If you are a mother with young children at home then chances are you will feel that often your day revolves around meal times and food. No sooner have you prepared one of the main meals than it is snack time and on top of this grocery shopping comes around far too regularly.

For most of us becoming a mum means a complete change in routine, among other things it can often mean we have to give up work for a period of time. It is during this time that eating habits can change and it is not unusual for me to hear people saying that they only gained weight when they had children.

Obviously some of this weight gain can be due to pregnancy and not losing this weight after the birth of your first or subsequent children. Sometimes though the weight gain is due to new eating habits that are easy to develop.

While breast feeding will generally assist with weight loss it is not a miracle cure for the weight you have gained with pregnancy. It is quite natural to feel very hungry while you are breast feeding but this doesn’t give you a license to eat more treat foods than you normally would.

Although I do vividly remember dining out one night when my daughter was only a few months old normally I might order two courses at the most when dining out and feel very satisfied with this – on this occasion I ordered three. It was with some surprise that I had to tell my husband at the end of the meal that it didn’t even feel like my dinner had touched the sides. I still felt like I could eat everything all over again! Thankfully this extreme hunger did not last for long.

To ensure you have all the good nutrition you need for sustained breast feeding choosing healthy options at meal times and snacks is important. Instead of choosing biscuits or cakes on a regular basis snack on fruit, grain-based crackers and cheese, yoghurt, bran muffins, smoothies, make ½ a sandwich with whole grain bread. All these are good snack options.

When your appetite returns to normal make sure that your serving sizes also decrease. I know that while I was breast feeding I suddenly became a very quick eater – it was always likely that one of the children would need me while I was eating so I ate quickly. Although it can be a difficult skill to learn try to eat slowly so that you can recognise when you have had enough to eat.

If you have taken leave from the work force to look after children this also means that you suddenly have easy access to food all day long. Seeing food and deciding to eat is an easy trap to fall into. How many times have you opened the pantry or fridge to get something and spotted a tasty morsel and devoured it without thinking. It is often the small extras that we eat over the day that add up.

These small extras also include the left over bits we eat off the children’s plates! Or perhaps you play the game of ‘one for you and now one for mummy’ to try to tempt your child to eat.

If this sounds like you then take the time to pause and think – are you hungry or are you just eating it because it is there. If you are hungry then ask yourself is this the best food choice to help settle my hunger or should you prepare a better choice?

Coffee groups are a great way to keep in touch with other parents but traditionally, as the name indicates, they are based around coffee and food. Some coffee groups don’t go over board with food while others tend to be quite lavish affairs. If you only meet once a month it may not be a concern – but if you meet weekly or maybe you attend a number of coffee groups this can contribute quite a few extra calories. You can always take your own healthy sack if you feel this is a problem area for you – everyone is so busy looking after their own children or having a good gossip to notice if you are eating your own snack or choosing not to eat at all.

Before you were a mother perhaps you didn’t regularly eat morning or afternoon tea, perhaps you just had a drink. It is very easy to get into the habit of sitting down and having something to eat when you give your child a snack in between meals. Snack times can be a good time to sit down and spend quiet time with your child, or for school age children afternoon tea is a good time for catching up on their school day – however it does not mean that you have to eat if you are not hungry. Have a drink at this time but don’t have snack if you don’t need one.

Of course the other reason for weight gain once you have had children is the change in your exercise routine. It may be difficult to find a time of day when you have the energy and the time to get out for your workout. Walking is a good option (especially at the age when the child will stay in the pram without getting out). Another option to consider is taking turns at baby sitting duties during the day with friends – this way you all get a chance to have time out and get some exercise in.

So while you go about your very busy day take the time to become aware of any new traps you are falling into with your eating habits. It takes no time to form a new habit – but a lot longer to break it.


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Fiona Boyle is a registered dietitian and nutritionist. She runs a private practice and gives nutrition advice to individuals and families to help meet their health needs and personal goals.

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