Why postpartum recovery and diet are important?

by | Feb 4, 2019 | Breastfeeding

IN this article, I want to guide you in the food choices during postpartum to make you recover energies and nutrients lost during the delivery and to prepare you physically and mentally for lactation

Are you ready? Let’s start!

If you follow the below advice, not only your postpartum recovery will be faster, but you can be sure that your baby will get the best nutritional support from your milk

In the modern and busy world where we live, it’s expected that woman once gave the birth, she is ready to go, go, go. Many women feel compelled to do everything on their own to protect the status quo of super moms, so their work is to breastfeed, get back to work immediately and recover in flash weight before pregnancy. But everything has its consequences

Think about it

The time after childbirth is vital for your emotional well-being, your physical recovery and the creation of the bond with your precious baby who needs your constant attention day and night. If you will be too hard to yourself by not allowing you for adequate postpartum recovery, you will end up exhausted, depressed and physically suffering. And you will pay for it as problems with breastfeeding,  or chronic fatigue and thyroid problems (as one of the many consequences) that will manifest later in life if you don’t allow you for a true recovery after delivery

How to organize yourself in the post-partum phase

Imagine how you can be supported after giving birth. If it’s your first baby, probably you will not be able to take care of your own needs You will also have to get used to eating only with one hand while with the other you handle your baby.

Plan your postpartum support:

  1. Who will be able to help you during these intensive weeks/months
  2. If you do not have family members who can support you, can you consider hiring a midwife at home or home help (or both)
  3. Is there anyone among your family members or friends that you can take to bring you food every day for a few weeks?
  4. Or can you fill the freezer during the last months of your pregnancy with fast and nutritious meals?
  5. If you have more children, can you consider hiring a babysitter?

I know that for some women asking for help can be problematic. We have been raised to be self-sufficient and independent and asking for help can be seen as a sign of weakness or incompetence. But I assure you it’s not like that. It means that you are smart and the process of recovery from childbirth and transition to motherhood will be much easier. There is huge importance is placed on pregnancy planning and delivery but so little on the postpartum phase. This must be changed.

Nutrition after delivery

Many women assume that nutrition during pregnancy is the most important and after birth, they can finally eat whatever they like

I have to give you the bad news, it’s not like that!

You can be surprised knowing that the nutritional requirements of breastfeeding mothers are HIGHER than during pregnancy. In reality, you are still growing your baby but out of the womb. This means that taking care of yourself from the nutritional point of view remains the highest priority.

But there is more

Depending on how your delivery occurred, you might feel like you’ve run one or even two marathons. You must absolutely replenish your energy and nutrients taking into account the loss of blood and wounds you need to heal (for example during c-section). Even if your delivery has gone smoothly, your body continues to experiment a series of changes:

  • Your uterus is reduced in the size of pre-birt
  • The connective tissue is readapted
  • Your breasts produce milk
  • Your skin recovers its elasticity

One thing is sure. When you recover from labour, there are many changes that take place inside you. The tissues that regenerate after being dilated, broken or cut need a lot of proteins, especially amino acids such as glycine and proline that your body uses to produce collagen.

Foods rich in these amino acids are found in connective tissues, in the bones and skin of animal food. Electrolytes and fluids are crucial to replace those lost during delivery. All these nutrients are found in the bone broth and any slow-cooked stew, in soups and curries with meat that further brings the warm elements to your body in the form of spices.

Furthermore, you have to increase the energy level lost during delivery. Hot, cooked and easy to digest foods allow it, unlike raw foods that consume energy during digestion. I speak about cooked vegetables, risotto, slowly cooked meat, i.e. the comfort food that your body wants and needs for emotional and physical recovery

So what should you eat?

Most of the time you can continue to eat in the same way as during pregnancy with some changes. You need more calories, so more quantity of food. Breastfeeding mothers are capable to eat everything that’s in the fridge during the first weeks.

