The postpartum period is an exciting yet challenging time as we adjust to having a new member of the family, while also recovering from pregnancy and childbirth. This takes a significant nutritional toll on the body! Caring for yourself postnatally is critical to support your family and your long-term health.
Why postpartum nutrition is important
From a nutritional perspective, it is important to replenish the nutrients baby has been using for the last 9 months and those lost during childbirth, increase stores of nutrients that will be used during breastfeeding (if you choose to breastfeed) and support you to be the best mum you can be. The postpartum period continues for a long time after birth and many women experience a change in their hormones and cycle during this time which can also be supported with nutrition.
Ensuring you’re meeting your nutritional needs can speed up your recovery, promote milk production, increase energy levels, reduce postpartum symptoms like hair loss and improve overall wellbeing.
Essential postpartum nutrients
While it’s recommended to consume a wide variety of unprocessed, nutritious foods, there are some particular nutrients we need a little bit more of in the postpartum period.
Iron: Baby has used a lot of iron in the second and third trimesters for their growing bodies and if you’ve lost blood during childbirth, your iron levels might be struggling. Iron is important for your energy levels, concentration and mood.
Vitamin B12: Many people are already low in vitamin B12 and the added strain of pregnancy (and breastfeeding) increases the risk of deficiency. Vitamin B12 is required for energy production and red blood cell development. Low vitamin B12 can contribute to fatigue and depressive symptoms in the postpartum period. If you’re breastfeeding, having low maternal vitamin B12 is associated with more irritable babies, and no one wants that!
Omega-3s: Following childbirth, we experience significant hormone changes as previously elevated oestrogen levels decrease, which is associated with an increase in depressive symptoms and may play a role in postnatal depression. Omega-3s can help improve oestrogen levels in the postnatal period and help with those baby blues.
Protein: Vital for tissue repair, collagen production and establishing a normal hormone balance, it’s no wonder protein is important postnatally! This will help your body physically recover from pregnancy and childbirth.
Carbohydrates: Complex carbohydrates sustain energy and promote healing. Avoid simple carbohydrates like cakes and sweets that will provide a quick glucose spike and opt for complex carbohydrates like brown rice, whole grains and starchy vegetables that will also help your fibre intake and support your microbiome.
What about a multivitamin?
Don’t throw your prenatal vitamins in the bin just yet! The World Health Organisation recommends breastfeeding or pumping women to continue taking their prenatal vitamins. If you’re not breastfeeding, it is recommended to consult with a healthcare practitioner and have your antenatal blood tests analysed to determine the best nutritional supplements for you.
During pregnancy and postnatally, a prenatal or multivitamin supplement won’t be enough to meet your nutritional needs. You need to be getting nutrients from your diet as well. If you’re concerned about your nutritional intake, please reach out to a healthcare practitioner who can help.
My top 5 postpartum foods:
Soups: A great way to increase your vegetable intake and they’re warm and nourishing which is everything we need postnatally! Even better if they’re made with meat and a hearty broth to increase protein and micronutrient intake.
Salmon Chowder: Fish is a great source of omega 3 and protein, plus the vegetables like sweet potato in the chowder provide complex carbohydrates and fibre.
Bolognese with wholegrain spaghetti: Made with either beef or lentils, this can be a great source of iron, protein and carbohydrates. If you’re into meat, this will also be a good source of vitamin B12. Feel free to hide some veggies or liver in there too!
Stir fry: Another great way to include vegetables, protein and complex carbohydrates in one meal! Use whatever meat or vegetarian protein you fancy and add any vegetables and herbs that you like. Garlic is great for reducing inflammation and ginger can help improve milk supply. Serve it with brown rice or another whole grain.
Shepherd’s Pie: Full of protein, veggies and complex carbohydrates, Shepherd’s Pie is a meal that can be made in advance and provides plenty of nourishing postnatal nutrients! If you’re feeling brave, you can hide some liver in it for added nutrients.
This article was written for Bubba Bump by clinical nutritionist Court Garfoot from @courtgarfoot_nutrition. Court is available for telehealth and face-to-face consultations, and is passionate about creating healthy families through optimising your nutrition for reproductive health, fertility, pregnancy, and postpartum. She provides a practical, scientifically-backed approach so you know what is best for you and your body at this time in your life. Your health and the environment you create sets the foundation for your children’s health and wellbeing for life.