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What Nutrients Do Postpartum Women Need? A Closer Look

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Recovering from birth is a 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 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 on the new baby. As a whole, there needs to be more attention placed on mom’s nourishment and overall care.

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Nutrition and postpartum healing

Nutrition is crucial to postpartum healing, recovery, and revitalization on many levels. One of the reasons postpartum can be so tricky 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 a 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 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.

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

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Breastfeeding and nutrition suggestions

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

You may have heard that you “burn” 500 additional calories a day when you’re nursing, but what this 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 ensuring we don’t become further depleted. And for many moms, well over 500 calories are 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 specific vital nutrients have critical roles for postpartum health. Most new mothers aren’t getting enough of these nutrients from food.

new mom sitting on bed breastfeeding baby

The ten most critical postpartum nutrients

  1. Magnesium
  2. Potassium
  3. Sodium
  4. Vitamin A
  5. Vitamin C
  6. Glycine
  7. Vitamin E
  8. Choline
  9. Zinc
  10. Iodine

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 body reactions- including energy production. Magnesium is vital during postpartum and 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, deficiency is common and is associated with many mood disorders, including depression.

During pregnancy, the baby takes vast amounts of magnesium from the mother, and if not replenished, this quickly depletes the mom. On top of that, lactation depletes magnesium, and most breastfeeding women have been found not to eat enough.

Magnesium-rich food sources

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

2. Potassium

This essential mineral is crucial for 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, the leading player in our stress response and blood sugar handling system, become overworked, they release a hormone that 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

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

3. Sodium

Sodium is an essential mineral that commonly gets a lot of negative attention. We’re often told to reduce our sodium intake (or salt) when it’s a very supportive nutrient, especially in times of depletion.

Note: processed foods that contain high levels are very different from whole-food sources.

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

Sodium-rich food sources

Dairy foods like milk, cheese, yogurt, beets, celery, and sea salt (choose a high quality, unrefined source like Himalayan or Celtic sea salt).

Specifically, using sea salt in cooking, seasoning food, and even putting a few pinches in drinking water can help restore levels.

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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, it’s used to support 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 essential is that it helps our bodies use iron better. When we don’t have enough vitamin A and bioavailable copper in our bodies, iron can quickly become “stuck,” We may even seem like we’re anemic on bloodwork.

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

Vitamin A-rich food sources

Beef liver, dairy foods, eggs, wild fatty fish, including cod liver oil supplementation

5. Vitamin C

The body uses vitamin C for 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 and healthy adrenal function. The adrenals contain a tremendous amount of vitamin C. So, especially with postpartum tension, we often need more of this vitamin.

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

Vitamin C-rich food sources

Citrus fruits, berries, 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 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.

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mom eating with a baby on her lap sleeping

7. Vitamin E

Vitamin E acts as an antioxidant, protecting the body from oxidative stress, boosting progesterone, and balancing estrogen, which is beneficial during postpartum. It’s also a crucial nutrient for babies’ development, and breast milk levels are influenced by mom’s stores.

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. Choline levels in breast milk depend on a mother’s intake, yet over 80% of lactating women don’t get enough of this nutrient from their diets. 

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 essential for wound healing, liver function, and the metabolism of hormones. Many studies have shown that a lack of zinc is associated with depression, 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. 

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 more during pregnancy if we breastfeed.

Lactating moms need about 50% more than non-pregnant women and about 25% more than during pregnancy, yet research shows almost half of breastfeeding women don’t consume enough. 

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

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Some final thoughts on crucial nutrients and postpartum healing

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

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

Food sourcing and quality are essential, 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 remember that nutrients are most readily assimilated by the body when present in food alongside their natural cofactors.

However, it is often ideal for postpartum – 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.

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