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Focusing on Mind-Body Nourishment Post-Baby

Lindsay Stenovec MS, RD, CLEC is a mom, registered dietitian nutritionist, lactation educator living in San Diego with her husband and two sons. Lindsay believes in judgment-free nutrition and offers feeding advice that empowers parents to reduce stress around feeding while nurturing healthy relationships with food and body. 

When my oldest son was born, I remember being bombarded by messages about all of the ways I could take care of myself during my pregnancy – there were yoga classes, prenatal massages and tips on healthy eating everywhere I turned.  But once my son was born, I found myself going through this massive life-changing experience that impacted everything from my physical body to my personal identity, family dynamics, professional desires and much more – and yet there were very few resources to help guide me through this time.  That’s why in my work as a Registered Dietitian counseling new moms, I focus on providing resources around both mindful eating to support the body during recovery, as well as ways to nurture the mind through self-care.

In this first post of a four-part series as part of Plum’s Keeping It Together campaign, I’ll be discussing some of the tips I share with new moms in my practice to help support the mind-body connection during the first year. The Keeping It Together campaign is about having real and honest discussions about the life-altering first year of bringing a child into a family. As I write this, I’m baby-wearing my second son who is just eleven weeks old, so I’m not only passionate about this as a professional but as a parent living through it, just like you. I hope this series can serve as a reminder that you are not alone and that with some support, self-care and a lot of laughs you will get through this first year in one piece!

Mindful eating to support recovery:

No matter how a baby is delivered, the body will need time to recover and there are many foods that can support this healing process. However, I often find that the emphasis on postpartum nutrition is mistakenly focused on dieting and weight loss, instead of foods that can support healing; this can lead to poor body image and disordered eating postpartum.

Instead, I encourage new moms to be mindful of feelings of both hunger and fullness while eating, as these may have shifted since pregnancy. I know this can seem daunting when most food is being eaten on the fly between feedings and diaper changes, but minimizing distractions – such as phones and TV while eating – can help bring awareness to what’s being eaten and prevent over or under eating.

During this time, I also emphasize nourishing foods that will help support recovery and provide the nutrients and calories the postpartum body needs.  This includes foods that are high in antioxidants like fruits and vegetables; protein sources like eggs, lean cuts of meat, nuts, and legumes; and high-quality fat sources like extra-virgin olive oil, ground flax seeds, chia seeds, avocados and fatty fish like salmon.

Nurturing the mind through self-care:

Due to the inherent chaos of parenting in the first year, it’s easy for moms to ignore signals from their own body that self-care is needed, especially when so much of the day is spent caring for someone else’s needs. Because of this, I encourage moms to get in touch with how their bodies communicate their unique need for self-care – especially during times of increased stress.

To help moms reconnect, I recommend a one-minute body scan that can be done at any point during the day, either standing, sitting or lying down.  Start by closing the eyes and taking a few slow, deep breaths to help bring awareness back into the body.  Next, do a quick mental “scan” of the major body parts, starting with the head and working down to the toes, without trying to change anything.  During this brief scan, you may be surprised by what feelings or sensations arise, such as tension being carried in the neck, back or shoulders; feelings of hunger or fullness; and even the need for connections with others.  Pay close attention to these signals to help make informed decisions about what type of self-care is needed – and then take steps to address those needs – whether it be food, a quick text to a friend or a walk outside with the kids.

Learning how to care for the mind and body so that moms can heal from childbirth and thrive in their first year will support their well-being far beyond the first year. The mind-body connection can be a powerful tool to stay in touch with the body’s wisdom and meet its needs for physical, emotional and mental wellness.

Stay tuned for my next post in this series where we’ll take a closer look at body image issues that can come up after baby.