Be as healthy as possible post-pregnancy and during breastfeeding
Pregnancy offers an opportunity to take time for yourself and slow down the pace of life – often whether you are ready to or not! And this does not need to end after the birth. The 12 weeks following on from the birth are often referred to as the fourth trimester, and getting adequate nutrition in here is just as vital as it was in the preceding three trimesters, maybe even more so to help manage the demands of breastfeeding and being a mother.
Iron stores may be depleted after the birth so it is advisable to ensure adequate intake from your diet or continuing to take a prenatal multivitamin whilst you are breastfeeding. Iron rich foods include red meat, spinach and lentils. Also add in some Vitamin C for added absorption, e.g. lemon juice to wilted spinach.
Zinc is needed to support a healthy immune system, which is put under a lot of strain during the delivery and post partum period. Foods rich in zinc include lamb, nuts and whole grains.
Vitamin E is incredibly powerful to promote healing and hormonal balance. Post partum the body experiences a huge shift in hormones and including lots of vitamin E rich foods such as sunflower seeds, avocado and wheatgerm can help support this.
Producing milk is very dehydrating for the body so be sure to stay well hydrated including lots of filtered water and herbal teas. The shift in hormones can often make women a bit more prone to sweat and therefore become further dehydrated so be mindful of this and make sure you are replenishing any lost magnesium or water by keeping up your fluids and intake of green leafy vegetables and seeds.
The baby’s immune system is dependent on the healthy immune system of the mother. Breastfeeding will help to ensure that baby starts to form a healthy microbiome. It is worth considering supplementing with a probiotic during the third and fourth trimester to support a diverse microbiomes. For babies born by caesarian, or who are not able to be breastfed, probiotics are available to give directly to the baby to help populate their gut and immune system.
Omega 3 fatty acids have been linked to support healthy mood in new mothers. Supplementing with a fish or algae sourced EPA and DHA supplement during the third and fourth trimester could decrease the risk of depressive symptoms postnatally. Food sources of omega 3’s include oily fish, nuts and seeds. However, the research supports a link between omega 3’s from fish sources as opposed to nuts and seeds, so an algae based supplement would be preferable for vegetarian or vegan mothers.
Post natal depression can occur at any stage during motherhood and can be completely debilitating, and should not be considered as a failure of ones ability to be a mother. The ‘baby blues’ are common and can set in around days 3-5 post partum when the milk comes in. If symptoms persist after this then seek help. Around 15% of new mothers experience postnatal depression and the causes can range from sudden changes in hormones, to traumatic births, or even triggered by previous psychological trauma.