Welcoming a new baby into the world can be a joyous, overwhelming, and transformative experience for parents! In the whirlwind of caring for a newborn, it can be difficult to prioritize your own health and well-being. The postpartum period is a time where adequate nutrition and hydration can be very helpful for new parents, so let’s explore some helpful nutrition tips to support you on your postnatal journey.
Am I eating enough?
Postpartum nutrition looks different for everyone, but something you may consider is “am I eating enough?”. During the postpartum period, you have increased nutrient demands due to factors such as tissue repair, hormonal changes, and for some folks nursing. Not eating enough can often contribute to symptoms such as low energy, brain fog, sleep and mood disturbances, and cravings. However with a new baby at home, they naturally become the number one priority, and as a gentle reminder, there is no “right” or “wrong” way to go about your own self-care or nutrition.
It’s important to acknowledge that sometimes a barrier to eating enough as a new parent postpartum is the concept of restricting your diet in order to “bounce back”. After giving birth, societal expectations and diet culture create immense pressure for new parents to get back to their pre-pregnancy bodies. Unfortunately, this focus on appearance and weight loss can have detrimental effects on the physical and mental well-being of parents. If it feels good for you, give yourself permission to eat regularly during the day so you can nourish your body. As a general starting point, eating every 3 hours, including a carbohydrate with fiber, protein, and fats can be a helpful rule of thumb to follow. We acknowledge that this can be a difficult time for parents to navigate, so if you need support, we recommend you reach out to your healthcare and mental health providers.
What should I be eating as a new parent?
There is no specific “postpartum nutrition diet” that you need to follow! Instead, think about eating foods you enjoy regularly during the day. Eating every 3 to 4 hours and including carbohydrates, fiber, protein, and fats gives you an opportunity to regularly fill your fuel tank and get all the nutrients your body needs. Eating enough can help nourish your body and may avoid symptoms such as fatigue, brain fog, erratic hunger, and cravings.
Protein plays a crucial role in postnatal nutrition as it aids in tissue repair, supports muscle recovery, and helps us feel satiated. Depending on your dietary preferences, include a variety of protein sources such as meat, fish, dairy, eggs, beans, lentils, chickpeas, tofu, tempeh, nuts, and seeds.
Dietary fats are vital for postnatal recovery, specifically for hormone regulation. Try to incorporate a variety of dietary fats such as olive oil, coconut oil, avocados, nuts, seeds, fatty fish, dairy, and eggs. Omega-3 fatty acids, especially docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), are important for the development of the infant's brain. If a parent chooses to nurse, it is important to note that DHA is transferred into breast milk and therefore important to include in your diet. A great source of DHA is fatty fish, such as salmon.
Carbohydrates are our main energy source and are helpful for preventing fatigue and reducing sugar cravings. Choose whole grains rich in fiber more often such as brown rice, quinoa, oats, yams, sweet potatoes, and whole grain sprouted bread. Carbohydrates that are quicker to digest and absorb include things such as fruit, foods made with white flour, and sugar. All carbohydrates can be included in moderation in a healthy diet!
Antioxidants, found in foods such as colorful fruits and vegetables and spices, can help fight inflammation in the body. Colorful fruits and vegetables also provide a wide range of vitamins and minerals necessary for overall health and recovery. Some examples include leafy greens, berries, citrus fruits, cruciferous vegetables, sweet potatoes, and cooking with spices such as turmeric, cinnamon, paprika, and more.
Vitamins and minerals, such as iron, folic acid, calcium, vitamin D, choline, B vitamins, and zinc, are important to include in your diet to replenish nutrient stores and prevent deficiencies. Oftentimes it is recommended to continue your prenatal supplement after giving birth, but check in with your healthcare provider as this can depend on your dietary intake, blood work, and nursing for some folks.
Postpartum Nutrition While Lactating
There are many wonderful ways to feed your baby, one of them is nursing or pumping. If a parent chooses or is able to do so, following all of the nutritional strategies above is a great way to support yourself. Two additional tips to keep in mind are 1) hydration and 2) increasing energy requirements. Staying hydrated is important for milk supply and your overall health, and lactation does increase your energy requirements. Aim to drink water regularly throughout the day (did you know they recommend 4 liters!?), and add an additional 1 - 2 snacks during the day to meet your energy needs. Have a water bottle at the ready when you’re feeding or pumping!
Nutrient-dense meal and snack ideas
As mentioned previously, there is no specific diet you need to follow during your postpartum period. But if you are looking for some inspiration in the kitchen, here are some easy, balanced meals and snacks you can try!
Note: please adjust ideas for your dietary preferences, and portion sizes have been purposely left out as appetites and energy needs vary depending on the person!
Sprouted grain or sourdough toast with butter, avocado, and scrambled eggs
Full fat Greek yogurt, granola, berries, chia seeds, and a drizzle of peanut butter
Breakfast smoothie: 1.25 cups of your milk of choice, 1 banana, ¼ cup frozen berries, 1 tbsp of chia or hemp seeds, 2 tbsp of peanut butter, ¼ cup of dry large flake oats, and ⅓ cup of plain or vanilla Greek yogurt
Lunch & Dinner:
Caprese salad sandwich on a ciabatta bun, mozzarella cheese, tomato, basil, and olive oil. Optional: add chicken for extra protein
Pesto pasta salad with cooked whole grain pasta, arugula, cherry tomatoes, cucumber, olives, feta, and whole cooked prawns
Fajitas: tortillas, stir fried peppers & onions with taco seasoning, sour cream, guacamole, salsa, cilantro, and your protein (prawns, chicken, tofu, beef, pork, etc.)
Pesto chicken quesadillas with whole wheat tortillas, cheese, pesto, and leftover chicken
Cheese and crackers
Crackers, hummus, and sliced veggies
Lara Bar, KIND Bar, or Mid Day Squares
Yogurt with granola and fruit
Slice of toast with peanut butter and sliced banana
Pita bread with hummus
Corn tortilla chips with salsa and guacamole
Hard boiled egg & fruit
Cottage cheese with fruit
As new parents embark on the journey of caring for a newborn, being mindful of postpartum nutrition can be tremendously helpful for physical and emotional well-being. Improving energy levels, reducing brain fog, regulating hunger and cravings, and ensuring you’re getting all the nutrients you need can be made possible by incorporating a variety of carbohydrates, proteins, and fats every 3 - 4 hours during the day. Remember to stay hydrated, snack mindfully, and seek support when needed. Family and friends can be an excellent support system when it comes to help with cooking and meal prep. Healthcare providers can also play a crucial role by providing education and support for postpartum health. If you are looking for a registered dietitian, clinical counsellor, pelvic floor physiotherapist, or registered massage therapist to support your postnatal journey, please visit our services here: www.cayahealthcentre.com.
Chambers, L., McCance, D. R., & McGuinness, B. (2015). Nutritional Care in the Postpartum Period. Proceedings of the Nutrition Society, 74(4), 390-399.
Makhija, S., Vashi, P., & Jubiz, W. (2007). Role of antioxidants in the prevention of chronic inflammatory diseases. Journal of Clinical and Experimental Dermatology Research, 1(1), 1-4.
Schramm, A. M., O'Brien, K. O., & Nath, C. (2019). Postpartum Nutrition: A Comprehensive Review for the Obstetric Care Provider. Journal of Obstetrics and Gynaecology Canada, 41(8), 1275-1292.
World Health Organization. (2016). Guideline: Daily iron and folic acid supplementation in pregnant women. Geneva: World Health Organization