The information included in this post is for educational purposes only on the benefits of a postpartum Whole30. It is not intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. Always consult your healthcare provider to determine the appropriateness of the information for your own situation, or if you have any questions regarding your treatment plan.
By Stephanie Greunke, Dietitian and Education Manager
Parenthood is a blessing, but it’s certainly not easy.
If you’re a parent you know the struggle. From the moment you get up (if you were lucky enough to get some sleep), you are constantly being bombarded with people needing things from you. You are surrounded by bottles, spit-up rags, piles of laundry, crying, tantrums, and hungry humans. Some days you feel like you’re going to fall apart.
I get it. I had no idea how hard motherhood was going to be until I became a mom. What I do know is that your diet can significantly impact how you perceive and navigate the constant demands and stress.
Constant blood sugar fluctuations and inflammatory foods can make life feel even harder as a new parent, let me explain.
If you’ve ever completed a Whole30, you know how empowering it is to take control of your health. Towards the end of your 30 days, you feel the Tiger Blood and start to understand just how much certain foods affect your mind, body, and spirit.
When everything else in your life feels completely out of your control, know that you have the power to choose the most nourishing food for your body.
Fast forward to your first few days as a new parent. People are bringing you casseroles, and chocolate, and cookies, and more cookies. You’re sleep deprived and have no energy to cook, so even though you know you’d feel better without that dairy, sugar, and gluten-filled treat, you have it. That “one piece” turns into the whole batch and now you’re in the sugar-shame spiral.
Sound familiar? It happens to the best of us.
So, is the solution to do a strict Whole30 immediately after your baby arrives? Probably not.
You already have a million other things to worry about in those first few days (and weeks, maybe months) postpartum. But, what you CAN do is support your mental and physical health by following some of the rules outlined by the Whole30 program as well as information you know about yourself or found out about yourself by doing the program in the past.
Here are five reasons why following the principles of the Whole30 or doing a Whole30 (when it’s a good time for you) postpartum may be beneficial:
- Although parenthood may make you feel like you lack control in certain areas (like sleep!), you are in control of your food choices
- Boost your mental and physical health
- Potentially mitigate health issues for your baby (if nursing)
- Model healthy behaviors for your family
- Be the kind of parent you really want to be
You are in Control
Remember the scenario above? When you’re busy trying to navigate life with a new baby, your life can seem completely out of control. And when you feel out of control, sometimes you just want to throw your hands up and give up on the healthy behaviors you’ve been rocking for years because it all just seems like too much. Don’t do that! The more you give up on your healthy habits, the more out of control you’ll feel. It’s a vicious cycle and you’ve got this!
Acknowledge that you can’t always control your baby’s sleep, feeding schedule, or other life demands. However, you are always in control over the food you put in your mouth. Feeling the renewed sense of control and self-efficacy can be extremely beneficial while you’re figuring things out in the postpartum period.
Find a happy medium so that you can continue with those healthy behaviors, without sacrificing your sanity. This could look like:
- Going gluten or dairy-free instead of doing a full Whole30
- Eating breakfast within an hour of waking
- Cutting back on added sugar
- Drinking more filtered water throughout the day
- Having a fruit and/or vegetable at your meals
- Making sure your meals have a nice balance of protein, carbs, and fats.
- Making an effort to sit down for meals (or at least one meal) instead of snacking all day.
Once you master one of your previous healthy habits, move onto the next. By starting small and being consistent, you help these habits stick. You’ll feel more energy and a sense of satisfaction knowing that you’re back in the driver’s seat.
Need help creating healthy habits? Listen to this episode of Do The Thing podcast with James Clear, author of Atomic Habits.
Boost your Mental and Physical Health
Pregnancy, labor, and healing demand a lot of resources. Your energy, nutrient-stores, and body take a hit and need a lot of support in the postpartum period. And if you’re nursing, your body is trying to heal and nourish a little one. You need to go that extra mile to ensure optimal health!
