There is a lot of emphasis on nutrition during pregnancy, and the postpartum diet doesn’t seem to be an area of focus. What you eat postpartum works to support your recovery and provide the body with energy you need to care for your baby. There are certain nutrients that are especially important if you are breastfeeding, as they contribute to more nutritious breast milk. Having a healthy postpartum diet not only enhances your overall health, but also your newborn’s health.
According to registered dietitians, it’s better to focus on sustainable ways of meeting nutritional goals than adhering to fad diets. Breastfeeding moms tend to burn an additional 500 calories per day, but you don’t have to consume 500 extra calories to compensate. Rather than eating to rack up calories, nutritionists advise focusing on foods that provide optimal postpartum nutrients. Experts suggest that new moms consult a nutritional professional to ensure they give the body exactly what it needs.
It should be noted that it’s always best to get nutrients from real food. Supplements are necessary for certain vitamins or minerals, especially if there are dietary restrictions or allergies. Focus on the following nutrients for optimal postpartum nutrition.
Choline is a fat that’s necessary for optimal brain development. Nutritionists say that the need for choline increases during pregnancy, but breastfeeding moms need a minimum of 550 milligrams per day. Several surveys indicate that 90% of the general U.S. population doesn’t meet the recommended daily intake of this nutrient. Choline aids with memory and brain development, which is crucial for your newborn. The best sources of choline are eggs and organ meat, but you can also find it in shiitake mushrooms, wheat germ, soybeans, cruciferous vegetables, almonds, red potatoes, and lima beans.
The body cannot make omega-3 essential fatty acids like DHA from scratch, which means you have to obtain them via diet. According to several studies, infants of mothers with higher DHA levels in their breast milk have better brain and visual development. Even if you decide not to breastfeed, there are many benefits of consuming DHA-rich foods. It helps to reduce inflammation, improve mental focus, encourage heart function, and reduces the risk of postpartum depression. The best DHA sources include wild tuna, sardines, and wild sockeye salmon. Although flaxseed and chia seeds offer omega-3s, they contain EPA, which the body doesn’t absorb easily.
Often times, nutritionists recommend pregnant women to consider a vitamin B12 supplement, especially if they don’t consume a lot of animal foods. Vegan women, for example, tend to have very low levels of B12 in breast milk. Babies with inadequate B12 levels tend to be more irritable and have an increased risk of poor brain growth or developmental delays. Symptoms of B12 deficiency tend to surface between four to seven months after birth. Sometimes, these symptoms are irreversible, so a B12 supplement may be necessary if you don’t eat foods like wild caught tuna, salmon, grass-fed beef, and similar foods.
Mothers lose iron during childbirth, so it’s important to replenish this nutrient during your postpartum period. If you are breastfeeding, iron stores supply your baby with the iron it needs for proper thyroid function and development. Animal sources of iron tend to be the preferred because they contain “heme” iron, which the body can easily absorb. Although vegetables and fruits contain iron, it is the “non-heme” form that the body doesn’t absorb as easily. It also takes a large amount of plant-based iron foods to meet daily iron needs. If you are a vegetarian or vegan, an iron supplement may help you meet your daily iron requirement.
Collagen isn’t just a nutrient for people who want to improve skin and hair health. It’s a necessary protein that helps rebuild tissues, and many mothers swear that it helps prevent postpartum hair loss. Additionally, collagen and gelatin help the uterus return to its original size and may help belly skin regain elasticity. For women who underwent a C-section, collagen may help to accelerate the healing of the wound. Collagen exists in many foods and supplements, so find the best source for your specific diet.