Post-Natal Nutrition: Top 5 Tips For Staying Healthy
Following her nutrition for pregnancy series, nutritional therapist Jodie Abrahams gives 5 tips for what to eat and drink post-birth to help you recover and feel your best.
Giving birth - whether it's an all-natural waterbirth, delivery with forceps or c-section - is an incredible achievement. The physical demands of labour and childbirth are often compared to running a marathon, and you can see why. Growing and birthing a baby is a feat of strength, power and endurance so it makes sense that your body needs support to recover and heal.
However, in those bleary-eyed, sleep deprived and hormonally charged early days and weeks of looking after a newborn, nourishing yourself often falls by the wayside.
Many traditional cultures have an enforced period of bed rest for the mother following childbirth. For around the first month, she is fed and cared for by her extended family and community so she can focus on recuperating while feeding and looking after her baby, without the additional demands of housework or cooking.
In modern life, that might seem like a tall order, but there are principles of this tradition that we can adopt. These five tips focus on foods that support healing, boost energy and deliver the nutrients needed in those early weeks of new motherhood.
1. Nourish yourself
Warming foods like soups, stews and broths are not only nutrient dense, hearty and filling, but they also expend less energy to digest than raw foods. By slow cooking, stewing and steaming foods, they are partially broken down and pre-digested, making their nutrients more readily available and easily absorbed. This preserves the body's resources for healing, repair and much-needed energy.
If you eat meat and fish, using chicken, beef or fish bones to make broths is a great way of consuming amino acids that can help the body heal and repair. Collagen, glycine and gelatin in bone broths can have digestive benefits too, particularly valuable if you have needed antibiotics or painkillers following childbirth.
If you're a vegetarian, a vegetable stock or broth still provides valuable nutrients and fibre, and is a great base for soups, stews and makes a nourishing hot drink too.
2. Keep things moving
Following on from Tip 2 in the pregnancy series, keeping well hydrated and eating fibre rich foods will help to keep your digestive system ticking along nicely.
Antibiotics and painkillers can all result in constipation, compounded by the fact that labour slows down the digestive system. For many women, the prospect of the first poo post-birth is a scary one. Bruising, tearing or stitches can make women nervous about doing a number 2.
While relaxation is an essential part of helping your bowel do its thing, nutritionally speaking, there are simple things you can do to make things easier too. Eating at regular intervals and drinking enough water will help to regulate and soften stools, making them easier to pass. Aim for at least 2 litres of water per day. Keeping a drink close to hand when you're feeding your baby will remind you to drink when they do.
Eating wholegrains and plenty of fruit and veg are easy ways to boost your fibre intake. If you're really stuck, prunes, dried apricots and dates should all help. You could also try some ground flaxseeds sprinkled on your breakfast.
Keeping yourself mobile is important too - do some gentle walking each day. Getting outside and moving is also great for boosting your mood and energy levels.
3. Stay satiated
Wakeful nights, constant feeding (whether from breast or bottle), fluctuating hormones and your body's adjustment to post-natal life can all leave you feeling ravenously hungry!
Eat foods that satiate you, so you feel as energised as possible. Include avocados, nuts and seeds, plenty of green and brightly coloured veg, wholegrains, legumes like lentils, chickpeas, peas and kidney beans, good quality eggs, meat, poultry and fish. Adding a spoonful of coconut oil to smoothies and porridge is an easy way to make them more filling and energy dense.
Resist the temptation to gorge on refined white grains, sweets, biscuits and chocolate as these will send your blood sugar soaring followed by an inevitable crash.
4. Support your supply
If you're breastfeeding and want to support your milk supply, there are certain foods that can help. Called 'galactagogues', these foods include fennel and fenugreek, oats, wholegrains, sesame seeds, flaxseeds, garlic, alfalfa and ginger.
Easy ways to incorporate galactagogues are by drinking ginger steeped in warm water, eating porridge or adding pre-soaked oats to smoothies, adding fennel to a range of roast veg and serving with brown rice or quinoa, sprinkling ground flaxseeds and sesame seeds on soups, stews or porridge and adding ginger, garlic and fenugreek to cooking.
5. Boost your mood
The sudden drop in hormones following giving birth combined with the exhaustion of looking after a new baby can affect a new mother's mood. Many women experience 'the baby blues', feeling tearful or feeling low. This is very common around the third day after giving birth when the milk comes in.
However, if you feel low, tearful or anxious for more than two weeks after giving birth, have the onset of these feelings at any other time, or have any of the symptoms of post-natal depression outlined by the NHS, speak to your GP or health visitor for support.
As well as keeping blood sugar stable (see Tip 7 in the pregnancy series), getting regular fresh air and gentle exercise plus resting as much as possible, can all help you to feel more stable during this time.
Eating tryptophan-rich foods such as oats, almonds, lentils, eggs, chicken/turkey and bananas can also help to boost your mood. Tryptophan is a precursor to serotonin, a mood enhancing neurotransmitter, and melatonin, which can improve sleep quality.
The tips in this article are generic, and do not take into account individual nutritional needs or replace medical advice. For personalised nutrition and lifestyle support, see Jodie's consultation plans at www.jodieabrahams.com. For any health concerns, always consult a medical professional.