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Congratulations on your newborn baby! While it's an exciting time it will be busy, so get ready to put your organisational skills to good use! Meal planning will be essential to ensure that you eat well and stay healthy to best care for your baby.
Breast milk is the best food for your baby. It contains all the energy, nutrients and fluids that your baby needs for around the first six months of life. And it’s free! It also contains antibodies that help to protect your baby from infections and may help to prevent allergies and obesity in later childhood.
Breastfeeding will give your baby the healthiest start possible and there are health benefits for you too. It can help you to lose some of the weight gained in pregnancy and may help to reduce your risk of developing breast cancer in later life.
Some women are unable to or choose not to breastfeed their baby. Your midwife or health visitor will be able to give you information on preparing and feeding your baby with infant formula if this situation applies to you.
Healthy eating while breastfeeding
While it is a busy time, it is very important that you eat well and make time to prepare meals. A healthy varied diet is essential to ensure that your body has all the nutrients it needs to produce breast milk that meets the needs of your growing baby. You may need to eat a little more than usual to meet the higher energy requirements of breastfeeding, but your body will also use up the fat stored during pregnancy for this exact purpose. Your appetite will guide you as to how much extra you need to eat and you may find that you are hungrier than usual. Practical information healthy varied diets can be found here.
The composition of your breast milk is affected by the foods you eat, and quantities of nutrients such as vitamin C and omega 3 fats in your breast milk depend on how much you get from your diet. As well as providing nutrients, breast milk provides baby with new tastes. Molecules from your food transfer into breast milk to give baby the flavours of the food your are eating and some studies suggest that babies who are breast fed by mums who eat plenty of vegetables have are more likely to like vegetables later on.
Drinking plenty of fluids is important too, you will need a lot more than before or during your pregnancy. In Europe it is recommended that breastfeeding women drink 700ml extra per day, that is about 4 extra glasses. Make sure that you have a drink beside you when you are breastfeeding. Water, milk and unsweetened fruit juice are good options to choose.
While you are breastfeeding, take a supplement of 10 micrograms of vitamin D each day (as you did during your pregnancy). We get most of our vitamin D through the action of sunlight on the skin, so a supplement is particularly important during winter months. You should get enough of all the other vitamins and minerals that you need by eating a healthy, varied diet.
It makes sense that your diet affects the composition of your breast milk. Substances such as caffeine and alcohol can be transferred to your baby through your breast milk, which might cause problems with feeding and sleeping. The ideal is that you avoid consuming drinks that contain caffeine (e.g. coffee, tea, cola) and alcohol. If you decide to consume alcohol, try to have it just after a feed or consider expressing milk in advance, and drink no more than one or two units once or twice a week.
Although small amounts of peanut may pass to your breast milk too, peanuts can be included as part of a healthy, varied diet while breastfeeding. Whether you choose to eat or not to eat peanuts while breastfeeding does not appear to have any effect on your baby’s chances of developing a peanut allergy. However, if there is a family history of food allergy or other allergic conditions then your baby may be at higher risk of developing a peanut allergy, and you may wish to discuss this further with your doctor.
Ideas for quick healthy meals and snacks
There are lots of healthy meals and snacks that you can make for your family that are quick and easy to prepare
Keep a list of meal ideas that you like to take some of the pressure off when you’re at the supermarket or trying to decide what to make for dinner. Here are some healthy meal ideas to get you started:
- Meat and vegetable stir-fry, using sweet chilli sauce, black bean sauce or Worcestershire sauce to flavour
- Pasta with a tomato based sauce, and added vegetables (e.g. pepper, mushroom, olives)
- Pan-fried fish with a squeeze of lemon and some pepper, served with steamed potatoes and vegetables
- Lentil and vegetable soup, served with crusty bread
- Spaghetti bolognese (see recipe)
- Fishcakes made mashed potatoes, tinned salmon and herby cream cheese (to save extra time you could use ready-made mash)
- Baked potato with baked beans and grated cheese
- Eggs, scrambled with chopped onion, peppers and mushrooms on toast
Try to base your meals on a starchy food such as potatoes, rice or pasta, and then add different vegetables and a source of protein (e.g. meat, beans, lentils, eggs). It doesn’t matter whether you use fresh, frozen or canned vegetables – just get them in there! Also, some meals such as cottage pie and bolognese sauce freeze well, so consider doubling recipes and freezing it in meal-sized packs for when you are really short on time.
