TLDR: We talk a lot about pregnancy nutrition in terms of what to eat—and often what not to eat—but after pregnancy, the postpartum diet advice tends to fall by the wayside. A nutritionist shares her advice for what to eat during the postpartum period whether or not you are breastfeeding.
When it comes to pregnancy, the rules around what you should and shouldn't eat seem to zoom at us from every direction. Our friends, our family, 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?
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 sat down with Janine Higbie1 , a clinical nutritionist who specializes in pregnancy, postnatal and motherhood nutrition, and asked her some questions that revealed surprising truths about nutrition during the postpartum period.
Before I began the interview, I came up with a little game. In The Unexpected, by Expectful, I used five prompts, either true or false or fill-in-the-blank, that I knew would uncover a-ha moments for us all. This came pretty naturally since the “fourth trimester” is a culturally gray area, with little discussion and resources for new moms. One of our goals at Expectful is to give attention to this part of the process, allowing new moms to thrive instead of simply survive.
Here, Higbie shines a light on 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.
1. True or False: To get the best results, you need to have a nutritionist monitor your habits in-person.
“False! You can get the same quality care and individualized support consulting with a nutritionist virtually as you would in-person,” Janine Higbie says.
Prior to the COVID pandemic, I sought out professional nutrition assistance during my fertility and 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, we have perfected the art of making screen time meaningful.
Take it from Higbie, who says, “Talking about food and nutrition can be very emotionally charged, so sometimes for many people, that feels more comfortable doing that from the privacy of your own home.”
2. The one thing I hear from most parents is: _______
“They want to make the healthiest decisions for them and their baby, but life just gets in the way.“ Higbie continues, “Expecting and new moms 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.
3. My most fool-proof tip is _________.
“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,” Higbie says.
“Nutrition” feels like one of the most important things to manage in new motherhood, with pressure mounting from what you read in books and on social media or hear from other moms. So the temptation to overhaul your current habits is high, and 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 that achieves (and sustains) the advancements you’re trying 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,” Higbie says. 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.
4. Fill in the blank: You don’t need to wait for a problem to contact a nutritionist. Our advice can also help with_____
“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 might also 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 and 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.”
5. True or False: Your diet during pregnancy only affects you and your baby.
False! Research suggests that maternal diet during pregnancy2 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, Higbie directly addressed the thought that crossed my mind, almost as if 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 influenced the way I’m approaching food. For the nine or so months of pregnancy, nutrition was something I thought about all the time. Then in the fourth 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 motherhood experience and really lean into this new lifestyle with control, grace, and self-care.