It is estimated that during breastfeeding, you burn on average 500 extra calories a day during the first 6 months after giving birth! So the only thing you have to do is listen to your appetite.

It is very easy that you don’t eat enough during breastfeeding as all your attention is focused on your very demanding newborn. This is why it is very important to organize help in preparing meals and prepare your freezer in advance with easy-to-heat dishes and fill your home with snacks that are available in places where you nurse and rest.

Food that facilitates your post-delivery recover

  1. soups, broths and meat stews. These warm and satiating foods provide collagen, electrolytes and many micronutrients.
  2. Foods rich in iron such as slow-cooked meat and internal organs such as liver, kidneys and heart. If these foods create in you aversion, you can “hide” them in the form of meatballs, patés and chilli con carne
  3. Foods rich in fats such as pork, butter/ghee, fatty fish, nuts and seeds
  4. Foods rich in Omega-3 like fatty fish, eggs and organic meat
  5. Foods rich in iodine like seaweed that you can add to your broths (kombu or wakame) or roast them such as seaweed nori
  6. Cooked vegetables (remember that raw vegetables and salads “steal” your energy)
  7. Well-cooked cereals and starches such as oatmeal, rice and sweet potatoes (eaten together with fats and proteins to provide sufficient energy and stabilize sugars in the blood). Consumption of carbohydrates will be explained further
  8. Many hot liquids such as broths and teas. The general rule is to account for 30ml of fluids for every 0.5kg of body weight. Try to drink a glass of water or herbal tea every time you breastfeed

A note on carbohydrates intake during lactation

As you’ve probably noticed, I’m a supporter of low carb diet. However, if you have decided to breastfeed, the period immediately following delivery is not ideal for reducing carbohydrates’ intake.

Now I’ll explain why

The first few weeks is the right time to make the connection with your child and take care of the whole process of breastfeeding. This is because some women suffer from reduced milk supply when they drastically reduce carbohydrate consumption

There are some plausible explanations for this:

  1. The low carb diet naturally reduces hunger and can lead to undernutrition. Inadequate consumption of calories is responsible for milk reduction
  2. The low carb diet causes the loss of water and can more easily lead to dehydration. This can be a problem because, in order to produce breast milk, you need more fluids
  3. The low carb diet can deplete electrolytes that are expelled with breast milk.

It is not clear if low carb diet is or insufficient calories or both are responsible but it must be recognized that breastfeeding requires energy and your body uses glucose in the blood to produce milk

It is interesting that in women with type 1 diabetes (ie those who do not produce insulin), the need for insulin is drastically reduced in the first week after delivery and the body becomes more sensitive to insulin. When the placental hormones after delivery are no longer effective, insulin goes down. This is the innate survival mechanism that provides immediate access to glucose to ensure the production of breast milk. This means that diet with very low carbohydrates intake during this delicate phase is not recommended.

Does this mean that you will not be able to reduce the consumption of carbohydrates throughout the whole lactation period?

I know it can be discouraging especially if you want to get rid quickly of the excess weight taken during pregnancy. But my advice is to wait until the milk flow is stable (this usually happens in a couple of months) before making drastic changes. It is important to go slowly and gradually.  Remember that you have to take a sufficient amount of calories to produce milk consistently.

And remember that any change you make in the way of eating, your body needs time to adapt to the new conditions, so go easy and gradual.

Final considerations

Planning for correct recovery after childbirth and diet that restore the energies and nutrients lost during pregnancy and childbirth is necessary to face the following months of breastfeeding and yo transit physically and psychologically to the new phase of maternity. Less demanding you are with yourself during this phase, the better.

For the most part, your job must consist of recovering, resting, eating food (which has been prepared for you) and feeding your baby. Energy need go up during recovery from birth and this is only possible through food. You should focus on nutrients that are easy to digest, such as cooked vegetables, meat stews, broths, eggs that at a nutritional and emotional level are exactly what your body wants and needs in this vulnerable period.