Surviving the 4th Trimester: Navigating Postpartum Nutrition Challenges

Written by Jessica Koroni, MS, RD, LDN, CEDS

Hello again!

It’s me, Jessica, your postpartum Dietitian for the second time. I am currently in the newborn phase trying to adjust to becoming a mom of two. I started to notice something….this experience was not any easier the second time, despite me feeling more prepared. I have always felt comfortable sharing the challenges I’ve faced in motherhood. I admit I have a hard time taking care of myself and my health during the baby phase. Since going through this experience again, I felt compelled to voice these obstacles in hopes of reaching other moms or moms-to-be, and provide not only comfort, but some solutions to hurdles I’ve faced.

Since becoming a mom of two, I started to notice my eating habits changed drastically. I chose to breastfeed again, and being a human’s sole source of nutrition is not an easy feat. Breastfeeding, combined with sleep deprivation, left my energy in the toilet; I barely wanted to shower, let alone feed myself a nutritious meal. On top of that, I now had a toddler to care for as well. Every day just felt like survival, and I was doing what I could to eat, make it through the day, and take care of everyone that needed me. The problem was, my new routine was not sustainable, nor did it make me feel good, both physically and mentally. Below are some ways my eating changed in the 4th trimester:

1. Inconsistent Eating Patterns: My day-to-day was controlled by when my baby needed to eat and when my toddler wasn’t on the verge of killing himself jumping off the stairs. Now I was pulled in 2 opposite directions and it felt like I had zero time to sit down and eat for me. When I started feeling dizzy or lightheaded, I knew I had to start prioritizing myself and my nutrition.

2. Relying on Uber Eats: Ah, my poor wallet… It took a hit in the 4th trimester. Not only did I not have the energy to meal plan, I didn’t have the energy to cook the meals I planned in the first place. I found myself constantly ordering food to be delivered (which is insanely overpriced and not even that great by the time it got to me).

3. Craving Simple Carbohydrates: I am a carb girly, and will always defend them. Carbohydrates are NOT the enemy! In the 4th trimester, I was constantly craving simple carbs and eating them “naked” or alone. These meals/snacks were not filing and did not give me long-term energy. They were not satisfying my physical needs.

4. Emotional Eating: I would like to say I am one of those women that has it all together, and has motherhood figured out, but I am not. Becoming a mom has been the best stage of my life, and also the hardest. Hormone changes, sleep deprivation, meeting demands of small people….at times I felt incredibly overwhelmed and lost. When it was quiet and everyone was in bed, I would eat. Eat candy, ice cream, chocolate, cereal….all the things. All the things that made me happy. I was using food to replace or manage the emotional rollercoaster I was riding.

5. Lacking in Fruit and Vegetable Intake: For some reason I just did not want to eat fruits and vegetables. Maybe it was having to prepare them, but I was not interested in them. This left me feeling “blah”. As a dietitian, I know the importance of including a variety of these foods in your diet regularly, and I was mad at myself for not doing so.

6. Drinking Too Much Caffeine: Coffee? Yes please. Anything caffeinated to help me get through the morning and afternoon slump. I was aware too much caffeine was not recommended when breastfeeding, and tried my best to keep it under 300mg, but there were definitely days this was not the case. It became a crutch in my daily routine, not a joy.

7. Speed Eating: Instead of sitting down and intuitively eating, I was speed eating. Getting in what I could, as fast as I could anticipating I would need to leave and attend to something before I had time to finish. I was not able to assess my appetite cues, or honestly enjoy what I was eating. It all felt very mechanical and like a job I needed to check off the never ending to-do list.I was fully aware these new behaviors were not something I wanted to continue.

