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Pretty much everyone is ready for a nap after Thanksgiving dinner, but you can’t exactly baste a turkey every day. Expectant and new parents need more convenient ways to improve their diet for better sleep.
We love how smoothies, like the ones from our friends at GreenBlender, combine easy prep, nutritious ingredients, and kid-friendly flavors and textures. (Ask your pediatrician about when to introduce ingredients like yogurt and nuts into your older baby’s diet.) The following ingredients not only blend well, but also offer nutrients that can lead to deeper sleep.
A mug of warm milk is a classic bedtime beverage, and with good reason. Dairy contains tryptophan, an amino acid that helps your brain produce the sleep hormone melatonin. Dairy’s mild flavor and creamy texture can be a soothing way to relax.
Milk and yogurt also famously contain calcium. Pregnant women need extra doses of this bone-strengthening mineral to build their baby’s skeleton without depleting Mom’s calcium stores.
There isn’t one perfect food or drink that helps you fall asleep, but certain healthy nutrition habits contribute toward better rest. In particular, some studies found that diets with higher fiber and lower sugar consumption could lead to deeper, more restful sleep.
Enter berries! Raspberries and blackberries offer satisfying, sweet-tangy flavor while containing less sugar than many other fruits plus 8 grams of fiber per cup. Strawberries and blueberries are also great choices. Many berries are less acidic than other grocery store staples like citrus fruits. If you or your baby is prone to acid reflux, swapping your orange juice in the morning for strawberries may be a better way to add fruit to your breakfast.
The cheery yellow fruit has tryptophan, too. What’s more, the potassium in bananas helps act against muscle cramps. Leg cramps are a common pregnancy complaint, so a snack that can combat aches and pains is a welcome treat.
Bananas are a good source of dietary fiber, and they’re easy on the stomach. In a smoothie, they have the additional benefit of adding a creamier, thicker texture. Tip: Freeze ripe bananas in advance, and you can use less ice.
Low levels of magnesium are linked with sleep disorders and difficulty relaxing. Experts recommend getting this mineral from your diet, because the superdoses you’re likely to find in a supplement can interact badly with certain medications or cause uncomfortable side effects.
Not only are almonds a great source of magnesium, but they provide healthy fats, protein, and calcium.
One bonus effect of eating almonds regularly is they may have a positive effect on your milk supply. Almonds are one of the top lactogenic foods, which are thought to help promote your body’s milk production. If raw almonds aren’t your jam, try a tablespoon or two of almond butter, or try almond milk instead of dairy milk.
Want to get a magnesium boost, but you or your baby can’t eat nuts? Try spinach. The leafy green is loaded with magnesium and other vitamins. Baby spinach, with its milder flavor, may be virtually undetectable once it’s blended with your favorite fruits.
You may not always think of water as part of your diet, but staying properly hydrated can have a huge impact on your health and sleep quality. Dehydration can lead to leg cramps, dry nasal passages (which can increase the chance of nosebleeds), and snoring, according to the National Sleep Foundation.
During pregnancy, your blood volume increases by about 50%, not to mention the amniotic fluid that cushions and protects your developing baby. Staying hydrated with plenty of water and water-rich foods is essential for your overall health during pregnancy. Keep a water bottle nearby during the day, but scale back in the two hours before you go to bed so you’re not up as often to use the bathroom. Fixing a light snack before bed (maybe something with hydrating fruit in it) can keep your stomach from growling, without overwhelming your digestive system with a big meal.
What you eat does a lot more than fill your stomach. Food can affect your energy, mood, and ability to get quality sleep. These tasty options can help you make great choices, from breakfast to bedtime snack.
Babies and children are selfish. No, that’s not mean... it’s just true. They are by nature and design needy, self-centered beings, and it falls to us—their parents—to fulfill those needs, which range from the 24/7 on-call nature of newborn care, to the quixotic and demanding nature of toddlers, to older children’s needs that may feel less physically taxing but no less emotionally demanding. Add home, work, a spouse or partner, friends, and family, and you can easily feel like every day is a pitched battle: you against the never-ending needs of someone or something else.
So what do you do? If you’re like most moms, you kick it into gear and get it all done: the dirty diapers, the feedings, the midnight bouncing and soothing, the bad-dream-chasing, the dinner, the pediatrician appointments, the cat litter, the car inspection (is it late again?)—all that before you even go to work.
Why We Skip Self-Care
You have a list and you take care of everyone and everything on it, except you. What happened to self-care—exercise, time alone, time with friends, long showers, that stack of books on your nightstand, a night out?
There are several intersecting reasons why many moms—in particular new moms—perpetually put themselves last and ignore or put off self-care, starting with the fact that it’s baked into the job description (see: babies are selfish, above).
Then there’s the pressure we feel, or think we feel: Aren’t moms supposed to be utterly self-sacrificing? With just a few notable exceptions, all the moms you see on TV or in movies tend to be aw-shucks-kids-first, in-the-background types.
There are other reasons we should acknowledge, too, like the fact that a lot of the time we’re too stuck on a hamster wheel of exhaustion to get off and take a look at what we need. It’s ironic: We’re so tired and busy that we forget to realize that—ding!—practicing good self-care may make us less exhausted and strung out to begin with, and better able to handle the busy.
So if you’re ready to put yourself first—as the flight attendants warn you should when it comes to those oxygen masks—on your own to-do list, here are some self-care ideas to try:
1. Don’t skip physical care. While it’s important to address all those things that nurture your emotional, social, spiritual, and intellectual selves, you can’t easily do many of those things without caring for yourself physically first. Self-care starts with things like getting rest (as best you can, depending on your work schedule and your children’s ages), eating healthily, staying well hydrated, and finding ways to move your body in some way, every day. Put those needs first. Prep healthy lunches so you don’t end up mindlessly grazing on goldfish crackers; keep a water bottle with you at all times; lay down when your baby is napping; go for daily walks, either with your children if you’re home, or during lunch hours or breaks if you’re at work.
