As an expecting mom, you already knew about the importance of good nutrition for a healthy pregnancy. But have you ever thought about the quality of your postpartum nutrition?
The WHO describes the postnatal period as the most critical phase for both mother and baby. And yet, it is also the most neglected in terms of provision of care, but also self-care.
But it’s really not that surprising that so many moms struggle to get the care they need. The postpartum period is a time when new moms have a lot on their hands. Juggling between taking care of your own recovery and tending to your newborn’s needs alone is already a difficult enough feat. Food quality will probably be the last thing on your mind in between diaper changes and feeding.
You can make eating healthy during your postnatal period easier by focusing on nutrient-dense, anti-inflammatory, and versatile foods. As a general rule, go for minimally processed ingredients and consider convenience food only when other options are out of reach. And when it comes to adopting special diets like low-carb and keto, make sure to speak to your doctor first.
Bear in mind that what and how you should eat during the postnatal period also depends a lot on whether you’re breastfeeding and delivered by C-section. Your healthcare team will provide nutrition guidance in that case. Otherwise, here are some great food options that can make your first days of motherhood easier and full of good nutrition.
- Vegetable soups
Tomato soup, minestrone, creamy broccoli soup, and mixed beans soup are just some examples of what you can add to your postpartum meal plan. These can be made in big batches, so you can have ready meals for several days ahead.
Soups are also a great way to add both hydration and nutrients to your diet. This is especially important if you’re lactating. Breastfeeding moms can lose around 400-800 ml of water through breast milk alone. Staying hydrated will help prevent fatigue, constipation, and poor milk production.
In the immediate postpartum period, which is right after you give birth to 6 weeks, you’ll also likely have bouts of exhaustion. A nourishing and warm bowl of soup can help replenish your fluids, electrolytes, and energy.
- Low-Mercury Fish
Fish is great for adding protein and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) to your meals. You can even go for canned, frozen, and smoked options for convenience.
Protein helps the healing process, and is essential in the repair and growth of new tissue, especially after a Cesarean birth. DHA, which is a type of omega-3 fatty acid has multiple benefits for both mother and baby: it may help prevent postpartum depression, it has anti-inflammatory properties, and it helps with the baby’s brain development.
If you’re breastfeeding, it’s still advisable to opt for low-mercury fish like salmon, trout, sardines, flounder, mackerel, and arctic cod, to name a few. Mercury is highly toxic to the nervous system, and you want to avoid it both during pregnancy and lactation.
But even if you’re not breastfeeding, it’s best to opt for fish lower in this neurotoxin because it is still linked to depression, fatigue, and inflammation at low doses.
Lentils are an underrated superfood that’s also affordable, versatile, and quick to prepare. They’re nutrient-dense, providing lots of protein, prebiotic carbohydrates, iron, zinc, vitamin B5, and folate – all nutrients the Institute of Medicine says postpartum and lactating women need more of.
Women typically lose 500 ml of blood during vaginal delivery, and even more during a C-section. You’ll need to increase your intake of iron as well as folate and vitamin B6 to prevent anemia – and lentils happen to have all three.
Lentils are rarely consumed alone. Combining them with another nutrient-dense food, like kale, can help prevent deficiencies according to one review published in Nutrients.
- Dairy and its alternatives
Pregnancy and breastfeeding increase a mom’s daily demands for calcium. Low-fat dairy like skim milk, cottage cheese, and yogurt can help you meet these demands.
The recommended dietary allowance (RDA) for calcium for expecting and new moms is 1000 mg a day. Greek yogurt, for example, will give you 230 mg in a 7oz container. Eating enough calcium helps prevent bone loss during pregnancy and bone recovery postpartum.
If you’re lactose intolerant, however, you can either go for cultured dairy like yogurt and kefir, which are easier to digest for those of us who are lactose intolerant. Another option is to go for dairy alternatives like calcium-fortified plant drinks like soy and almond milk and tofu or collard greens.
And speaking of calcium-rich foods, almonds are also a great source. A handful (1oz) of kernels, for example, will give you over 70 mg of this important nutrient along with other minerals and vitamins. Often referred to as nutritional powerhouses, they provide between 10 and 20% of the RDI for vitamin E, riboflavin, magnesium, phosphorus, copper, and manganese. They’re also a good source of potassium, thiamine, and folate.
Snacking on almonds is a convenient and nutritious way for exhausted moms to curb hunger. Soaking almonds may help reduce their phytic acid content for better nutrient availability. Phytic acid is an antioxidant compound that, unfortunately, interferes with the absorption of minerals in particular.
Besides eating them in their natural, raw form, consider using other almond products to your diet. Almond butter, almond milk, almond yogurt, and quality marzipan are all great options.