By: Ally Owen
While a lot of women focus on eating a healthy diet during pregnancy, many don’t realize how important it is to take care of your body postpartum, especially during the first 12 weeks after giving birth (which is called the 4th trimester). Pregnancy and giving birth are the most nutritionally taxing and depleting events a woman can ever endure, so it’s important to make sure you eat the right foods to help you recover faster as well as help support your nutrition during breastfeeding for adequate milk production. As a holistic nutritionist who recently had a baby myself, I utilize my personal experience to work with my clients to help them optimize their nutrition during their fourth trimester.
Importance of Postpartum nutrition
The female body is incredible in its ability to grow a human in nine months, but it still needs supportive nutrition to replenish mineral stores, rebuild tissues, and heal in the postpartum period. For the first 12 weeks after you give birth, your body’s metabolic and nutritional demands increase (especially when breastfeeding). To recover and heal from giving birth, you need additional calories, with a focus on high quality protein (100g+), which is key to rebuilding tissues. Eating a nutrient rich diet can also combat common postpartum symptoms such as mood swings from hormonal changes, thyroid issues, and mental health struggles (such as postpartum depression/anxiety).
If this is not a focus of postpartum, Mom can have a difficult time recovering after birth and her body can feel the effects of decreased nutrients for a long time, especially if subsequent pregnancies occur and further deplete her nutrients (because the baby pulls from all of your nutrients when it’s developing.)
I want to emphasize here though, that just because you may not have done these things immediately postpartum, it’s never too late, especially if you’re still breastfeeding, because your baby is still taking a lot of your nutrients and you are still expending so much energy that needs to be replenished.
Below are my recommendations on the best postpartum diet as well as some other tips on how to help speed your recovery.
Meal Prep: One of the best things I did while I was pregnant was to prep postpartum meals that included healing and nourishing ingredients, so I didn’t have to focus on cooking them when I was recovering and trying to spend time with my newborn. I recommend that every pregnant woman does this before giving birth, or ask for nourishing meals from loved ones. My husband and I were blessed to not cook a meal from scratch for over six weeks after our daughter was born!
Focus on eating warm, cooked & easily digested foods which can help with nutrient digestion. Since digestion slows postpartum, you want to do what you can to help your bowels digest food as much as possible, and this is accomplished with warm foods more than cold foods. The more you strain to have a bowel movement postpartum, the more you run the risk of creating pelvic floor issues, such as prolapse and hemorrhoids. It also helps to eat slowly and make sure to chew your food completely.
Hydrate: Hydration is key in helping with digestion. Drink a lot of water with electrolytes, herbal teas to replenish minerals, and adrenal cocktails (OJ, coconut water, cream of tartar, salt). Make sure you are using a high quality salt and electrolytes without additives/artificial ingredients.
Best postpartum diet:
Organic, grass-fed meats & iron-rich foods: Protein is required to heal tissues. Specifically, the amino acids glycine & proline from protein help to make collagen for rebuilding and strengthening tissues (found widely in connective tissues, bones, skin, & organ meats).
Some sources of protein I love are bone broth (which is rich in collagen), gelatin, beef, bison, buffalo, lamb, pork, organ meats, eggs, etc. Red meat & organ meat are high in easily absorbed iron and bioavailable forms of vitamin A which will help repair mucous membranes and support the immune system. (I recommend desiccated liver capsules to those who can’t tolerate eating liver.) These protein sources are also rich in vitamins and minerals (such as zinc, magnesium, B vitamins, folate, etc.), which are needed to replenish stores that were depleted during pregnancy.
Note that sourcing is important, so opt for grass-fed, pasture-raised, or organic meats as often as possible. Also, Vitamin C helps to boost collagen absorption, so marinating meats in vinegar-based or citrus marinades, or consuming citrus fruits with collagen-rich foods can help enhance absorption.
Chia and hemp seeds are great plant-based protein sources that help in balancing energy. Chia and hemp are also high in iron, fiber to aid digestion, and a good source of calcium which is crucial for breastfeeding.
Healthy fats: Fats help to provide your hormones with essential nutrients to keep you satiated, enrich breast milk, and nourish hormones.
Some healthy fats I recommend are ghee, butter, lard, avocado, olives, nuts, seeds, fatty fish low in mercury (anchovies, sardines, salmon, etc.), avocado oil, olive oil, nut butters, olives, coconut anything. I particularly love coconut as it is rich in healthy fats to nourish breastmilk and balance blood sugar. Coconut also contains lauric acid, a medium-chain fatty acid, which enhances the immune-boosting, anti-viral and anti-bacterial qualities of breastmilk.I also like nuts and nut butters since they are both high in monounsaturated fats which help to provide steady energy and blood sugar stabilization.
Omega-3 fatty acids and copper-rich foods:This includes wild fish, sardines (DHA, calcium, vitamin D3), cod liver oil, eggs, grass-fed beef, bee pollen, etc. Fish is rich in choline which is a crucial nutrient for lactation and your baby’s brain development. Try to aim for wild-caught fish when possible, as it provides a great source of Omega-3 as well as vitamin D.
Copper deficiency is sometimes interpreted as iron deficiency, so before you supplement after being told you have ‘low iron’ in postpartum, try adding in copper-rich foods such as bee pollen, oysters, etc. to see if that helps.
