Sleep Deprivation & Weight Gain For New Moms
Uh-oh. It’s January... back to the daily grind, stressing over our to-do lists and trying to improve ourselves and stick to our New Year's Resolutions. And for many of us, with a new baby! With the additional stresses of parenthood and a whole lotta’ sleep deprivation, what we have is a recipe for weight gain.
I spend a lot of time with clients discussing diet and its role in sleep. If more of us were educated on this fact from the time we conceived our children, the less likely we would be to feel our child has sleep problems, and the better equipped we would be able to handle our babies' night wakings. Good news for many parents who are at their wits end: there are holistic strategies available.
Why Sleep Matters
Remember, parenthood is the marathon of LIFE! You are coping with physical demands (long walks with baby in the carrier, dancing baby to sleep, bending to assist them, etc.). If you are breastfeeding, you are expending additional energy (500-900 calories may be burned daily), which can be taxing if you do not have enough high-octane fuel. You are dealing with some of the most stressful times of your life, with a new role of parent, juggling the other roles you play in life, and the shifting of relationships with your parents, in-laws, and spouse. ALL of this while not getting the sleep you are accustomed to.
Why is it that while we are burning all these extra calories in early parenthood, we continue to gain weight, or find it difficult to lose the pregnancy weight? This challenge is not exclusive to women either – the average man gains 14 lbs during their partners’ pregnancy, and often that weight gain continues for the first year of parenthood, and sometimes longer.
The reasons for weight gain include the fact that too little sleep stimulates hunger through deregulating the hormones ghrelin and leptin, and less sleep increases our cravings for calorie-rich, high-sugar and high-fat meals. The habit many of us fall into is eating like a teenager when we should be fueling our bodies like athletes. The problem turns into a deeper one once life becomes more sedentary, baby is weaned, fewer calories are burned, and the bad-eating habits are ingrained and harder to break.
Optimize Your Sleep To Manage Mood & Metabolism. Here's How.
1. Check possible food sensitivities. It is possible that if you are suffering with a gassy, colicky baby, that your diet may be playing a role in baby’s night wakings. Common culprits include gluten, dairy, soy, peanuts and shellfish. You can try eliminating 2-3 at a time and re-introducing them one at at time after 2 weeks off, to see if there is any reaction. Consult a qualified naturopathic doctor, dietitian, or nutritionist to help you customize a food sensitivity elimination diet, and/or talk to your doctor about allergy testing.
2. Make water your beverage of choice. We are made up of approximately 70% water, and this fluid is the essence of life. It helps our bodies function and make our own custom “medicines” to fight illnesses. We need to be drinking half our body weight in ounces of water – so if you weigh 140 lbs, you require 70 oz per day (2 litres), but if you are breastfeeding, you require even more than this. A good rule of thumb is to drink when baby drinks and whenever you feel thirsty.
3. Strive for your 9-13 servings of produce. By filling up on fresh fruits and veggies, we give ourselves the best gift of prevention possible. Not only does consuming produce help fill us up to keep us from indulging on junk, but it also combats free radical damage. Free radicals are like bullets ricocheting in our bodies, causing damage that lead to disease. These free radicals are caused by environmental pollutants, physical and emotional stress, and lifestyle factors such as sleep deprivation. The antioxidants in fruits & vegetables combat free radical damage to de-stress our systems.
4. Eat the “good” fats. The best fats come from plants, the next best come from fish and animals, and the fats to avoid at all cost come from factories. Good fats have many benefits, including helping brain and hormone function, thereby keeping your moodswings and your waistline under control.5. Have protein on hand, at all times. Protein helps us re-build, and when we are under as much stress as we are, enduring the “Marathon of Life", we need a steady supply of protein to keep our bodies and brains strong. Like fruits and veggies, it is almost impossible to eat too much protein. Including it at every meal and snack is a good idea. Easy ways to do this are with nuts and nut butters, yogurt, cheese, lean meats that are pre-cooked, and canned tuna and beans.
6. Ditch the stimulants. I will be the first to admit, I tried to quit coffee and chocolate and I decided to keep it in my diet as my vices of choice. I do notice since re-introducing them that I do have a harder time falling asleep than when I am able to nix it from my diet. As I mentioned in my “History of Sleep” post, humans did not seem to have any real issues with sleep until the invention of electric lights and caffeinated beverages. If you drink coffee and tea, try to keep it to 1-2 cups early in the day, and try caffeine-free beverages in the afternoon and evening.7. Eat happy carbs! Yahoo! Gone are the days of touting low-carb as a healthy way to eat – about half of our calories should come from carbs. In order to be considered “complex” (or “happy”), the carbohydrate needs to have two friends – protein and fibre -- which are found in whole forms such as whole grains, fruits and vegetables. By eating the right carbs you will help stabilize your blood sugar and release fewer stress hormones. Less stress means a better equipped night-time parent.8. NO sweets before bed. Almost EVERY PARENT I HAVE WORKED WITH eats ice cream before bed. Not only does it cause your blood sugar to rise and crash (causing night wakings for you, in addition to your lovely children), but these empty calories and their associated blood sugar swings and crashes can make you more irritable than you already are with fragmented sleep. Breastfeeding mamas, you do need a good bedtime snack, and I have a list of some good choices for you:
hot oats, cooked millet, or homemade granola with sliced banana and milk
whole grain crackers with cheese
pita and hummus
whole grain muffin with a glass of milk
half a (natural) peanut butter sandwich
an apple or banana with natural peanut butter
plain greek yogurt with chopped fruit, cinnamon and some honey to taste
This year, try incorporating the tips above to make progress toward your New Years resolutions, and to help you take care of yourself during this exhausting chapter of your life.
For additional holistic sleep support options, visit brandiehadfield.