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When it comes to pregnancy, the rules around nutrition seem to zoom at us from every direction. Our friends, our in-laws, the internet… everyone seems to be an expert. But what about nutrition after pregnancy? We are all aware that our bodies (and minds!) go through a major transformation between pregnancy and motherhood, so why is postpartum nutrition left out of the conversation?
Postpartum and motherhood: are there more food-related guidelines we should be following to ease into this new role?
Well, just as I would recommend seeking a professional for nutrition during pregnancy, I would also suggest inquiring about postnatal nutrition with a Nutritionist. Because guess what? A thoughtful, educated, nutritional diet post-pregnancy is not only a healthful decision for your own recovery, but if you’re breastfeeding, it’s an amazing benefit for your baby, too.
I was lucky enough to sit down with Janine Higbie, a Clinical Nutritionist who specializes in pregnancy, postnatal, and motherhood nutrition, and ask her some questions that revealed surprising truths about nutrition during the postpartum transition.
Before I began the interview, I came up with a little game…
The Unexpected, By Expectful – 5 prompts, either true/false or fill-in-the-blank, that I knew would uncover moments of learning for us all. This came pretty naturally since the 4th Trimester is a culturally grey area, with little discussion and resources for new moms. One of our goals at Expectful is to provide attention to this part of the process, allowing new moms to thrive instead of simply survive. So, this concept was born.
Here, Higbie brings that light to postpartum nutrition. She dispels half-baked myths, exposes yummy surprises, and shares seasoned tips for having a healthier transition into this new life for both you and your baby.
Higbie’s Response: “False! You can get the same quality care and individualized support consulting with a nutritionist virtually as you would in-person.”
Prior to the COVID pandemic, I myself sought out professional nutrition assistance during my fertility/pregnancy journey. I was 100% convinced that in-person support was the best option for something as personal and variable as my diet. But now, since COVID forced most of us to become experts in the virtual landscape, from zoom meetings and appointments to Facetime girls nights and dating, we have perfected the art of making screentime meaningful.
Take it from Higbie: “Talking about food and nutrition can be very emotional charged, so sometimes for many people, that feels more comfortable doing that from the privacy of your own home.”
Higbie’s Response: “They want to make the healthiest decisions for them and their baby, but life just gets in the way.“
Higbie continues, “Expecting and new mom have the best intentions when it comes to nourishing themselves and their babies, but this stage of life can be such a draining and overwhelming time and nutrition advice can be confusing. It’s hard to put good intentions into action – that’s where [professional nutritionists] come in.”
If you’re reading this, you get it. Doing all the research, planning out all the meals, making sure you and your baby are getting all the nutrients you need… it’s a lot. Instead, having a 1:1 consultation with a nutritionist can actually help streamline those steps and confirm what you’re doing is the best option for you and your growing family.
Higbie’s Response: “Don’t try to implement every wellness trend or piece of advice you receive all at once. Consistently stacking small, manageable changes will lead to new habits and new outcomes.”
“Nutrition” feels like one of the most important things to manage in new motherhood, with pressure mounting from literature, social media, other moms, and family. So the temptation to overhaul your current habits is great and is difficult to ignore. But you’ve heard it countless times before: don’t bite off more than you can chew. (Apologies for the pun.) Mainly, Higbie’s message is to make sustainable changes that, over time, add up to be a plan and practice that achieves (and sustains) the advancements you hope to make.
Another element to this is forming habits. “These new changes will turn into new habits, and those new habits will turn into new outcomes.” Once you master one change, it’s time to take another little bite out of your new overall plan. (Sorry! Food puns are just too easy.)
Take it day by day and one small change at a time.
Higbie’s Response: “Focusing on nourishing foods to include instead of just what to exclude or restrict.”
Raise your hand if you googled something along the lines of “Off limit foods in pregnancy.” I did, too… many times. As we become new moms, it’s almost impossible to flip the switch in our brains from what to restrict to what to include. We figure, “If it’s not on the no-no list, it’s fair game!”
But there’s a different way to approach this, according to Higbie. We can be more proactive, more in control, more positive about our nutritional experience if we think about things in terms of what we get to enjoy as opposed to “what’s bad for us.”
I asked her what an appointment focused on the inclusions might look like. Higbie said, “[We] talk about the specific nutrients in foods that help nourish Mom and Baby, and in addition to that, the why so that you know why these things are recommended, and the how so that you can incorporate them into your lifestyle based on your dietary needs and your preferences.”
Higbie’s Response: “False! Research suggests that maternal diet during pregnancy not only influences your child’s future health, but also that of your grand and even great-grandchildren! You have so much power in your choices!”
Immediately after sharing this information with me, a mother to a 14-month-old, she directly addressed the thought that crossed my mind, almost as she were in there with me. “I always share this [research] with a caveat though, because sometimes I’m working with second-time moms and they feel the burden of this news and they feel like it’s too late, but I always say, ‘We do the best with the information we have at the time.’ So don’t worry about the past, but if you’re going through this experience again, I hope that this is motivating and inspiring…and makes you feel proud that you’re setting up your future family for success.”
Even though I’m beyond the postnatal phase and am knee-deep in new motherhood, I still felt like Higbie was a wealth of information and has influenced the way I’m approaching food. For the 9-or-so months of pregnancy, nutrition was something I thought about all the time. Then in the 4th trimester, it was purely about sustaining my energy. But that’s the mistake – we can do more than just sustain ourselves and our baby. We can make informed decisions to maximize the motherhood experience and really lean into this new lifestyle with control, grace, and self-care. Here at Expectful, we hope to help you feel confident in the decisions you make surrounding nutrition and your overall experience throughout postpartum and new motherhood.
We understand that growing your family while having a healthy and happy pregnancy and baby is probably a top priority for you right now.
We created Expectful to help you harness the power of your mind to have a healthy, happy pregnancy and baby.
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