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Life with a newborn is exhausting. It's usually impossible to get enough rest and exercise in those first few demanding months, and it's difficult to eat well.
But as all-consuming as caring for an infant can be, it's important to take care of yourself too. Choosing healthy foods – and following a few simple eating strategies – will help keep you energized through your busy days and nights.
Start with a balanced diet, and drink plenty of water. Try to make time to sit down for a quick snack or meal – even if you have to put the baby down or hand her off to your partner or a helper for a few minutes.
And make every meal count. Here are some of the best strategies for getting an energy boost from your food. If you need more guidance, the USDA's MyPlate website offers a customized daily food plan based on your age, gender, and activity level.
Begin with a better breakfast
Proteins (such as eggs and yogurt), and complex carbohydrates (like whole grain bread and cereals) are better breakfast choices than simple carbohydrates or sugar. So instead of reaching for a plain bagel, a bowl of sugary cereal, or a piece of white toast – all simple carbs – try a smoothie made with fruit and yogurt, a bowl of oatmeal or whole grain cereal, or scrambled eggs on whole wheat toast.
Simple carbs cause your blood sugar to spike and then crash, leaving you feeling sleepy. Complex carbs give you longer-lasting energy, help you feel full longer, and provide more vitamins and minerals, explains pediatrician James Sears, coauthor of The Baby Book.
"A protein-rich, complex carbohydrate-rich breakfast is very important – and probably the opposite of what most people do," he says.
Eat small meals throughout the day
Rather than eating three large meals, aim to eat five smaller meals to keep your energy up, Sears suggests.
"It's a better way of eating," he says, because it keeps your energy level on an even keel the whole day long, rather than seesawing between hunger and fullness.
If you're having trouble eating one meal a day, let alone several, try keeping the fridge stocked with easy snacks or quick small meals high in protein or complex carbs. Grazing throughout the day will be easier if you have a tasty selection of high-energy snacks to choose from.
Try whole wheat bagels or toast with peanut butter, edamame, hummus on pita bread, cheese and crackers, trail mix with nuts and dried fruit, and yogurt with fruit.
Resist the urge to diet
Nobody likes to wear their maternity clothes after the baby has arrived. But even if you're frustrated with the pace of your postpartum weight loss, now is not a good time to skip meals or drastically cut back your caloric intake.
"It's important not to worry about your weight right now," says Debra Gilbert Rosenberg, author of The New Mom's Companion, who advises new mothers to focus on sustaining their strength rather than achieving weight loss goals.
Wait until your milk supply is well established, you've fully recovered from pregnancy and childbirth, and your healthcare provider has given you the green light before you slowly work on shedding extra pounds. (See our diet for healthy postpartum weight loss.) Aim to lose about a pound and a half a week, and give yourself at least 6 months to a year to return to your pre-pregnancy weight.
But even then, try to resist the urge to crash diet or impose strict weight loss goals, especially if you're breastfeeding. If you're nursing, you'll actually need to eat about 500 more calories a day than you did before you became pregnant in order to maintain your milk supply.
"Your body is going to [lose weight] the way it's going to do it, and you have to respect that," says Rosenberg. Losing too much weight too quickly after giving birth saps your energy and might even affect your milk supply. Learn more about a healthy diet while breastfeeding.
Drink, drink, drink
In the first few weeks after you have your baby, dehydration will make any fatigue or sleepiness you're experiencing worse. So it's important to guzzle water like it's going out of style. "Drinking a lot of liquids is probably the easiest thing people can do" to keep their energy up, Rosenberg says.
Keep a water bottle handy around the house, in your diaper bag, and in the car or stroller, so you can stay hydrated no matter where you are. If you're breastfeeding, you might be extra thirsty so make sure to drink about 13 8-ounce glasses of water or other unsweetened, noncaffeinated beverages every day.
Don't rely on caffeine or sugar
It's tempting to reach for a cup of coffee whenever you're exhausted, or grab a candy bar when you need quick energy. But be careful not to rely on caffeinated drinks or sugary snacks to keep you going when you're running on empty.
Both caffeine and sugar will give you a quick burst of energy, but once that initial surge is gone, you'll be left feeling even more tired than before.
Caffeine can make your baby irritable and restless too, so limit your caffeine intake to 300 milligrams a day – about two 8-ounce cups of coffee.
Grab a piece of fruit
A piece of fruit is the best bet when you need a quick pick-me-up, according to registered dietitian Jo Ann Hattner. Fruit gives you a burst of energy but doesn't cause a later "crash" like junk food laden with refined sugar.
Plus, fruits like apples, oranges, peaches, and pears are high in fiber, which helps keep your digestive tract moving. Best of all: Most fruit requires no prep work or cleanup, and is easy to eat on the go.
Choose energy bars carefully
An energy bar can be helpful as an occasional way to sustain yourself between meals, especially when you're away from home and need a quick fix.
But be cautious about reaching for an energy bar regularly, says Hattner, because they're often surprisingly high in calories and sugar. Check the label to make sure the energy bars you choose are low in sugar and fat and high in fiber, protein, and carbohydrates.
Food can only do so much
Finally, know that even the most energy-packed food can't counteract sleep deprivation. If possible, take a quick nap the next time you're feeling weary, rather than turning to food.
"We tend to eat, thinking that will give us energy," Hattner says. "It may just be that you need a nap."