Supporting Your Nutrition Postpartum: 5 Tips to Keep Mom Healthy
Hello, baby! The arrival of a newborn brings sweet snuggles, sleepy smiles, and – of course – extra responsibility of feeding the new infant. Sometimes though, amongst all the attention given to the baby (rightfully, so!), mom’s nutrition might not take center stage.
That’s what happened to me! Even as a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist, as a new mom, I found it hard to get quality nutrition during the first few months of my son’s life – especially in the first few weeks. As silly as it seems, in the first few weeks postpartum, there were many new things to think about and do. Somewhere amongst the feelings of exhilaration and exhaustion of being a new mom, I overlooked my health and wellness. Thankfully, I recognized that for me to best care for my newborn, I also needed to take care of me. I needed to do that with proper nutrition.
You see, when a woman breastfeeds (like I am!), her needs for several nutrients increase. Indeed, a woman’s needs for many nutrients – including vitamin C, choline, and vitamin B12 – increase even beyond what she needed during pregnancy!1-2
So, what can a nursing mom do to support her postpartum health and wellbeing? Here are my top postpartum nutrition tips:
Postpartum Nutrition Tip 1: Eat frequently!
It’s no secret that taking care of a baby can take lots of time and energy. Just like an infant needs many eating occasions, mom does too. Nursing moms should aim to eat when they feel hungry, ideally with a cadence of food throughout the day. Instead of pushing off hunger until baby falls asleep or waiting to eat until a full meal can be prepared, mom can grab quick handheld items like peanut butter sandwiches, fresh fruit, a handful or two of nuts, or a hardboiled egg when hunger hits.
Postpartum Nutrition Tip 2: Choose foods with carbohydrates, protein and healthy fats.
Carbohydrates, proteins, and fats each provide unique benefits to a postpartum mom. They each deliver energy to mom, and they may impact a baby’s health too. Interestingly, when mom eats more omega-3 fatty acids (like EPA and DHA), more omega-3s are present in mom’s breast milk.3 While more conclusive research elucidating the health benefits of omega-3s to baby is needed, studies suggest that when breast milk delivers DHA omega-3, there might be potential benefits to baby including support of cognitive development.3-6
Postpartum Nutrition Tip 3: Eat a variety of nutrient-dense foods!
Foods including vegetables, fruits, legumes, whole grains, nuts, seeds and oily fish should be eaten regularly in a nursing mom’s diet. Eating a variety of foods helps mom get the vitamins and minerals necessary while breastfeeding. Too, a healthy eating pattern may help support mom’s mood. While more research is needed, some evidence encourages the consumption of a healthy dietary pattern, a multivitamin, fish and polyunsaturated fatty acids (including omega-3s), calcium, vitamin D, zinc and selenium before and after childbirth to better support mom’s mood after birth.7-8
Postpartum Nutrition Tip 4: Get extra support when you can!
Indeed, it takes a village to raise a child! Similarly, finding community and extra support goes a long way in developing and continuing a more nutritious eating pattern for a nursing mom. To eat healthy with a newborn on board, consider meal sharing with friends and family: you prepare several servings of one dish, a friend makes several servings of another recipe and the two of you swap! That way, you’ll have the ease of preparation coupled with a variety of food and flavor.
Extra support for eating healthy can also come from a dietary supplement or from fortified foods, which can complement a healthy eating pattern. When you find that you want the benefits of omega-3s like EPA and DHA without eating oily fish, consider a dietary supplement or fortified foods with the high-quality MEG-3® brand of fish oil.
Postpartum Nutrition Tip 5: Remember, you don’t have to eat “perfectly!”
Worry not -- what you eat doesn’t have to be perfect during the postpartum time. There is no universal definition of a “perfect diet,” anyway! Striving for adequacy, balance, moderation and variety with simple goals in mind is an excellent place to start. You can do this, momma!
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- Dietary Reference Intakes (DRIs): Vitamins, Food and Nutrition Board, Institute of Medicine, National Academies, nationalacademies.org/hmd/~/media/Files/Activity Files/Nutrition/DRI-Tables/7_ Nutrients Summary.pdf?la=en.
- Dietary Reference Intakes (DRIs): Elements, Food and Nutrition Board, Institute of Medicine, National Academies, nationalacademies.org/hmd/~/media/Files/Activity Files/Nutrition/DRI-Tables/6_ Elements Summary.pdf?la=en.
- Evidence-based Nutrition Practice Guideline on Breastfeeding: Dietary Factors, Breast Milk, and Infant Outcomes published 2008 at https://www.andeal.org/topic.cfm?cat=4080&menu=3579 and copyrighted by the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. Accessed 04 May 2019.
- Helland IB, Smith L, Saarem K, Saugstad OD, Drevon CA. Maternal supplementation with very-long-chain n-3 fatty acids during pregnancy and lactation augments children's IQ at 4 years of age. Pediatrics. 2003; 111: e39-e44.
- Carlson SE, Colombo J. Docosahexaenoic Acid and Arachidonic Acid Nutrition in Early Development. Adv Pediatr. 2016;63(1):453–471. doi:10.1016/j.yapd.2016.04.011
- Koletzko B., Lien E., Agostoni C., Bohles H., Campoy C., Cetin I., Decsi T., Dudenhausen J.W., Dupont C., Forsyth S., et al. The roles of long-chain polyunsaturated fatty acids in pregnancy, lactation and infancy: Review of current knowledge and consensus recommendations. J. Perinat. Med. 2008;36:5–14. doi: 10.1515/JPM.2008.001.
- Golding J, Steer C, Emmett P, Davis JM, Hibbeln JR. High levels of depressive symptoms in pregnancy with low omega-3 fatty acid intake from fish. Epidemiology. 2009;20(4):598-60319289957
- Sparling, T. M., Henschke, N., Nesbitt, R. C., and Gabrysch, S. ( 2017) The role of diet and nutritional supplementation in perinatal depression: a systematic review, Maternal & Child Nutrition, 13, e12235. doi: 10.1111/mcn.12235.
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