Healthy diet and fitness for new mums
Being a parent is exhausting. It's easy to find that you have no time or energy to cook or eat properly. But eating well doesn't need to take lots of time or effort.
Try to make eating well a priority. It will make you feel better, and healthy eating is important for the whole family. Eat a healthy, well-balanced diet that includes at least five portions of fruit and vegetables a day.
If you think you need to lose weight, talk to your GP. Cut down on fat and sugar, but don't go on a crash diet. Regular small meals will keep up your energy without adding to your weight.
Healthy time-saving tips for new parents
Try cooking more than you need and freeze a couple of extra portions for another day.
Tinned and frozen fruit and vegetables are quick to prepare, and they count towards your five portions a day. Choose vegetables that can be eaten raw – for example, carrots and celery – and snack on these between meals if you get peckish. Remember, steaming is a healthy and quick way to cook vegetables, meat and fish.
If friends or family are keen to help, take up their offer of a healthy home-cooked dinner once in a while.
Breastfeeding and diet
If you're breastfeeding and you're a healthy weight for your height, you don't need to eat a special diet. Eat a healthy, well-balanced diet, drink plenty of fluids (ideally water) and get lots of rest. Read more about breastfeeding and a healthy lifestyle.
If you're breastfeeding and you're overweight, the best way to lose weight healthily is by eating a healthy, well-balanced diet and taking regular moderate exercise, such as a brisk walk for 30 minutes every other day. This won't affect the quality or quantity of your milk.
Physical activity with a baby
When you're feeling tired, being active or taking more exercise may seem like the last thing you need. But activity can relax you, it can help your body recover after childbirth, keep you fit or improve your fitness, and make you feel better and more energetic. The following suggestions may help:
- Keep up your postnatal exercises. They'll strengthen vital muscles and improve your shape. See Your body after childbirth for practical information on some important exercises.
- Join a postnatal exercise class or try the NHS Fitness Studio postnatal yoga class. Many postnatal classes let you do the exercise class with your baby at the side of the room. Some exercise classes sometimes allow the baby and buggy in as part of the workout. Ask your health visitor if she knows of any in your area. If you're going to a class that isn't a special postnatal class, tell the person running the class if you've had a baby in the last few months. You'll need to take special care of your back and avoid exercises that could damage it.
- Push the pram or buggy briskly, remembering to keep your back straight. Walking is great exercise, so try to get out as much as you can.
- Play energetic games with older children. You can exercise by running about with them. Find outdoor space if there's no space at home.
- Run upstairs. You probably go up and down the stairs several times a day, so think of it as good exercise!
- Squat down to pick things up from the floor. Hold heavy objects close to your body. This is also something you're likely to be doing a lot. If you squat rather than stooping, with your knees bent and your back straight, you'll strengthen your thigh muscles and avoid damaging your back.
- When your lochia (postnatal bleeding) has stopped, you can try swimming. Swimming is good exercise and it's relaxing, too. If you take your child with you, try to have someone else there as well so that you get a chance to swim.
- Borrow or buy an exercise DVD. This is a good way to work out at home. You could get a friend or your children to join in.
When can I start exercising after birth?
If you had a straightforward birth you can start gentle exercising as soon as you feel OK to do so. These gentle exercises can include walking, stretching and pelvic floor exercises.
It may be a good idea to wait until after your six-week postnatal check before you start to high impact exercise again. If you exercised regularly before giving birth and you feel fit and well, you might be able to start earlier. Talk to your midwife, health visitor or GP.
If your birth was complicated (for example, you had a caesarean section), your recovery time will be longer, so talk to your health visitor or GP before starting anything too strenuous.
There are no set rules about how soon you can have sex after childbirth, but don't rush into it before you feel ready and comfortable. Read more about sex and contraception after childbirth.
What should I be aware of before exercising?
Your lower back and core abdominal muscles are weaker than they used to be. Your ligaments and joints are also more supple and pliable, so it's easier to injure yourself by stretching or twisting too much.
Don't rely on your pre-pregnancy sports bra. Your back and cup size are likely to have changed, so get measured for a new one.
How do I know if I'm overdoing exercise after having a baby?
If you're doing too much, you’ll experience extreme fatigue, feel run-down and take longer to recover from workout sessions.
If your lochia (the bleeding after birth) flows more heavily or changes colour (becomes pink or red) after activity, you could be overdoing it. Take it easy.
Quitting smoking for you and your family
Lots of people smoke because they think it calms their nerves, but this isn't the case. Smoking just calms the cravings for nicotine, the addictive substance in cigarettes. The best thing you can do for your and your family's health is to stop smoking.
The children of smokers are three times more likely to grow up to be smokers themselves.
Giving up smoking isn't always easy, but the NHS can help. You're up to four times more likely to stop smoking successfully if you do it with NHS support.
Call the NHS Smokefree helpline on 0300 123 1044 for details of your local NHS stop smoking service, or go to the Smokefree website.
Here are some ways to help you stop:
- Know why you want to stop. Make a checklist of your reasons for stopping smoking and read it when you're finding it tough. Good reasons include feeling healthier, protecting your children's health and having more money to spend on other things.
- Change your habits. Smoking is strongly linked to certain situations and times, such as the first cigarette of the day, a cigarette with a cup of tea or coffee, or a cigarette when you're on the phone. Try to break the link by changing your habits. For example, drink orange juice instead of coffee for a while.
- Be ready to stop. Choose a day and stop completely on that day. The day before, get rid of cigarettes, ashtrays and lighters.
- Get support. Tell your family and friends you've decided to stop and ask for their support. Ask them not to offer you cigarettes and, if they smoke, not to smoke around you.
- Plan ahead. If you know a situation's going to be difficult, don't just wait for it to happen. Plan how you will deal with it.
- Take one day at a time. At the start of each day, congratulate yourself on having made it this far. Make it your goal not to smoke today and don't worry about tomorrow.
- If you need to put something in your mouth, try sugar-free gum. If you need to do something with your hands, find something to fiddle with, such as a pencil, coin or anything other than a cigarette.
Ask your GP, pharmacist, midwife, health visitor or practice nurse for advice on stopping smoking and for details of your local NHS stop smoking service.
This service offers one-to-one or group sessions with trained stop smoking advisers. If you're pregnant, they may have a pregnancy stop smoking specialist. They can also give you advice about dealing with stress, weight gain and using nicotine replacement therapy to help you manage your cravings.
Find more advice and help with quitting smoking.