Having a baby is a life-altering event for many reasons, not the least of which is that when your new little nugget is fresh and in your arms, your body feels as if it’s morphed into something else entirely.
This isn’t all bad, of course. After the birth of my first son, I was extremely proud of my body. It had nourished a healthy baby for nine months. That was no small feat! Even though women have been doing this for thousands of years, he was born to me after seven consecutive miscarriages, and I hadn’t been sure I would ever be able to have children. Whether or not you’ve had a baby after loss or experienced infertility, your body is amazing for the simple fact that it can grow another human from scratch.
Following the delivery of your baby—however it happens—you’re bound to have a few questions on what to do next. Sure, feeding the baby, changing diapers, and trying to regain some sense of normalcy all top the list.
But as a nutritionist who works with prenatal and postpartum women, I get asked a lot of questions about postpartum recovery: what really matters most? How much do you have to stress about diet and exercise and getting back to “normal” after baby has arrived?
A new normal
Well, first of all, welcome to your new normal. When I was a new mama, I wish someone had told me that my brain’s attempts to get back to my previous normal were wasted efforts. It never happens. Sure, you will get back to feeling good, and you will physically recover. But no matter how great you feel, you won’t ever be your pre-pregnancy self again.
This isn’t a bad thing, either. But especially when you’re having your first child, it can be a shock to the system to realize that your days of “freedom” are over—at least for a while.
The trade-off, however, is infinitely worth it. You will adjust to your new normal. The first few weeks are the hardest and then gradually you realize that, oh, you are settling into your new way of life, and it’s not so bad.
Birth is an athletic event no matter how you look at it. Regardless of how you deliver, your body has just brought forth an entire human. You’re going to need time to physically recover. Probably one of the worst things that new moms do is to attempt to rush this, physically or mentally.
Follow what your doctor tells you about returning to physical activity. If you’re used to being active but haven’t been cleared yet to get back to it, your brain could get antsy and push you to take things too far, too soon.
Those first six weeks after birth are a time of repair and healing that aren’t always visible to the naked eye. Your pelvic floor is trying to bounce back. Your abdominal muscles are slowly coming back together. Your uterus is shrinking back to pre-pregnancy size. These things take time, and before you can resume normal physical activity, you need to have these things back in place.
Some women deal with ongoing pelvic floor or abdominal weakness after delivery. Sadly, most women don’t know that these problems won’t fix themselves. Have a physical therapist assess you for signs that you may need additional recovery support and the rest of your postpartum recovery will be a lot smoother.
When you grow a baby over the better part of a year, your body devotes a significant amount of resources to it. Recent research finds, however, that many pregnant women are running low in nutrients during pregnancy. This can increase the problems of postnatal depletion after delivery.
During pregnancy, it can be common for women to fall short in required amounts of the following nutrients:
- Vitamin A
- Vitamin C
- Vitamin D
- Vitamin E
- Vitamin K
- Vitamin B6
This is true even of some women who take prenatal vitamins. After giving birth, it’s especially common for new moms to be low or deficient in key nutrients, like:
- Vitamin D
The best way to recover physically from birth is to ensure that you’re getting all of the nutrients that you need, among other things. Does this mean you have to go on a diet or obsess over your food intake? No—but don’t stop taking your prenatal vitamin, and try to find a balance between eating for comfort (hello, after long nights of no sleep, sometimes you just want the french fries!) and eating for nourishment.
Some of the best nourishing foods for new moms are:
- Bone broth
- Chicken soup
- Spinach or dark leafy greens
- Citrus fruits
- Chia seeds
- Pumpkin seeds
- Cruciferous vegetables
You can easily intersperse these foods with other easy meals that bring comfort. Diet doesn’t have to be perfect 100 percent of the time to help boost nutrients.
Additionally, don’t forget to drink enough water each day. Even if you’re not breastfeeding, fluids help your liver and other detox organs to flush out and metabolize the massive amount of hormones left behind after pregnancy. Aim to drink each day at least half an ounce of water for each pound that you weigh, and more as needed.
Some moms feel compelled to exercise as quickly as possible to get their “pre-baby” body back. Too often, postpartum advice focuses on strict eating and exercising as quickly as possible. It talks about appearance as something that women should prioritize, but this is far from the most important thing.
In those first weeks and months after pregnancy, rest is infinitely more important than exercise. It’s normal for women to take a year or even two to return to their pre-pregnancy weight. Rushing it or feeling guilty that you haven’t bounced back within a few weeks sets the stage for impossible expectations.
During that “fourth trimester” (aka the first three months after birth), your focus should be solely on bonding with your baby, resting, and recovering. There is plenty of time to return to normalcy after that. You only have this fourth trimester once, and it’s for restoration and rebirth. Whether you’re a first-time mom or this is your fourth baby, the dynamics of your entire life change when a new human enters the world. Don’t lose sight of that in a headlong rush to get your body back to status quo ante. Your new role as mom to this human—and taking care of yourself mentally, physically, and emotionally—is far more important.
New moms need grace more than anything and the understanding that it’s not a race to get back to something that was before. It’s a process of moving forward into the lifelong journey ahead. Yes, your body will feel “normal” again, and you will feel more like yourself—but in a brand new way. Having a baby starts a new life for the mother as much as it does for the infant, and that’s something that should be celebrated, not overlooked.