Eating well includes being aware of the foods that you’re eating as snacks to keep you going through the day. While foods such as biscuits, chocolate, muesli bars and crisps are easy to eat on the run, these foods can be high in fat and/or sugar. Instead, try to have healthier snacks on hand, such as:
- Fresh fruit
- Sandwiches with fillings such as cold meat, salad and/or cheese
- Wholewheat crackers and cheese
- Breadsticks or carrots with hummus
- Dried fruit (e.g. raisins, prunes, apricots)
- Smoothie – yogurt, milk, banana, frozen berries
- Nuts and seeds (without added salt)
Eating well and looking after yourself will keep you in the best form to care for your new baby and the rest of your family.
Recipe idea for mum
(Please note that this recipe is not suitable to give to your little one, but is great for the rest of the family)
Spaghetti Bolognese is a family favourite – it’s tasty and nutritious, and loved by people of all ages. What’s also great is that it is easy to make in bulk and freezes well – perfect for a quick meal when time is short. It contains plenty of vitamin A and zinc which are both important for looking after your immune system and for keeping your tissues healthy.
This recipe makes 6 servings – freeze what you don’t eat in meal-sized packs.
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 2 medium onions
- 2 cloves of garlic
- 2 rashers of bacon
- 2 carrots
- 6 mushrooms
- 1 red pepper
- 2 teaspoons dried oregano
- 500g beef mince
- 1x 400g tin of chopped tomatoes
- 1x 400g jar tomato pasta sauce
Serve with spaghetti (approximately 70g uncooked weight per adult serving) and grated parmesan cheese (approximately 20g per adult serving).
1. Chop the onions and garlic finely and slice the bacon. Chop the other vegetables into small cubes.
2. Heat the olive oil in a heavy base pan and add the bacon and dried oregano and cook until the bacon is lightly golden.
3. Add the vegetables and cook for about 7 minutes until they are soft.
4. Add the mince and continue to cook until the mince is evenly browned.
5. Stir in the tinned tomatoes and pasta sauce and simmer for 15 minutes to allow the flavours to fuse.
6. Serve with spaghetti, cooked according to the instructions on pack, and some grated parmesan cheese on top.
Estimated nutrient content per portion
|Protein||35g (67%)||52g (in pregnancy)|
|of which sugars||10g (11%)||90g|
|of which saturates||11g (55%)||20g|
|Vitamin A||618mcg (77%)||800mcg|
Just after birth is a time to be careful about getting active, particularly if you have had stitches, and, if you have had a C-section you will need to take things very easily. Just after your birth it is a good idea to start doing pelvic floor exercises.
The pelvic floor muscles run from your pubic bone at the front to the base of your spine at the back and act like a sling, supporting your bladder and urethra. Keeping these muscles strong can protect against urinary incontinence which can occur after pregnancy. You can feel the pelvic floor muscles tighten if you try to stop the flow of urine when you go to the toilet.
To strengthen your pelvic floor, sit in a comfortable position and squeeze the muscles 10-15 times in a row. Try not to hold your breath or to tighten your stomach, buttock or thigh muscles at the same time. This might feel very difficult in the first few days after the birth but this is normal and it is good to persevere. When you get used to squeezing the muscles, try holding each squeeze for a few seconds. You can add a few more squeezes each week, but don’t over do it. Try to keep doing these exercises everyday for the next few months.
Once you are feeling up to it try some gentle walks with your buggy. It is not a good idea to do anything too strenuous until you have had your 6 week postnatal check, where your doctor can advise you about what is safe for you to do.
After 6 weeks you will probably be able to start building up your activity level. Pilates, yoga and swimming are all great for getting into shape after your pregnancy. There are also now many classes where you can jog and exercise along with your buggy.