We are happy to welcome Alexandra Paetow, owner of Thrive and Bloom Nutrition and @postpartumnutritionist on Instagram, to our blog to share her expertise for nutrition for new moms and breastfeeding moms in honor of Breastfeeding Awareness Week. Alexandra is a mother of two and a maternal dietitian who works one-on-one with moms to create personalized nutrition care plans that fit their lifestyle. She recently welcomed her newest addition Fletcher Fitzgerald to her now family of four. Congratulations, Alexandra we are so happy to have you!
Tell us a little about yourself and your expertise? Where did you find your passion for maternal nutrition?
Thanks so much for having me! I was drawn to maternal nutrition from the time I started studying nutrition in graduate school. Nutrition during preconception, pregnancy, and postpartum has the ability to be life-changing for not only the mother but for the baby as well. I sought out opportunities to be involved in the maternal population throughout my studies, clinical training, and eventually in my career. I’ve worked with moms in the hospital, in the clinic, in clinical research, and now in my private practice. I started my practice after having my daughter because I wanted to work personally with moms to support them throughout their entire transition into motherhood. My passion is supporting women by taking the stress out of eating so that they can be their healthiest selves and thrive as mothers.
Although every mom has her own unique needs, what are some of your go-to nutrition tips that are relevant to all new moms? What specific nutrients should new moms look for in their food?
It’s so true that everyone’s needs will be different. But when it comes to new moms, you can guarantee that protein is something that everyone should pay special attention to help promote recovery after childbirth. Keep it simple and try to include a protein source with every meal and snack. Snacking in general is helpful to meet higher nutritional needs and satisfy often larger appetites so keep quick options on hand like hard boiled eggs, trail mix, protein bars, cheese sticks, roasted chickpeas, and yogurt!
Nutrient wise, what exactly should new moms be looking for in their food?
It’s so important get a variety of foods in the diet because our postpartum body has higher nutrient needs in general, especially if you’re breastfeeding. We want fruits and vegetables for the array of vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants. We want complex carbohydrates for energy and gut-health promoting fiber. We want proteins for balanced hormones and wound healing. We want fats for nutrient absorption and feeling satisfied after eating. I could go on! But to keep it simple, focusing on a balance of nutrients and a variety of foods is a great nutrition foundation.
When moms are pregnant it is natural for them to think of eating for two. When the baby is born, it is easy for moms to forget the importance of nutrition for themselves. Why would you think that is? What advice would you have for a mom who’s in this situation?
It's not surprising because the focus so quickly shifts to the needs of the baby—from the medical community (think about how many pediatrician visits compared to postpartum OB visits there are!) to family and friends. So as moms we often neglect our own needs to prioritize the baby. We have to remember that by caring for our own health we are actually doing the best thing possible for the baby as well. A well-nourished mama has more energy, more patience, more mental clarity, fewer mood swings, and is in better health to care for her baby. And most importantly, becoming a mother doesn’t mean you don’t matter anymore.
As a new mom, you are often pulled in a million directions, and keeping up with nutrition can easily fall down on your list of priorities. What are some tips for moms in regards to meal prepping, and calling on their support system?
Definitely accept support when it’s offered. Having friends or family drop off a meal or give a gift card to a local restaurant for takeout is so helpful when you are feeling overwhelmed. When you do cook a meal, try doubling the recipe so that you can save some for leftovers. I’m also a big fan of shortcuts like pre-chopped veggies, frozen proteins and veggies, or canned beans and fish.
Reading the back of nutrition labels while grocery shopping can be overwhelming. Do you have tips on how to make this process easier?
I don’t recommend getting bogged down by numbers. Counting calories or grams of fat is tedious and not the best way to achieve a healthy diet or relationship with food. Giving the ingredients list a quick glance to see that there are real foods and not a lot of processed additives can be helpful.
New moms have lots of questions, and often turn to Google and social media for answers. From a nutrition perspective, do you have any tips on how to sort through information on the internet for credibility?
You want to make sure that you are getting information from an expert. When it comes to nutrition, Registered Dietitians (RDs) are the experts who have the academic background, clinical training, passed a national exam, and constantly stay updated on research through continuing education. Remember that dietitians can only give general guidance on social media and blogs. For personalized recommendations you want to work with a dietitian one-on-one a full assessment.
For all new moms, what is the importance of drinking water and staying hydrated after giving birth?
Essential! Staying hydrated affects energy levels, digestion, cognition, and irritability. Being dehydrated can also negatively affect milk supply if you’re breastfeeding. So have a reusable water bottle on hand and drink according to your thirst.
What weight loss or gain is normal after having a baby? Are there any signs new moms should watch out for?
This is so individualized! There is a huge range of what is “normal” because everyone’s body reacts differently postpartum. Definitely watch for sudden weight gain because that could be a sign of postpartum preeclampsia which is a life-threatening condition so call your doctor if you are concerned. Otherwise, give your body time to adjust to all of the changes postpartum and take the pressure off yourself by focusing on implementing healthy habits instead of the number on the scale. And as always, reach out to a dietitian if you’d like personalized support.
For moms that are breastfeeding, are there any foods that breastfeeding moms should avoid?
A big misconception is that breastfeeding moms need to avoid a whole list of foods. In reality, ALL foods are okay unless you or baby have a food allergy or intolerance. So enjoy your broccoli, beans, garlic, spicy foods, etc—it’s just a myth that you can’t have them!
Should breastfeeding moms adjust their diet so their baby doesn’t develop allergies?
Breastfeeding in general has been shown to be protective against developing allergies so you’re already off to a great start! Including common allergens in your diet (as long as you aren’t allergic of course!) may be even more helpful because your baby is gradually exposed the proteins through the breast milk. Top food allergens include peanuts, tree nuts, milk, wheat, fish, shellfish, egg, soy, and sesame. Some studies also suggest taking a fish oil and probiotic supplement while breastfeeding may be linked to lower risk of infant food allergies. It’s an evolving research topic so it will be interesting to see what else we learn!