Moms Matter – Nutrients Matter
Hawley Poinsett, MS, RDN, LD
I look back at the time just after my babies were born with fond memories – well the ones that I can remember at least. Those days were filled with laughter, joy, fear, crying (both the kids and me) and sleep exhaustion. I wanted to make sure I did everything right for my babies. I moved my own needs to the bottom of the priority list. As a new mom of twins who also happened to be a registered dietitian nutritionist, I was overwhelmed with information of what I “should” or “shouldn’t” be doing to grow my babies into healthy and happy humans. If any of this sounds familiar to you – I first of all want to give you a virtual hug - but I also plea with you to first shift your focus to your own nutritional needs first. Now that you’re a mom, you will have to be intentional about prioritizing your own needs. It is natural, instinctual in fact, to nurture and provide for your child. You cannot properly do that however if you don’t take care of yourself first. Nutrition for mom is often overlooked in the post-partum period. I have many times had new moms in my office with severely lacking diets. Don’t get me wrong; sleep deprivation can really suck the motivation to eat well out of a girl. But nutrition needs to be top priority for you before you can take care of anyone else. If no one else is remembering to tell you this right now ladies - you matter! In fact, you are essential, and you are worth taking care of. So let me cut through the barrage of nutrition information out there and summarize which nutrients are most important for you to focus on right now. The main nutrients that are of concern in the first year after childbirth are calcium, iron, fiber, and fluid. Below I have summarized why each one is important and given easy food sources you can focus on including in your diet.
Calcium: Once we hit the age of around 30, we can’t add calcium back into our bones. If you’re pregnant or lactating your body will take nutrients from your body’s stores if you’re not eating enough. Bottom line here is most women need to eat more calcium so they don’t leech it from your bones. Three to four servings (8 oz milk or yogurt, 1.5 oz of hard cheese) a day from low-fat dairy is one of the best ways to do this. Dairy has a unique cocktail of nutrients that can replenish your body. Tip: make milk or kefir your new mommy cocktail!
Iron: During pregnancy, iron needs increase in order for the baby to develop properly and to meet his or her needs for the first few months of life. Iron needs for mom return to pre-pregnancy amounts after birth in most cases but delivery can often leave you in a low-iron state. Iron is needed in the formation of red blood cells and for your body to transport oxygen. Feeling worn out? Well, likely you are exhausted from sleep deprivation but iron-deficiency anemia can also be the culprit. The best food sources of iron are lean red meat, fortified cereals, and dark green leafy vegetables. Your body will absorb the iron better from red meat, as there are other compounds in the leafy vegetables that can block absorption. Try some ground beef tacos, chili or pulled-pork with salad or coleslaw. Vegetarian? Have some citrus with those leafy greens and beans and you’ll absorb more of the iron. Tip: combine ground meat and beans in your chili to enhance the absorption of iron.
Fiber: Most of us get only half of the amount of fiber we need on a regular basis. Pain medications, lack of exercise and lack of high-fiber foods can lead to constipation after a pregnancy causing a lot of discomfort. Fiber is required for digestion and overall health and wellness. I recommend getting fiber from food versus a supplement as it comes bundled with other good nutrients. Every time you eat, include a vegetable and/or fruit. At lunch and dinner make half of your plate colorful vegetables and pick whole grains (ex. breads, cereals, tortillas). Tip: look at the ingredients list on the food label and make sure the first word is ‘whole’ and shoot for at least 3g of fiber per serving. Tip: Be careful because crafty marketing words like multi-grain don’t necessarily mean any of those grains are whole.
Fluid: Most of the people that have walked into my office or classroom over the years have revealed through assessment that they aren’t taking in enough fluids. Fluids are essential for life. They are involved in almost every bodily system from regulating body temperature, to digestion and transport of nutrients, oxygen and waste products throughout the body. If you are nursing, your fluid needs are even more increased. We can get some of our fluid needs through food, but we need to focus on drinking more throughout the day. Fluid needs vary from person to person but six 8oz glasses or 2 liters of water is an average daily requirement. If you are nursing, exercising, or have excessive sweating, your needs will increase. Fluids don’t have to be all water - other liquids also count. Even caffeinated beverages can count towards your daily fluid needs, although they can sometimes have unwanted side effects. My recommendation is to drink mostly water throughout the day but by all means, have that drink of tea or coffee in the morning if you enjoy it. Check with your doctor to see if caffeine is safe for you. Tip: If water gets boring for you, try an unsweetened flavored sparkling water for a twist without the extra sugar and calories.
So remember: calcuim, iron, fiber and fluid = low-fat dairy, lean red meat, fresh fruits and vegetables, and water.
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The information contained in this article is provided for informational purposes only, and should not be used as a substitute for the advice of your physician or licensed health care provider. You should consult your physician or licensed health care provider before engaging in any exercise activity described in this article to determine if it is right for your needs.