When my twins were younger, it often surprised me how many people stopped me on the street or in the store to ask if my babies are twins (yes, they are), if they’re identical (no, one’s a boy and one’s a girl), and then say, “I wish I had twins!” I love my babies with every fiber of my being, and I can’t imagine life without them, and yet … whenever I heard people say this, I wanted to ask them: “Do you know what it’s like to have one newborn, much less two?!”
As a first time mom, those first three months were a doozy. Having twins magnified every struggle, fear, and frustration exponentially. Sleep deprivation took on a whole new meaning as we desperately tried to get the babies on the same schedule. I was determined to try and exclusively breastfeed as long as possible, and the chant of the lactation consultant constantly rang in my ears: “pump for 10-15 minutes after every nursing session.” But by the time I nursed (tandem with a double-breastfeeding pillow), burped, changed diapers, and pumped, there was scarcely an hour left before they needed to eat again, making it difficult for me to eat — or do laundry, sleep, or anything else. I was constantly worried that I wasn’t making enough milk, that I was doing it all wrong. Adding to all this was the fact that I had delivered via c-section and was trying to heal my body while trying to manage everything else. To say I was stressed out was an understatement.
As a registered dietitian, I longed to nourish myself and my babies (via my milk) properly, so I set about prepping veggies and fruit, lean protein, healthy fat, and lots (and lots!) of water. But suddenly, there were two little babies who needed more of me than I could possibly give. My husband and I were blessed with family and friends who would cook us dinner, help us take care of the babies (especially after my husband went back to work two weeks later), and even allow us to take a short nap here and there. (Let’s be honest, anyone who tells you to “nap when the baby naps” should try it themselves; easier said than done!) But even with that help, things could get overwhelming very quickly.
I’m a health professional who thrived on balanced meals, enjoyed cooking, and always had dinners planned and prepped for the week — and still, I suddenly found myself eating whatever I could get my hands on, whenever I could find a few spare minutes. Before my eyes, my confidence in keeping proper nutrition while tackling any crazy situation life threw at me slowly dwindled, and I noticed that I was snacking on less-than-ideal options. True, I was trying to make enough milk for two hungry babies — and struggling tremendously to do so, but that’s another story — but I felt guilty. I knew fueling my body better would help me feel better, and allow me to handle the stress of newborn twins better, but I felt stuck.
One day, I took a few deep breaths and decided that, somehow, something had to change. I’m not going to lie: It was hard. Many weeks, my nutrition was two steps forward and one step back. I didn’t always fuel perfectly (I still don’t, now many months into this parenthood thing!), but I slowly learned how to approach food differently in a way that fit into my new reality.
A key strategy: I started doing my version of the progressive dinner. During one baby nap I’d chop as many veggies as I could to make two or three different dishes. On another nap or quiet time I might cook a batch of quinoa or brown rice. The next day I’d assemble the meal, whether it was putting a pot of turkey-veggie chili on the stove or making mini-meatloaves packed with sauteed veggies, oats, and quinoa (I bake them in muffin tins, individually wrap, and freeze). I started making a week’s worth of oatmeal in my slow cooker, then reheating it in the microwave for quick breakfasts. Eventually I began to realize that while it may not have been the way I liked to do things before, at least I was getting them done, and my husband and I were eating real food. Some weeks are better than others, but now I’ve found my new “nutritional groove.”
My guiding principle: Simplicity should not be underrated! Even if, like me, you once preferred cooking gourmet meals, that often has to take a backseat when you have a new baby (or two!) in the house. Basic staples like steel-cut oats, grilled chicken, cooked whole grains, nuts, and frozen vegetables are great— and surprisingly versatile.
My professional and personal experience tells me that when I’m eating real food, I feel more able to tackle the challenges of daily life with babies. (And yes, it is challenging — but it’s true that it does get better!) It might be tough to figure out at first, and your nutrition might not be perfect, but that’s OK! There’s enough to be stressed about as a new parent. Food shouldn’t be added to the list.