Eating one handed: post-natal nutrition
I'm now 5 months into life with my second baby. And although I'm a nutritionist with in-depth knowledge of the benefits of eating real, nutrient dense food, I have struggled to eat as well as I would have liked. There's been more chocolate than I'd ever advise my clients eat and a hell of a lot more bread (my go to when I'm tired). There's also been some less than ideal sleep hygiene practices, with a fair bit of scrolling during those dead of night feeds.
It's not surprising that it's hard to look after yourself post-natally. There's the hormonal shifts, sleep deprivation, time limits and restraints of one-handed cooking and eating when holding a baby. Plus the downright insatiable hunger that breastfeeding can bring.
Despite all that, I'm proud that I've prioritised good food and self care when I've been able to. A lot of the time I've eaten well and when I haven't, I've let it go and started over the next day.
One thing I've learned is that in the early days, weeks and months of life with a new baby, being as kind to yourself as you are to the babe in your arms is a good thing to aim for.
So here are some things that have really worked for me this time round. You may find them useful too.
Batch cook! You may not feel like cooking when you're heavily pregnant with swollen ankles. But you will be so, so grateful for the home-cooked ready meals in your freezer when you're in the midst of the new baby haze (and if you make enough, you can still be reaping the benefits of them months later). Soups, stews, casseroles, sauces and broths all freeze well. Bone broth in particular is great to freeze in ice cube trays. You can then add it to your cooking to make any meal more nutritious, hearty and healing.
Also get friends and family on board BEFORE you give birth by telling them how you'd like them to help once the baby arrives. And unsurprisingly, my top suggestion for this is getting them to bring food when they visit. My mum brought over a hot meal the night we got home from hospital which we were so grateful for. And friends brought soups, teas and energy balls when they visited which were always devoured.
Stock up As part of my pre-birth planning, I also stocked up on foods that support breastmilk production. These include oats, quinoa and other wholegrains, lentils, chickpeas, fennel, fenugreek, ginger and garlic. I also made sure I had lots of foods and pre-prepared meals rich in vitamins A, C and zinc as these help tissues to heal and repair. So lots of greens like spinach, kale, broccoli and chard, sweet potatoes, carrots, squash, berries, kiwis and almonds, pumpkin seeds, sesame seeds and tahini and cashews. Red meat and eggs are good sources of zinc too.
You’ve got your freezer and cupboards stocked and your friends and family are fully briefed, but the real challenge starts with feeding yourself day to day once these supplies run out.
ONE HANDED MEALS
The one handed spoon scoop is a manoeuvre you'll become expert at. When you're feeding your baby or they're using you as a pillow most of the time, eating with a knife and fork becomes a distant memory. Here are some of the meals that I've been making on repeat that are easy to eat one handed. I'm writing this in deepest darkest January, so mostly these meals are hot and warming.
Porridge a proper breakfast helps set the scene for more stable blood sugar levels throughout the day, making you less likely to binge on sweet stuff. I load up either oat, amaranth or quinoa porridge with pumpkin seeds, apple, berries, almond butter and a teaspoon of blackstrap molasses for some extra iron and magnesium.
Baked eggs with tomato sauce, greens and feta - so filling, comforting and delicious. It's also high in protein to keep your energy levels up, and a great way to pack in lots of greens for an iron boost.
Meat/lentil bolognese I had loads of this in the freezer, and I make up a new batch every couple of weeks to eat with brown rice pasta or baked sweet potatoes. I also add loads of veg to the sauce - celery, mushrooms, carrots, peppers….
Whether you eat the meat or veggie version, it's super simple to make, high in iron, warming, comforting and easy to eat with one hand (as long as you don't have it with spaghetti).
Ginger fried rice I ate this on repeat in the early weeks and it's still a fave. I tweaked the recipe in The First Forty Days - I replace the bacon in the original recipe with lots of greens (chard, broccoli, kale, spinach - whatever I have to hand) and I use brown rice for extra fibre and a more stable energy release.
Soups I've got a few soups on rotation: beetroot, cauli kale and coconut, carrot, lentil, sweet potato with spinach and I make chicken soup with tons of veg and ginger whenever I feel like I'm under the weather. We also eat a lot of dals - lentil, mung bean, chickpea, split pea…. They are always hearty and a good way to add turmeric, ginger and garlic to meals for extra warmth (and to support milk production).
Salads Roasted veg, lentils/chickpeas and quinoa - I batch cook these so I've got stores in the fridge to throw together for last minute lunches and dinners. I make different versions of this salad pretty regularly - it's a good one to eat one handed with a spoon (I often add a hard boiled egg for some extra protein).