2. Start small. An irony about most self-care advice is that it can sound—particularly to the overwhelmed new mother—like yet another thing she has to do. Don’t feel like you have to make some grand gesture for self-care that involves complicated babysitting arrangements or is otherwise too daunting to arrange that you feel even less cared for afterwards. Do little things. Leave a basket of laundry unfolded and instead cozy up on the couch with a book, or watch a half-hour comedy on Netflix. If 10 minutes of me-time is all you can manage, then take the 10. The trick is that you’ll begin to see the benefits of those short self-care breaks, with the result that you’ll further prioritize them.
3. Forget what other people tell you to do—just do what you love. Old-school women’s magazines were notorious for telling women how to nurture themselves. They did so with a good heart, but still—not everyone loves bubble baths and scented candles. If you find getting a mani/pedi relaxing, do that. If you think other people digging at your cuticles is the ninth circle of hell, don’t do that. Find the self-care ritual that works for you, whether it's browsing a flea market solo, hiking a trail with a good friend, or arranging a movie-and-drinks evening with your posse of pals.
4. Make dates with yourself. No, you’re not taking yourself out to that hot new sushi place. By “dates,” we mean actually schedule your self-care as appointments you won’t miss. You don’t have vague plans to take that new gym class with your friend; you have an obligation-by-calendar to do your level best to get there.
5. Recruit a network. Networks work two ways in the pursuit of self-care. First, if you gather some like-minded friends in a similar situation, you can brainstorm things to do together as a group, like go to those Friday night free concerts in town this summer. Second, you can agree to swap babysitting with each other so that you each get to indulge in whatever me-time you prefer.
6. Make your needs clear at home. It’s all well and good to suggest self-care, but what if your partner isn’t on board or available to help? Ask yourself if that’s really true. The thing is, with some exceptions, most partners or spouses would be happy to help you find some time to yourself if you’d just say, specifically, what it is you need. So speak up: Instead of screaming “I need time to myself!,” say, “I would like to stay in bed on Sunday mornings to catch up on reading the paper. It would be great if you took the kids to the park for an hour or two.”
What kinds of self-care work best for you?
New parents don’t expect to get much sleep, but you may have more power than you think to improve your odds of some decent rest. Both when you’re pregnant and while you’re breastfeeding, the food you eat can directly affect your baby’s (and therefore your own) ability to get some shut-eye. Here’s some of the main foods to watch, and how to test if your diet is keeping your family awake.
Many OBGYNs give their pregnant patients the go-ahead to consume up to 200mg of caffeine (about one cup of coffee) per day. The caffeine makes its way through the placenta to your developing baby, so you’re not imagining things if you notice a flurry of fetal activity post-cappuccino!
You may not be drinking coffee before bed, but several other treats contain caffeine, including some kinds of tea, chocolate, and many soft drinks. Even relatively small doses might be enough to keep your unborn baby kicking when you’re trying to get to sleep. The same goes for caffeine consumption with a nursing infant.
(Looking for an alternative nightly treat? Smoothies are a fun way to blend up a few of the 6-8 servings of fruits and veggies expectant moms should aim for daily. Green Blender has tons of recipe ideas to satisfy your cravings.)
You might be surprised to learn that breast milk doesn’t come in just one flavor. Traces of the foods you eat make their way into the milk, which helps your baby get used to new flavors. (Once you introduce solids, you may discover your baby shares your love for strawberries.) Like anyone, your baby won’t always enjoy everything she tastes. Your garlic bread, jalapeno poppers, or extra spicy pad thai may disagree with your newborn’s stomach. Babies who are prone to acid reflux or GERD may be especially sensitive to spice.
Acidic or Gassy Foods
Heat level isn’t the only factor that can cause an upset tummy in your baby or aggravate pregnancy heartburn. Keep an eye out for highly acidic foods in your diet, as well as foods that tend to cause gas. Common acidic foods to watch for include citrus fruit, tomatoes, and apples. Common gassy foods include beans and cruciferous veggies like broccoli, cauliflower, and kale.
Fortunately, you’ve got a wide variety of fruits and veggies to choose from that are often easier to digest, such as:
- Bell pepper
- Greens (such as spinach)
If you have a family history of food allergies and your baby is sensitive to eczema, your little one may be especially susceptible to a food allergy. Some of the most common allergenic foods are:
- Tree nuts
Some studies have indicated that eliminating these foods from a breastfeeding mother’s diet can significantly reduce colicky crying in babies younger than 6 weeks old, meaning more sleep for everyone!
How to Test Your Diet
You want better sleep, both for you and your baby. So how do you get it? Here’s a step-by-step guide which addresses your diet that even sleep-deprived new parents can follow:
1. Track your meals. If you’re recording your baby’s feeding sessions, add a column for yourself. A trigger food may not have an effect until the next day, so it’s easier to spot patterns when you have a written record to check.
2. Test your guesses. Notice your baby’s fussy the next day whenever you eat shrimp? Shellfish may be the culprit. Eliminate the food for a week and see if sleep and crying patterns improve.
3. Talk to your pediatrician. Depending on your family history of food allergies, your pediatrician may advise running tests or eliminating and reintroducing foods on a particular schedule.
A healthy, balanced diet plays a huge role in ensuring you and your little one get the vitamins and nutrients you need to feel your best. Now that you know which foods can keep your baby up, a few tweaks on your plate may result in better sleep for you both.