

Once your doctor says it is okay to start exercising, there are many ways to be active.

Walking is a great way to exercise because it puts very little stress on your body. Your baby will probably enjoy being walked in a stroller too. Try walking briskly for 20-30 minutes every day or at least 3 times per week. Meet with a friend or other new moms to go walking. It’s good to get out of the house and connect with friends or other new mothers. You will enjoy the chance to talk about your baby or to just be with other adults!

Exercise classes are another fun way to get in shape and sometimes you can find a class that will include your baby. For example, look for a mom and baby yoga class in your area.

Cardio exercise and weight training are two great ways for women to clear their minds and build strong, healthy bodies. It's normal to want to hop back into your regular workout routine – or start a new one – after your Ob/Gyn clears you at your six week postpartum checkup.

But your body will still be healing for at least six more weeks for a typical vaginal birth. Most new moms should wait at least 12 weeks before easing back into more intense workouts, such as running or lifting weights.

The 2019 postpartum exercise guidelines, endorsed by the Association of Chartered Physiotherapists in Sports and Exercise Medicine, shows that waiting can reduce the risk of serious health conditions such as hernias, muscle tears, falls, urinary incontinence, and pelvic organ prolapse – when the bladder and uterus droop into the vagina.

The 12-week milestone is geared toward patients who had a normal pregnancy and vaginal delivery. Your doctor may suggest waiting longer if you had:

  • A cesarean section (C-section)
  • Obesity prior to pregnancy
  • Postpartum depression
  • Diastasis recti (improper healing of the abdominal muscles)
  • Excessive scar tissue in the pelvic area
  • Perineal tearing

But having to wait doesn't mean you can't do any exercise. In fact, staying idle will further delay your return to more intense workouts.

Most moms can start walking up to 30 minutes at a slow to moderate pace a few days after delivery. The best way to know what pace you need to go is to listen to your body. When walking, you should be able to easily carry a conversation or sing a song on your playlist.

Yoga is another great choice to improve flexibility, balance, and overall strength. During the postpartum period, it's also important to rebuild a strong pelvic floor – the muscles and tissues that hold up the bladder and uterus.

Lifting weights after pregnancy

Why do I have to wait 12 weeks after giving birth to lift weights?

It only takes two weeks for the body to lose endurance and muscle. Even if you were working out until the day you delivered, you likely stopped during the postpartum period – that's a good thing.

In that time, your muscles likely lost some strength. It can also take up to 12 weeks for the muscles, vaginal tissues, and ligaments to completely heal. If you try to jump back in where you left off, you'll be at increased risk for injury.

But you can get your muscles back – safely – if you work toward incremental goals and listen to your body.

How do I know I'm ready to start lifting?

You should be able to complete your pelvic floor workouts with little or no difficulty. You should also be able to do at least 10 squats and 10 deadlifts (with a PVC pipe or broomstick) with no weight and proper form.

When starting to add weight, you should start with dumbbells (10-20 lbs.) then progress up to the weight of a barbell. Then, transition to the barbell. If at any point you are unable to maintain proper form, move back to the previous weight and try increasing repetitions.

Most importantly, you must be able to do all these things without holding your breath, which increases your risk of injury, such as pulling a muscle or falling. It also increases pressure on your pelvic floor, which can lead to developing pelvic organ prolapse. Breathing is key to healthy blood flow and oxygenation.


Signs you might be overdoing it

If something doesn't feel right, it probably isn't. Doing too much too fast can increase your risk of injuries such as hernias, torn muscles, falls, or pelvic organ prolapse.

Stop your workouts and contact the doctor if you experience:

  • Sharp, sudden pain anywhere
  • Urine Leakage
  • Pain or pressure in your pelvic floor

I hope that through this article it gives you a little insight and background on the key points on what you should be doing to get back safely into a healthy eating regime and exercise program.

About the Author

Sharon Reid is the founder of Sharon Online Training.

When she’s not serving her clients, she's juggling between house work, husband, doggies and son (no order of priority here). She calls Dubai her home.