Life with a newborn is exhausting. It’s usually impossible to get enough rest and exercise in the first few demanding months, and it’s difficult to eat well. But as all-consuming as caring for an infant can be, it’s important to take care of yourself. Choosing healthy food and following a few simple eating strategies will help keep you energized through your busy days and nights.
Start with a balanced diet. Drink plenty of water, and try to make time to sit down and eat a quick snack or meal — even if you have to put the baby down or hand her off to your partner or a helper for a few minutes. Don’t be afraid to ask friends, neighbors, and relatives for help with grocery shopping, cooking, and cleaning up.
Make every meal count! Here are some of the best strategies for getting an energy boost from your food:
Begin with a better breakfast
Proteins such as eggs and yogurt, and complex carbohydrates like whole-grain bread and cereals, are a better breakfast choice than simple carbohydrates or sugar. Try a yogurt-and-fruit smoothie, a bowl of oatmeal, whole-grain cereal, or scrambled eggs on whole-wheat toast.
Simple carbs cause your blood sugar to spike and then crash, leaving you feeling sleepy. Complex carbs give you longer-lasting energy and help keep you full longer because they take longer to digest. “Complex carbs offer your body more nutrition in the form of vitamins and minerals,” explains pediatrician James Sears, co-author of The Baby Book. “A protein-rich, complex carbohydrate-rich breakfast is very important — and probably the opposite of what most people do,” he says.
Eat small meals throughout the day
Rather than eating three large meals, aim to eat five smaller meals throughout the day to keep your energy up, Sears suggests. “It’s a better way of eating,” he says, because it keeps your energy levels on an even keel the whole day long, rather than seesawing between hunger and fullness.
If you’re having trouble eating one meal a day, let alone several, try keeping the fridge stocked with easy snacks or quick small meals high in protein and/or complex carbs. Try whole wheat bagels or toast with almond butter, edamame (soybeans), hummus on pita bread, cheese and crackers, trail mix with nuts and dried fruit, and yogurt with fruit. Grazing throughout the day will be easier if you have a tasty selection of high-energy snacks to choose from.
Drink, drink, drink
In the first few weeks after you have your baby, dehydration will make any fatigue or sleepiness you’re experiencing worse. So it’s important to guzzle water like it’s going out of style. Drinking a lot of liquids is probably the easiest thing people can do to keep their energy up.
Keep a water bottle handy around the house, in your diaper bag, and in the car or stroller, so you can stay hydrated no matter where you are. If you’re breastfeeding, the first few weeks can be a thirsty time, so make sure to drink 13 8-ounce glasses of water a day.
Resist the urge to diet
If you’re frustrated with slow pace of postpartum weight loss, now is not a good time to skip meals or drastically cut back your caloric intake. It’s important not to worry about your weight right now. New mothers should focus on sustaining their strength to stay healthy, and keep their child healthy, rather than losing weight.
Once your milk supply is well established, then you can slowly work on shedding extra pounds. Aim to lose about a pound a week and give yourself 6 months or longer to return to your pre-pregnancy weight. Resist the urge to crash diet or impose strict weight loss goals — especially if you’re breastfeeding. If you’re nursing, you’ll need about 500 extra calories a day to maintain your milk supply. Your body is going lose weight the way it’s going to do it, and you have to respect that. Also, nursing moms should know that losing weight too quickly may release toxins stored in body fat which might make their way into breast milk.
Don’t rely on caffeine or sugar
It’s tempting to reach for a cup of coffee when you’re exhausted, or grab a candy bar when you’re starving and in need of quick energy. But be careful about relying too much on caffeinated drinks or sugary snacks to keep you going when you’re running on empty.
Both caffeine and sugar will give you a quick burst of energy, but once that initial surge is gone, you’ll be left feeling even more tired than before. As mentioned above, complex carbs like whole-grain breads, legumes like lentils and beans, and vegetables like corn or yams, or proteins like lean meat, cheese, eggs, nuts, soy foods, or yogurt, will keep your blood sugar levels more stable, which means you’ll stay on a more even keel.
Grab a piece of fruit
A piece of fruit is the best bet when you’re in need of a quick pick-me-up, according to registered dietician Jo Ann Hattner. Fruit gives you a burst of energy, but doesn’t create a later “crash” like junk food laden with refined sugar. Plus, fruits like apples, oranges, peaches, and pears are high in fiber, which helps keep your digestive tract moving. Best of all, most fruit requires no prep work or cleanup, and is easy to eat on-the-go.
Choose energy bars carefully
An energy bar can be helpful as an occasional way to sustain yourself between meals, especially when you’re away from home and in need of quick fix. But be cautious about reaching for an energy bar regularly, says Hattner, as they’re often surprisingly high in calories and sugar. Check the label to make sure the energy bars you choose are low in sugar and fat, and high in fiber, protein, and carbohydrates.
Get plenty of sleep
Finally, know that even the most energy-packed food can’t counteract the sleep deprivation you’re experiencing. If possible, take a quick nap the next time you’re feeling weary, rather than turning to food. “We tend to eat, thinking that will give us energy,” Hattner says. “It may just be that you need a nap.”