Apple slices and carrot sticks dipped in almond butter.
A halved date with a teaspoon of almond butter spread in the middle is a really good salty-sweet treat.
A hardboiled egg (I pre-cook them so they're ready to grab)
Oatcakes with hummus or avocado
A cup of instant miso soup or home made bone broth
A handful of almonds with a satsuma or apple
A couple of squares of dark chocolate with some almonds
Golden milk (half a teaspoon of turmeric powder, a pinch of ground ginger and a pinch of cinnamon mixed into a paste with hot water. Stir in warm oat/almond milk and add a dash of maple syrup) - I love this in the evening before bed.
Hot chocolate made with raw cacao powder, almond milk and sprinkle of cinnamon
Also, WATER - it's so easy to forget to drink enough when you're juggling everything else. But becoming dehydrated is easy, especially when you're breastfeeding. Have water to hand wherever you are - on the sofa, in bed, out and about. Keep sipping through the day. Hot or warm water with ginger, lemon or a non-caffeinated herbal tea can add some variety (and have the benefit of keeping you warm).
With sleep deprivation can come anxiety and low mood. My anxiety can manifest as a racing mind at night, feeling tired but wired in the evenings (10pm cleaning frenzies), and being more irritable. The best ways I have found to manage anxiety are:
Cutting back on the sugar - surges and dips in blood sugar are the enemy of feeling stable and energised. Better to opt for a high fat, high fibre snack with some protein like nuts/seeds or avocado on wholegrain crackers/toast than a sugar-laden brownie. If you're desperate for chocolate, the darker the better and stick to a couple of squares.
Reducing caffeine - it spikes cortisol (the stress hormone) and after the initial buzz of alertness, plunges you back into tiredness and feeling like you need another pick me up. When you're feeling knackered, making sure you keep well-hydrated and eat slow releasing foods (like the ones mentioned above) really helps to keep up your energy.
Listening to a short hypnosis recording - Clementine App has some 5 minute sessions for de-stressing that work well for when you need a quick breather - and they often send me off to sleep which is a bonus.
Taking an epsom salt bath - in the morning, the afternoon, before bed - whenever there's a spare 20 minutes to soak in peace. The magnesium in the salts is absorbed through the skin and helps to relax muscles and soothe a frazzled nervous system
Getting out in the fresh air for a walk every day (ideally somewhere with trees and when the sun is at its brightest). It really helps.
SOME OTHER THINGS I DID
Hypnobirthing I used hypnobirthing for both my births and I wholeheartedly recommend it. This time I went to The Hypnobirthing Midwife Anthonissa Moger's course which was fantastic. I've found that hypnobirthing tools have had benefits beyond birth too - I've been able to draw on the breathing exercises I learnt post-natally when I've been feeling overwhelmed or anxious to help me dial things down.
Placenta encapsulation During my second pregnancy, I decided to get my placenta encapsulated. I lost a lot of blood during my first labour (and it happened again second time), and I've been anaemic during both my pregnancies. Consuming the placenta is thought to help new mothers restore iron levels. I was also interested by anecdotal evidence that it can support milk supply, energy levels and mood. Tara Rivero Zea had been recommended to me and after speaking to her on the phone, I felt excited by her approach and decided to go ahead. I'm personally glad that I did it, but encapsulating your placenta is a very personal decision and something you should research. Make sure you look for a practitioner who is IPEN registered to make sure they are fully trained and meet standards for safety and hygiene.
Herbs and supplements I really like Pukka's Motherkind Baby Tea as well as their ginger and fennel teas to keep hydrated and support milk supply so I made sure I had these to hand. Alongside these, I took Wild Nutrition's Breastfeeding Complex. which worked really well at helping me feel calm and energised.
Building strength I started doing some gentle postnatal yoga when my baby was a couple of months old, and really committed to working gently on my core and pelvic floor so I could feel stronger and more stable sooner than I did after my first baby. Baby yoga classes are a lovely way to bond with your baby and meet other new mums. There are some great baby yoga classes online too if it's difficult to get to a class.
One last (but important) point on mood and energy: remember that if you've got persistent low mood for more than a couple of weeks or experience any other symptoms of depression or if you're feeling really tired and can't shake it, please do see your GP.
I'm re-launching my 7 Day Sugar Reset. So if you feel like you're stuck in a sugar trap, join me for a week of hearty, satisfying meals and snacks that will help restore a bit of balance.