After birth, it is important to not only replenish the nutrients lost during pregnancy, labor and birth, but to also provide the proper nutrients and adequate about of energy, or calories, for healing, as well as for milk production. This is not only important for you and your healing, but also for future pregnancies.
Calories are energy - To have enough energy to function, heal, and make breastmilk, it is so important to eat enough calories. This is not a time to diet in the hopes of returning to your pre-pregnancy weight as soon as humanly possible. This is a time to nourish and heal your body. Eat until you are satiated. Choose whole foods that are full of protein, healthy fats, complex carbohydrates, vitamins and minerals. If you need more of a caloric guide, an easy way to calculate an estimate of your need, figure out your BMR, which is your Basal Metabolic Rate. This is the amount of calories your body needs to have proper organ function. In other words, how many calories your body needs if you were to lay still all day long and not exert any energy on anything but bodily functions. Once you have this number, add for your activity level. Directly after birth, you shouldn't be doing much exercise, so adding 300-500 calories for activities is usually adequate. Lastly, you need to add calories if you are creating breastmilk, about 500 calories.
Macronutrients - Protein, Fats, Carbohydrates. Just like calories, now is not the time for a low fat or low carb diet. With that being said, you do want healthy fats and complex carbs. with plenty of protein.
Healthy protein would be lean, grass fed, and ideally organic meats, or organic and GMO free plant based protein. How do you know how much protein to eat? A simple math equation: your weight (kg) X 1.2 = your protein goal. You can eat a little more than this, especially if you are producing milk, but this calculation should be your minimum goal. Your protein intake should equal about 25-30% of your total caloric intake for the day.
Ideal fats are olive oil, avocado oil, coconut oil, nuts, seeds, ghee, grass fed butter, pasture raised meats and eggs, wild caught fish such as salmon. Your total fat intake should equal about 30% of your total caloric intake. This total should have a ratio of about 1:2 or even 1:1 of omega 3:omega 6 EFA (essential fatty acids).
Complex carbohydrates are whole grains, such as brown rice, quinoa, millet and oatmeal, as well as fruits and vegetables in the rainbow of colors! Your total carb intake should equal about 40-50% of your calories per day. This should include 22-25g of fiber. This means that 50% of your plate should be vegetables, which works out to be about 6-8 cups of veggies per day and 2-3 fruits per day. Keep in mind one fruit equals 1/2 cup. Eating too much fruit can actually lead to stomach aches, bloating and diarrhea.
Micronutrients - Vitamins, Minerals, and Phytonutrients. Eating as described above should give you most of the micronutrients you need, in addition to continuing to take your prenatal multivitamin.
Four important nutrients to replenish during postpartum are:
1. Omega 3 Fatty Acids – This is an extremely important nutrient for the fetus in utero. Omega 3 is made up of two main components, which are EPA and DHA. The fetus specifically needs the DHA for brain and neurological development. It will take what it needs from the mother’s diet. If there isn’t enough in the diet, it will be taken from other areas of the mother’s body. This could be a reason of “pregnancy brain” or “mom brain” where the mom feels a decrease in memory or the ability to think clearly. Therefore, it is important to not only consume adequate amounts of omega 3 fatty acids during pregnancy, but also during postpartum. Great sources of omega 3 fatty acids are cold-water wild fish, seaweed, flax seeds, chia seeds, and walnuts. Supplementation could also be an option.
2. Iron – A large amount of iron is lost during birth, as well as during uterine healing because of bleeding. This is because iron is a main component in hemoglobin, which is a component in blood and assists in carrying oxygen through the body. Replenishing iron stores can improve your energy level by improving oxygen transport into the cells. Studies also show low iron is associated with postpartum depression. Foods that are great sources of iron are liver and other organ meats, red meat, turkey, spinach, legumes, and quinoa. Meat sources are heme-iron, which is more bio-available. In other words iron from meats are easier absorbed and used by the body. Vegetable sources of iron are non-heme, which is not as bio-available. Squeezing some lemon on those veggies increases their absorbability. Another amazing source of heme-iron is supplement capsules made from your placenta.
3. Folate – We have all heard about the importance of folate during pregnancy. It is needed for proper development and growth of the central nervous system including the brain and spinal cord. It is also important during breastfeeding and is a component in healthy breast milk. Something to be aware of is that folate is a natural B-vitamin, B9 to be exact. Folic acid is a synthetic form of folate and can be difficult or even impossible for many people to methylate. Methylate basically means a specific carbon molecule is attached to the folate molecule to make it active and able to be use in making a number of other important chemicals or hormones in the body, such as phospholipids, glutathione, myelin, coenzyme q10, carnitine, and creatine, which are all extremely important for energy, heart health, nerve health and ridding the body of free radicals which can cause cancers. The main problem with folic acid intake, rather than folate intake, is that many people have a MTHFR mutation, which basically means the folic acid cannot be converted to methyl-folate, and there for creates a pool of folic acid in the blood while the hormones that methyl-folate is used for decreases and leads to major health issues. Many packaged foods have been fortified with folic acid to try and reduce neural tube defects within the population. This fortification has backfired. It is best to actually avoid these foods. Instead, get your folate form foods such as legumes, pasture raised eggs, leafy greens, and broccoli. If supplementation is needed, look for methylated folate or methyl-folate, rather than folic acid.
4. Zinc – This essential mineral has become the most common deficiency in men and women. There are two reasons for this. Over farming, pesticides and herbicides have depleted many minerals from farmed soil. Deletion in the soil leads to foods that are lower in zinc, and therefore people who are also deficient. A second reason for this common deficiency is that people’s gut health has dramatically been compromised from eating foods that cause inflammation, damaging the lining of the intestinal walls, and causing leaky gut. This damage makes the absorption of nutrients, including zinc, difficult to impossible. Zinc is needed for immune development, brain development, skin health, as well as countless enzyme reactions. There are three ways to improve zinc absorption after pregnancy. You can improve your gut health with the guidance of a Functional Nutritionist. You can increase your intake of dietary zinc through foods, such as whole grains, nuts, beans, and lean meats. Lastly, you can take a zinc supplement.
If you would like more information about healing and replenishing nutrients lost during pregnancy and birth, please check out my 6 week program - The Fourth Trimester: Postpartum Healing Through Nutrition