When a new baby comes home there is often a significant shift in home dynamics and the focus becomes one of supporting the baby’s needs. As a consequence, the needs of parents often come second to baby. Disrupted sleep patterns and eating on the run (whilst juggling a number of competing demands) often leads to a lack of vitality and fatigue. Parents may end up feeling incredibly exhausted and as though they have no time to take care of their own needs and requirements.
It is important for parents to be eating well, especially breastfeeding mothers who require extra energy for the production of breast milk. This extra energy is about 2000 kJ (500 cal) per day. This can be achieved easily via a few simple additions to the diet. The key is to eat 3 meals each day and have 2-3 healthy snacks. Being mindful of hunger cues, thirst and fullness can help guide your needs.
Creating Balanced Meals
To create balanced meals with good levels of nutrition you can use your plate to help structure all your meals. Follow these four simple steps.
1. Use half the plate to serve plant foods such as non-starchy vegetables (or fruit). This half of the plate will provide loads of nutrition including good levels of vitamins, minerals and beneficial antioxidants. Foods such as broccoli, berries, mushrooms and tomatoes belong here.
2. Use one quarter of the plate for a variety of lean protein sources. This section of the plate will help with satiety and can be provided via lean meat, seafood, dairy, eggs or legumes. Include a variety of protein sources throughout the week. Try and include two serves of seafood and one main meal that is vegetarian each week.
3. Use the other quarter of the plate for low GI carbohydrates, these will provide the body with a steady stream of energy to cope with daily demands. Go for wholegrain, wholemeal breads and cereals, carb rich grains, and vegetables such as corn, quinoa and oats.
4. Include healthy fat as part of each meal from sources such as olive oil, avocado, nuts, oily fish and seeds.
For those who require a more structured approach the following table is an example of how good nutrition and extra kilojoules can be incorporated into the diet.
Sample Meal Plan for New Mums and Dads
*NOTE: Bold indicates additional energy requirements for new Mothers
Wholegrain breakfast cereal
1 banana or ½ cup berries
1TBS natural yoghurt
1 tsp nuts/seeds
+ 1 slice of wholegrain toast with a smear of avocado
1 pear + 1 handful of almonds
1 cup salad greens, grated carrot, tomato, beetroot
Thinly sliced chicken
1 tbs hummus or some olive oil spread
+ 1 tall glass of skim milk
1 low fat yoghurt + 1 sliced banana
Served with quinoa, barley or brown rice
1 cup non-starchy vege (baby spinach, steamed carrots, yellow squash, mushrooms)
+ 1 cob of corn
New mothers can often become constipated, so it’s important to remain hydrated throughout the day. NHMRC recommend women have 9 cups of water to support lactation. Fibre from breads, cereals, legumes, oats, fruit and vegetables will also help with constipation.
Drugs, alcohol and tobacco
Drugs, alcohol and tobacco can all affect the quality of breast milk. When a mother consumes alcohol during lactation it is passed quickly into her breastmilk. According to Ho et al (2001) it takes a 60kg female about 2 to 3 hours to eliminate alcohol from the body after one serving of beer or wine. It is important for a mother to plan all her drinking ‘occasions’ after breastfeeding the baby.
Amir et al (2002) state that nicotine levels in breast milk of women who smoke are between 1.5 and 3 times higher than the level in the mother’s blood so it is important for a woman to quit or reduce her smoking habits, especially during the hour prior to breastfeeding. The benefits of a mother’s breast milk however (even when smoking) are of higher nutritional value to the baby than bottle feeding and smoking (Brown 2008). Breast milk is the ‘gold standard’.
Looking after yourself
During challenging times when the baby is particularly distressed, it is important to have measures in place so that you are consuming good nutrition to maintain your vitality.
Here are a few tips.
· Have ready-made meals prepared and frozen ahead of time; casseroles, soups and hot pots are particularly useful.
· Have a supermarket roast chicken and salad mix on hand that is already prewashed and prepared for a fast, no fuss meal. Remove the chicken skin and make good use of the lean meat.
· Have quick meals in mind such as boiled eggs or baked beans on wholegrain toast, with a side of vege/salad for those times when you need a meal but have little time.
· Put roughly chopped vegetables and lean meat/chickpeas into a slow cooker early in the day with some stock or tinned tomatoes for a warm meal ready by night.
· Create meals like frittatas that can be eaten hot or cold, or can be packed into transportable lunchboxes for outings.
· Keep your fruit basket well stocked and have yoghurt, nuts, vege sticks and hummus on hand for healthy snacks during the day.
Amir, LH & Donath, SM (2002), ‘Does maternal smoking have a negative physiological effect on breastfeeding? The epidemiological evidence’, Birth vol. 29, pp.112-23
Brown, JE (2008), ‘Nutrition Through the Lifecycle’ 3rd ed’n, Wadsworth, Cengage Learning, Belmont CA.
NHMRC Nutrient Reference Guides: http://www.nrv.gov.au/
Fitness, Energy, Education & Diet