Once you welcome a little bundle of joy, sitting down for a hot meal can become a thing of the past. But you still want to eat in a way that nourishes your body and boosts energy. Instead of reaching for sugary snacks or caffeine to get you through moments of stress or sleepless nights, it’s important to choose healthy, nutrient-rich foods. And, even if losing baby weight is on your to-do list, know that the postpartum period isn’t the ideal time to diet or cut calories. Our experts share the best and worst foods for new moms, as well as help answer your questions about what to eat after having a baby.
What are some of the best foods to eat after having a baby, and why?
You’ve done the hard work of growing a baby and going through labor and delivery. Now, it’s vital that you focus on feeding your body properly. That’s why Dr. Barry Sears, a leading authority in anti-inflammatory nutrition and author of The Zone Diet book series, is in favor of any food rich in nutrients, vitamins and minerals, and fiber, along with Omega-3 fatty acids and non-starchy vegetables. “The best would be fatty fish or high-quality fish oil supplements to replace the Omega-3 fatty acids taken from the mother’s stores for fetal brain development,” he explains. “The second would be large amounts of non-starchy vegetables to ensure maintaining a healthy gut, as well as stabilizing blood sugar levels.”
Eat enough protein, carbs, and healthy fats.
According to Aaptiv Trainer and mom Jaime McFaden, a diet full of green veggies, lean meats, fish, whole grains, and healthy fats, like avocado or olive oil, is what new moms should eat after having a baby. “You want to eat well-balanced meals with enough protein, carbs, and healthy fats after delivering the baby,” she continues. “Smoothies are a great option and so are soups. Both can include all portions of nutrition, and they are easy to eat quickly.”
“Moms should try and eat foods that have a large nutritional value since their needs are so high after giving birth—especially if they are lactating,” adds Lauren Manaker, a registered dietitian and certified lactation educator-counselor. “Highly nutritious foods like wild salmon and produce are a great choice, as well as foods that contain probiotics. I know a lot of moms that crave sushi after they have a baby. As long as it is made with fresh fish and handled appropriately, I think that is a great choice and source of DHA, protein, and vitamin B12.”
For new moms who feel too exhausted and overwhelmed to prioritize healthy eating, know that you’re not alone. But this is exactly when you should try to eat well. In response, Cathy Richards, a registered dietitian and mom of three, recommends quick, easy, grab-and-go snacks that contain protein, fat, and carbs to help feel fuller longer and stay energized. Some of her favorites include:
- Premade energy balls
- Pre-packed smoothie ingredients (in freezer bags, so that you can blend and go)
- Nuts or seeds, like pumpkin (pre-portioned into ¼ cup servings)
- Fresh fruit
- Pre-cut veggies
- Mini cans of light tuna
Are there foods that breastfeeding moms should eat more of, or avoid completely?
Richards says that breastfeeding moms should try to stay hydrated by drinking plenty of water throughout the day. Becoming even slightly dehydrated can lead to cranky moods, lack of concentration, and sluggishness. Dr. Sears tells new moms to increase their intake of Omega-3 fatty acids, something that registered dietitian Lauren Sharifi echoes as a way to support baby’s brain development. This includes foods like salmon, avocado, olive oil, walnuts, chia, and flax seeds. Manaker also loves eggs as a great source of high-quality protein and B-vitamins that help with lactation.
“All the foods that are supposed to increase milk production are just ‘wives tales,’” says Registered Dietitian Vanessa Rissetto. “Oats, coconut, and even dark beer increase production. But there’s nothing proven, just things that people have heard and tried. I will say that, personally, I recall drinking a Guinness beer and pumping directly afterward and getting about 10 oz of milk. So take that for whatever it’s worth.”
Drink caffeine and alcohol in moderation.
In terms of what to avoid, be mindful of caffeine and alcohol while breastfeeding, as well as certain herbal supplements and anything that causes an adverse reaction in your baby. Because caffeine can pass into breast milk, most experts advise staying under two to three cups (16-24 ounces) of caffeinated drinks per day. Richards says this translates into about 300mg, or two eight-ounce cups of coffee per day, at most. With respect to alcohol, the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that women reduce consumption during breastfeeding. But if you choose to drink, stick to small amounts in moderation, like an eight-ounce glass of wine or 12-ounce beer, versus heavy drinking.
Aside from those two, Richards warns against the following supplements in tablet, capsule, or extract form, due to potential adverse side effects: bitter orange/orange peel, echinacea, peppermint, red raspberry leaf, rose hip, fennel, and rosemary. And, if you discover that your baby has an allergy to a specific food, then you want to avoid that, too.
“You don’t have to avoid anything unless you can pinpoint that it’s directly affecting your baby when breastfeeding,” says Rissetto. “Often times, babies are fussy and pediatricians recommend that nursing mothers omit soy, dairy, gluten, etc. I ask moms to observe the baby and eliminate one thing at a time. That way everyone’s discomfort can be minimized.”
How does diet play a role in postpartum healing?
Eating right helps reduce potential postpartum depression, says Dr. Sears, and provides extra energy to new moms. Your body is recovering, says McFaden. Proper nutrition after having a baby allows you to get back to feeling more like yourself. Eating meals and snacks consistently throughout the day ensures that your body has the nutrients it needs to heal, says Sharifi. This is why a solid mix of carbs, protein, and fat will provide quick energy, help heal tissue, and keep you satisfied.
Above all, try to trust your body. Make good choices about what to eat after having a baby. Don’t worry too much about losing weight or skimping on calories right off the bat. “I think it’s important not to try to restrict calories directly after having had a baby. But also be mindful of the types of nutrients you are eating,” says Rissetto. “If you feel like having a cookie—do it—but don’t have that be the norm. Fresh fruits and vegetables are always a good standby. And trying to eat the protein you need to nourish your body is important.”