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.
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.
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, and certain key nutrients have key roles for postpartum health. The majority of new mothers aren’t getting enough of these nutrients from food.
The ten most important postpartum nutrients
Iron is essential for health at any stage, yet deficiency is extremely common, occurring in more than ½ of women of reproductive age (2).
While our postpartum needs aren’t as high as during pregnancy, it is crucial to replenish the iron lost during childbirth due to blood loss, especially early postpartum.
And if breastfeeding, mom’s iron stores supply the baby with iron, so it’s key to ensure we’re getting enough. Iron is also important for thyroid health as well as cognitive function and mood. Iron deficiency anemia is actually a risk factor for postpartum depression (3, 4).
Iron-rich food sources
Red meat (like beef, bison, and lamb), turkey, organ meats like liver, and shellfish like clams and oysters. (Many plant-based foods like spinach and legumes contain non-heme iron, which isn’t as readily absorbed by the body as iron in animal/fish products).
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 (4), yet over 80% of lactating women don’t get enough of this nutrient from their diets (5).
Choline-rich food sources
Eggs (including the yolk), organ meats like liver, chicken breast, salmon, and pork.
DHA is an omega-three fatty acid that’s essential, meaning we must get it from food. If we don’t have enough for ourselves and our babies during pregnancy, our bodies will take it from us to give to them, which can leave us depleted postpartum. And interestingly enough, we store most of our DHA in our brains.
Plus, this depletion can continue through breastfeeding, too, since DHA is such an important nutrient for babies. Research has suggested that proper DHA levels influence our mental focus and even reduce the risk of postpartum depression (6).
DHA-rich food sources
Fatty fish like salmon, tuna, anchovies, and sardines, beef, and eggs (particularly grass-fed/pasture-raised).
Calcium is crucial for health at any point in time – for bone and teeth health and muscle contractions, among other functions – but especially for new moms. Our bodies take calcium from our bones during pregnancy to support our growing babies, especially during the third trimester, but this transfer continues during breastfeeding. We must replenish this mineral postpartum, yet most moms don’t eat enough from food (1).
Calcium-rich food sources
Dairy products like milk and cheese, fish with small bones (like sardines), dark leafy greens like kale and collard greens, chickpeas, sesame and sunflower seeds, and nettles tea.
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 (7), 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, lentils, hemp seeds, and almonds.
This amino acid (building blocks of protein) 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.
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 (8), yet research shows almost half of breastfeeding women don’t consume enough (9).
Iodine-rich food sources
Sea vegetables (like kelp and nori), seafood like cod and tuna, and dairy products.
8. Vitamin D
This fat-soluble vitamin is key for healthy immune function, bone health, and hormone balance and has important postpartum roles in particular. Deficiency has been correlated with postpartum depression and anxiety (10).
Also, levels in breastmilk depend on mom’s stores (5). This one’s tough to get enough of through food; sunshine is the best source. Yet, most of us aren’t able to get sufficient sunshine, so supplementation may be necessary.
Vitamin D-rich food sources
Fatty fish like salmon and tuna, egg yolks, and cod liver oil.
9. 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 (5). Yet up to 85% of women – including 70% of breastfeeding mothers- aren’t getting enough vitamin E through food.
Vitamin E-rich food sources
Sunflower seeds, almonds, hazelnuts, pumpkin, peanuts, salmon, and avocado.
This calming mineral is one of the most dynamic, involved in hundreds of reactions within the body. 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.
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 (5).
Magnesium-rich food sources
Avocado, cacao/cocoa, almonds, cashews, spinach, black beans, and nettles tea.
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.
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