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 as important? Our postpartum diet should be handled with as much care. 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, however, 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 prenatal care for mom to the newborn. As a consequence, many moms report poor follow up care from their healthcare providers and a lack of information about what they should be including in their postpartum diet.
Why Is Our Postpartum Diet & Nutrition Important?
Our body goes 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 high-quality protein. Hormonal fluctuations are also common immediately after birth. Smart postpartum diet choices with higher nutritional value can ward off conditions such as hypothyroidism and postpartum depression.
Your body will also be gearing up to produce breast milk. A food that is perfectly designed to nourish your newborn. Even in dire nutritional circumstances your baby will still benefit from breastmilk, however, there is a lot we can do to increase supply and boost the quality.
Here are my top foods for postpartum recovery and breastfeeding:
- Bone Broth – Bone broths are nutrient-dense and abundant in collagen. This is a protein building block that helps to 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 sheets between meals, sprinkle it on a salad or add it to a delicious soup.
- Organ Meat – The most common organ meats consumed by humans come from cows, pigs, lambs, goats, chickens, and ducks. While organ meats may have fallen out of favor, our ancient ancestors treasured this nutrient dense food. It is a rich source of vitamin B12, folate, vitamins A, D, E, and K, and iron. It also contains choline, a super nutrient that nourishes our brain and liver (which, in addition to your postpartum diet, is great during pregnancy). If you’re not a fan of the taste, try grinding some up and adding it to pork or beef mince in a bolognese.
- Eggs – Eggs are one of my favorite foods during pregnancy and postpartum. They are a great source of high-quality protein and the omega 3 fatty acid, DHA. DHA can pass into the breastmilk 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 to maximize the nutrient content.
- Fatty fish – Beneficial to mom and baby, fatty fish is abundant in DHA, an essential component in tissue membranes of the brain and retina. Studies have shown that DHA can lower inflammation and cut down the risk of developing postpartum depression 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.
Key Takeaways on Postpartum Diet from a Nutritionist
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
It’s important as a new mother 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 for your growing family.