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Postnatal Nutrition

Guest Post by RDN Janny Cho

Good nutrition is important at all life stages, especially during pregnancy and when you deliver your new baby. Just like you were eating healthy to nourish your growing baby inside you, it is important to include foods which help to replenish and help your body heal and give your energy to take care of your growing baby. Making sure you are getting all the right nutrients can be overwhelming but making it simple by following the MyPlate recommendations can help make it easier to plan your meals and snacks. It is important to include fruits (apples, strawberries, grapes, blueberries), vegetables (carrots, broccoli, spinach), whole grains (quinoa, brown rice, oatmeal), lean proteins (chicken, fish, beans, nuts) and dairy or dairy alternatives (milk, yogurt, cheese, soymilk) in your meals and snacks.

Approximately 6 months postpartum and breastfeeding moms have an increased nutritional need. Breastfeeding women have increased energy and nutrient requirements to support her own nutritional needs as well as her infant’s growth through her breast milk. Exclusively breastfeeding moms need between 300-500 additional calories per day, this is as easy as adding 1-2 snacks per day between meals (handful of nuts w/ fruit, Greek yogurt parfait with fruit and granola cereal, apple slices with peanut butter, or even a peanut butter with banana slices on whole wheat/grain bread).

Mothers who breastfeed should also consider including a postnatal multivitamin daily. For example, breastfeeding mothers need more calcium, iodine, and choline during lactation. The National Institutes of Health’s Office of Dietary Supplements recommends 1,000 mg calcium (eggs, meats, beans, broccoli, calcium fortified juices) and the Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend 290 mcg of iodine (iodized table salt, dairy products, eggs, seafood) and 550 mg of choline (dairy, eggs, meats, beans, peas, lentils) daily throughout the first year postpartum for lactating parents.

Some women who choose to eat vegetarian or vegan diets and who do not consume any animal products may need to find other food sources which include calcium, iodine, vitamin D, protein, iron, and vitamin B12. Calcium, iron, protein, iodine, vitamin D, and vitamin B12 are found in large amounts in animal products but can still be included in fortified foods or by combining food to make sure you are getting all the nutrients your body and the baby needs for growth and development. Calcium and vitamin D work together to protect your bones and teeth as well as support your immune system. Iodine is an essential element needed to produce thyroid hormones. B vitamins found in protein food sources plays an important role in brain health, help boost the production of neurotransmitters and help with healing.

Consuming low amounts can put their infants at risk of vitamin B12 deficiency, which can result in neurological damage. Iron is an important mineral that is necessary for growth of development and to make hormones. Your body uses iron to make hemoglobin, a protein that carries oxygen from the lungs and other parts of the body. Your baby’s growth may also be of concern as plant source foods only contain non-heme iron, which is less bioavailable than heme iron which are found in animal sources. Iron comes in two forms: heme (animal) and nonheme (plant or iron fortified) iron. Including iron rich foods, lean meats, seafood, poultry, iron fortified breakfast cereals, whole grain foods, beans, dark green vegetables like spinach, nuts, dried fruits with vitamin C (i.e., strawberries, citrus fruits, sweet peppers, tomatoes, and broccoli) helps the body to absorb them better.

Eating a variety of fiber rich foods such as whole grains, fruits and vegetables provides our body with vitamin A, vitamin C, B vitamins, and zinc which help with tissue repair, decrease inflammation, digestion, and immune supporting nutrients. It is recommended for women between the ages of 19 to 50 to include up to 25 grams of fiber per day. Adding fruit and vegetables to each of your meals and snacks can make it easier for you to reach your daily fiber requirements.

Be careful when deciding on the amount and types of seafood to consume. Most fish contain some amount of mercury, which can pass from the mother to the infant through breast milk. Eating a variety of fish from the “Best Choices” and “Good Choices” while avoiding the “Choices to Avoid” can help to limit mercury exposure. Too much mercury can affect your baby’s brain and nervous system development during lactation.

Remember to include fluids and electrolytes daily, you can do this by adding an 8 oz beverage (low fat milk, water, 100% fruit juice) at each meal and snack you eat throughout the day. Limit beverages with high sugar or caffeine. This may fill you up with unnecessary calories or leave you feeling not hungry for your balanced meal or snacks.

It is important to replenish your body by including a variety of foods and fluids which contain all your essential vitamins, minerals, and electrolytes. Try choosing different foods when shopping for foods, rather than buying the same foods every time. Picking different foods to prepare will help you achieve your nutritional needs better. Talking to a dietitian will help you review some of the different food options you can find to best meet the mom’s and baby’s nutritional needs.








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