Chances are you won’t feel like publicly donning only a bra and panties a month after giving birth—unlike, say, Heidi Klum. There’s no magical way to take off baby weight, but with healthy-eating habits and regular exercise, you can get your pre-pregnancy body back. Unlike normal dieters, a new mom’s body needs certain nutrients to keep her—and her child—healthy. Here are some foods you need to trim down, boost energy, and get healthy, all while taking care of your bundle of joy.
Pack on the protein
High-protein foods contain a hunger-fighting hormone and will fill you up more than carbs. And many sources of protein—fish, beef, and eggs—are also rich in iron and vitamin B12, both of which have been shown to increase energy levels. (What new mom doesn’t need that?) Just be careful to choose lean cuts of meat and watch your fat intake, as excess saturated fat won’t help your diet or your cardiovascular health.
Trauma and stress to the body—i.e., giving birth—can cause the immune system to respond through internal inflammation. Help your body fight this inflammation by consuming foods that are considered to be anti-inflammatories. Examples include everything from green tea to berries to spices such as turmeric and garlic. Steer clear of processed sugar, which increases inflammation and raises blood sugar.
If you’re breastfeeding, most experts suggest adding 500 calories a day of nutrient-rich food. Drink plenty of water, eat fiber-rich foods, and avoid drinking too much alcohol. What you eat makes its way into your milk, so if you notice your child has diarrhea, gas, or a rash, it might be the result of an allergic reaction to a certain food.
If you have a low milk supply, some mothers and health-care professionals believe herbs like fenugreek seeds, chamomile, and fennel may help with milk production. Many of these herbs have not been scientifically evaluated, so consult a doctor before altering your diet.
Know your vitamin ABCs
These vitamins are important in a new mom’s diet.
Vitamin A — You lose a lot of this through breastfeeding. Aim for 1,300 micrograms per day; get it from spinach, carrots, sweet potatoes, and kale.
Vitamin C — It passes through breast milk, too. Aim for approximately 120 milligrams daily; good sources include red peppers, oranges, and broccoli.
Vitamin D — It keeps bones strong and is made when the skin is exposed to sunlight, but many moms stay indoors most of the day. Aim for 200 IU every day; eat fortified milk, eggs, and mushrooms.
Vitamin E —It helps you maintain a healthy circulation. Aim for 19 milligrams a day; it’s found in nuts, seeds, and eggs.
Potassium—Many multivitamins don’t contain this blood pressure–lowering nutrient. Aim for 3,500 milligrams; add bananas, lima beans, and squash to your diet.
Count on calcium
Though there is some debate about how much calcium breastfeeding women should consume, current calcium recommendations for non-pregnant women are also sufficient for pregnant and breastfeeding women. For strong bones and teeth, make sure to eat plenty of low-fat dairy products and other calcium-rich foods such as figs, beans and peas, or leafy greens.
A recent study found that calcium supplements don’t help to prevent bone loss in nursing, so try to eat your way to a recommended 1,000 mg of calcium a day.
Discover the magic of fish oil
Omega-3 fatty acids found in fish and fish oil supplements have been show to boost an infant’s sensory, cognitive, and motor development. Breast milk is rich in DHA, a type of omega-3 fatty acid that helps with brain growth. Recommendations are 0.3 to 0.5 grams of DHA a day, and good sources include salmon, tuna, and walnuts. Plus, it’s not just for children—consumption of DHA may decrease the incidence of postpartum depression.