The Positive Effects Of Good Postpartum Nutrition
If you or someone you care about has given birth recently, you will have noticed that the body has gone through some major changes. It can seem like new mothers are under pressure to get their pre-pregnancy body back as fast as possible – especially in our celebrity-orientated culture. However, before rushing back into a grueling exercise and diet routine, it is important to understand that a new mother's body firstly requires nutritional replenishment to allow them to stay fit and healthy. Postpartum women need to know what to eat after having a baby to make sure they get proper nutrition to set themselves up for the next stage in their lives (1).
Those who are breastfeeding need to ensure that they are eating well so that their child's nutritional needs are well met. Mothers who choose to breastfeed need to increase their calorie consumption and nutrient intake of protein, calcium, and iron, so that they can maintain their energy levels (1). Milk quantity and quality can be maintained reasonably well within a wide range of maternal diets. The recommended daily allowance of most nutrients tends to increase during lactation – in some cases the recommended allowance increases by more than 50%. The extra nutrient intake is required for at least four to six months after childbirth and is understood to be subsequently greater than what was needed to cover the entire pregnancy (2).
In the months after childbirth, most new mothers require anywhere between 1800 – 2200 calories per day. Those who are breastfeeding need 500 additional calories. For those who are underweight, exercising for at least 45 minutes per day, or breastfeeding more than one baby, their calorie intake should be even higher (3).
Key Nutrients In The Postpartum Period
Some of the nutritional needs for optimal postpartum recovery which can work well in a new mother's diet are;
Protein can be thought of as Lego – its main purpose is to serve as the building blocks of the body. It is the foundation of enzymes, hormones and body tissues (muscles, connective, epithelial and nerve tissues). Postpartum women have supported their baby's growth for nine months and now need to produce breast milk which is rich in protein; therefore it is necessary to replenish their body's own reserve. New mothers should aim for five to six servings of protein daily, from a high-quality source such as red meat, chicken, seafood, beans and eggs (1).
Calcium is responsible for keeping the heart pumping, muscles functioning well, and the nerves signaling. Calcium is stored in bones and teeth, where it is vital for supporting their structure. Some excellent sources of calcium include dairy foods such as milk, cheese and yogurts, green leafy vegetables and soy products such as tofu. Surprisingly, the sorts of fish where you can consume the bones are also rich in calcium! (1)
This mineral is essential for creating new blood cells. It is common for women to become iron-deficient during and after pregnancy. This is because, during pregnancy, your body requires a much larger volume of red blood cells in order to transport nutrients and oxygen across to the baby in-utero. Iron can easily be found in red meats, beans, lentils and dark leafy greens such as spinach (1).
Women who do not consume an adequate diet with each of the recommended nutrients may benefit from continuing to take low-dose multivitamin and mineral supplements which they were prescribed during pregnancy (2).
Many new mums consider returning to their pre-pregnancy body weight as one of their primary targets. Women tend to gain weight initially after delivery, but by the fifth postpartum day, many women will have begun to lose excess weight. If the weight loss is an appropriate goal, then the total energy intake should be no less than 1800 calories a day. This allows for an adequate intake of proteins, vitamins, and minerals. This figure may seem high to some women, however, it does allow for the energy which is required during breastfeeding. New mothers should be discouraged from turning to liquid diets and weight loss medications (2).
Foods Which Can Fight Postpartum Depression
Postpartum depression is a serious and complex mood disorder which new mothers can face following childbirth. The following nutrients have been found to fight depression:
Foods To Avoid During The Postpartum Period
- Zinc: This is essential in supporting different brain processes. A deficiency in zinc can lead to irritability and depression. Sources of zinc include fish, eggs, turkey, beef and yogurts.
- Vitamin C: Deficiencies in vitamin C have been linked to depression. Vitamin C can be found in citrus fruits, broccoli, and green leafy vegetables.
- Omega-3 fatty acids: These have been shown to combat depression and other mental health disorders such as bipolar disorder. Omega-3 can be found in fish such as herring, sardines, and tuna.
- Folic acid: Research has found that those who have depression are more likely to have lower levels of folic acid than those people who are not depressed. Folic acid can be found in foods such as avocado, grapefruits, and black-eyed peas.
It is important to avoid any foods which can reduce energy levels such as alcohols, fats, caffeine, and white flour products. Remember to include healthy snacks between meals, or to eat five to six mini meals at least each day. Combine this with staying well-hydrated, as dehydration is one of the biggest causes of fatigue (3).
If you are breastfeeding, the foods you consume can pass onto your baby through your milk. Therefore you should be careful with (3);
- Alcohol: Experts are still divided over how much, if any, is safe for a baby. So stick to a minimal amount, or better still, none at all.
- Caffeine: If you drink more than three cups of coffee or carbonated drinks a day, you can disturb your baby's sleep pattern.
- Fish: Swordfish, shark, and king mackerel are all high in mercury, a toxin which can be harmful to babies.
To learn more about postpartum nutrition and postpartum weight loss, speak to your doctor or midwife for more information.
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