Key nutrients your body needs in the postpartum:
For mental health: omega 3 fats (EPA + DHA), Vitamin D, B vitamins (B6, B9, B12) and trace minerals (zinc, iron, selenium)
For healing: protein, iron, zinc, vitamin C, fat-soluble vitamins, collagen peptides and/or bone broth
To support nursing: hydration (at least 80 fl. oz/day) and sufficient calories from a nice blend of protein, carbohydrates and fat (this is about an extra 300-500 calories a day. This can be done by adding a fourth meal or a “mini-meal” as a snack). An electrolyte supplement may also be helpful too, especially if you’re active or following a lower-carbohydrate diet.
By choosing whole foods (meat, seafood, healthy fats, vegetables, and fruits) you are able to obtain many of these important nutrients from your diet. Consider a fish oil and vitamin D supplement to support your healthy diet, with guidance from your provider.
Mitigate Health Issues for Your Newborn
As any new parent will tell you that navigating reflux, colic, constipation, and gas aren’t pleasant experiences. There are many reasons your baby may be experiencing these issues. I’ve found that many parents see a marked improvement in their baby’s symptoms when they remove potentially irritating foods. These can include cow’s milk dairy, soy, peanuts, wheat, and corn.
Although the main culprit is often cow’s milk dairy, these other potentially irritating foods are also eliminated on a Whole30 diet. This is the reason why so many moms rave about the program’s benefits while nursing. And even if your baby isn’t reacting to some of these foods, by focusing on nutrient-dense, whole foods you are nourishing yourself and your baby with a high-quality diet.
Be a Role Model
Even as an infant, your baby will pick up on your emotions and behaviors. When you smile, they smile. When you kick a ball, your toddler attempts to kick it. If you put a piece of broccoli in your mouth and immediately spit it out or make a face, well… chances are your little one will also pick up on that behavior. They are constantly learning from you. This can be a good thing when it’s behaviors you want them to pick up on. It can also bite you in the butt later. That’s why role modeling is so important, especially when it comes to food.
By keeping mostly unprocessed, whole foods in your kitchen and being open to trying new food, your little one’s taste buds will learn to appreciate unprocessed foods and new flavors once they start solids. This can start even earlier if you’re nursing! The flavors of the food you consume end up in your breastmilk. They may even be more willing to try that new vegetable dish because you’re eating it. If you truly don’t like something, swallow it quickly, smile and don’t make a big deal out of it.
My kids eat real, whole food most of the time because that’s what they see me and my husband do. This isn’t to say that you need to be “perfect” and never bring treats into your house or that you’re never allowed to have processed foods in your pantry. We eat chips and ice cream at our house too!
Simply being mindful of the food you bring into your home and introduce to your little one(s) is a significant first step. You may notice that the more they start tasting hyper-palatable food, the less palatable whole food will become, and the greater the potential that fussy eating will ensue. Limiting processed food will expand their ability to experience the full flavor of the foods they’re eating. If you’ve done a Whole30 before, you may remember how sweet carrots and strawberries started tasting after you removed processed sugar.
Just like you may have noticed during your Whole30, your taste buds can change, so it’s never too late to get your whole family on track with whole foods. It’s easier if you start early, but not impossible later on.
Be the Best Parent You Can Be
When you’re not eating in a way that supports your body, you’re not the best version of yourself. Period, full stop. You may be more irritable, anxious, angry, or just too tired to keep up with your little one’s constant energy demands. Many parents feel too drained or in pain to get on the floor and play with their infant or run around with their toddler. They then felt guilty about this and resorted to emotionally eating foods that further perpetuates the problem. It can be a vicious cycle to correct.
However, you can and deserve to feel good. Make a declaration to invest in yourself. Start small, if you need, or go all in with a program like the Whole30. Even from the moment you decide that you matter and you start taking action to feel better, you start feeling like a better parent. Put your own safety mask on first! The more you take care of yourself, the better parent, spouse, friend, coworker (and so on, because you play so many important roles) you can be!
As always, our goal is not to persuade you that you HAVE to do a Whole30 to feel your best as a new parent. It’s simply encouragement for you to modify your diet in a way that feels realistic to you so that you can start feeling your best and thrive in this new role.
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Master of Science in Nutrition, Registered Dietitian and Nutritionist, Certified Personal Trainer, Certified in Perinatal Mental Health