best foods for new mums

The best foods for new mums

Eating healthily will speed up your recovery from labour and birth and give you the energy you need to keep up with the demands of being a new parent. Consultant dietitian Sarah Keogh dishes up the best foods for new mums.

There is no end to the information available on what to eat during pregnancy. We know what to avoid, what to add in and all the advice we did and didn’t want for the whole nine months!

Now that the baby has arrived, it is like mum has been forgotten about altogether and the only thing we hear about is what the baby needs.

Let’s face it, we do worry more about feeding our babies than we ever did about our own diets, but that doesn’t mean you should just ignore your needs and think you will have the energy to cope with all that is in front of you. We take a look at some of the key foods for mums to eat – whether you are breast or bottle-feeding as well as some of the quick snacks that will give you a nutrient boost while you are up to your ears in nappies, relatives and the never-ending pile of washing.

What do I need to eat?

Let’s face it, most of us get to the end of our pregnancies with more weight than we ever wanted to see, but this is really not the time to start crash dieting. You are going to have a lot of sleepless nights and busy days and you will need all of the energy you can get. Getting some good nutrition will help keep your energy levels up and will start your weight heading in the right direction, so leave the crash diets for those with no kids!

Breastfeeding mums have the additional issue of eating for two even after they have had the baby. Following the healthy eating guidelines will help you to get everything you need but do focus in on some of the superfoods below.

✓ Beef

Many mums become low in iron during pregnancy, but loss of blood at the birth, especially if you have a Caesarean can also take its toll. Being low in iron will leave you feeling extra tired as well as run down and irritable. Stave this off by choosing red meat like beef or lamb at least three times a week.

Chicken and turkey legs have more iron than the breast, so they are also good options. Chickpeas and red lentils are excellent sources of iron and other beans and eggs are good to include. You need iron-rich foods every day – and don’t be afraid to have them twice a day.


Calcium is essential for healthy bones, for you and for your breastfed baby. Dairy foods like milk, yoghurt and hard (not soft) cheese are all good sources. You need three servings of milk, cheese or yoghurt every day to get the right amount. Breastfeeding mums need five servings. If you avoid dairy, do speak to your dietitian about a calcium supplement. You will pick up some calcium from green vegetables, tinned sardines, sesame seeds and fortified soya milk but it may not be enough, especially for breastfeeding mums.

✓ Seeds

Many women have problems with constipation at the end of their pregnancy, but this can persist for a few weeks or months afterwards as well. A sluggish digestion will affect your energy levels as well. Not only are seeds rich in fibre they are also packed with vitamins and minerals making them a great topping for cereals, yoghurt and salads or as a snack in between meals.

Do make sure you look after yourself, so that you can look after your precious new bundle.

More like this:

Eating for two
Three food rules for new mums
Cut the crap and embrace healthy eating

Ask Sarah

Q I’ve heard a lot about the Paleo diet and as I am very interested in reducing the amount of processed foods and grain based meals my family eats, we are considering following this diet. From what I read it seems to be a back-to-basics type of eating. Is a Paleo diet safe for children? My kids are aged seven and nine.

A The Paleo diet is one of the most fashionable diets around at the moment. It is also known as the ‘caveman diet’ and is based on cutting out processed foods, starchy foods like bread and potatoes and eating more meat, vegetables and fruit.
As fad diets go, it is not the worst but there are some good and bad sides to it. Reducing the amount of processed foods we eat is always a good idea and by doing that you will usually reduce the amount of fat, salt and sugar you eat, which is a good thing! The problem with the Paleo diet is that it also cuts out dairy (on the basis that cavemen didn’t drink milk) and this means that the diet is very low in calcium. For this reason it is really not suitable for children who do need a lot of calcium for growing bones. How did cavemen manage without dairy? They ate a lot more food than we do (up to 10,000 calories per day compared to the 2,000 most of us eat). By eating that amount of food they were able to pick up just enough calcium from green vegetables and seeds. To put it in perspective, you would need to eat 16 servings of broccoli a day to get all the calcium you need. This is easier to do if you eat 10,000 calories per day rather than 2,000.
The other problem with the paleo diet is that it is not entirely based in science. Many of the Paleo diets out there say you should not eat wheat, even though we know that cavemen did in fact eat wheat and other grains. These diets also don’t recommend that you eat blubber and the big lumps of fat that were also a large part of the caveman diet!
A final problem is that many Paleo diets encourage people to cut out beans and lentils and to get their protein from meat and fish instead. Many studies over the last few years are clear that eating too much animal protein is linked with more cancer and heart disease. Eating some vegetarian meals based on beans and lentils is a great way to get your protein without always going for meat.
Is this a diet we should follow? I think there is a lot we can learn from the Paleo diets. We could all do with eating less salt, sugar and processed foods and adding in more nuts and seeds as well as more vegetables. However, I think following a strict Paleo diet could lead to low levels of calcium and vitamin D and so it is not suitable for children or teens and adults would need to think about a calcium supplement.


Ask Tracey

Midwife Tracey Donegan answers your questions about pregnancy and birth

Q When should I have my first pregnancy scan? And how many scans should I get throughout my pregnancy?

Your first scan is known as your dating scan and is routine in all hospitals. Most mums will have this scan at their booking visit, which can be anywhere between 12-18 weeks. The earlier the scan the more accurate it will be. If you have experienced recurrent miscarriages some hospitals will scan you earlier. Contact your antenatal clinic for more information. In Ireland, most women will have two scans in a healthy pregnancy – a dating scan and an anomaly scan at around 20 weeks. However, some units provide a dating scan only. Private scans are also available in most cities and many parents use these services for additional reassurance and to find out the sex of their baby.