Probiotic-rich foods: Probiotics help to maintain a healthy balance of gut bacteria, improve digestion, lower inflammation, optimize breast milk nutrients/supply, as well as helping to build both Mom and baby’s microbiome. Some great sources of probiotics include yogurt, kefir, kombucha (make sure to check the sugar levels), or sauerkraut. Raw dairy can contain high levels of probiotics, and is a great source of protein, fat, magnesium, and fat-soluble vitamins (A, D, E & K).
Complex carbohydrates: Foods rich in B vitamins help to boost milk supply, restore energy, stabilize blood sugar, and keep estrogen balanced. These include quinoa, oats, white rice, millet, legumes, squash, and sweet potatoes. Note that soaking grains or purchasing sprouted grains/nuts/seeds improves the digestibility of their nutrients. And make sure to combine these foods with protein and healthy fats to help balance blood sugar and hormones.
Vitamin C-rich whole foods: Vitamin C (not ascorbic acid) is critical for iron absorption and immune system function. Aim to get several servings a day of Vitamin C rich foods such as bell peppers, leafy greens, broccoli, cabbage, brussels sprouts, snow peas, lemons, limes, strawberries, raspberries, oranges, pineapple, and papaya. Of note, Vitamin C absorption is impaired by carbohydrates, so consume these foods separately from high carbohydrate foods when possible.
Organic vegetables and fruits: You’ve heard it before, but veggies and fruits are abundant in vitamins, minerals, phytonutrients, and antioxidants. Make sure you eat several servings a day to help lower inflammation, improve gut health/digestion and boost the immune system. Some of my favorite veggies that are high in fiber and help digestion are sweet potatoes, squash, and cruciferous veggies such as broccoli, kale, Brussels, and cabbage. Winter squash and root vegetables are especially great because they are easy to digest. As I mentioned above, make sure to pair these with a healthy fat for blood sugar stabilization and optimal absorption of nutrients.
Why organic? Because organic contains less pesticides/chemicals, is more nutrient-dense, and is higher in phytochemicals than non-organic. The more you can decrease your toxic load from chemicals, the better! While it may not be possible to buy all organic produce, try to at least prioritize organic for the Dirty Dozen foods.
Galactagogues. These are specific foods/herbs that have been shown to help support milk production and supply for women who are breastfeeding. Even if you are not breastfeeding, galactagogues are great foods and ingredients for overall health, mood regulation, and hormone stabilization.
Note that consuming these foods does not mean you will not need other support for breastfeeding and will not guarantee sufficient milk supply for your baby’s growth, but since they are all nutritious foods, it doesn’t hurt to add them into your daily diet!
However, if you are having ongoing breastfeeding difficulties, you may want to seek professional help because food won’t fix everything. Your baby might have an oral tie or poor latch, your pump parts might not fit right, there may be muscle weakness, etc. So, don’t ignore any of these symptoms and seek out an evaluation from a lactation specialist (IBCLC) if you are having difficulty breastfeeding.
Here is a list of lactation-supporting galactogogues:
Grains & flours: organic oats, barley, buckwheat, black rice, brown rice, quinoa, millet, bulgar
Spices, herbs, & yeasts: Including anise, basil, fennel seed, fenugreek, turmeric, ginger, dill, cumin, garlic, brewer’s yeast, nutritional yeast. Cumin in particular contains iron which helps to prevent against anemia which can lead to low milk supply. Dill & basil contain Vitamin K & antioxidants. Yeasts contain B vitamins, amino acids, minerals which also aid in fighting off depression, boosting immunity,as well as contribute to healthy hair/skin/nails.
Nuts & seeds: These contain protein, fiber, calcium, and healthy fats. Try almonds, cashews, chia seeds, sunflower seeds, flaxseeds, black sesame seeds, white sesame seeds, hemp seeds, poppy seeds, and pumpkin seeds.
Fruits & vegetables: Some of my favorites to help with breastfeeding are leafy greens which contain iron and phytoestrogens. Dried fruit helps provide energy and calcium (if you stew them, they are easier to digest) and seaweed which contains iodine and antioxidants.
Eggs & full-fat dairy (preferably Raw Dairy) Contain choline, protein, calcium, probiotics, vitamins, minerals.
Beans & pulses: These are a complete protein when eaten with whole grains, iron, blood sugar stabilization. Some of my favorites are chickpeas, lentils, and peas.
Fats and natural sweeteners: extra-virgin coconut oil, EVOO, sesame oil, grass-fed butter, molasses, coconut sugar, dates, local raw honey, maple syrup. And don’t be afraid of natural sugars; they’re actually very supportive of postpartum healing because your body needs quick-digesting carbohydrates for energy.
I want you to treat every meal as an opportunity to heal your body that just did the most incredible thing of growing a human being! You deserve to nourish and take care of yourself in the fourth trimester and beyond :)
To learn more about what to eat postpartum or if you’d like any recipes that I used to prep my postpartum meals, check out my blog at livefreelynourished,com.
ABOUT Ally Owen:
I am an Occupational Therapist, Holistic Nutritionist, and Gillespie Approach Trained Craniosacral Fascial Therapy Practitioner. I am passionate about blending all of my experience and interests in a way that empowers you on your journey to live a freely nourished lifestyle full of nourishing foods and participating in nourishing activities while feeling your absolute best. Blending my passions of occupational therapy and holistic nutrition helps me to look at you as a whole person that is comprised of dynamic physiological needs that interact with your environment in ways that either promote or impede wellness
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