Postpartum nutrition

postpartum nutrition

We talk a lot about nutrition in pregnancy, but eating well is also incredibly important in the postpartum as we heal, undergo many physical and emotional changes, and begin breastfeeding.  It is so important to take care of ourselves at this time.  It is also one of the more challenging times to practice self care, as we are busy caring for our newborns and juggling a whole new set of demands.

For many women, postpartum eating needs to be as simple and quick as possible.  Women are greatly helped in the postpartum when others are able to spend more time preparing and offering her healthy meals and snacks regularly throughout the day.  Preparing meals ahead of time to freeze and make later is a good idea, although we want to take care to choose foods that are going to serve the body best.  Loved ones may also offer to make healthy meals, which can be organized by a close friend or family member or with the help of online services such as Meal Baby, Take them a Meal, Food Tidings, and others you can find via a search for “meal registries.” Check out our post on preparing for the postpartum.

Here are some principles of optimal nutrition for the postpartum.  Our midwives can also talk with you about postpartum nutrition in greater detail during a prenatal or postnatal appointment.

Caloric Intake

During the later months of pregnancy, women need to consume about 200 to 300 more calories than their pre-pregnancy requirements, as a general rule.  Breastfeeding women need even more than this. Women generally need about 500 extra calories to make enough milk to feed baby and to get the nutrients they need.  As we mentioned in a previous post, consuming less than this does not help mamas lose weight, but actually encourages the body to hold on to fat reserves.

Drink lots of water

Most women need 2 to 3 liters of water a day in the postpartum to heal and to make milk.  A new mama’s support team should be aware of her need to stay well hydrated and ensure she has access to water at all times.  Make sure glasses or bottles of water are stashed anywhere in the house where mama and baby spend time throughout the day and night.  New mamas typically get an intense feeling of thirst each time they begin to breastfeed, a cue from our bodies that we really need to drink lots of water during this time.

Snack

To get the recommended additional calories in the postpartum and to avoid hunger, it can be helpful to have little snack stations wherever you plan to breastfeed throughout the day, or bring a basket of snacks around the house with you.  These stations or baskets should include water and easy nutritious foods such as trail mix, dried or fresh fruit, high-quality bars (such as Pure bars), or the like.  (You may also want to include in your stash a book to read and/or your phone…nursing takes time!)

Iron

For many postpartum mamas, getting enough iron is huge.  Pregnancy often depletes a woman’s iron stores and bleeding during and after birth can further deplete her stores, so replenishing iron is important to healing in the postpartum and to preventing anemia.  Ways to increase iron include:

  • Eating red meat, eggs, blackstrap molasses and other good sources of iron
  • Increase vitamin C to help absorb more iron from your food.  Take C with your meals and don’t exceed 3000mg a day, or as directed by your care provider.
  • Avoid black tea, as the tannins in tea decrease iron absorption
  • Cook using cast iron pans and pots, iron from the cookware actually gets into the food you eat while cooking.

Keep taking your prenatal vitamins

Women are encouraged to continue taking their prenatal vitamins until they are done nursing.  This extra nutritional support helps mama and baby.  Extra B vitamins can give you a boost in energy and stamina.

It is also a good idea to regularly eat low-mercury fish (the most bioavailable forms of DHA are found in coldwater fish and algae) and/or take an Omega-3 fatty acid supplement with a higher DHA to EPA ratio (taking a supplement is a reliable way to make sure you are getting enough).  Studies have found that infants benefit neurologically when moms supplement during pregnancy and throughout the breastfeeding relationship.  These healthy fats also benefit mamas by helping them heal and by replenishing the nervous and reproductive systems.

Ideal foods

In general, whole, organic, protein-rich, nutrient-dense, warm and nourishing foods are ideal in the postpartum.  It is best to avoid cold, processed and high-sugar foods as well as dairy, and peanut butter (at least for the first few days as these latter two are hard to digest).  You may also want to avoid foods two which babies can be sensitive (a topic for another post!

