While pregnant, a woman may change her diet in order to support the new nutritional needs of her body and her growing baby. After giving birth, it’s important to continue to maintain those good nutritional habits in order to support healing. The goal of nutrition immediately after childbirth should not necessarily be to lose weight, but rather to support the caloric needs of a new mother who is caring for herself, a newborn, and any older children she may have.
The good news is that most of the foods women are advised to avoid during pregnancy can safely go back into the new mother’s diet. Soft cheeses, deli meats, fish, sushi, and tuna can once again be eaten without concern for how they will affect a developing fetus. Caffeine and alcohol are still best taken only in moderation, especially for mothers who are breastfeeding.
Vitamins And Minerals After Childbirth
Prenatal vitamins: Pregnant women are usually advised to take prenatal vitamins in order to ensure that they and their babies are receiving enough of certain essential vitamins and minerals. New mothers should aim to meet all their nutritional needs through diet, but in some cases it may also be appropriate to continue taking a prenatal vitamin. The new mother’s healthcare provider should make a recommendation on whether prenatal vitamins should be continued after giving birth, and for how long. Vegan and vegetarian mothers may also need to supplement their diet with a vitamin (although this may or may not be a prenatal vitamin).
Iron: New moms are often fatigued, and may need a more iron-rich diet. They also may have lost a fair amount of blood during their birth. Shereen Jegtvig, nutritionist and author of Superfoods for Dummies, says that new moms “need iron to help get their energy [and their blood count] back up. Beef, turkey, chicken, and pork are high in iron; and so are legumes, spinach, kale, and iron-fortified foods.”
Omega-3 fatty acids: Women who have just given birth, particularly those who are breastfeeding their babies, also need omega-3 fatty acids in their diet, especially docosahexaenoic acid (DHA). To meet that need, moms can add foods to their diets that are high in DHA, such as salmon and trout. “Vegetarian moms can get omega-3s from flaxseeds, soy, walnuts, and pumpkin seeds,” Jegtvig says.
Calcium: Women need appropriate amounts of calcium in their diets at all stages of life, and new moms are no exception. To get enough calcium in the diet, Jegtvig recommends that women look for high-calcium foods such as “dairy products, dark leafy greens, broccoli, most milk substitutes and calcium-fortified foods.”
Avoiding Empty Calories
In the first hectic days after giving birth, it may be tempting to turn to convenience foods and empty calories. (Empty calories are primarily carbohydrate-based food and drink such as breads, pastries, cookies and muffins and colas and other sugary drinks.) These can wreak havoc with your insulin levels and contribute to obesity.
Instead, new mothers should nourish their bodies with healthful foods. The key is to make choices for meals and snacks that are healthful and take little to no preparation. Some examples include carrots and hummus, pre-cut fruits and vegetables, low-fat yogurt, hardboiled eggs, granola bars, low-fat cheese, grapes, bananas, raisins, nuts, and whole-wheat bread or muffins.
Eating More Frequently Postpartum
Eating smaller meals on a more frequent basis can be helpful to maintain energy levels during the day. Heavier meals require more energy to digest, which only takes more energy away from the needs of a sleep-deprived new mother. Smaller, more frequent meals can keep blood sugar at a more even level, which helps avoid the peaks and dips that can lead to fatigue. A small meal or snack should still be balanced enough to contain some protein. Hard-boiled eggs, peanut butter and celery, or cheese and apple slices are quick and healthful snacks.
Caffeine In The Postpartum Period
After spending much of the night up with a newborn, many women turn to a cup of coffee or some other caffeinated beverage in order to get up and get moving in the morning. While caffeine in moderation may not be harmful after giving birth, relying on it excessively for energy is not beneficial to long-term health. Instead, healthful foods that are high in complex carbohydrates and protein are the best choices to support a constant energy level through the day.
Breastfeeding mothers may also wish to limit their caffeine intake. Caffeine does pass into breast milk, although in very small amounts (one study showed that it was .06% to 1.5% of the amount of caffeine taken in by the lactating mother). One study showed that by the time an infant is about three months of age, the caffeine consumed by the mother does not seem to have an effect on its sleep cycle. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that nursing mothers limit their caffeine consumption to two or three cups of coffee per day.
Delivering a baby causes massive fluid loss, and replacing those fluids is important to avoid dehydration. Symptoms of dehydration include fatigue, which is not helpful to a new mother. Drinking enough water every day will help avoid fatigue that could be caused by dehydration.
Staying hydrated is important for mothers who are also breastfeeding, because while breastfeeding does not contribute to dehydration, being severely dehydrated could reduce milk production and affect the composition of the milk. Nursing mothers should aim to take in a little extra fluid to replace what is lost. A good rule of thumb is to drink some water a few minutes before sitting down to nurse, or to keep a bottle of water next to the nursing station.
Alcohol and New Mothers
Having an alcoholic beverage at the end of the day to unwind is not uncommon, and in most cases, one drink is not harmful. However, new mothers who are already battling fatigue may find that a glass of wine with dinner may make them even more tired. Furthermore, even though alcohol may increase the feeling of fatigue, it actually has a negative effect on sleep. A common side-effect of drinking is premature waking several hours later, which could be in the middle of the night. When it comes to unwinding, Jegtvig says, “Black cherries may help because they contain melatonin, a hormone that promotes sleep.” Another choice for promoting relaxation and serotonin production is carbohydrate-rich foods, but look for a whole grain, such as “a bowl of oatmeal, or whole wheat toast and crackers.”
Nutrition And Weight Loss After Childbirth
It’s no secret that many women seek to lose the “baby weight” after giving birth. While getting to a healthy weight is an excellent goal, it’s important to take things slowly. A crash diet that eliminates some food groups may do more harm than good when it comes to realistic weight loss after giving birth. Breastfeeding can help with weight loss, but mothers who are breastfeeding will need about 300 extra calories a day to support lactation. Losing about one pound a week is often recommended, and getting back to pre-baby weight could take as long as six months.
Weight loss is best accomplished by both reducing calories and exercising. Mothers who had uncomplicated vaginal births may be able to start light exercise within a few weeks of giving birth, while those who had a C-Section may need to wait about six weeks. Check with your healthcare provider before starting an exercise program.