Most new mums will have heard about the ‘fourth trimester’ and will think of it as the time that their new baby is adjusting to life outside of the womb. Those first 3 months after your baby is born are equally a time of change and challenge for mums. Mothers need care and attention to enable health and recovery, in the same way that our babies are given time to adjust to life in the outside world. In our culture this time of caring for the mother’s health is often overlooked and we are expected to be back to our normal self within a few weeks of giving birth. However, mums need time to reach optimal health and recovery post birth and pregnancy so we can feel well and healthy to care for our bubs.
Having just come out of this time myself (I have a 5 month old baby boy) I have some clear perspective of how important it is to nourish your own health during the first few months of your baby’s life. Whether you gave birth vaginally, or via a c-section- chances are that you will be experiencing some level or pain or discomfort for quite a few weeks. You will continue to bleed for somewhere between 2-4 weeks. This is not the time to be taking frequent trips to the supermarket and getting back into exercise. Even if you feel like you can move around well – rest and take it easy. Sleep deprivation in the first few weeks means that the fatigue can be overwhelming as you adjust to babies’ overnight sleep and feeding patterns. Rest is essential for healing. Did you know that in Chinese cultures mothers are expected to stay in their house for 30 days post birth? I love this! And while I can see that this is not always realistic in our culture, I do think that keeping that first month post birth as restful as possible is an essential way to heal and form a bond with your baby. Even if you can’t manage to ‘sleep while your baby sleeps’, it is important to rest.
During your fourth trimester, you will experience more hunger and more thirst than ever before. This is especially true if breastfeeding – the thirst is extreme! Keep a bottle of water close by at all times. Hunger and thirst are an essential way that your body ensures your milk supply is good. You have grown a baby within your body, now you will need to be the prime source of nutrition and nourishment for your baby (at least until solids are introduced around the 5-6 month mark). You need lots of water and a higher calorie/energy intake to ensure you can keep up. Sugar cravings are extreme – but don’t worry, they settle down after a few months.
On top of all of these adjustments- your hormones go crazy! While pregnant, your oestrogen and progesterone levels are higher than any other times in your life. By day 3 post birth you will experience a big drop in progesterone that is thought to be the cause of the day 3 blues. Your oestrogen also plummets, and the night sweats kick in (I personally was going through 3 changes of pjs each night in those first few weeks!). You will feel emotional, teary and deliriously happy all at once. Then your hair starts to fall out and the skin breakouts begin as your hormones even out.
It’s an amazing but overwhelming time, and a time when mum’s need to support their health. Here are some of my dietary and nutritional tips to help you during your fourth trimester:
1- Eat regular snacks. Aim to eat every 3-4 hours to keep your blood sugar levels and energy levels under control. This is especially important if breastfeeding as your baby is taking a lot of your nutrients and calories through your breast milk and low food intake can lower your milk supply. Keep easy to grab snacks that are protein and fat dense on hand – such as bliss balls, nuts, avocado on toast, smoothies, full fat yoghurt, coconut yoghurt, cheese and boiled eggs.
2- Ensure you are eating adequate protein. Protein helps to keep your blood sugar levels and energy stable. Incorporate a source of protein with each meal and snacks. Ideas include eggs, fish, chicken or meats, natural yoghurt, nuts, seeds, lentils, legumes or soy-based products.
3- Include lots of healthy fats into your diet. This also helps to stabilise hunger and energy levels and keep your calories up for your milk supply. Include nuts, seeds, avocados and fish products.
4- Aim for 2-3 litres of water a day. Sipping on breastfeeding teas that contain the herbs fennel and fenugreek is a good way to stay hydrated and aid milk production for breastfeeding
5- Other foods that are nourishing and great for milk supply are oats and brewer’s yeast. Starting the day with a warm bowl of oat-based porridge with some nut butter, chia seeds, fresh fruit and a sprinkle of brewers yeast set the tone for good milk supply and helps to satisfy hunger from the overnight feeds.
6- Continue on your vitamin and mineral supplementation routine to keep your nutrient levels optimal- this might be something to chat about with one of our Naturopaths if you feel you need a personalised supplementation program.
Enjoy all the cuddles and snuggles!