Why Postpartum Nutrition Needs Are Unique
Many physiological changes occur during and after delivering a baby. It took nine months to build your pregnancy body, and it takes time to reverse those adaptations. After childbirth, your skin starts to regain elasticity, your connective tissue begins to repair and you start to produce breast milk, which is a metabolically demanding process. Also, during both vaginal and cesarean-section (C-section) deliveries, your skin can tear, rip and alter, and the healing process requires specific nutrients.
Long deliveries can mean you don't eat for an extended period of time while expending a lot of calories. After delivery, it's important to replenish your nutrients, including electrolytes, to restore your body as it heals. Plus, if you're breastfeeding, additional calories and certain micronutrients are necessary to keep up with your body's (and baby's) demands.
Important Nutrients for Postpartum Recovery
These are some of the highest-priority nutrients that can help support your postpartum body:
- Iron, vitamin B12 and folate are “blood-building” nutrients important during the first few weeks of recovery to help build healthy blood cells and replenish blood loss.
- Vitamin C, vitamin A and zinc help support skin health and may help the body recover from tears, rips and other delivery-related injuries.
- Docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) is a fatty acid that has been linked to a reduced risk of postpartum depression.
- Choline, vitamin D, iodine, selenium and thiamin are needed in higher amounts if you're lactating to ensure your breast milk contains enough of these nutrients for your baby.
- Calcium is especially important during the postpartum stage as lactation creates a greater demand for calcium and low levels of estrogen (which naturally occur during the postpartum stage) can affect calcium absorption and temporarily impact bone health.
- Protein is also important, especially among those who have had a C-section, as it can help build, repair and maintain muscle.
- Fiber may help facilitate bowel movements, which can be challenging due to the natural shift in hormones after delivery or a C-section.
- Staying well hydrated is important for all aspects of recovery, and is essential for those who are breastfeeding as it can benefit breast milk production.
“Focus on nutritious foods — fruits, vegetables, whole grains, dairy and lean proteins — to get important nutrients for postpartum recovery, such as iron and folate. Be sure to eat enough calories and protein to promote healing,” said Weiler. “And if breastfeeding, you'll need approximately 500 more calories every day to help keep up with the demand.”
Best Postpartum Foods for Recovery and Support
Having nutritious foods on hand that take little time to prepare can help nourish your postpartum journey. Here are five foods that pack a punch in the postpartum nutrition department. Plus, they're delicious and easy to eat, which is key when juggling life with a newborn.
Keeping a stash of shelled, hard-boiled eggs in the fridge can be a perfect solution for a grab-and-go snack.
Eggs are a source of high-quality protein to support postpartum healing, choline and iodine to help meet lactation needs, vitamin A to support skin health and vitamin B12 to help the body create more blood cells.
Eating low-mercury seafood can help fuel your postpartum body with high-quality protein, DHA and micronutrients such as vitamin D, iron, selenium and vitamin B12.
Canned tuna can be just as nutritious as eating a fresh piece of fish. And among the tuna options out there, skipjack tuna tends to be lower in mercury than other varieties, such as bigeye and albacore. As a bonus, canned skipjack tuna requires zero cooking, making it an ideal food for new parents who may have little time to spend in the kitchen.
Dairy Milk or Fortified Milk Alternatives
For calcium, magnesium and other bone health-supporting nutrients, milk is simple to sip on during busy days. While dairy milk is the quintessential bone-supporting drink, many dairy alternatives, such as almond milk and soy milk, have these key bone-supporting nutrients added to them as well (be sure to check the label!). You can drink milk on its own, or you can add it to many simple recipes, such as smoothies.
Oranges, grapefruit and other citrus fruits are chock-full of postpartum-supporting nutrients, including vitamin C and fiber. These fruits are also super hydrating, and they can sometimes satisfy a sweet tooth with no added sugar.
Opting for fortified orange juice can also provide calcium and vitamin D, which help support bone health.
Healthy fats, magnesium and fiber are just a few of the many nutritional features that avocados offer to postpartum parents. Adding avocados to your meals can be easy: include slices in your sandwich or salad, toss some chunks in your smoothie or simply enjoy this fruit on its own with a spoon.
The postpartum stage is different for everyone. No matter your situation, you can make the most of this special time of life by getting the right nutrients to support your healing, lactation and wellness.