When it comes to pregnancy, there’s an endless amount of emphasis we focus on the importance of making positive dietary and lifestyle changes, before and during pregnancy. We know that a good diet, plenty of rest, minimal stress levels and a healthy environment all help to contribute to a healthy baby. However, despite the emphasis placed on the health of the mother during pregnancy itself, little attention is often given to the health of the mother after her baby has been born.
While the postpartum period is a time of great joy for many, it is also a time of significant emotional, physical and social change for the mother. The body is still recovering from birth, breastfeeding has begun, nutritional stores are depleted, and sleep is likely to be affected. While many things can’t be controlled during this time, one of the things mothers can do to support their health is to keep in mind the key nutrients the body requires following birth to support a healthy recovery. Not only will this improve the health of the mother, but also the health of their baby, especially if breastfed.
Here are my top three nutrients to focus on after pregnancy and what foods you can find them in.
Jacqueline Alwill is an accredited nutritionist, author and mum. Join Jacqueline and nutritionist/herbalist, Brittany Darling in their upcoming workshop in Sydney on Post Natal Nutrition on Tuesday, September 24th. Find tickets here.
Iodine is an essential mineral that is key for optimal thyroid, brain, and metabolic health. The mineral Iodine is particularly important for the neurodevelopment of the baby and for preventing thyroid dysfunction in the mother, which is very common following pregnancy. It is therefore really important that mothers are continuing to have a consistent and reliable source of iodine throughout the postpartum period to meet theirs and their babies’ nutritional demands.
Basically, Iodine should be in all good prenatal multivitamins. However, the requirement for iodine increases from 250mcg in pregnancy to 270mcg whilst breastfeeding. To compensate for the increased need for iodine, mothers will need an additional 20mcg per day. This will support both fetal and maternal thyroid function.
Iodine rich foods: commercially fortified bread, eggs, cooked seafood, and shellfish* and iodized sea salt.
Similarly, to iodine, Vitamin D requirements also increase during the breastfeeding period. Vitamin D levels vary widely in breastmilk, with lower levels found in the milk of deficient mothers. Most mothers and newborns require Vitamin D to support the skeletal system and function of the immune system. Additionally, there is research suggest a relationship between low Vitamin D status and post-natal depression.
You can find Vitamin D in fatty fish* such as sardines and salmon, egg yolks and some fortified food products. However, the amounts of Vitamin D found in food are low enough. Therefore, supplementation is advised for those who aren’t getting enough safe-sun exposure. It is recommended that exclusively breastfed babies are supplemented with 400IU per day. Couple this with frequent full body (nappy off!) safe-sun exposure in nature with your baby.
Anemia and iron deficiency are very common following birth as a result of the very high demands for iron during pregnancy and any blood loss during birth. Iron helps carry oxygen in the blood and deliver it to every cell in the body. Therefore, it is essential for energy production. Low iron levels result in fatigue, shortness of breath and light-headedness to name a few. These are not symptoms new mothers want to be contending with.
The requirements for iron actually decrease after pregnancy and remain lower until menstruation resumes. However, despite the requirements being lower, new mums still need to pay close attention to their iron levels and consume plenty of iron-rich foods.
Iron-rich foods: red meat, chicken thighs, offal, legumes, whole grains, leafy greens, eggs, peanuts, and dried fruit.
* Pregnant and breastfeeding women should consume no more than 2 serves of cooked fish per week. Fish has potentially high levels of mercury.
While you’re here, check out some nutritional tips for post-birth recovery in the early weeks.