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New mums and dads: healthy lifestyle choices

Congratulations on your new baby! Although you’re focused on your newborn, it’s also important to look after yourself with healthy lifestyle choices. This will help keep you in good shape to care for your baby.

Healthy eating and drinking in the early days

Looking after a new baby takes up a huge amount of time and energy.

This means you’ll probably have less time for shopping and for preparing and cooking snacks and meals. But eating well goes a long way towards helping you keep your energy levels up.

For good health, you need to eat a wide variety of foods every day from five main food groups: fruit; vegetables; grain foods; meat, fish, chicken, eggs and legumes; and reduced-fat dairy. Here are the recommended serves per day, based on the Australian Guide to Healthy Eating:

Two serves for both men and women. One serve equals:

  • one medium apple, banana, orange or pear
  • two small plums, kiwi fruits or apricots
  • one cup of diced or canned fruit, drained (with no added sugar). 

Six serves for men and five serves for women. One serve equals:

  • half a cup of cooked vegies (broccoli, spinach or carrots)
  • one cup of green leafy or raw salad vegies
  • half a cup of cooked, dried or canned beans, legumes or lentils
  • half a medium potato or other starchy vegetables (sweet potato, pumpkin or corn).

Grain foods
Six serves for both men and women. One serve equals:

  • one slice of bread
  • half a cup of cooked rice, pasta, noodles, quinoa or polenta
  • half a cup of cooked porridge
  • two-thirds of a cup of wheat cereal flakes
  • quarter of a cup of muesli
  • one crumpet, small English muffin or scone.

Reduced-fat dairy
For both men and women 2½ serves. One serve equals:

  • one cup (250 ml) of reduced-fat milk or calcium-fortified soy milk
  • two slices of cheese
  • three-quarters of a cup (200 gm) of yoghurt
  • one cup (250 ml) of milk-based custard
  • half a cup of ricotta cheese.

Meat, fish, chicken, eggs and legumes
Three serves for men and 2½ serves for women. One serve equals:

  • 65 gm cooked lean meats such as beef, lamb, veal or pork
  • 80 gm cooked lean poultry such as chicken or turkey
  • 100 gm cooked fish fillet
  • 170 gm cooked tofu
  • two large eggs
  • one cup of cooked lentils, chickpeas or canned beans
  • quarter of a cup of nut pastes and nut spreads – this can be given as an alternative to 30 gm of nuts.

It’s OK to have fast foods and junk foods in small amounts.

A healthy body needs fluids. To keep your fluids up you need to drink plenty of water. It’s OK to have juice, cordial or soft drink sometimes, but they’re high in sugar so water is the healthiest choice.

If you want more information about good food and drink choices and tips to increase your intake of good food and drink, talk to an Accredited Practising Dietitian (APD).

Everyday ideas for a healthy diet

 Here are a few tips for quick, easy and healthy eating options:

  • Have meals prepared and frozen ahead of time – for example, casseroles and soups.
  • Accept offers of meals from friends and family. If things are going well, you might even put one into the fridge or freezer for another day.
  • Use frozen vegetables when you don’t have time to prepare fresh vegetables.
  • Buy a roast chicken and prewashed salad mix at the supermarket for a fast, no-fuss meal.
  • Boiled eggs, or baked beans on wholegrain toast, with a side of vegetables or salad are great when you need a healthy meal in a hurry.
  • Put chopped vegetables and lean meat or chickpeas into a slow cooker early in the day with some stock or tinned tomatoes for a warm meal ready by night.
  • Make meals like frittatas that can be eaten hot or cold. They can also be packed into transportable lunch boxes for outings.
  • Keep your fruit basket full.
  • Have yoghurt, nuts, vegetable sticks and hummus on hand for healthy snacks during the day.
If you’re a new dad, you can do a lot to help out with healthy meals in the early weeks – even if you don’t have time off work. Perhaps you could pick up some healthy takeaway on your way home from work, or do some cooking on the weekend to have during the week.

Breastfeeding: what your body needs

Breastfeeding mums need about 2000 kJ (500 cal) of energy to make breastmilk. This means three meals and two or three healthy snacks a day. Everyone is different, so use your hunger, thirst and fullness to guide what you eat and drink.

New mums can often get constipated because their bodies are using fluid to make milk. So you need to drink plenty of fluids throughout the day. Australian national guidelines say that breastfeeding women should have nine glasses of water a day.

If you’re not sure whether you’re getting enough water, have a look at your urine. It should be pale yellow. Dark yellow urine is a sign that you need to drink more water.

Fibre from breads, cereals, lentils, peas, beans, oats, fruit and vegetables will also help to ease constipation.

Whether you’re breastfeeding or bottle-feeding, not eating enough can leave you feeling very tired. This can make it hard for you to care for your newborn and to cope with the lack of sleep. 

Some women worry about losing their ‘baby weight’. It’s important to give your body time to recover after your baby is born. Healthy food and gentle exercise make for a sensible approach.

Alcohol, smoking and medication

Caring for your baby safely
Check with your doctor or pharmacist about whether any medications that you or your partner take – including herbal tonics or tablets – have side effects that could make it hard to care for your baby. This might include anything that causes drowsiness, affects your balance or affects your reflexes – for example, when driving a car.

Now that you’re caring for a newborn, you’ll need to plan who’ll look after the baby if you’re drinking alcohol or taking medication that can make you drowsy or affect your balance. For example, you might want to ask your partner to get up to the baby if you’re going to have more than a couple of alcoholic drinks.

Alcohol and smoking
Australian guidelines say that no more than two standard alcoholic drinks each day is a healthy level.

Smoking has also been linked to a higher risk of SIDS in babies. It’s best for you and your baby to be in a smoke-free environment.

Caffeine can affect how well you sleep, so try not to have it late in the day.

Breastfeeding mums
What you eat, drink or smoke is passed through your breastmilk to your baby and can affect baby’s brain development.

If you’re breastfeeding, it’s best not to drink alcohol, smoke or use drugs, including marijuana.

But if you plan to have a drink, it is best to limit the amount to one drink. It’s also best to schedule it two hours (per drink) before breastfeeding again.

If you must smoke, protect your baby by always smoking outside, and don’t smoke for an hour before feeding. Make sure other people smoke well away from you and your baby.

Go easy on drinks containing caffeine, which can make babies cranky. You could try non-caffeinated and herbal teas or decaffeinated coffee instead.

If you need to take drugs or medication, check with your doctor about what medications are safe while breastfeeding, and about the timing of medications around breastfeeds.

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Raising Children Network is supported by the Australian Government. Member organisations are the Parenting Research Centre and the Murdoch Childrens Research Institute with The Royal Children’s Hospital Centre for Community Child Health.

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