Good postpartum foods include:

  • Warm soups
  • Warm/Hot foods (avoid cold)
  • Soups, stews and braised dishes (can be made ahead and frozen or prepared in a crock pot)
  • Ginger
  • Whole grains
  • Fermented foods, such as yogurt, kefir, and sauerkraut. These foods promote “good” gut flora in mama and baby and may help prevent colic and the development of allergies in babies.
  • Beans, such as kidney beans, black beans, black soya bean
  • Meats, such as beef, lamb, offal
  • Nuts, such as walnut and almond
  • Eggs
  • Fruits, especially black grapes, plums, cherries, cooked raisins
  • Veggies such as tomatoes, beets, yams, spinach, sweet potatoes, winter squash, leafy greens, avocado
  • Plain Greek yogurt with honey, nuts, fruit, and/or seeds
  • Milk supply supporting foods
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Optimal Nutrition in Pregnancy: A Primer

At Health Foundations, we know that nutrition during pregnancy is paramount.  Overwhelming scientific and anecdotal evidence shows that excellent maternal nutrition almost always results in healthy moms and healthy babies, while poor nutrition leads to complications.

Nutrition Primer PostThe pressure of busy lifestyles and weight ideals, plus lack of knowledge about nutrition are major obstacles to optimal health for many women—add to these feelings like nausea, fatigue, and other physical stresses of pregnancy and it can be extra challenging to eat right in pregnancy.  But by educating yourself about nutrition in pregnancy, taking this time to really honor and nurture your body and your baby, and listening to your intuition; you can achieve excellent nutrition during pregnancy—when its more important than ever.

There is much to be said about nutrition during pregnancy—too much for one blog post.  In future posts we’ll explore in greater detail the fundamentals of optimal pregnancy nutrition with special focus on:

  • the essential nutrients (i.e. protein, iron, calcium, vitamins A, D, C, E, and Bs, etc),
  • optimal foods in pregnancy, and
  • the use of supplements.

For this introductory post, we wanted to share some of the top advice we give to pregnant mamas in our practice about pregnancy and nutrition.

1  Don’t “Eat for two”—Eat for optimal health.  While you should listen to your body for what it tells you it needs, it’s important not to give into frequent cravings for junk or processed foods, sweet foods, and other calorie-packed treats.

Strive to eat a wide variety of minimally processed, whole foods.  Limit simple carbohydrates such as dairy and sweets and opt for veggies, meats (or other sources of protein) and a small amount of fruits. Eat organic whenever possible and avoid high mercury fish (such as shark, swordfish, king mackerel, walleye or tilefish).  Read more about fish here.

2  In terms of serving sizes and overall caloric intake, pregnant women only need about 200-300 more calories a day in the second and third trimesters—which is the equivalent to an extra small snack a day.

3  Protein, protein, protein.  Protein is so, SO important in pregnancy, and women need a lot of it during this period.  In fact, women should aim to consume about 4-6 servings totaling 80 grams of protein every day.  Women should strive to incorporate some protein into every meal and every snack throughout the day.

4  Frequent meals and snacks will help maintain a healthy blood sugar, which is important in pregnancy.  It can also reduce unpleasant conditions like nausea and fatigue.  Women should strive to eat every few hours, keeping meals smaller and snacks frequent throughout the day.

5  In terms of beverages, it is important to stay hydrated by drinking at least 6-8 cups of water every day.  Pregnant women should limit fruit juices and milk, which are packed with sugar, and reduce or eliminate caffeine.  Besides water, good liquids to consume in pregnancy include nutritive herbal teas (tisanes) such as nettle, raspberry leaf, and chamomile; EmergenC; and POM juice mixed with a little sparkling water.

6  No ice cream!  We know some of our mamas hate this one, especially during a Minnesota summer.  But we say this with good reason (and not to be mean!).  Ice cream is too highly concentrated with fat, sugar, and calories to eat safely on a regular basis during pregnancy.  Truly, we have seen the effects of frequent ice cream consumption on many women in our practice: they often have bigger babies and remarkably more difficult deliveries.    We strongly recommend that women avoid ice cream or strictly limit it to no more than a small serving once a week at the most.

7  While food aversions may keep you away from some foods (including vegetables), do your best to eat healthy despite these limitations.  We can work with you to come up with healthy choices that don’t make you gag at the sound of them.

8  Listen to your body and be kind to yourself.  Your body intuitively knows how to nurture its creations (i.e. your baby)—pay attention to how foods make you feel and to which foods you are drawn.  Practice kindness toward yourself during this time by nourishing your body not only with good foods, but with adequate rest, movement, and relaxation.

9  Enlist support.  Seek help from your partner or other close family/friends in meeting your nutritional needs (i.e. shopping for and making healthy foods).

10   Seek help from your midwives if you have any questions or concerns about healthy eating in pregnancy.

Stay tuned for more articles about nutrition in pregnancy.