Nourishing the New Mom
During the transition from pregnancy to motherhood the focus typically shifts from taking care of you- the expecting mama to all eyes and hands on the new little bundle. While this shift is normal and expected, we don’t want to overlook the nutrition needs of the healing mother. No matter how you gave birth, your body just underwent an amazing transformation and physical event that requires time, space and nourishment to bring back balance.
The fourth trimester
In the first days and weeks home after delivery can be a blur. Physically, you are healing and it takes time, nourishment and rest to complete this process. Your pregnancy hormones have significantly dropped, almost mimicking a menopausal state. This, plus the exhaustion and overwhelm of new motherhood, is a driver in the “baby blues” or more seriously Postpartum Depression and Anxiety, and also a reason for physical symptoms such as night sweats. If you also lost a significant amount of blood and are nursing, you can see how the nutrition needs during postpartum far exceed those of pregnancy!
With all of these special circumstances come special nutrient needs. For healing after trauma to the tissues (incisions, stitches and tears) you need extra Vitamin A, C and Zinc as well as protein. Great sources of each of these are leafy greens, citrus, broccoli, nuts, seeds and meat. If blood loss was significant (especially if you were running low during pregnancy) - you’ll want to continue eating high iron sources and/or taking your supplement. Red meat is far and away the most usable form of iron we can eat, and vegetarians can combine beans and leafy greens with vitamin C for better absorption. Omega 3 supplements have been shown to lessen the severity of baby blues or PPD, so keep taking that prenatal fish oil and aim for a fish meal 2x/week. And lastly there are certain foods that can support bringing back up your female hormones to more balanced levels - flax seed and sweet potato being two of my favorites.
Tips for easily incorporating nourishing postpartum foods:
Taking care of a new baby (especially if there are older children and toddlers to tend to as well) can make preparing healthful meals more difficult than before. Below are my top 5 tips for nutrient packed meals and snacks that don’t require a ton of work.
- Smoothies. The quintessential one-handed meal or snack can pack a huge burst of nutrients and be very filling if done right. My formula for this is a 2/3 fresh or frozen greens, 1/3 fresh or frozen fruit. Spinach and berries are a great combination. Use water, coconut water or 100% juice as the liquid for easy blending and a protein or fat to make this a more substantial meal. Avocado, coconut butter, flax seed, nut butter and whole milk yogurt are all wonderful additions.
- Slow cooker. If you have one laying around in a box somewhere collecting dust, now is the time to whip it out. These are best for cooking large batches of protein, which you need more of to help the healing process and if you are nursing. A slow cooked whole chicken is a staple in my house - I use a pre-mixed dry rub and place the chicken on a bed of whatever aromatic vegetables I have on hand (onion, celery, carrot, garlic etc) and cook on low for 6-8 hours.
- Prep in advance. On a day that you’re feeling energized and/or have some help at home, make a big batch of “breakfast cookies” with oats, flax and nuts (sample recipe here); prep smoothies in advance in mason jars and freeze; or roast a huge tray of root vegetables in the oven.
- Eat frequently with healthy snack foods. Keep your favorite nuts around the house to grab handfuls as you’re walking baby to sleep, quick proteins like canned beans, eggs and smoked salmon and lots of fruit and vegetables with a healthy dip like hummus.
- Recruit a village. Friends and family near and far often want to help but don’t know what you need. Let them know! Start a meal train and have folks sign up to bring or send meals for the first month. If someone is stopping by to meet baby, ask them to bring a meal.
Stay tuned for more blogging on 4th Trimester Nutrition, and in the meantime take care of you mama! You can't pour from an empty cup.
Interested in more personalized guidance during the postpartum period? Check out my postpartum program offerings.