Eating After Baby Gets Here: Is there a Postpartum Diet?
By Melinda Scholten, R.D., CDE
Nutrition recommendations for pregnancy are pretty clear about what to eat and what to avoid. Moms have to be careful about mercury, listeria, and food safety in general. But after delivery are there specific foods mom should eat that make a difference in her physical health as well as her mood and emotional health? Current recommendations are pretty sparse and sound like "go back to eating normally," or "OK, eat whatever you want." What's a mom to do?
The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) has started referring to the first six to eight weeks post-delivery as "the Fourth Trimester." This is a time when nourishing food can make a huge difference for mom and for baby.
According to the Mayo Clinic a breastfeeding mom needs an additional 330-400 calories per day to support her body and manufacture milk. This could easily come from an extra handful of almonds, a Greek yogurt and a peach, for example. Just like in pregnancy, "eating for two" is not an accurate description because the other person's stomach is only the size of a walnut at day 3 and an apricot at one week!
At the same time, the beginning of breastfeeding is not the time to focus on weight loss, but to maintain and nourish so the body has enough raw materials for its milk recipe. After establishing a good milk supply, many women do lose weight during breastfeeding because of the extra energy it requires. Drinking plenty of water is also key to making enough milk.
Some women have well-meaning relatives and neighbors who recommend restrictive diets after delivery, passed on from family traditions or sometimes cultural practices. It's important to use caution with any advice to avoid an entire food group. These practices can lead to not making enough milk because the mom is lacking nutrition. Check with a Registered Dietitian for clarification.
It's normal for a mom to be concerned if baby is getting adequate breastmilk, but fortunately the vast majority of moms can make plenty of milk to meet baby's needs (some even make too much and can donate it to a milk bank!). If a mom was really worried then she should meet with an IBCLC, a lactation nurse with specialized training and resources before giving up. But are there foods that will help with milk supply? The research is scarce but luckily the foods recommended are foods that happen to be healthy for mom anyway, so if a woman wanted to try adding any foods from this list there would also be no harm.
Foods That May Help Increase Breastmilk Supply include: Oatmeal, Barley, Garlic, Asparagus, Carrots, Yams, Beets, Greens, Parsley, Sesame Seeds, Almonds, Almond Milk, Spinach, Sweet Potatoes, Green Beans, and Fennel.
Food and Mood
Whether breastfeeding, bottle-feeding or both, most experts agree that what postpartum women eat does affect their mental well-being. Foods that nourish the body also make new moms feel more stable and satisfied - think vegetables and fruits, lean proteins, healthy fats, and some whole grains and calcium foods. It also helps to have small meals and snacks throughout the day instead of a couple of big heavy meals.
Some foods have a negative impact on mood - high sugar foods with little nutrition can make a new mom feel like she's on a rollercoaster, with short-term satisfaction followed by a crash and hunger, even feelings of irritation. This state has been termed "hangry" and is usually noticed first by friends and loved ones! To avoid getting to this point, choose balanced meals with some produce, some protein and a small portion of whole grain.
- Nectarine with string cheese or pistachios or a hard-boiled egg
- Whole grain toast with peanut or almond butter and a handful of grapes
- Greek yogurt, almonds, and berries
- Jack cheese, whole grain crackers and an apricot
- Sunflower seeds and a peach
- Whole grain crackers with tuna salad or egg salad and a kiwi
Diet and Discomforts
After delivery moms are more likely to have constipation, especially women who have had a C-section and need pain medications. It's helpful to choose more high fiber foods, like fruits, beans, vegetables and to drink more water. Some women find warm water or decaffeinated tea to be better than cold beverages. Fibrous foods should be added gradually. If cleared for exercise, walking will help.
Anemia is common in pregnancy and can continue after delivery, especially if there was some blood loss. As if mom wasn't tired enough already, with anemia she's even more tired.
People think of red meat as a source of iron, but plant foods can help too. Beans and lentils, and some cereals are great sources (check the label). Peanut butter and tofu also contribute 1-2mg. Watermelon has 3mg per slice, and Popeye was right about spinach (and other greens) having iron (2g per half cup). Raisins, broccoli, green beans, potatoes and sweet potatoes and strawberries also provide 1 mg of iron. If possible it's good to include a vitamin C food with your iron food to absorb more (such as beans + tomatoes or oatmeal squares + strawberries).
Having small mini meals every 2-3 hours can also help provide energy throughout the day.
It can feel stressful bringing home a newborn, and food should not add to the stress. The word "nourish" should be emphasized….choose foods to nourish mom and baby. Stock up on items to keep everyone healthy so the emphasis can be on loving and caring for this new little person/people.
Remember that shortcuts are ok. Take advantage of conveniences like meal services or a meal train for mom. If it's easier to buy the carrots or broccoli that are already cut up, choose those. But also stock the freezer with some frozen vegetables or fruits that can be blended into a smoothie. Buy a rotisserie chicken for a quick dinner, use a crock pot or Instant Pot or stir up a one-pot meal or entrée soup with protein, vegetables and grains all in one place.
Forget meal titles - turkey meatballs can be breakfast, a vegetable omelet can be lunch, and a sandwich and a piece of fruit can be dinner.
Most importantly, moms need to not be afraid to ask for help. Other people are usually thrilled to have the honor of helping with baby, and mom can get some much needed rest and relaxation.
The author is a registered dietitian with NorthBay Healthcare.