Imagine that you’ve just given birth; after 40 weeks of sticking to (or at least, attempting to stick to) a nutritious diet for both you and the babe, you may be tempted to pop open a bottle of champagne and immediately swing back into your old routine; but whether it be devouring a family-sized bag of salty, oily potato chips, a pint of ice cream, or a generous mug of coffee, it will be important to continue to pair these treats with wholesome meals. Giving birth is a tremendous feat, and in order to properly recover from this laborious act, nourishment will be vital. Food during this time not only acts as fuel to get you through those long nights and sleep-deprived days, but also a way to sustain and support your brain and bodily functions through sufficient nutrients. So, without further ado, here are three reasons why nutrition is especially important for you in the postpartum phase:
Let’s set the stage here: after obtaining extra body mass, fluids, and tissues, and after all of the contractions and pushing, and then after all the late night feedings, early morning changings, and on and on, it is likely that your body doesn’t feel one hundred percent–and that’s okay! Nourishing your body with foods that fuel rather than with foods that make you feel inactive and sluggish will help tremendously in the fourth trimester.
First and foremost, you’re going to be busy, regardless of whether this baby is your first or your eighth (Jon & Kate Plus 8, anyone?). Alongside caring for your newborn, you may have a job to return to, volunteer hours you signed up for, medical appointments, the gym to hit, and maybe the two hour long massage that you absolutely deserve. Whatever your daily schedule may look like, the thing that will provide you with the capacity to tackle tasks on the to-do list and hopefully find some “you” time will be fuel. Food not only tastes good, but it also sincerely gives you the stamina to get through the day. During this time especially, it will be important to eat foods that will provide enough nutrition to conquer whatever may come at you.
Supporting your overall wellbeing is one of the major benefits of a balanced diet. Alongside this, food, and the proper food at that, can speed the recovery from giving birth. Eating a diet full of carbs, fiber, protein, and healthy fats can help you avoid bone loss, recharge the iron and other vitamins in your body, and prevent hemorrhoids — a frequent side effect of giving birth — from occurring by aiding in your first bowel movement. Furthermore, if you plan on breastfeeding, the nutrients, in both food and drink, can influence the quality and quantity of your milk that will likely end up nourishing your newborn.
Whether it’s the baby blues or postpartum depression, your mental health can be greatly affected by pregnancy and birth. While home visits, community support, and expert help are ways to prevent postpartum depression (PPD), so is the food that you eat. Many studies have discovered the deep connection between the brain and the gut, so much so that mood-regulating neurotransmitters are affected by a lack of key nutrients. Furthermore, if mothers are shown to have lower levels of folate, vitamin D, fats, and iron, they are more likely to be diagnosed with PPD. Generally, whether pregnant or not, studies have shown a link between inflammation and depression. Of course, inflammation is only one factor linked with depression, and there may be other compounding factors affecting one’s mental health. Nevertheless, physical and psychological stress can lead to inflammation. During the third and fourth trimesters, women have naturally elevated inflammation levels due to proinflammatory cytokines increasing to help fight off infections and heal wounds. Though this is a natural and normal response, studies have shown increased levels of proinflammatory cytokines to alter mood, sleep, energy, and appetite–which all are associated with depression.
All this being said, there are foods you can eat that have anti-inflammatory properties and help inhibit proinflammatory cytokines. These include colorful, fresh vegetables, fruits, iron-rich proteins, coconut, avocado and extra virgin olive oils, salmon, sardines, probiotic rich foods, and foods rich in Omega-3s.
During pregnancy, nutrients are transferred from you to your baby to help nourish and aid growth. However, nutrient depletion continues during delivery. Having a lack of nutrients and vitamins can result in fatigue, hair loss, imbalanced hormones, low libido, inability to sleep, poor concentration and memory, and mood swings. While obtaining all of the nutrients you can get is always important, below are the top five nutrients and vitamins new parents should aim at including in their daily diet post-birth.
Folate: Folate, also known as vitamin B-9, is a vitamin that helps our bodies retain healthy cell growth and function. Alongside this, it aids in red blood cell formation. Due to its ability to help anemia, it is often given to women who plan on becoming pregnant, are pregnant, or just gave birth. Receiving enough folate in the foods you eat will give you energy and help with digestion.
Iron: Iron is a major component in the protein in red blood cells called hemoglobin. Hemoglobin carries oxygen to all of the parts of your body from the lungs. Many women experience high levels of blood loss during childbirth, and this can lead to anemia. Alongside anemia, because iron is such a large portion of hemoglobin, having a lack of it in your diet and body can result in a lack of oxygen transport. Overall, iron helps maintain energy, focus, your immune system, body temperature, and can help correct anemia.
Vitamin D: Vitamin D is crucial when it comes to maintaining and fortifying healthy bones. While calcium makes up most of our bones, our bodies can only absorb it when vitamin D is present.
Omega-3s: Omega-3s form the structural wall in every cell we have in our bodies. As such, they help build and maintain our bodily health. They also act as an energy source and ensure that our immune system, heart, lungs, and blood vessels are working properly.
Calcium: In correspondence with vitamin D, calcium preserves strong bones. To function properly, your muscles, nerves, and heart need calcium as well. If these components are lacking in calcium, your body will begin to take calcium from your bones, which can lead to them weakening. It is important to realize that as babies are developing, they steal all of their mother’s calcium (especially if they are breastfeeding), so it’s dually as important to ensure you’re receiving enough calcium, for you and your baby.
Eating nourishing foods, before, during, and after birth is so important for energy, your brain, and to ensure that your body has enough of the right vitamins in order to recover from pregnancy and birth. While you allow yourself to indulge in those cravings you’ve longed for, don’t forget to take care of your two brains–the one in your head and the one in your gut!