Health Lessons Learned During Maternity Leave

Hello, everyone! After three months of maternity leave, I am back in the office and ready to share what I have learned to help inspire and motivate my patients. I never realized how much my work and my patients meant to me until I had to spend three months away from them. While I love my new baby dearly, staying at home all day with a newborn is isolating, and I found myself turning to the unlikeliest of places: FOOD. Being a new mother was very stressful for me, and the sleepless nights led to a lot of fatigue and anxiety, which influenced my food selections. I was surprised to find myself coping with similar struggles and issues that my patients have vocalized to me for years. I was not willing to address these issues when I was knee-deep in diapers and trying to calm a fussy newborn, but now that he is an older, more settled infant and is sleeping through most of the night,  I have been able to reflect on the past few months and make mental changes to encourage better eating and health behaviors. The following three lessons are what I have now learned first-hand. My hope is that the resolutions to these issues will help you as they have helped me.

The Importance of Preparation

When I was a week away from delivery, I had no doubts that my post-partum nutrition would be perfect. I had the freezer stocked with ready-made meals, the pantry loaded with easy grab ‘n go snacks, and even a hospital cooler with food for my husband—we did not want him to get hungry during delivery. Well, all that planning lasted for about two weeks. Then after a few missed grocery store trips and the highest level of exhaustion I have ever experienced, frozen salmon with sweet potatoes and green beans gave way to sub sandwiches, pizza, and really whatever could be delivered to the house. While this may have been justifiable initially, letting this behavior continue for ten weeks was not. After the baby began sleeping and napping better, I had more time and energy to go to the store and get fresh food back in my house, but cooking multiple meals daily was still out of the question. This reinforced the importance of planning and batch cooking. Even through the fog of new mom brain, I was able to remember how relatively easy it is to throw vegetables and chicken on a sheet pan and how much I adore my crock pot. I also remembered how much better I felt when I accomplished even one homemade meal and that positive feeling lead to better food choices. Even if the occasional sugar cookie jumped in my cart or we reverted to a large bowl of cereal for dinner, I was able to start building a routine and cook simple meals more often. I have never underestimated the value of meal prep, but now I lean on it even more. You can incorporate dining out and special treats into your meal planning, which will help you stay on track

The Importance of Keeping “Bad” Foods Out

I am blaming the amount of sugar that has been in my house over the past thirteen weeks on post-partum hormones, a large appetite from breastfeeding—seriously, that increase in appetite was insane—and for comfort. What? Did I just admit I was eating for comfort? But I am a dietitian, and we are not supposed to do that, right? WRONG! I am human, and hormones and emotions are real things. Historically, I have been mostly consistent about not allowing these things to impact my food choices, but over the past few months, that has not been the case. The only way I have been able to stop using food to soothe my stress has been to keep those foods out of my house. It is so simple, and yes, it is so effective. While at the store, I reminded myself that if I walked away from that food on the shelf now, I would not have to walk away from it multiple times at home, or worse, end up consuming it multiple times a day. My weakness was yogurt covered crasins (pure sugar!) and Hershey kisses, both of which are so easy to grab in fistfuls throughout the day. This snacking infuriated me, since I knew it was not healthy. But that frustration only leads to a few more handfuls of these treats, and the hamster wheel kept spinning. But when I finally got the resolve to keep those sugar bombs out of my house, like magic, I stopped eating them. Who would have thought! Sugar is so addicting and habit-forming, as I have mentioned in a previous blog post, that having it consistently available and assuming you can control it is a dangerous road. My advice is to avoid all justifications for bringing those foods home, which will help you turn to more positive methods of stress management or reward, like a walk with your dog, a bubble bath, or lounging on the couch in your pj’s with a good book, my newfound favorite.

The Importance of Not Caving to Fatigue

Did I mention that having a newborn is exhausting? I think so. I have a whole new concept of what it feels like to be tired and a whole new respect for how easy I cave to the “lets just order in” recommendation from my husband when I am fatigued. I embodied this tendency in my final weeks of pregnancy, since that last month is a window into the exhaustion that is coming. The daily stressors of life are also fatiguing and can prompt anyone to choose the drive-thru versus cooking, but obviously, that behavior tends not to jive with most health goals. Cooking meals should be simple, especially towards the end of the week since our reserves dwindle. Remind yourself that although you are tired, throwing simple ingredients in a skillet is not that hard, takes less time than waiting on food to be delivered, and can sometimes even be relaxing. What helped me was writing down a list of simple, easy meals for those evenings I am drained. I only makes these meals when I am tired, which makes them feel special and makes me look forward to cooking them even more. Some of my favorites include “brinner” (breakfast for dinner: scrambled eggs with leftover vegetables and whole wheat toast); lean ground beef (cooked in a sauté pan, with wilted spinach for an easy vegetable addition) thrown on top of microwavable cauliflower rice; or Mediterranean pita pockets (stuffed with leftover chicken or sliced turkey breast, spinach, hummus, red pepper, and feta cheese) with some form of fresh fruit. Delicious! Healthy! Fast and simple!

I have heard many people say being a parent has taught them so much and has made them a better person. I have only been a mother for thirteen weeks, but I have learned much more than I thought. I was surprised to have gained more insight about my nutrition and health behaviors, but I am incredibly grateful for the insight. More than ever, I want to improve on these areas, since being healthier and proud of my food selections makes me a happier human and a much better mother. I hope these experiences will be helpful in contributing to your health journey as well.

In Happiness & Health, Jessica Murgueytio

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