Postnatal/Postpartum Nutrition

Guest article by Dr. Harriet Holme

Postnatal Nutrition

Congratulations on your new baby or babies! As new parents this is a hugely exciting time for you; but it can also be extremely daunting, with a new level of worry, doubt about your ability, and mum guilt that you could have done better.

After giving birth, there are so many other things to concentrate on other than your postpartum diet, but I’ve written this guide to provide you with some practical time saving tips. It can be challenging enough having a baby, let alone eating well too, and even more so with an active toddler in the day time! However, making sure that you are eating healthily can help your energy levels to cope with the demands of motherhood. Each day you breastfeed you need approximately 400-500 extra calories. I’ve also got lots of tips to help you ensure you meet your micronutrient needs while breastfeeding.

My top tips for optimising your nutrition after a baby are:

  • Batch cooking can be a good way of filling your fridge and freezer with lots of nutritious meals that are ready to reheat and takes some of the pressure off from cooking every day.
  • Vitamin D is vital for optimal functioning of 20% of our genes. Many people can’t make enough from sunshine alone all year and so the NHS guidance is to supplement during autumn and winter months. Sunscreen doesn’t prevent you making vitamin D from sunshine.
  • Eat wholegrain foods such as brown pasta, bread and rice, which are both better for your sugar profile and also contain more fibre, to support the friendly bacteria in your gut.
  • Eat at least 5 portions of fruit and vegetables per day. Think of eating the rainbow, as all the different colours are due to different polyphenols, which function as antioxidants.
  • Aim for a fibre intake of 30g (especially important immediately after giving birth when going to the toilet can be tricky); try to enrich your diet with extra dried fruit, lentils, and beans. Fibre is also important for your gut health.
  • Check you are eating foods rich in calcium in your diet. Dairy products, or non-dairy such as tofu, pulses, dried fruit, and fish that have edible bones, such as sardines, or tinned salmon are a great source of calcium. If you need to exclude diary because your baby has Cow’s Milk Protein Allergy (CMPA), ensuring you get enough calcium is particularly important. When you choose a plant based milk, ensure that it meets your nutritional needs, especially calcium and iodine. I’ve written a blog about how to choose a plant based milk, and the nutrients in each of the main ones found in the supermarkets.
  • Smoothies can also be a great way of getting calories and nutrients in quickly, and are better than juices, as they contain more of the soluble and insoluble fibre which is so good your gut.
  • Another important micronutrient is iodine, which until recently has been largely thought to be sufficient in our diets. However, recent research has raised concerns that pregnant and breastfeeding women are at risk of deficiency. People following a vegan diet are also at risk of iodine deficiency, since dairy products and fish are iodine rich foods. If you are excluding dairy from your diet, choose a plant based milk alternative that is fortified with iodine.
  • You need enough selenium in your diet for your thyroid gland to work properly. Selenium deficiency can lead to fatigue. Breastfeeding mothers and pregnant women need the highest levels of 60 -70mcg per day. Foods rich in selenium are meat (organs more than muscles), eggs and whole grains, fish, but brazil nuts have a huge amount compared with other foods, with just a couple of nuts providing your daily requirement of selenium.
  • Avocados, nuts and extra virgin olive oil are healthy mono-unsaturated fats important for health and energy. Try to have a handful of mixed nuts per day. They make a great snack while breastfeeding too.
  • Drink plenty of fluids – avoid sugary drinks and caffeine, instead choose water. To make water more interesting try adding herbs like verbena or slithers of vegetables such as cucumber.
  • Ensure your diet is rich in Omega 3 from seeds, nuts, seaweed and oily fish. Consider having fish night twice a week and enjoy some grilled salmon and vegetables, or a big mackerel salad.
  • Have healthy snacks to hand while you are breastfeeding such as fruit, vegetables, nuts and wholegrain crackers.

To help new mums I’ve designed a free nutrition checklist. Totally confused what 1250mg calcium or 30g of fibre looks like? It’s all on the free checklist.

I’m a Registered Nutritionist (AfN), and former experienced paediatrician. After studying at Cambridge University, I worked in the NHS for over a decade, ultimately specialising in paediatric oncology. I also have a PhD in genetics from UCL. I lecture on nutrition and was commissioned to write a novel degree combining culinary skills, nutrition and health. 

I now use these uniquely developed skills for the benefit of my clients and students, consulting as a Registered Nutritionist and lecturing in culinary science and nutrition. My focus is science backed nutrition, and I’m passionate about sharing credible information to empower people to eat for their health. I have lots of Nutrition and Health articles on my website or follow my ‘facts not fiction’ on Instagram @healthyeatingdr so that you can eat for health today.

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