The pregnancy and the postpartum periods are equally vulnerable and exciting times for most new moms. Body changes, sleepless nights, hormones….the not-so-glamorous aspects can make staying on a healthy diet track incredibly difficult.
During my pregnancy with my now four-month-old adorable daughter, I kept things mostly healthy, but sometimes I didn’t. I knew I wasn’t alone and wanted to hear from Dietitian Nutritionist Mamas about their pregnancy and postpartum diets, to shed light on how moms-to-be can stay healthy, and sane, with so many forces working against them.
How to approach eating during pregnancy
Whitney English Tabaie is a reporter turned Registered Dietitian Nutritionist who lives in Los Angeles. Turned off by the body image obsession she saw in Hollywood, she decided to pursue a career in Dietetics, receiving her master’s degree from the University of Southern California where she studied the role nutrition plays in health and chronic disease prevention. She’s also a new mom, with a three-month-old son, Caleb.
She didn’t experience challenges with maintaining a healthy diet while pregnant and “pretty much continued to eat the same diet I ate before, just a little more.” Although, she did admit to enjoying “a little more sweets than usual.” However, she believes dessert “can definitely be part of a healthy diet.” This is good news for moms-to-be who would like their cake and to eat it, too.
Jaren Soloff, a San Diego-based Registered Dietitian and Lactation Educator who works with pregnant and postpartum women, has a similar opinion: “Focusing on the big picture of health during pregnancy, such as [reducing] stress, consuming regular nourishing meals, and moving in a way that feels good in your body are all far more important contributors to health versus having some Oreos for a snack, even if it’s not the most nutrient-dense option.”
What your cravings are actually telling you
When it comes to cravings, Soloff believes “cravings are a natural response to physical or emotional deprivation and, during pregnancy, often a response to shifting hormones.” So there’s science to back your Cheetos or Ben & Jerry’s indulgence.
Tabaie, a usual sweet-toother, found herself craving pickles and popcorn with coconut oil, salt and nutritional yeast. She thinks it’s better to “think about what to add to your diet—not what to avoid!” To accomplish this, women should focus on adding “more fruits and vegetables, and daily movement.”
Pregnancy is not the time to look for substitutes of things you crave, which Soloff says will “leave you looking for more” because you’re not actually satisfying your craving.
Accepting your changing body
Even for those who maintain a healthy lifestyle while pregnant, weight gain and body changes are inevitable. This can be a tough pill to swallow for moms anxious to get back to looking and feeling like themselves after carrying a growing baby bump around for 9 months. Rather than focusing on the outward changes, pregnant women should make it a practice to look at the bigger picture. “A healthy lifestyle means looking at all aspects of your health — emotionally, physically, and spiritually,” says Soloff, which includes “communication [and] connection with your partner.”
This last part is particularly important, as the 9 months of pregnancy are the last childless days a woman and her partner will experience. Enjoying this special time together can serve as a nice and necessary distraction from some of the less desirable physical experiences.
Postpartum: The new normal
Once baby enters the picture, life changes very rapidly. Between frequent diaper changes, feedings, and trying to get a few zzzz’s in when you can, let alone a meal, exercise often becomes the last thing on a mom’s mind. Like many new moms, Tabaie’s biggest struggle during the postpartum period has been “a lack of time for exercise.” To fit it in, she incorporates her son into her workouts “when I can’t get away to do them on my own.” Some of her workouts include walks or exercises carrying her baby in a carrier. This is a great way to bond with your baby while doing something healthy for yourself as well.
For new moms eager to diet themselves back to their pre-preggo bod, Tabaie says “this is not the time to restrict.” Furthermore, “dieting while pregnant or breastfeeding is not appropriate,” since the extra calories you consume help support your baby’s growth.
This can be difficult in a society where “thin” is the ideal many women grew up aspiring to. I agree with Soloff’s sentiment that “the majority of women I know have spent a great deal of energy during their life trying to ‘maintain’ or ‘control’ their weight.”
How then, should we navigate all these changes with grace and kindness towards ourselves, knowing that there is an element of “losing control” involved?
Embracing your new identity as a mama
Soloff considers knowledge an empowering tool. “Many women find comfort in understanding more about the shifts in their body and all of the growth that is happening inside.” The more we know about what is happening to us and why, the easier it is to embrace it and perhaps even enjoy the experience.
There’s something deeper at play than body image, though. Becoming a mother involves a shift in identity, which causes many women to grieve the loss of their “individual autonomy.” When Soloff “hear(s) moms say they want to “get back in shape” or “get their body back,” what [she] really hear(s) from them is that they want to feel like themselves.”
Self-care is a really important practice for new moms. Soloff encourages “carving out time when a partner or loved one can provide care so mom can get some outside time, have a hot meal, take a nap or do some pelvic floor exercises.” This easy and slow transition can help them start to feel more and more comfortable in their new role and life.
And in the grand scheme of things, delivering a healthy and happy baby we get to love and drool over is worth taking care of ourselves for.