What Nutrients Do Postpartum Women Need? A Closer Look

Recovering from birth is serious business and requires proper nourishment and nutrition. These are the top nutrients moms need in postpartum.

It’s no secret that our bodies go through quite a bit through the process of pregnancy and birth. But the journey doesn’t end when the baby is born.

Postpartum is just as – if not more – physically, mentally, and emotionally demanding. Especially when all the focus seems to go to the new baby. As a whole, there needs to be more attention placed on mom’s nourishment and overall care.

big bowl of kale salad with oranges

Nutrition and postpartum healing

Nutrition is such a crucial aspect of postpartum healing, recovery, and revitalization on many levels. One of the reasons postpartum can be so difficult is because we’re already in a depleted state, and more and more demands are placed on us by the simple nature of healing from birth and caring for a newborn.

While most research focuses on postpartum nutrition only as it pertains to lactation, we can’t forget that it also matters for mom’s nourishment and overall health.

We need a ton of nutrients to heal and replenish post-birth and restore our levels that are naturally depleted through pregnancy.

Kim Perez

Many women are surprised to learn that postpartum – particularly the early weeks – is a more nutritionally demanding time period than pregnancy and, arguably, any other point in life. Our needs for most nutrients increase, especially with lactation – in many cases, by more than half (1).

Meeting these high demands is important for postpartum health, affecting everything from wound healing to hormone balance, energy, building resilience against stress, supporting mental and emotional health, and more.

Breastfeeding and nutrition suggestions

On top of pregnancy itself, if we’re breastfeeding, we need even more to pass nutrients to our babies while ensuring we have enough for ourselves, too. You can read more about breastfeeding nutrition in this detailed post.

You may have heard that you “burn” around 500 additional calories a day when you’re nursing, but what this truly means is your body is using those calories to make milk. We need fuel and nutrients to produce and fortify milk to nourish our babies while also making sure we don’t become further depleted. And for many moms, well over 500 is needed!

Unfortunately, there are no nutrient intake guidelines for non-breastfeeding women specific to the postpartum period, which is frustrating.

Yet we know this: many nutrients are depleted through pregnancy and birth including roughly 10% of the body’s minerals, and certain key nutrients have key roles for postpartum health. The majority of new mothers aren’t getting enough of these nutrients from food.

new mom sitting on bed breastfeeding baby

The ten most important postpartum nutrients

1. Magnesium

Without a doubt, this is a top nutrient new moms need. This calming mineral is one of the most dynamic, involved in hundreds of reactions within the body – including production of energy. Magnesium is vital during postpartum and truly in any time of stress due to its influences on the nervous system and its involvement in blood sugar handling.

It’s the first nutrient that becomes depleted by stress and for this reason especially, deficiency is common and is associated with many mood disorders, including depression (2). During pregnancy, the baby takes huge amounts of magnesium from the mother, and if not replenished, this easily leaves the mom depleted. On top of that, lactation depletes magnesium, and most breastfeeding women have been found not to eat enough (4). 

Magnesium-rich food sources

Avocado, cacao/cocoa, almonds, cashews, spinach, black beans, and nettles tea. Topical magnesium like Epsom salt baths and/or magnesium lotion or oil is also very helpful for restoring levels.

2. Potassium

This key mineral is important for so many reasons, supporting healthy blood pressure, contracting our muscles, and keeping us hydrated. And yet it’s another one commonly depleted by stress.

When the adrenal glands, a main player in our stress response as well as blood sugar handling system, become overworked, they release a hormone that actually can lower potassium levels in the body.

And along with foods rich in other electrolytes like sodium, those rich in potassium can be especially helpful for maintaining proper hydration while breastfeeding.

Potassium-rich food sources

Some food sources include: Coconut water, fruits (all but especially bananas, dried fruit like figs and raisins), potatoes, yams, and winter squashes

3. Sodium

Sodium is actually a really important mineral that commonly gets a lot of negative attention. We’re often told to reduce our intake of sodium (or salt) when in reality it’s a very supportive nutrient, especially in times of depletion. Plus, processed foods that contain high levels are very different from whole-food sources.

Many new moms actually find themselves craving salty foods. This can be a sure sign of sodium need! 

Sodium-rich food sources

Dairy foods like milk, cheese, and yogurt, beets, celery, and of course, sea salt (choose a high quality, unrefined source like Himalayan or Celtric sea salt). Specifically, using sea salt in cooking and seasoning food and even putting a few pinches in drinking water can help restore levels.

small bowls of flax seed and chopped almonds

4. Vitamin A

Specifically, the preformed version of Vitamin A called retinol is a crucial nutrient that commonly becomes depleted during pregnancy.

Why is that? Well for one, it’s used to support so much of the baby’s development during pregnancy, particularly the growth and development of organs. And secondly, pregnant women are often advised to limit food sources of this form of vitamin A even though research shows that toxicity comes from isolated supplementation.

Another reason why retinol is so important is because it helps our bodies use iron better. When we don’t have enough vitamin A and bioavailable copper in our bodies, iron can easily become “stuck” and we may even seem like we’re anemic on bloodwork! 

Retinol is very different from plant-forms of vitamin A, which actually need to be converted in the body and often, this process isn’t done sufficiently. However, there are many food sources that are rich in retinol as well as other nutrients we need for proper absorption! 

