You can’t pour from an empty cup.
You need to put on your oxygen mask before helping others.
You can’t give what you don’t have.
We’ve heard these adages before, but it can feel so hard to translate that into action especially as a new mom. Motherhood and selflessness are so often synonymous. And it isn’t a wonder why. I don’t know any mother who wouldn’t move heaven and earth for her child. A mother’s love is so profoundly powerful and it’s one of the most beautiful parts of this life stage.
Yet, with this association so imbedded in our society, it can unintentionally create this perception that caring for yourself is selfish. It feels as though once baby arrives, prioritizing self-care means you aren’t prioritizing the baby.
What if it didn’t have to be one or the other?
The reality is that by caring for yourself, you are caring for your baby. A nourished mama is better equipped to provide optimal care for her little one. You can’t give what you don’t have.
As a dietitian I see this play out often. My new mamas are spending their days (and nights) breastfeeding, learning baby’s cues, soothing tears, supporting sleep. They are so focused on ensuring baby is transferring enough milk, monitoring diaper output, tracking growth—that mom’s own eating gets downgraded in priority. Undernourished, they find it harder to focus on tasks, have lower energy, and have more trouble handling stress.
Here are four key reasons why eating enough is so important postpartum:
Energy Levels: Food is fuel. Well, it’s so much more than just fuel, but at its most basic form, food is broken down to provide energy to the body. This fueling process regulates our hormones, supports brain function, and powers our muscles. When the body is underfueled, your ability to make it through your day is undermined.
Breastfeeding: Baby may no longer be inside of you, but if you’re breastfeeding you are still using your body to nourish baby. Nutrient levels in breast milk can be influenced by mom’s diet. Additionally, if your diet is lacking the nutrients needed for breastfeeding, your body will pull from your own stores. Eating a nutrient dense diet while breastfeeding ensures you’re able to provide high quality breast milk without compromising your own health.
Physical Recovery: Healing from childbirth requires nutrients. Tissue repair is an energy intensive process involving an array of nutrients like protein, vitamins, and minerals. If you aren’t eating enough your body prioritizes only essential functions, and repairing and rebuilding tissues may be compromised. To read more about how nutrition can influence postpartum recovery, click here.
Nutrient Repletion: Pregnancy, childbirth, and lactation can be nutrient depleting. And nutrient needs are actually higher postpartum than they are during pregnancy. Your body is healing, you’re producing breast milk, you’re replenishing stores from pregnancy, and you’re caring for this new little life. It’s a lot. It requires nutrition.
If you aren’t eating enough, all of these components can become compromised. It may prolong your postpartum recovery. It will certainly contribute to sluggishness and fatigue. It could result in nutrient deficiencies that affect everything from mood to hair health to immune function. Extreme restriction may even impact your milk supply.
What can we do?
Start small. Stress, fatigue, anxiety, depression, and pain can all cause lower appetite in some women. If a low appetite is making it challenging to eat, start small. Try starting with smaller portions or see if it would be easier to drink some nutrition in the form of a nourishing smoothie.
Opt for nutrient-dense options. Get the most mileage out of the meals and snacks that you eat. Nuts and seeds are great options. Add Cinnamon Maca Seasoning to yogurt, oats, smoothies, or peanut butter toast to boost your snacks with nutrient-dense seeds.
Set an alarm. Having an external reminder to check in with your body and consider eating can be helpful if you often find yourself losing track of time and forgetting to eat.
Stay stocked. Create a station of snacks in several areas of your home or in your bag so you always have an option if hunger strikes, even if you aren’t near the kitchen. Think trail mix, healthy cookies, bars, fruits, or roasted chickpeas.
Delegate to someone else. You are baby-feeding captain, is there someone in your life who you can appoint as mama-feeding captain? Maybe you can let your partner know you're feeling depleted and ask them to check in with you 2-3 times a day to see if they can bring you a meal, a snack, or remind you to head to the kitchen. Maybe you have a friend who can send text reminders each day with quick recipe ideas.
Every mama is trying to do the absolute best for her child. It’s time to shift the mindset to capture that nourishing mom is completely intertwined with nourishing baby.
It’s time to start filling your cup, sweet mama.