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How nutrition can support postpartum recovery

The days and weeks following birth can be brutal on your body. You may be torn, stretched, bruised, bleeding or exhausted, and hey guess what? Now you have to muster all your remaining strength to take care of a tiny human who wakes every few hours and needs you 24/7. 

Intense!

In saying that, if you’re pregnant or planning for pregnancy right now, don’t be scared off. There are plenty of beautiful, cuddly, incredible moments during the postpartum period that make it all worth it! (Just ask our Mumli community.) 

Eating nutritious foods can help you get back on your feet and feeling great sooner rather than later. It also works wonders to support breastfeeding mamas.

We spoke to degree qualified nutritionist and herbalist Louise Loader about how mothers can support postpartum recovery through nutrition. Unsurprisingly, she revealed that what you eat during this crucial time can make all the difference in your recovery.

Healing and repair

You may have a caesarean wound, a perineal tear or other trauma from birth, or perhaps you’re in pretty good shape considering you just pushed a person out of you. Whatever state your body is in after giving birth, it needs to recover. 

Mothers often require 4–6 weeks or longer to heal up, but Louise suggested a few key nutrients that will help speed the repair process along.

Iron

“Iron is crucial for energy production and immunity,” she said. “A postpartum mother is exhausted enough by inevitable sleep deprivation without adding an iron deficiency to the mix, so it’s a crucial nutrient to replete as soon as deficiency is confirmed (via blood test).”

Louise recommended these foods to help meet your iron needs:

  • Dark red meat such as liver and beef
  • Lamb, the darker cuts of chicken and mussels.

If you don’t eat meat, or feel you may be iron deficient, request a blood test from your GP. Iron supplements should be prescribed for you if iron deficiency is confirmed.

DHA

DHA is a form of Omega-3 fatty acid that’s often found in fish such as salmon and anchovies. It’s an important nutrient particularly essential for your growing baby’s brain development, and it’s also So. Good. For. You.

“Low DHA status postpartum can contribute to a new mother’s brain fog, overwhelm and postnatal depression,” Louise explained. 

Ha! Take that, Mum Brain.

Louise’s top picks for DHA sources are:

  • Fatty fish such as wild salmon, sardines, fish roe and mussels (3 times a week, she recommended)
  • Pasture-raised eggs and red meat
  • High quality cod liver oil or fish oil supplements

Other sources for vegetarians that we found include:

  • Seaweed and algae
  • Algae oil supplement.

Collagen

“Collagen works to heal connective tissue in the body, helping stretched skin to regain its elasticity and support the healing of a perineal tear or surgical wound,” Louise said.

There may even be some bonus beauty benefits to upping your collagen intake. Think glowing skin, hair and nails. Woo hoo!

Where to get your collagen:

  • Bone broth
  • Slow cooked grass-fed meat
  • The skin and wings of pastured chicken
  • Collagen supplements.


Vitamin C

“Vitamin C will work with collagen to speed wound healing, especially indicated for women recovering from a caesarean or perineal tear,” Louise added.

Helping your “down there” get repaired sooner? Sounds good to us.

Where to get your vitamin C:

  • Oranges
  • Grapefruit
  • Kiwi fruit
  • Green capsicum
  • Broccoli
  • Strawberries
  • Vitamin C supplements.

Overcoming depletion

“Postnatal depletion is a term coined by Australian doctor Oscar Serrallach,” Louise explained. “It’s a condition thought to affect around 50% of mothers.”

Depletion can be a bit sneaky and is less talked about than postnatal depression or anxiety, but it’s still very real and relatable to a lot of mums. It may involve:

  • Exhaustion or deep fatigue that is not relieved by sleep
  • Nutritional deficiencies
  • Feelings of overwhelm, anxiety or hypervigilance
  • Loss of libido
  • Brain fog
  • Recurrent infections
  • Worsening of pre-existing medical conditions.

Louise advised that the effects of postnatal depletion could be minimised or avoided through nutritional supplementation, beginning before pregnancy.

“Ensuring you’re nutritionally replete going into pregnancy is the best way to stay ahead of the huge demands of a developing baby,” she said. “Throughout pregnancy, continue with an abundance of nutrient-dense wholefoods, including plenty of fatty fish, grass-fed meat and eggs.”

Supporting mental health

What came first, the depletion or the depression? It can be a bit of a chicken-and-egg situation when it comes to postpartum mental health. Feeling exhausted and sleep deprived can lead to mental health challenges, but mental strain caused by the many demands of motherhood can lead to not taking care of yourself effectively, resulting in further exhaustion. What a vicious cycle!

While there are lots of factors that play into mental health, there’s definitely a strong link between what you eat and how you feel. Getting the right food into your body can assist you in staying mentally well. As Louise mentioned, including more DHA in your diet can help with combatting postnatal depression as a starter. 

But of course, it can be difficult to prioritise nutrition when you’re flat-out with your new bub. Louise offered some great tips for making life easier for new mums:

  1. For the first 6 weeks, plan to outsource meals to family, friends or a postpartum doula.
  2. Stock the freezer with nutritious meals and snacks before baby arrives.
  3. Look into meal delivery services specifically tailored to meeting the needs of new mothers. (Check out Dineamic, mama goodness, Gourmet Dinner Service or YouFoodz)
  4. Beyond the early postpartum period, cooking once to eat twice or even three times is key. For example, use the slow cooker and batch cook large meals that can be frozen or just eaten multiple times throughout the week.
  5. Look into delivery services for grocery shopping too. Many (such as Doorstep Organics) can deliver organic fruit and veg, meat, pantry and fridge items so you can avoid the shops altogether.

Boosting energy

When you’re sleep deprived, in pain and constantly have a baby in your arms, it’s SO easy to turn to sugar-filled foods and caffeine for that quick and easy energy boost. 

The occasional Snickers bar isn’t going to hurt anyone (you do you, mama!), but overdoing the sugar and caffeine won’t keep your energy up long-term.

“Processed food, hydrogenated oils, refined white flour, soft drinks and excess sugar should be avoided,” Louise said. “Caffeine and alcohol are fine in small amounts but should not be consumed in excess.”

As mentioned earlier, foods filled with iron will give your energy levels an excellent kick! Try packing more of it into your meals. Not sure how? Mumli suggests checking out these iron rich recipes or specifically vegetarian iron rich recipes for ideas and inspiration.

One last note!

Louise and the Mumli crew highly recommend getting assistance from a qualified medical practitioner before commencing postpartum nutrient supplementation. Medical advice is particularly important if you’re excluding meat from your diet, to ensure you’re meeting your additional iron requirements.

We’d love to know what your postpartum experience was like and how you managed to balance your nutritional needs with a new baby. Let us know in the comments below!


Expert contributor: Louise Loader

Louise is a nutritionist, herbalist and mumma to two boys. Louise works with women as they make the momentous transition to motherhood, using a mix of modern science and traditional wisdom to support them through a nourished pregnancy and postpartum.

You can follow her on Instagram here.

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