There is a lot of emphasis on how to nourish your body during pregnancy, but the dramatic shift from carrying a child to not being pregnant anymore can be a tough transition for the body. This article will cover holistic nutrition considerations for the postpartum mother, especially for the first 6 months after the baby is born.
For the first 6-8 weeks after the birth of the baby, the mother’s body is going through intense healing and tissue repair. Generally, postpartum moms will need a lot of extra calories for healing and rebuilding damaged tissue. Especially if you are breastfeeding, ensure you are eating more calories in the form of nutrient-dense, whole foods.
Continue taking your prenatal vitamin for a minimum of 6 months after delivery to replenish nutrients and help fill in any gaps that your diet is not able to fill. Even if you are not breastfeeding, your body will need this extra boost of nutrition. If you are breastfeeding, continue taking your prenatal vitamin for at least as long as you are doing so. After this point you could consider switching to a regular multivitamin. You can also continue taking an omega-3 supplement which will support your nervous system and supply your baby with additional DHA which has many benefits for baby’s development.
Consider eating warming foods like soups and stews made with bone broth which are easily digestible and great for promoting healing. These also provide great opportunities for friends and family to drop off large pots of food for you!
Additionally, these warming, liquid foods will be excellent for combating constipation, which might especially be a concern if you are breastfeeding. Ensure you are drinking lots of filtered water – 8-10 glasses per day – to not only assist your digestive system but to provide your cells with enough hydration for quicker healing. Avoid raw, hard-to-digest foods in the first 6-8 weeks postpartum especially.
In addition to a good whole foods diet, incorporate as many of the following healing foods as you can:
- Water and Bone broth
- Iron-rich foods like red meat, pork, spinach, liver
- Vitamin C rich foods like broccoli, citrus fruits, tomatoes, and bell peppers
- Warming spices like cinnamon, ginger, turmeric and cardamom
- Probiotic foods like sauerkraut, kimchi, kombucha, yogurt
- Complex carbohydrates especially before and after breastfeeding like squash, sweet potatoes, beans, whole grains (rice, quinoa, etc)
- Healthy fats like nuts, seeds, wild fish, avocados, olive oil, cottage cheese
You can refer to the Fertility & Pregnancy Diet in Prenatal Spotlight 1 for lots of ideas on nutrient-dense meals that incorporate many of these foods.
Tips for Busy Parents During the First 6 Months
- Batch cook as much as possible using something like a slow cooker or instant pot. Find some simple, nutritious meals online that feature protein and vegetables that you can “dump” into the slow cooker with some broth/water and cook.
- Keep calorie-rich snacks in the house for busy days: things like nuts, seeds, granola/protein bars, nut butters, etc. These have a long shelf life, so you can keep a lot of them in the pantry for quick snacks that require no preparation.
- Keep BPA-free canned foods on hand like beans, canned fish, etc. for more quick meals. ex. You can make a quick vegetable stir-fry and top it with a can of fish, or scramble some eggs and add some canned black beans.
- Hard boil a number of eggs at one time and keep in the fridge for protein boosts.
- Keep probiotic-rich foods like yogurt on hand for quick snacks.
- Prepare overnight oats with seeds and berries for a simple breakfast.
- Ask friends and family to drop off large meals like soups, stews, pasta sauces, and other hearty meals that will give you leftovers for a few days.
To stimulate milk production, consider certain foods and herbs that are galactagogues, which in herbal medicine are said to increase milk supply. The most helpful foods and herbs for lactation are:
- Oatmeal and milky oats
- Red raspberry leaf
- Blessed thistle
- Marshmallow root, licorice root
These herbs can be consumed in tea form or as tinctures. Teas will provide extra hydration, which is needed during this time. Some companies make herbal preparations which combine many of these herbs to increase milk supply for your convenience.
This is a helpful nutrient to consume for rebuilding damaged tissue, as well as helping with stretch marks and postpartum hair loss. Collagen is naturally found in bone broth, but you can also purchase collagen supplements if desired. Refer to our article that outlines the many benefits of collagen on our blog here, including a recipe for slow cooker bone broth.
This could be a helpful supplement to add in on top of your prenatal vitamin for many reasons. Magnesium stores will be depleted with pregnancy and breastfeeding, and magnesium has many, many functions in the body. This supplement could be helpful for sleep quality when taken at night, muscle tension and soreness as it’s a natural muscle relaxant, headaches, and your reproductive system. Opt for magnesium glycinate for the most absorbable form of this mineral.
