Recently, I delivered my first-ever postnatal nutrition session for a new mum. It was a new and interesting experience for me and I thought I would share with you my reflections on that.
During the session, we talked mostly about what a healthy, balanced diet is and I was explaining the Eatwell Guide. My client was quite confused as what classifies as a healthy diet and was not sure what she should eat. During her life, especially during her pregnancy when she developed gestational diabetes, she was told many conflicting messages about nutrition. For instance, her nurse advised her to avoid fruit because they are high in sugar as well as all carbs because they are apparently bad for us. Also, her GP advised her to go on a Keto Diet (a very low-carb, high-fat) to lose weight and manage her blood sugar levels. My client was encouraged to eat mostly bacon and cheese, about 3 times a day.
Pretty much every week I hear that someone is following a Keto Diet now, and even my hairdresser was telling me about it recently. I probably should write a blog post about it! Also, I often hear that a GP recommends it to patients but without any further explanation, education, or follow-ups. I am not saying it is a bad diet, as there are pros and cons of following it and there is a group of patients that may benefit from it. However, it is a very restricted diet and it should be followed under medical supervision, preferably patients should be supervised by a registered dietitian (RD) who is trained in this field of nutrition.
So what is the issue? Well, first this client has been on a nutritionally inadequate diet for a while and that can increase her risks of developing certain nutritional deficiencies or even diseases at later stages. The GP and the nurse just advised this client to remove certain foods but there was no conversation about how to replace them with nutritious alternatives. Second, a mother’s diet may influence the health of a baby and also a mother’s behaviour around food can influence a child’s behaviour at a later stage. That means her child may develop health problems in the future, or even suffer from disordered eating as the mum seems to suffer from it already. This client is already anxious and worried about eating certain foods, such as fruit and carbohydrates because of all the advice she received from other healthcare professionals. Being confused and constantly worried while you are pregnant or when you are looking after your children can really affect your mental wellbeing. And third, it will take a while for this client to build trust with any nutritional professional. It will take time to improve her eating habits, as well as her knowledge of nutrition.
My client also told me that as a new mum, she is often being told how to feed her child by other parents who act as ‘experts in food and nutrition, and again the messages she receives are not always safe or accurate.
I found it really enjoying that other healthcare professionals give freely advice on food and nutrition without even realising how their advice can affect someone’s health in a bad way. I have studied nutrition for 5 years, I have both a bachelor’s and master’s in science and I still do not know everything. However, I am very careful when assessing clients and providing them with nutrition education and advice. When I cannot help my client, I simply signpost them to other nutritional professionals such as a registered dietitian (RD). Yet, you often have other people or healthcare professionals without any formal nutrition training/qualification telling others how to, and what to eat.
Nutritional science is an ever-changing field with lots of gray areas and it is exciting and inspiring at times, but it can also be confusing. That is why it is very important for us nutritional professionals to be up to date with evidence-based nutrition and have the skills to critically evaluate any information. So when you seek diet or nutrition advice, make sure you see the right person and never be afraid to question someone’s advice or qualification.