Vitamin A-rich food sources

Some food sources include: Beef liver, dairy foods, eggs, wild fatty fish including cod liver oil supplementation

5. Vitamin C

The body uses vitamin C for so many different processes including to support immune function. This is what most people commonly connect it to.

It’s an antioxidant to fight oxidative stress as well as for healthy adrenal function. The adrenals actually contain a huge amount of vitamin C! So especially with heightened stress postpartum, we often need more of this vitamin.

And the power of vitamin C extends far beyond just ascorbic acid, which is the most common supplemental form. Whole food vitamin C actually is a complex that includes copper, another key mineral for our health, in its most usable form. Ascorbic acid actually depletes our copper!

Vitamin C-rich food sources

Some food sources include: Citrus fruits, berries especially exotic berries like camu camu, beef liver, bee pollen, and shellfish

6. Glycine

This amino acid is crucial for recovery after birth. It stimulates collagen production and therefore supports the uterus’s return back to its original size, the skin’s regaining of its elasticity, and tissue healing of wounds like the one left by the placenta and any tearing/episiotomy or C-section incision.

Glycine-rich food sources

Bone-in meats (particularly slow cooked), poultry with skin, bone broth, gelatin and collagen supplements.

7. Vitamin E

Vitamin E acts as an antioxidant, protecting the body from oxidative stress and boost progesterone, and balance estrogen, so it’s beneficial during postpartum. It’s also a crucial nutrient for babies’ development, and breast milk levels are influenced by mom’s stores (4). Yet up to 85% of women – including 70% of breastfeeding mothers- aren’t getting enough vitamin E through food.

Vitamin E-rich food sources

Wheat germ oil, salmon, avocado, pumpkin, beet greens, almonds, and peanuts 

woman with bowl of oatmeal topped with fruit

8. Choline

Choline is a key nutrient for brain development and function. Our needs increase during pregnancy but even more during postpartum, particularly if we’re breastfeeding. Levels of choline in breast milk depend on a mother’s intake (3), yet over 80% of lactating women don’t get enough of this nutrient from their diets (4). 

Choline-rich food sources

Eggs (including the yolk), organ meats like liver, chicken breast, salmon, and pork.

9. Zinc

Commonly known for its role in supporting immune function, zinc is also important for wound healing, liver function, and metabolism of hormones. Many studies have shown that a lack of zinc is associated with depression (5), which has implications for postpartum mood disorders. It’s common for postpartum moms not to consume enough zinc through food, especially if breastfeeding since needs increase above pregnancy levels (1). 

Zinc-rich food sources

Red meat, oysters and other shellfish, lentils, and almonds.

10. Iodine

Iodine is needed for thyroid hormone production, which regulates our metabolisms. Our iodine consumption needs to increase during pregnancy and increase more if we breastfeed. Lactating moms need about 50% more non-pregnant women and about 25% more than during pregnancy (6), yet research shows almost half of breastfeeding women don’t consume enough (7). 

Iodine-rich food sources

Sea vegetables (like kelp and nori), seafood like cod and tuna, and dairy products.

Read next: A Naturopath Shares Her Three Favorite Herbs for Postpartum Healing

hot mug of tea with a gold spoon

Some final thoughts on key nutrients and postpartum healing

Ultimately, the best way to ensure you’re getting the nutrients you need – all of these listed above and more – is by eating a varied, sufficient, nutrient-dense diet.

Then, placing a little extra attention on some of the foods that pack many important nutrients like liver, eggs, red meat, oysters, dark leafy green vegetables, and nettles tea. 

Food sourcing and quality are important, particularly for animal products and produce. For example, prioritizing grass-fed/pasture-raised animal products (especially rendered fats like butter and organ meats like liver), wild fish and seafood, and fresh and, when possible, organic vegetables and fruits.

It’s also helpful to keep in mind that nutrients are most easily assimilated by the body when present in food alongside their natural cofactors. However, it is often ideal for postpartum – and especially breastfeeding women – to take a high-quality multi-nutrient supplement to cover their bases or supplement specific nutrients based on personal needs. 

Editor’s note: we love this doctor-formulated, medical-grade prenatal supplement.

Always consult with your doctor regarding supplementation, and ideally, work with a qualified nutrition professional to personalize your diet to best promote your health and replenishment after having a baby. You deserve it, mama.

Additional supportive offerings:

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Article references:

1. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK235913/

2. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3430492/ 

3. https://academic.oup.com/jn/article/133/12/4139/4687469?login=true

4. https://www.dietaryguidelines.gov/sites/default/files/2020-07/PartD_Ch3_Lactation_first-print.pdf

5.  https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/18824054/

6. https://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/Iodine-HealthProfessional/#en627- https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/17311853/

Kim Perez

Functional Nutritionist

Kim Perez is a Functional Nutritionist (FNTP, RWP, RCPC) supporting women through the transition into motherhood and beyond. Her own health journey, especially the struggles she experienced postpartum, have catalyzed her mission to help other mamas regain vibrant health after having babies and feel happy and at home in their bodies. Through her signature method, Kim helps women uncover root causes of depletion and imbalance and learn to fully nourish and strengthen their bodies, especially in the face of the demands of motherhood. Through her 1:1 work, group programs, and online education, she carries out her mission of helping more moms have the energy they need to show up fully in motherhood and feel their best.

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