New mothers have a few objectives to meet when it comes to their health, and that of their babies: recover from childbirth, keep themselves well-nourished and healthy, keep their babies well-nourished and healthy, and get back in pre-pregnancy shape. That’s quite a to-do list! And if they are breastfeeding, their own nutritional status may be impacted, due to the demands of the breastmilk supply and composition. This may seem complicated and stress-bearing at first, but it is actually pretty simple to achieve, provided new mommies eat a healthful whole food diet composed of fresh vegetables and fruits, whole grains, fiber-rich legumes and occasional antibiotic- and hormone-free lean meats. While taking supplements may help to bridge the nutritional gap in nursing moms, they won’t make up for a healthy diet during this time (1). There is a misconception that nursing mothers need to eat lots of energy-rich foods to ensure milk supply, however the amount of breastmilk produced depends primarily on the frequency of nursing or milk-pumping sessions and to a lesser degree – on the mom’s hydration status.
Let’s look at some foods new moms need to add to their new status diet to stay healthy and well:
- Legumes. Some new mothers may experience constipation right after giving birth and during recover, particularly if surgical interventions took place. Many women are prescribed laxatives, stool softeners and mineral oil to ease their discomfort. In this instance adding fiber-rich foods may help alleviate constipation. Beans, peas are lentils are particularly rich in fiber, and need to make their way into new mothers’ diets. They are also a great source of iron, calcium, magnesium, folate and zinc that new moms need in order to avoid nutrient deficiencies. If you are new to beans, start slow to prevent digestive discomfort: eat 1-2 tablespoons of beans a day, and increase by 1 Tbsp each week. Gradual introduction will give your digestive system and gut microbiota time to adjust.
- Berries. If fresh berries are not in season, or unavailable at your locations, go for frozen kind – they are just as nutritious as fresh ones, if not more so, since berries that undergo freezing must be picked at their ripest, at their highest nutritional peak. Berries are great sources of antioxidants and polyphenols – nutritional compounds, providing support to our immune system and warding off inflammation. New moms may be prone to infections and other ailments since their immune systems are weakened by childbearing, labor and the demands of breastfeeding. New mommies are often sleep deprived and must stay active for long hours to care for the new baby and often, their older siblings, so need the extra boost of nutritious and health promoting foods.
- Ginger. Ginger is believed to help new moms recover from childbirth. This remedy has been used for centuries in Asian cultures (2). Some studies also reported greater milk production in nursing mothers taking ginger supplements (3). Ginger also has potent anti-inflammatory components and helps strengthen immunity to keep moms healthy, and it is known to soothe upset stomach and bloating, often accompanying recovering from labor women.
- Nuts, seeds and their butters. Adding small amounts of nuts and seeds and their butters will pay back with great health benefits – not only they are rich sources of vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, fiber and healthy fats to support nutritional status, they are also filling and satiating, keeping busy new moms fuller longer, since time is a high-valued currency during the first few months postpartum, and women often find it hard to find time for a healthy meal or snack.
- Leafy greens. Green leafy vegetable like spinach, collard greens, arugula, kale and Swiss chard are go-to sources of iron, calcium, vitamin C and vitamin A – potent antioxidants supporting immune system, eye and brain health of both mom and baby. Green leafy veggies are easy to eat uncooked (throw them in a bowl and toss with olive oil and lemon juice), or quickly prepped (sauté for a few min with herbs and spices) or even consumed as a drink (mix in with fruits in a blender for a nutritious smoothie).
- Sprouted breads and cereals. For the sake of time, the ever-so-precious gem of new mothers, having a toast or bowl of cereal is easy, fast and convenient. However, to ensure it is also chockfull of healthy nutrients – go for the sprouted varieties. Sprouted breads and cereals are higher in fiber and protein, lower in carbs and feature a more robust composition and quantities of vitamins, minerals and other nutrients, so important for new moms (4). A popular brand of sprouted breads and cereals is Ezekiel Bread by Food for Life, with its many varieties. It can be found in the frozen section of most supermarkets.
- Sweet potatoes. Those treasure chests of nutrition are so widely available, affordable and easy to make – new mommies don’t want to miss out on them. Rich source of fiber, beta-carotene (precursor of antioxidant vitamin A (5)), vitamin C, potassium, manganese and choline, they should be a go-to staple in any kitchen. Simply bake it in the oven, microwave or steam, add to soups, stews and make a mash or casserole. Top with a little almond butter or tahini for an extra boost of nutrition and flavor, and enjoy for breakfast or dinner, and every meal in between.
- Soy. Soy beans and products like tofu, tempeh and soy “milk” are sources of complete plant protein, vitamins and minerals, and polyphenols, particularly isoflavones with potent anti-inflammatory effects that are also known to reduce the risk of cancer, heart disease and improve overall health. Soy products should definitely be a part of everyone’s diet, including postpartum and breastfeeding moms.
- Dried fruits. Dried fruits like prunes, dates, raisins and apricots provide iron, magnesium and fiber. They are easy to eat chopped up on top of your oatmeal or cereal bowl, added to baked products or mixed with nuts and seeds in a home-made trial mix as a quick and filling snack. They are naturally sweet and will satisfy that sweet craving in no time. Since they are dehydrated, keep in mind that they have higher concentration of sugar and therefore they are pretty calorie-dense, so limits the amounts to avoid overeating.
- Flaxseeds (ground). Flaxseeds provide protein, fiber, magnesium and omega-3 fatty acids. In order to enjoy all the benefits of flaxseeds, they need to be grounded first, otherwise they may bypass digestion and leave your body with no effect. Flaxseeds are known to improve digestion (6), reduce risk of cancer, heart disease and type 2 diabetes (7). Adding ground flaxseeds to oatmeal or cereal, mixing them into a smoothie or sprinkling on top of a salad are all great ways to incorporate them in the new mommies’ diet.
While nutritional needs of new moms are different from that of other people, as they need to recover from pregnancy and childbirth and replenish some of the depleted stores of nutrients, the concept of eating a healthy whole foods-based diet stays the same. Certain nutrients are in higher demand especially if moms are breastfeeding, they may have to look into supplementing with iron, vitamin D, vitamin B12, omega-3, selenium and magnesium among some others, with recommendations from their doctor or dietitian. Eating a rainbow-type diet with lots of vegetables, fruits, whole grains and legumes does the trick of keeping new moms healthy and energized during the times of caring for their new babies.
Stay nourished, my friends!