New mums, listen up! The postpartum period is a crucial time in your life, a time to prioritise your health and wellbeing. After all, you’ve just brought a new life into the world! It’s important to optimise your nutrition during this time and beyond, as it will set the foundation for your future health and motherhood journey. However your little one arrived in the world, taking time to rest and nourish your body with wholesome meals is essential.
It’s no secret that our bodies undergo additional stress throughout pregnancy and birth, but the journey doesn’t end there. As a new mum, you have a whole new set of responsibilities to take on. What many women don’t realise is that the postpartum period can actually be more nutritionally demanding than pregnancy itself! While much of the research focuses on the significance of nutrition in relation to breastfeeding, regardless of this, it’s crucial that ALL new mums ensure they’re eating enough nutritious food.
Nutrition plays a huge role in postpartum healing, from hormonal balance to wound healing, immune support, and emotional wellbeing. That’s why I’m here to share with you 5 key nutrients to focus on during the postnatal period, along with some delicious food sources. The good news is that these nutrients are found in everyday foods, so you don’t have to go out of your way to get them.
Let’s begin with ZINC! Not only does it play a crucial role in boosting your immune system and speeding up wound healing, it also has a surprising impact on your mood. In fact, studies have shown that women with postnatal depression often have low levels of zinc. And guess what? After pregnancy and during the postpartum period, zinc stores are typically depleted, especially if you’re breastfeeding. Pumpkin seeds and cashews are both great sources of zinc, aim to include a handful each day! Other sources include oysters, chickpeas, lentils and oats.
Now let’s talk about IRON, a mineral responsible for transporting oxygen throughout the body, ensuring you have the energy required to make it through your busy day! But that’s not all, iron also plays a role in immune support. And during the postpartum period, when your body is recovering from pregnancy and childbirth, it’s crucial to replenish those iron stores that are likely depleted. Aim to include an iron rich food with each meal, such as tofu, lentils, chickpeas, and green leafy veggies. Oh, and here’s a little tip – to optimise absorption of iron from plant-based sources, pair them with a source of Vitamin C, like tomatoes, capsicum, kiwi fruit and berries.
VITAMIN A is a key player in wound healing, immune function, reproduction and vision. Breastfeeding mums, did you know you have higher requirements for this nutrient? That’s because breastmilk is the sole source of Vitamin A for your bub until they start solid foods. Load up on spinach, broccoli, capsicum, sweet potato, pumpkin and mango to ensure you are getting enough.
Although IODINE receives very little attention, it is vital for the production of thyroid hormones, which play an essential role in regulating our metabolism. Just like Vitamin A, breastfeeding mums need even more iodine to support their bubs growth and development. Seafood, seaweed and eggs are all great sources. But, if you’re not including these regularly, using iodised salt can be a simple way of ensuring you’re getting enough.
Last but certainly not least, OMEGA-3 FATTY ACIDS, DHA, EPA, ALA - these incredible fats are essential for cell membranes, especially in the brain and eyes. They also play a role in immune function and hormonal balance. Again, breastfeeding mums are the sole providers of these fats for their bubs until solid foods come into play. Breastfeeding or not however, inadequate intake of omega-3 fats may play a role in postpartum depression.
For those who eat fish, aim to include a source of oily fish (such as salmon or tuna) twice a week. Add flaxseeds, chia seeds and walnuts to bliss balls or oatmeal. And, if you’re breastfeeding and not eating fish regularly, taking a supplement of DHA each day may be something worth considering. In saying this, be sure to discuss this with your dietitian or doctor before starting!
Some final considerations for nutrition & postpartum healing
Although it can be useful to understand the benefits of certain nutrients; ultimately, the best way to ensure you’re getting the nutrition you need– is by eating a varied, abundant, nutrient-dense diet. This can be done by focusing a variety of fruits, vegetables, legumes, wholegrains, nuts and seeds each day.
Although nothing can replace a balanced diet, it’s often ideal for postpartum – especially breastfeeding women – to take a good-quality multivitamin to support recovery. In saying so, always consult your doctor or dietitian regarding supplementation.
Finally, I completely get it - taking care of a precious newborn can be a whirlwind, leaving you with little time and energy to prepare nutritious meals. But hey, let's not forget how crucial it is to nourish yourself during this incredible journey! So, here's another tip: don't hesitate to lean on your loved ones for some much-needed support. Trust me, it’s likely they'll be over the moon to lend a hand in preparing healthful meals and snacks for you.
About the Author: Monica Rundle, is an Accredited Practicing Dietitian, and founder of Plant Based Family Nutrition, an online nutrition clinic dedicated to helping families make small, sustainable dietary changes that can make a big difference to their overall health and that of the environment.
Disclaimer: This article is for information and educational purposes only. The information provided dies not substitute medical or mental health advice. Please consult a qualified medical professional relevant to your particular circumstance.