How to Take Care of Yourself After Pregnancy
For many new moms, taking care of a new baby is an overwhelming (albeit amazing) experience. Even when you’re not feeding or changing the baby, your thoughts are still on your new bundle of joy—Is she too warm? Is she too cold? What does that cry mean?
With all the time spent taking care of your baby, it’s easy to forget about taking care of yourself. But taking some time to focus on you after childbirth is a must. After all, when you take the time to care for your own needs, you have the energy, confidence, and health needed to take care of your little one.
Here are a few ways to care for yourself—and your new baby at the same time:
When possible, doctors and healthcare professionals recommend breastfeeding your newborn for at least the first six months. The benefits of breastfeeding for both mom and baby are well-documented and include:
It helps you burn off baby weight.
Here’s good news for new moms who want to lose their baby weight—breastfeeding burns calories. The body burns approximately 20 calories for every ounce of breast milk. Depending on how much your baby eats (typically, 19-30 ounces each day), that can be between 380 and 600 calories!
It’s Baby superfood.
Breastfeeding provides tons of health benefits for your baby. It contains the ideal mix of essential vitamins, protein, and fat the baby needs to develop and thrive. It also includes important antibodies to help your baby remain healthy. In fact, babies who receive breast milk exclusively for their first six months have fewer instances of diarrhea, ear infections, respiratory issues, and more.
It helps you recover faster.
Thanks to the oxytocin released by the body during breastfeeding, you’ll feel good and recover faster. Oxytocin, also known as the “bonding hormone” helps produce feelings of euphoria and relaxation. This can help ward off post-partum depression.
Oxytocin also helps the uterus return to its normal size, helping reduce the dreaded post-pregnancy pooch.
Eat healthy foods
A healthy diet is always important. But new moms will benefit from proper nutrition more than ever, especially while breastfeeding. As I mentioned above, breast milk is loaded with nutrients that comes from the foods you eat. But if you’re not getting the proper nutrients from your food, the body will use them from your own supply for the breast milk—meaning fewer nutrients left for you. Not only will that make it harder to lose weight, but it also means less energy to go about your daily activities as a new mom.
Luckily, getting the right nutrition isn’t too hard. If you followed a healthy diet while pregnant, you can follow a similar diet while nursing. An ideal breastfeeding diet includes plenty of fresh vegetables, whole grains, protein from animal or plant-based sources, and healthy fats.
Nutrition for New Moms
Make sure you include these new-mom superfoods into your diet:
- It includes DHA, which is crucial for baby’s nervous system development. (The FDA recommends limiting salmon to 2-3 servings per week and limiting it to fish lower in mercury, including salmon, shrimp, and tilapia)
- Leafy greens. Vegan and non-vegan moms alike will benefit from plenty of leafy greens like bok choy, spinach, and kale, which provide loads of essential vitamins A, C, and K. Leafy greens are also an excellent source of calcium, making them ideal for vegans.
- Lean meats. Lean cuts of meat, including lean beef and chicken, are good sources of iron, which can help keep energy levels up. They’re also rich in protein.
- High-protein foods. The average recommended amount of protein for women who are breastfeeding is approximately 71 grams each day. In addition to lean meats, yogurt, eggs, cottage cheese, and nuts are all good sources of protein. Rice and pea proteins are also excellent choices for breastfeeding moms who are vegan, vegetarian, or who want to vary their sources.
Fun fact: The foods you eat alter the taste of your breast milk, which can expose your baby to different tastes and make it easier for him or her to transition to solid foods.
After you have the baby, the last thing you probably feel like doing is hitting the gym. However, regular exercise is a must for new moms. Not only does it help you fit into your skinny jeans faster, but it also reduces stress and increases energy levels—something all new moms could benefit from!
As you ease back into your fitness routine, remember to go slow and be patient and realistic. Pregnancy and childbirth, whether vaginal or cesarean, changes your body. I asked a number of new moms about the changes they noticed when they began exercising again, and the responses were virtually identical. Even those who exercised regularly during pregnancy reported achy and atrophied muscles, poor posture, and lower stamina.
Luckily, this is temporary, so don’t let it discourage you. Once bleeding has stopped and you have the green light from your doctor, these tips will help you get moving and back into shape:
- Go for walks. This is an activity you and baby can enjoy together. Put the baby in a stroller and take a walk around your neighborhood.
- Start swimming. If your doctor tells you to avoid high impact cardio, or if your pelvic floor is weak, swimming is a great low-impact way to burn calories.
- Try yoga. Yoga offers amazing mind-body benefits after childbirth. It improves posture (nine months of carrying another human around can take its toll), promotes relaxation, and helps open up achy, tight areas like the back.
- Do Kegel exercises. These exercises are a must for anyone who is pregnant or just had a baby. They help strengthen your pelvic floor muscles, which support your bladder, uterus, and rectum. Strengthening kegel muscles also helps keep urinary incontinence and hemorrhoids at bay.
The most important thing to remember as you recover from childbirth and pregnancy is that it will probably take some time to feel like your pre-pregnancy self. Patience is key. Taking the time to enjoy your new baby and take care of yourself through proper nutrition and exercise will help you bounce back in no time!
Written By: Jill Overmyer
Reviewed & Edited By: Scarlett Full, in-house Registered Dietitian