Growing, delivering and caring for a newborn is both physically and emotionally demanding. When a new mother feels drained and depleted, she's often told that it’s normal and part of the course simply because it’s so common. The notion of self care is often cast aside and shadowed by the ongoing tasks of feeding, cleaning and tending to the child’s needs. Energy falters, moods suffer, and physical ailments can appear.
This story is very different in other cultures around the world. Many communities have a strong support network in which they provide the mother with an opportunity for extended rest as well as nutrient dense foods. They understand how important the recovery period is and the impacts it can have on a mother’s health and wellbeing.
Similar to other cultures, we can apply the concept of postpartum nourishment to better guide our own healing journey in the months and years following a birth. Here we offer some information to help guide you:
Nutrient needs are actually higher following a birth than they are during pregnancy. Women often experience more hunger postpartum because it’s the bodies innate way of seeking the nutrients and calories that it needs to heal tissues following delivery, deal with the physical stressors of interrupted sleep, and in many cases produce breastmilk. Increased hunger is a normal physiological response and we need to listen to our bodies and nourish them with healing and restorative foods as well as ample hydration.
Although we may find ourselves looking to social forums for advice, we are often faced with tips for losing the baby weight and fitting back into pre-baby jeans. But depriving the body of vital nutrients and avoiding hunger cues can contribute to poor healing, nutrient deficiencies, issues with a subsequent pregnancy, lowered milk supply, and postpartum mental health disorders.
You can serve your body best by honoring hunger cues, increasing your fluid intake and supporting tissue repair through healing foods. But, what does this look like? Include protein and glycine-rich food, such as bone broth and bone-in poultry with the skin on, and consuming foods high in vitamins C and E. Tomatoes, bell peppers and citrus fruits can provide Vitamin C while foods rich in Vitamin E include sunflower seeds, spinach, collard greens, red peppers, mango and avocado.
Nutrient stores are depleted with each pregnancy and it can take over two years before they are fully replenished. This can leave a new mother void of energy, experiencing depression or anxiety, as well as suffering symptoms such as decreased immunity, hair loss, joint pain, insomnia, and brain fog.
Minerals play a critical role within our energy systems, our production and utilization of hormones, our digestion, and in our mental health. The minerals most impacted and requiring replenishment postpartum include iron, zinc and magnesium. These can be obtained through mineral rich foods.
Iron – Red meat, organ meat, and animal proteins are all high in iron. Plant based sources of iron, such as beans, legumes, nuts and leafy greens, should be consumed with a vitamin-C containing food to maximize iron absorption. Try adding strawberries or peppers to your salad, incorporating sweet potatoes with your quinoa, or adding camu camu powder to your green smoothies.
Zinc - Can be obtained by consuming animal proteins such as beef, poultry or oysters. Plant sources of zinc include beans, almonds and pumpkinseeds which can be easily added to meals by using them as a garnish or using them as dips or spreads.
Magnesium - Cashews, almonds, avocados and dark chocolate are all wonderful sources of magnesium. An alternative approach to acquiring even more magnesium into the body is by dissolving Epsom salt into your bath water.
Mood disorders are on the rise and research is showing a connection between postpartum nutrient levels and rates of perinatal mood disorders. In addition to the minerals being depleted during pregnancy, reduced maternal levels of certain fats and vitamins can negatively impact brain functioning and mood.
DHA/EPA - The omega-3 fats DHA and EPA are required for regulation of serotonin in our brain and critical for our stress response. During the third trimester, large amounts of maternal DHA and EPA are transferred through the placenta to baby. This transfer can leave the birthing person low in the key fats required for optimal brain function and may contribute to irritability, brain fog, depression and anxiety.
DHA and EPA can be obtained by consuming fatty fish, such as salmon, herring, mackerel and sardines, two to three times per week. If you aren’t able to consume these regularly, a fish oil or algae oil is a convenient way to ensure you meet your body’s requirements for these critical nutrients.
Important note: If you have persistent feelings of depression or anxiety, please let someone that cares know and if necessary, seek medical support.
Obtaining an optimal nutrient intake in postpartum is very important for the wellbeing of the new mother. Working with a Holistic Nutritionist or Naturopathic Doctor can offer guidance on your journey.
If you’re looking for guidance on making 2023 a healthier year, keep an eye out for our upcoming nutrition workshops for pregnancy and postpartum/lactation.