The Importance of Postpartum Nutrition

What You Need To Do To Stay Healthy

The addition of a new baby is an exciting time, but adjusting to such a significant change can take a toll, particularly on mom’s health and wellbeing. It can be difficult for a mother to pay attention to her own eating habits when focused on her baby’s needs. Registered nurse Cindy Zizek explains that eating right post-delivery is just as important as it is during pregnancy and enables moms to keep their energy levels up during such a significant period of transition.

What is the postpartum period?

Zizek tells her patients that the postpartum period begins after baby has been delivered and ends when a mother’s body has returned – or nearly completely returned – to its pre-pregnancy state. This period, on average, lasts approximately six to eight weeks.

Postpartum nutrition

A woman, pregnant or not, requires the six basic nutrients: proteins, carbohydrates, fats, vitamins, minerals (mainly calcium and iron), and water1. “Once baby arrives, the nutrient and caloric needs of a mother who is not breastfeeding will be the same as they were before pregnancy. Breastfeeding moms (or those who are anemic or are recovering from a cesarean section delivery) need to be particularly conscious of what they are consuming,” says Zizek. 

In order to ensure good health and proper nutrition, Zizek encourages new moms to follow these food guidelines when eating during the postpartum period:

Iron-enriched foods promote strength

Zizek explains that many women experience iron deficiency anemia, a condition where there are fewer red blood cells than is ideal to supply the body with oxygen. This most often occurs in the third trimester of pregnancy. “Sometimes mothers who have lost blood during childbirth or have given birth to more than one baby at once can also find themselves anemic in the postpartum period,” says Zizek. “Low iron can cause a mother to feel weak, irritable and more susceptible to headaches”. Doctors may recommend that anemic mothers begin taking iron supplements to combat low iron levels, but consuming iron-enriched foods is another way to improve overall energy. These foods include:

  • Lean cuts of red meat
  • Organ meats, such as liver
  • Spinach
  • Egg yolks (limited to three or four a week)
  • Pumpkin seed kernels
  • Legumes, which include beans, lentils and chickpeas

Great grains energize and nourish the body

Zizek advocates for new moms to eat starchy carbohydrates in the form of whole grains because they keep the body fueled with healthy calories and extra energy. “This is particularly important for breastfeeding mothers, who burn approximately 500 more calories a day than mothers who bottle feed,” she explains. Energizing grains include:

  • Whole wheat pasta
  • Whole grain cereal
  • Whole wheat breads
  • Oatmeal
  • Brown rice or wild rice
  • Grains including quinoa, barley, kasha and millet

Healthy fats produce healthy breast milk

Zizek explains that unhealthy fats like saturated and trans fats – found in products including fatty cuts of meats, higher fat milk, butter, processed and fast food – have been known to alter the composition of breast milk. “It is important for breastfeeding mothers to avoid these culprits and ingest healthy fats like mono- and polyunsaturated fats instead,” says Zizek. The following foods are rich in these key fats:

  • Tree nuts such as almonds and walnuts
  • Olive oil
  • Avocado
  • Seeds
  • Fatty fish, such as salmon

Fresh fruits and vegetables keep mom feeling great

“Mothers who are particularly conscious of caloric intake should turn to fresh fruits and vegetables, as fresh produce is nutrient-dense but low in calories,” suggests Zizek. “Fruits and vegetables also serve as an excellent source of iron, calcium and vitamins, aiding in immunity and keeping mom feeling healthy after giving birth,” says Zizek. Super fruits and vegetables include:

  • Citrus fruits (very high in vitamin C)
  • Tomatoes (high in lycopene, a powerful antioxidant, plus vitamins C and A)
  • Blueberries (among the highest fruits in antioxidants)
  • Sweet potatoes (high in beta carotene, vitamin C and vitamin A)
  • Broccoli (a good source of protein, calcium and iron)
  • Spinach, kale and other dark leafy greens (high in dietary fibre plus iron, calcium and vitamins)

  Don’t forget:
While a good-quality diet will help mom feel energetic and well, it is not a substitute for proper sleep. Click here for more information on developing a postpartum sleeping schedule that will help keep mom and baby well-rested.

1 William Sears and Martha Sears, The Pregnancy Book: Month-by-Month, Everything You Need to Know (New York: Little, Brown and Company 1997) 208-09 is an online community with tools, newsletters and events to help Canadian moms love every moment while navigating their way through the challenges of early motherhood. The site offers solutions and support to make life easier on a daily basis. 

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