I remember when I had my daughter that whilst there was lots of advise about how I should look after myself when I was pregnant, there was precious little information about what I should do nutritionally once my baby was born. Quite rightly the focus becomes about the wellbeing of the baby but what is crucial to remember is that the health of the baby and the mother are fundamentally linked. Whether you choose to breastfeed or not, the mother’s state of wellbeing directly affects that of the baby.
Luckily things are changing and what is now termed the ‘4th Trimester’ focuses on the health of the baby and mother during their first few months together. So what can a mother do nutritionally to ensure she is nourishing herself and giving the best start to her baby?
Vitamin D is essential for regulating your immune system and your mood. Low levels of vitamin D have been linked to low mood and depression, so it’s vital that new mothers make sure they keep their levels maintained. Our main source of vitamin D is obtained from the sun, so if you have a baby in the winter, your need for vitamin D will be higher.
Food sources of vitamin D include oily fish, cheese and egg yolks but it may be beneficial to use a supplement to ensure you are getting adequate levels. New mums need about 1,000iu per day and it’s best to get a supplement containing D3, which is the most active form of the vitamin. If you are concerned about your vitamin D levels it may be best to see a GP or visit a nutritional therapist to get your levels tested.
Omega 3 fatty acids, particularly a component of it called DHA are vital for the health of your brain and, during pregnancy for the baby’s brain development. Omega 3 can be easily depleted during pregnancy and breastfeeding, so it’s important to eat foods which contains high levels of this nutrient.
Oily fish contain high levels of Omega 3 and the best sources include salmon, mackerel, anchovies, sardines and herrings. If in the early days the thought of cooking fish is too much to bear, then remember that you could easily have tinned sardines on toast or smoked mackerel for either lunch or breakfast.
Walnuts are also a great source of Omega 3, in fact they even look like mini brains! Have a handful everyday sprinkled onto your morning porridge or cereal or have as a snack with a piece of fruit. Walnuts are best kept in the fridge to preserve their oils. Linseeds or flaxseeds and chia seeds are a great vegetarian or vegan source of Omega 3. The Omega 3 is contained in the oil of the seed so either grind them up or buy Flaxseed oil, which can be drizzled onto salads and foods or used in dressings.
Inadequate levels of Iron in new mums are not uncommon, particularly if you have experienced significant blood loss during birth. Low levels can lead to fatigue, brain fog and in some cases, a negative emotional state. For breastfeeding mums, low Iron can make you more susceptible to getting mastitis.
To ensure Iron levels are kept at an optimum make sure you are eating protein with every meal with a focus on fish, lean meats such as chicken and turkey and a small amount of red meat such as beef or lamb.
Lentils, chickpeas, brown rice, quinoa and pumpkin seeds are also good sources as well as spinach and kale. In terms of fruits, dried figs and apricots are great for snacks but watch out for their high sugar content, so don’t have too many. Green powders such as spirulina are also high in Iron, so if smoothies are your thing, be sure to include a scoop.
We all know about the importance of Folate in early pregnancy for the health of the baby. But did you know that Folate is vital for new mums as it helps to maintain mood and modulate anxiety. Green leafy vegetables such as kale, chard and spinach are a great source and other good choices include lentils, beans, tomatoes, green beans, avocado and sunflower seeds.
It is probably advisable to keep taking your pregnancy multivitamin for the first few months after your baby is born as this contains Folate.
Eating plenty of antioxidants will nourish stretched skin and help damaged tissues to recover. The best way to do this is to eat a rainbow of fruit and vegetables. Foods particularly high in antioxidants include: berries, purple grapes (with seeds), dark green veggies, pumpkin seeds, walnuts and almonds.
Consuming foods which help to boost your mood is vital, both for your own sense of wellbeing and your baby’s. Include complex carbohydrates such as brown rice, sweet potatoes, avocados, dark green leafy veg, oily fish, chicken, seeds, walnuts and brazil nuts in your diet on a daily basis
And equally important is avoiding foods which can have a negative effect on mood, such as refined sugar, alcohol, refined carbohydrates (white bread, pasta), caffeine, additives, artificial sweeteners, salt and hydrogenated fats.
No one can deny that the early days of new motherhood are amazing, exhausting, emotional, scary and rewarding all in equal measure. But by making sure you look after yourself nutritionally and therefore your baby in the 4th trimester, will go some way to helping steer along the crazy and brilliant path that is motherhood.
If you would like to learn more about how to nourish yourself during pre-pregnancy, pregnancy and motherhood, get in touch to book a consultation.