Ultimately, I just didn’t feel good. I was taking care of everyone else but myself. I knew I had to start making changes both for myself and my family. Initiating change can be hard, especially when you throw little humans into the mix. I decided to focus on small, little steps I could incorporate into my day to day. Below are some behavioral changes I made to start to repair my new relationship with food:

1. Consistent Eating Patterns: If I was feeding my toddler, I was eating as well. For starters, I enjoy eating with my toddler. I enjoy exploring foods with him and working on expanding his pallet. I also want to set an example, which was a motivator for me to sit down with him. Even if my baby needed to be fed, we were all either sitting at the table together, or I would finish my meal after the boys ate. The point being, I had to make a conscious effort and plan to eat 3 meals/day. I could not float around on small snacks here and there anymore.

2. Relying on Convenience Foods: Normally I love cooking and baking foods from scratch. I enjoy making dips like tzatziki and hummus; making homemade spaghetti sauces; trying new dinner ideas etc….but in the 4th trimester, that took up too much brain space and too much time. It was not going to happen. So instead I started relying on convenience items to help me build balanced meals. I stocked up on pre-cooked meatballs/chicken breast/shredded chicken to add to dishes. Or I would purchase proteins that were 75% prepared for me already, and all I had to do was bake it. I got a bunch of pre-made salads to add to meals, and I bought sauces and dips instead of making them myself. Any items that would save me time and brain power, I was using to help me eat more consistently throughout the day.

3. Balancing My Carbs: As mentioned above, I am a carb girly; but I know plain Jane carbs are not going to give me the long lasting energy I need to get through the day. I knew there was a better way to eat them, which was balancing them with a protein and/or fat. Lately I have been on the Dots pretzel train. Instead of having a bowl of pretzels, I now had a side of pretzels with some hummus, cheese and vegetables like cucumber. Incorporating fats, proteins and fiber helped balance my carbs while still honoring my food preference in that moment. Guess I was doing a little intuitive eating after all.

4. Emotional Eating: The truth is, I am still doing this. I share this because I want to normalize phases in life, while also challenging poor coping skills. Using food for comfort/to manage stress/pure enjoyment etc are all normal behaviors. Using food to cope with emotional stressors without other coping skills however, can turn into a slippery slope. I am currently in the middle. I am super aware a lot of my emotional eating is related to managing stress. I find it to be mindless, boring, and frustrating….all which tell me it is not serving me and not a helpful behavior. Awareness is the first step. Now it’s on to finding other coping skills that can help alleviate my stress and make me feel good.

5. Adding in Fruits and Vegetables: To help me work on my intake, my new habit was having a fruit with breakfast daily. It was a simple goal to work on, and helped me have intention behind my morning meals. From there, I focused on adding fruits and vegetables into all my meals and snacks. I started relying on smoothies daily, incorporating some bland vegetables like zucchini, cauliflower and spinach into them. I bought frozen versions of veggies and fruits to mix into eggs, chilis, smoothies etc to make it less time consuming and more cost effective.

6. Limiting Caffeine: This was a hard one. At the end of the day, there are no tricks or tips to having less caffeine except simply consuming less. My fatigue made this very challenging, however I knew it had to be done. Drinking too much coffee was not serving me. I started restricting myself to 1-2 (8oz) cups a day, and tried to get outside in the afternoon when I noticed the 2-3pm fatigue kicking in.

7. Speed Eating: This is also a tough one. I had to practice adjusting my mindset to “it’s ok if my toddler has to wait”. I can eat in leisure while feeding the baby, but feeling like I needed to finish my meal as soon as I sat down in order to be available for my toddler was not necessary. I’m still shifting my perspective and learning to adapt to this new life. It’s a work in progress.

I share my struggles and solutions in hopes of helping those who may find themselves in a similar position. These struggles however are specific to me. Not every mom in 4th trimester will experience changes in their eating pattern, or if they do, not necessarily in the same way. And not everyone will find these solutions helpful either. The point is, our eating changes throughout our life. There is no perfect way of eating or perfect diet. What’s important is finding the right eating pattern that works for you. If you find yourself struggling with some of your eating habits, or relationship with food, book a session with a dietitian. We are here to help you figure out how to meet your needs, specific to you!


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