As nutrition professionals, we recognize that supporting our health with solid nutrition is important during all phases of the lifespan. However, there are certainly specific periods when our diets may require a little extra attention to ensure we are fully supporting our bodies. One such period is post-partum.
Post-partum is considered the time period from childbirth, until the mother’s body nearly returns to its pre-pregnancy state, which lasts approximately six to eight weeks. This time period is filled with physical and emotional changes. Rest and recovery are crucial during this time period, but nutrition can also play a critical role in post-partum health, for all mothers.
A healthy diet will help promote healing from delivery, and recovery from the stress of pregnancy on the body. Whether or not a new mom is breastfeeding, a healthy balanced diet is important for recovery. Breastfeeding moms will have a few special considerations, particularly in ensuring sufficient caloric intake to support milk supply. While weight loss may be a goal for new mothers, the post-partum period is not a time for dramatic calorie cutting or dietary restraints. A gradual loss over time will allow the body to heal and strengthen without added stress.
All new moms need to select nutrient rich foods. This means choosing foods that are rich in nutrients with limited calories from sugars and unhealthy fats. Choose whole grains like oatmeal and whole wheat bread, lots of fruits and vegetables, milk, leans meats, beans, and healthy oils such as olive oil. New moms should be sure to obtain sufficient calories to help the body recover. Breastfeeding requires an additional 500 calories per day compared to non-lactating, pre-pregnancy calorie requirements. Some of this calorie need can be met through body stores, but breastfeeding moms should be particularly aware of fueling sufficiently to support their milk supply.
It is also important for new moms to drink plenty of fluids. This will support milk production for those are who are breastfeeding, and may also aid in alleviating constipation, which is a common problem plaguing new moms. Exercise is also an important component of physical and psychological recovery. New moms should check with their doctor to make sure that they are ready to undertake activity, and proceed slowly with increasing activity.
Ultimately, the best diet for new moms is very similar to the best diet for all populations. Choosing a variety of nutrient rich foods, and not striving for ‘perfection’, but rather enjoying balance and moderation can help the body recover while promoting a healthy relationship with food. Doing so will ensure the best diet for the recovering maternal body, as well as the best food source for the infant if breastfeeding. When working with this unique population, encouraging health and balance is critical to overall wellness.
About the Author
Dr. Dara Ford is a registered and licensed dietitian with research interests broadly related to health related quality of life, obesity prevention and diet quality. She is particularly interested in dietary patterns throughout the lifetime and potential impacts for length and quality of life. She is also interested in lifestyle changes to improve health and well-being. Prior to coming to American, Dr. Ford was a doctoral student and adjunct faculty at Pennsylvania State University, participating in research examining the impact of diet quality on mortality, health-related quality of life and healthcare resource use in an aging population. Dr. Ford earned her PhD in Nutrition and her BS in Nutrition from Pennsylvania State University.
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