You are among the 4 million women to give birth this year. Congratulations! Though you’re spending most of your time doing tasks with one hand and trying to remember what 8 hours of sleep feels like, you have another job, too. And that job is to replenish and renew your postpartum body. While you stay busy on the outside, your newly reclaimed body is doing a significant amount of healing on the inside. During this time, you can help your body heal by refining or revamping your nutrition regimen. Both you and baby will benefit.
When a newborn baby is hungry, everyone is quickly (and loudly!) made aware. Likewise, it is important for your recovering body to be nourished with meals and snacks consistently. Women who are postpartum should eat between 1,800-2,000 calories per day due to their need for adequate protein, vitamins, and minerals. If breastfeeding, another 500 calories per day are generally needed. Factors that increase your calorie needs further are: increased physical activity (>45 minutes/day), breastfeeding more than one infant, and having been underweight prior to pregnancy.
During pregnancy you probably increased your intake (no-brainer, right?). If you followed advice from an expert, these changes probably resembled an increase of 340-450 calories per day during the second and third trimester. You likely gained 25-35 pounds during your pregnancy and are ready to be back to your pre-pregnancy weight. Rather than focusing on calorie restriction, it is critical that the focus remains on eating healing foods that will not only promote balanced eating, which leads to weight loss, but will also support you at a cellular level as you recuperate.
Antioxidant-containing foods decrease the negative impacts of toxins produced in association with childbirth, especially c-section births. Focus on foods containing fruits and vegetables (including 100% juices), dark chocolate, tea, whole grains, and nuts, which contain high levels of the anti-oxidant/anti-inflammatory nutrients that a postpartum woman needs for revamping healthy blood and organ function for healing those stressed tissues. Vitamin C, for example, is an antioxidant found in all fruits and vegetables that supports collagen production, which rebuilds tissues, and it has even been known to help with issues like postpartum hair-loss.
Foods rich in protein are key for rebuilding muscle mass and supporting a return to a healthy weight. Protein is the building block for all our body tissues, but it has other critical functions such as helping maintain fluid balance, helping with weight loss without losing lean muscle, and helping you feel full after meals. Stews and soups that contain protein sources like meat, dairy, and/or legumes are “power foods” for postpartum bodies. They support hydration, protein intake, and can also give an antioxidant boost when veggies are incorporated. Legumes are an especially excellent option during the postpartum phase. Beans and legumes are rich in protein as well as fiber, which helps eliminate the waste that is produced as your body recovers from inflammatory processes. Protein needs are individualized, yet a healthy adult should consume at least 20-30 grams per meal to build and maintain lean mass.
Iron-fortified foods are critical in the postpartum period for replenishing and rebalancing iron stores, which can be affected by pregnancy and childbirth. Low iron is one of the most common nutritional risks experienced during and after having a baby. Especially if another pregnancy is to follow, rebuilding these stores is critical. Fortified grains and cereals can be an excellent source of iron, so check the label and look for foods that provide at least 10% of the Daily Value. Other natural sources of iron are meat-based foods and leafy greens. The iron contained in leafy greens is not as well absorbed as the iron contained in meat but can be enhanced when eaten alongside foods that contain vitamin C (see point #1!).
Embrace these unique, special moments and don’t forget to take care of you. Baby needs a physically and mentally strong momma to provide around-the-clock care. If you’re not sure where to start, a registered dietitian can provide you with goal-focused and individualized advice tailored to you and your lifestyle, while encouraging you to eat the foods you enjoy, but in healthier ways.
Disclaimer: This information is educational only and not providing healthcare recommendations. Please see a healthcare provider.