With my first pregnancy, I feared labor and delivery. How painful would it be? How long would it last? Could I actually handle it? (It hurts. It doesn't last forever. I could handle it. And, of course, regardless of those answers, it's all worthwhile.) With my second pregnancy, I feared the fourth trimester. The lack of sleep, the demands and challenges of nursing, the physical recovery - and doing it all with a toddler! To say I struggled the first time around would be an understatement, so I expected the same struggle (potentially multiplied) for round two. But after a successful VBAC and a smooth transition into breastfeeding with my second baby, my confidence increased. Of course, it bottomed out when we moved three days later with a newborn and a toddler, but that's pretty much how life goes with kids - they keep you humble! Here are a few new challenges (aside from the poorly timed move) that I encountered during the fourth trimester (second time around) along with strategies to overcome them.
1. "Where's the dinner food?" My husband (somewhat) innocently asked this as I returned from a trip to the grocery store. Admittedly, we lacked the ingredients for a balanced meal (full of vegetables, whole grains, lean protein, and a little healthy fat), which is likely more nutritious and satisfying than an assortment of snacks. While I initially went on the defensive (make your own dinner!), there's definitely value in a well-stocked pantry and fridge.
2. "Yum...half-eaten peanut butter and jelly sandwiches." With the first baby, I chose sleep over food. But with a second child, that's not an option (because toddlers are awake and hungry pretty often). With PB&J sandwiches as a lunchtime staple for my 2 year old, I found myself subsisting on his partially eaten versions. It could be worse...but it also could be a lot better!
3. "Abs? Are you in there somewhere?" They may not be visible, but I'm pretty sure they're still in there. Even though I've been through this before (read: I should know better), I forgot how long it actually takes to return to your pre-baby body (or at least a close version of it). Full disclosure: I'm not there yet.
On eating: Eating well doesn't require intricate meal plans broken down by macronutrients, but winging it doesn't always work either. If you lack the ingredients to prepare a quality meal, it's going to be pretty challenging to do so. And if you have easy access to junk food, guess what you'll grab after you haven't eaten for hours and there's a crying baby in your arms.
Add a little structure to the kitchen to help you make positive nutrition decisions even when you're missing the mental, physical or emotional capacity to do so. Here's how:
- Keep a running grocery list in a prominent spot in the kitchen (or anywhere you won't forget about it). As soon as you realize an item is missing, jot it down. Double check the list before shopping to ensure that you can actually create a meal using a combination of the food on your list and the food in your house. If impulse purchases are your weakness (or if you'd rather avoid a trip to the store with a newborn), look for a grocery store that offers free online ordering with pickup or delivery.
- Stock your pantry and fridge with a few staples to whip up a quick meal. Look to fresh or frozen meat, poultry or fish along with eggs and beans for protein. Buy whole grains (brown rice, oats, quinoa) or sweet potatoes to provide filling carbohydrates that can be prepared in advance, and include healthy fats via nuts, nut butters, seeds, avocado and olive oil. Keep a couple bags of frozen fruit and vegetables in your freezer to prep a quick smoothie, veggie omelet or stir fry for breakfast, lunch or dinner.
- Choose fruits and vegetables over packaged snack foods. To increase the odds of doing so, try not to buy snack foods (think pretzels, chips, cookies, cereal). When you buy produce, either opt for a pre-cut version or prep the food as soon as you get home. Then place the fruits and veggies in a prominent spot on your kitchen counter or within the fridge so that they're the first thing you see when reaching for a snack.
- Scrap the scraps ASAP. Occasionally, you'll prepare food for your kids that you don't intend to eat. Yet when your child says "all done," you find yourself reaching for the partially eaten leftovers. To help break the habit, get those leftovers out of sight as soon as your child finishes eating (toss it, baggy it, give it to the dogs!). The longer it lingers, the more likely you'll pick at it.
- Ask for help. Wanting to eat well or lose weight might not feel as important as other items on your to-do list, but the quality of your diet will directly affect your energy level. If you're struggling to prepare nutritious meals on your own, enlist the help of family, friends or professionals.
On "the mom bod": If you're a mom and you have a body, then you have a "mom bod." And while the idea of a "dad bod" floated around with a slightly negative connotation, having a "mom bod" is amazing! It means your body helped to grow and deliver a baby! While it's tempting to look for a quick fix to get said body back in shape (think fasting, cleanses, extreme workout routines), consistency and patience serves you best. Set a realistic timeline to reach your goals (mine is set at around 6 months) and try to make a small change each week to work towards them. That may include altering an eating habit (swap chips for carrots, skip the sugar in your coffee, add veggies to your breakfast) or incorporating 15 more minutes of exercise into your day. If you need extra motivation, sign up and train for a short race a few months out or partner up with a friend who also wants to get in shape. Rather than relying on the scale, take pictures of your body to show progress that the scale doesn't see (think changes in muscle mass and a shrinking belly) and jot down weekly notes regarding changes in energy, sleep and attitude to assess overall wellness.
For those of you in the fourth trimester, congratulations and hang in there! As routines are established and nights begin to include more sleep, eating well and exercising regularly will (hopefully) become easier. For now, stay positive and keep soaking up those sweet baby smiles!