Thanks to Brooke Bulloch, the Registered Dietitian behind Food To Fit Nutrition Inc., for writing this guest post.
Congratulations on your new baby!
Or perhaps you are a supportive friend or family member. Regardless, this is an exciting time for everyone. A new mom requires appropriate support, rest, and a nutrient dense diet in order to maintain her energy for a recovering body and caring for a new baby.
Postpartum Nutrient Needs
Most women can meet their postpartum nutrient needs from food. A general recommendation is to continue taking a prenatal supplement for 6 weeks after birth. If you are anemic, gave birth to twins, or follow a vegan diet, you should consult a dietitian or health care provider about supplementation.
Vitamin D is a nutrient that helps the body to build and maintain strong bones and teeth. Not enough can lead to soft, brittle bones. Health Canada recommends that adults up to 70 years of age (including during pregnancy and lactation) receive 600 IU vitamin D daily, but not more than 4000IU daily. There are few food sources that contain enough vitamin D to meet this requirement and Canadians may not produce enough in the skin due to reduced sun exposure during the winter months (and the use of sunscreen in summer months). Although most prenatal supplements will contain at least 600IU vitamin D, as soon as you stop taking prenatal supplements, ensure you continue to take a vitamin D supplement daily.
Lactation is an energy expensive process! A breastfeeding woman requires roughly 500 additional calories (slightly more than your 3rd trimester) just to keep up with lactation. To put this into perspective, 500 additional calories may look like: 1 slice of whole grain toast with 1 egg, ½ cup 2% yogurt, ¼ cup nuts, and ½ cup fresh fruit throughout your day. Breastfeeding women have higher recommended dietary intakes for vitamin A, C, B12, and zinc. But the additional calories from a variety of food groups will make up for these increased needs. Iron needs are lower than non-breastfeeding women due to the difference in blood loss from menstruation. However, iron-rich foods provide energy and keep the blood healthy so it’s important for everyone.
Postpartum Weight Loss – Nurturing your Body
For the first 6+ weeks, just rest! Ignore the pressure (wherever it may be coming from) to get out and work off that “baby weight”. You just spent 9 months gradually putting the weight on, it’s realistic to expect 9 or more months adjusting towards your natural size. Birth can change so many things about your body, including your new “normal” postpartum weight status. A woman’s body weight after pregnancy may very well remain above her pre-pregnancy weight. This does not mean she is less healthful, less beautiful, or less valuable. This may be very normal.
Restricting calories too much and too quickly can affect milk supply and consequently infant growth. Early studies looking at the impact of energy restriction and exercise on lactation suggest that:
Lactation must be well-established prior to reducing calories or incorporating exercise;
Exercising women tended to have higher milk production and volume (that is when their energy intake was also higher and meeting energy output needs);
Weight loss of 0.5 kg/week did not negatively affect the growth of the baby nor the composition of breast milk in women who were “overweight” prior to conception. We do not know a lot about the effect of weight loss on women who were not classified as “overweight” prior to conception.
As a dietitian who has supported many women with perceived weight issues and weight loss goals, I have seen the negative effects that dieting can have on a woman’s self esteem, body image, long term health, and issues with weight cycling (i.e. losing and re-gaining). Be kind and nurture your body. Do not actively try losing weight for the first 6 or more weeks postpartum. Let your body recover and focus on nourishing your body and soul with both healthful and comfort foods. After that point, allow the body to naturally transition its weight status. Weight loss of about 2 kg (~4.5 pounds) per month is considered safe and healthy.
Putting it altogether – Practical Nutrition Tips
Stock your cupboards, fridge, and freezer with nutrient-dense, but convenient foods. Have a friend or family member help with the shopping and prepping:
- Use vegetable oils such as extra virgin olive oil, canola oil, or avocado oil with cooking
- Use butter or coconut oil in smaller portions and less often
- Frozen avocado pieces can be easily added to a smoothie or thawed and mashed into a guacamole dip
- Keep nuts on hand for quick snacking options, such as almonds, cashews, pecans, walnuts, or peanuts
Fish (fresh or canned)
- Eating a small portion of fish twice per week will provide the essential omega 3 fats called EPA and DHA. If you do not eat fish, you might consider a fish oil supplement containing 500-1000 mg of combined EPA + DHA daily
- Keep canned tuna or salmon in the cupboard for easy lunches like tuna melts
- Meat, fish, poultry, egg yolks, nuts, pumpkin/sunflower seeds, tofu, tempeh, dried fruits, spinach, kale, potato with skin, lentils, chick peas, beans, oats, quinoa, and enriched flours (e.g. pasta, breakfast cereals) are all good sources of iron
- Have a batch of bean and veggie soup or chili in the freezer and packed into smaller containers that are easy to re-heat (hello guests – bring food!)
Quick, low maintenance snacks to keep you going
- Individual yogurt containers
- Individual cheese packs or cheese strings
- Trail mix made with dried cereal, dried fruit & nuts
- Washed, peeled, and cut carrot and celery sticks, peppers or cucumbers
- Washed cherry tomatoes, snap peas, fresh green beans, and radishes stored in a Tupperware container
- Hummus or tzatziki dip to go along with fresh veggies
- Strawberries, grapes, cherries, bananas, mandarin oranges, or apples
- Frozen berries and mango
- Hard-boiled eggs
- Peanut butter or almond butter
- Whole rice, corn, wheat, or rye crackers
- Fruit smoothie packs: ½ cup frozen fruit + handful of spinach + 1 tbsp of hemp seeds (make into Ziploc bags, stored in the freezer, then add yogurt and milk to make a smoothie)
You may not always have the time or energy to plan and eat 3 square meals. With assistance from family and friends, stock your home with nutrient-dense foods that are easy to prepare or “grab-and-go” when time and energy are limited. Have something to eat every 2-4 hours in order to maintain mental and physical energy, energy requirements for lactation, and nutrient needs for recovery. Don’t worry about the “baby weight” and trust your body to adjust naturally. Exercise when the doctor gives you the go-ahead but ease into it and listen to your body. Rest up and enjoy your new babe!
Brooke Bulloch, Registered Dietitian (BSc)
Food to Fit Nutrition Inc.
3) Health Canada
4) Lovelady, C. et al. (2011). Balancing exercise and food intake with lactation to promote postpartum weight loss. Proc Nutr Soc 24:1-4
5) Dewey, KG. et al. (1998). Effects of maternal caloric restriction and exercise during lactation. Journal of Nutrition. 386S-389S
Brooke Bulloch is a Registered Dietitian (BSc) from Saskatoon, SK. Brooke shares her thoughts and yummy recipes on her website Food To Fit.