TLDR: New moms have additional nutritional needs after they give birth, especially if they’re breastfeeding. A nutritionist shares her advice on the five important foods to include in your postpartum diet to promote healing after labor and delivery and to boost milk supply if you’re nursing.
Many of us know we should try to eat a healthy diet during pregnancy, but did you know that what we eat after birth is equally important? Our postpartum diet should be handled with as much care as in pregnancy. Taking in adequate nutrients to aid recovery and nourish breastmilk in those early days can make a significant difference to the health of mom and baby.
There is no set definition for the postpartum period, but conventional medicine defines it as the first 12 weeks after birth. In reality, for many women, the postpartum period can stretch for many months and even years. From a medical perspective, there is a quick shift away from the mother's care to the baby once she's given birth. As a consequence, many moms report poor follow-up care from their healthcare providers and a lack of info about what they should be including in their postpartum diet.
Why Is Postpartum Diet and Nutrition Important?
Our bodies go through a series of major physiological changes during pregnancy. These changes are largely caused by surges in circulating progesterone and estrogen and increased blood volume. Nutritional deficiency is common among pregnant women, especially in the third trimester. During this time, there are increased metabolic demands from the baby and a natural increase in insulin resistance. These changes can take a significant toll on your body and roll over into the postpartum period.
While your pregnancy may be over, the demands on your body are not. Childbirth is one of the most strenuous experiences your body will go through. To recover and heal, you will need additional calories and more high-quality protein. Hormonal fluctuations are also common immediately after birth. Smart postpartum diet choices with higher nutritional value can improve things such as postpartum depression1 .
If you decide to breastfeed, your body also will be gearing up to produce breast milk. There’s a lot you can do to increase milk supply and boost the quality.
Top Foods for Postpartum Moms
Bone Broth: Bone broths are nutrient-dense and abundant in collagen, a protein-building block that helps revitalize and strengthen tissues in the uterus, abdominal muscles, and pelvic floor. Collagen is found in the tendons, ligaments, and tissues of animals. When exposed to heat, collagen breaks down into gelatin, which the body can more easily utilize. Try bone broth by itself or mixed into a soup or stew.
Seaweed: Seaweed is a nutrient powerhouse and a great addition to a postpartum diet. It contains high levels of iron, calcium, and iodine. Iodine is required to support thyroid health. Without enough iodine, the thyroid is unable to produce enough of the hormones that keep us feeling energized. Snack on dried seaweed sheets between meals, sprinkle it on a salad, or add it to soup.
Organ Meat: The most common organ meats come from cows, pigs, lambs, goats, chickens, and ducks. While organ meats may not be the most popular these days, our ancestors treasured this nutrient-dense food. Organ meats are a rich source of vitamin B12, folate, vitamins A, D, E, and K, and iron. They also contain choline, a super nutrient that nourishes our brain and liver2 (which is also great during pregnancy). If you’re not a fan of the taste, try grinding some up and adding it to pork or beef in a bolognese sauce.
Eggs: Eggs are a great food for pregnancy and postpartum. They’re a great source of high-quality protein and the omega-3 fatty acid, DHA. DHA can pass into breast milk, helping to support brain development while protein is important to rebuild muscles, heal damaged tissues, and keep us full throughout the day. Try to choose USDA-Certified Organic, pasture-raised eggs to maximize the nutrient content.
Fatty fish: Beneficial to mom and baby, fatty fish are abundant in DHA, an essential component in tissue membranes of the brain and retina. Studies have shown that DHA can lower inflammation3 and cut down the risk of developing postpartum depression4 in new moms. I recommend a weekly intake of 2-3 servings of low-mercury fatty fish such as salmon, mackerel, sardines, anchovies, or herring.
A healthy diet after birth can help to:
Replenish nutrients depleted during pregnancy
Support a successful and speedy recovery from birth
Ramp up the supply and quality of breastmilk
Support mom’s hormonal balance
As a new mother, it’s important to just take small steps forward, because after birth, what your body needs most is kindness, love, and rest. Mindful postpartum nutrition is a great way to feed all those necessities and help you focus on the future of your growing family.