Ensure you get lots of rest in the weeks immediately following delivery, especially in the first two weeks. If you had a complicated delivery or a c-section, you might need longer. You can opt for very light stretching in bed and meditation during this time. Once you feel ready for movement, start with very short walks and listen to your body.
After a few weeks to a month, many women will feel ready for exercise again. At this time, opt for low impact exercise like walking, gentle yoga, and other aerobic exercise that does not tax the body too much. You can work up to harder workouts, but ensure you are listening to signals from your body that you need rest.
Exercise in the first 6 months after delivery is extremely beneficial for mental health and strengthening muscles that have been stretched out a lot during pregnancy. You can focus on core work to re-strengthen and tone core muscles. Exercise in these months will help with weight loss as well, but this should not be a stressor at this time.
Mental Health & Happy Hormones
The drop in pregnancy hormones can be a shock to the system. During pregnancy, progesterone is high, as is estrogen. After delivery, your estrogen levels remain high, but your progesterone levels decrease rapidly. This can create a lot of unpleasant symptoms for women such as anxiety, trouble sleeping, headaches, bloating and more – think PMS symptoms. Be aware that this is normal and your estrogen levels should balance out within the first few weeks. If they do not, you can speak to a physician, naturopathic doctor or nutritional practitioner to discuss how to address this temporary estrogen dominance.
Additionally, your thyroid will not be functioning as optimally in the initial few weeks, so you may experience some symptoms of mild hypothyroidism such as cold/heat intolerance, skin and hair changes, and extreme fatigue (although having a newborn will cause this on its own!). Know that this is also normal, and your body will learn to produce and use the needed thyroid hormones for your post-pregnancy body.
These transitions are temporary, and the more you focus on sleep, nutrition, and balancing your mental health, the quicker your recovery will be and your hormones will come back into balance.
About 10-15% of women in developed countries experience PPD, most often emerging during 6-12 weeks following delivery (1). It can last for months to years after birth. If you are concerned you are experiencing PPD, speak to a physician to receive a diagnosis.
There are numerous causes related to a diagnosis of PPD, including genetic susceptibility (history of depression, or history within the family), hormonal shifts, alcohol and substance use, low socioeconomic status, and psychological stress (1). Interestingly, studies have been done on mineral deficiency and its association with postnatal depression: specifically iron, magnesium, zinc and copper. For example, anemic women were reported with more cases of PPD than non-anemic women (2) and iron is vital in neurotransmitter synthesis (1). Low blood concentrations of zinc were shown in studies of postpartum-depressed patients (1). Magnesium is depleted in pregnancy and breastfeeding, and deficiency has been linked with both depression and postpartum depression (1). Copper supplementation is often not advised as it can lead to liver damage, but it is naturally found in protein foods. A good whole foods diet, in addition to prenatal supplementation (which includes zinc) and additional magnesium may guard against these potential deficiencies. Have iron levels checked postpartum to determine if supplementation is needed, and continue to eat iron-rich foods.
Maintaining Mental Health for All Postpartum Moms
A few ways to maintain mental health during the postpartum period include:
- Limiting visitors to the home in the first few weeks or months if this helps with relieving stress and exhaustion.
- Getting as much sleep as you can by sleeping when the baby sleeps.
- Having your partner and family help out with other childcare, cleaning, cooking and laundry.
- Having someone watch the baby so that you can take 1 hour for yourself every single day to have a shower, give yourself a foot massage, journal meditate, etc. and do any self care activities that you enjoy.
- Speaking to other moms, friends and family to maintain a connection – even a phone conversation can be very healing. Join an online mom’s forum if physical distance is an issue.
- Focusing on nutrition and continue taking your prenatal vitamin to help with symptoms of depression or anxiety.
- Having weekly baby dates with friends with babies, or other moms in your community, for connection.
The first 6 months post-delivery are very demanding and can be a hard transition. With a focus on rest, self care, nutrition, supplementation, and gentle exercise, your recovery will feel smoother. Remember to give yourself grace during this time – you and your body just did the miraculous thing of bringing another human into the world.
Blog Written by: Jennifer Costello
January 2023 Nutrition Dispensary Inc.
Other Articles in the Prenatal Spotlight
Prenatal Spotlight 1: Fertility & Pregnancy Diet
Prenatal Spotlight 2: Prenatal Nutrients
Prenatal Spotlight 3: Common Pregnancy Woes
Advice and/or information provided is not intended to diagnose, cure, treat or prevent disease.
For more information or to order any of these products, click on the product links in this blog or contact us at [email protected]