Nutrients & Foods For Postpartum, R.D. Approved
Written by: Co-Founder Amanda Capriglione, RDN, CDN
Medically Reviewed by Dr. Nicole Palmer, DO
In this article:
Nutrients & Foods
CAN I TAKE PRENATAL VITAMINS POSTPARTUM?
Short answer? Yes, absolutely. But why? Picture this, you’re a new mom who recently created and grew an entire human (or humans) and birthed them (vaginal or c-section). You’re tired, hungry, in love, and nutritionally depleted. Yes, women’s bodies are amazing; they’re capable of creating life. Growing a tiny human is exhausting and for good reason. Our little babies get most of the nutrients from the foods we eat, our body’s nutrients storage, and the prenatal vitamins we take. After birth, a women’s body NEEDS rest, NEEDS food, and NEEDS nutrients. Even more so if you’re planning to breastfeed (breast or pump), nutrition is essential. Mom’s overall nutrient status is important for herself and her new baby.
Most doctors recommend women take a supplement postpartum. Including a prenatal vitamin with a diet can ensure optimal health for mom and baby. After childbirth, a women’s health is of utmost importance. Not only are you taking care of yourself, but you are also responsible for a baby! Remember that you have to take care of yourself so that you can be there to take care of those who need you!
Focusing on whole foods is essential postpartum. A quarter of the plate should be protein. Remember, protein for you (and baby if you’re breastfeeding) is vital. Protein can be from both plant-based and/or animal sources. The other quarter of the plate a starchy carb and half the plate some type of fruit and/or vegetable with of course healthy fats thrown in there. Healthy fats are crucial to help your body absorb the nutrients from the foods that you eat. While it can be difficult to consume a balanced meal for every meal with an infant, it’s important to have a backup plan like a prenatal vitamin to ensure you are getting the extra nutrients that you need.
5 QUICK SNACK IDEAS FOR POSTPARTUM
Hard-boiled egg on a slice of whole-grain toast with avocado.
Baby carrots with hummus and whole-grain crackers.
Plain yogurt with honey, berries, and low sugar granola.
Apple with peanut butter and dark chocolate
Mozzarella cheese stick with 1-2 slices turkey and 1 cup raspberries
It can take up to 6 months (or more) to replenish your nutrient stores post-birth. Taking a prenatal vitamin along with a balanced diet can help do just that. It’s important to keep in mind that food fuels that body. Without food, we can’t function to perform daily activities like caring for a newborn or breastfeeding (if you choose).
Unfortunately, there is unhelpful advice out there supporting unhealthy postpartum weight loss. Postpartum nourishment should take precedence over any weight loss because the right nutrients will support postpartum recovery, mental health, and hormone regulation. When it comes to weight loss and postpartum the key is to be patient, eat balanced meals, and give yourself time and grace.
Here are some essential foods and nutrients to consume during postpartum to help your body bounce back.
IRON - POSTPARTUM WOMEN NEED 9 MG DAILY.
Women tend to lose a lot of blood after giving birth therefore iron needs to be replenished. Iron helps your body make new blood cells. Heme iron (from animals) includes red meat and poultry while non-heme iron (plant-based) includes tofu, lentils, and beans. Beef contains about 2.4 mg of iron per 2.5 ounces so if you have a 5-ounce piece of meat, you automatically consume almost 5 mg of iron. Lentils contain about 4.9 mg of iron per ¾ cup cooked. Consuming food high in Vitamin C (ie broccoli or strawberries) with a non-heme iron food helps improve absorption. Read more about iron in our blog post here.
Aim to consume 1-2 servings of high iron foods daily.
CALCIUM- POSTPARTUM WOMEN NEED 1,000 MG DAILY.
Calcium needs to be replenished for bone health. During pregnancy, if calcium intake is inadequate the mothers’ bones break down so that there is enough calcium available for the growing baby. After giving birth a woman’s calcium needs are high and may need to be adequately replenished to prevent long-term bone damage.
Dairy products such as milk, yogurt, and cheese provide calcium. Non-Dairy foods include dark leafy greens, almonds, and fortified breads. One cup of collard greens contains 266 mg of calcium, 6 oz of plain yogurt contains 310 mg calcium, and 1 oz of mozzarella has 210 mg of calcium.
Aim to consume at least 3 servings of foods high in calcium daily.
CHOLINE- POSTPARTUM WOMEN NEED ABOUT 450 MG DAILY.
Choline is especially important for breastfeeding moms because it is crucial for brain development and infant memory. The best sources of choline are eggs, soybeans, and organ meats. To make sure your choline needs are met, choose a supplement with choline. One egg has 147 mg of choline and 3 oz chicken breast have about 79 mg.
Aim to consume 1-2 servings of foods high in choline daily.
IODINE- POSTPARTUM WOMEN NEED ABOUT 250 MCG DAILY.
Iodine is also especially important for breastfeeding moms. Iodine is a component of the thyroid hormones and moms’ thyroid hormone levels affect fetal growth and neurological development during pregnancy and after birth.
Consuming enough iodine with food is possible but it may be difficult. Ten grams of dried seaweed contains 232 mcg of iodine, 1 cup of Greek yogurt contains 116 mcg and 1 hard-boiled egg contains 26 mcg.
ZINC- POSTPARTUM WOMEN NEED ABOUT 12 MG DAILY.
Zinc deficiency was found to be associated with postpartum depression. Based on a 2019 study on zinc, a decreased intake of zinc during pregnancy influences healthy gut bacteria and inflammatory markers therefore a link between zinc deficiency and postpartum depression is possible. Continuing to consume enough foods (or supplements) with zinc is important for mom’s health status.
Foods high in zinc include beef patty (3 oz contains 5.3 mg), baked beans (1/2 cup contains 2.9 mg), and pumpkin seeds (1 oz contains 2.2 mg).
VITAMIN A- POSTPARTUM WOMEN NEED ABOUT 1,200 MCG.
Vitamin A is important for visual health, immune function, and fetal development. Babies are born with low vitamin A stores and therefore depend on external sources of vitamin A like breastmilk or formula. It is crucial for breastfeeding moms to consume enough vitamin A from foods. Vitamin A supplementation alone is not recommended for breastfeeding moms.
Carotenoids are nutrients in orange foods like carrots and sweet potatoes, which convert to vitamin A in the body.
One sweet potato (with skin) contains 1,400 mcg vitamin A, ½ cup raw carrots contain 459 mcg, and ½ cup cooked spinach contains 573 mcg (yes, even though it’s green!).
SELENIUM- POSTPARTUM WOMEN NEED 70 MCG.
Low selenium status is linked to postpartum depression. A 2011 study found that selenium supplementation during pregnancy may help prevent postpartum depression. Continuing to consume foods rich in selenium, as well as part of a multivitamin is important to maintain adequate nutrient status.
Selenium rich foods include Brazil nuts (1 oz or 6-8 nuts contain 544 mcg), ham (3 oz contain 42 mcg), and pasta (1 cup cooked contains 37 mcg).
DHA- POSTPARTUM WOMEN NEED AROUND 250-375 MG.
DHA is an omega 3 fatty acid that is important for the infant's brain and vision development therefore it’s a good idea to make sure you are getting enough if you are breastfeeding. Consumptions of foods high in DHA or supplementation are needed for postpartum moms to help with mental focus and to help reduce inflammation, which can increase the risk of postpartum depression.
Foods high in DHA include fatty fish like salmon (contains 1,900 mg in 3 oz) and anchovies (contains 1,200 mg in 2 oz).
VITAMIN D- POSTPARTUM WOMEN NEED AT LEAST 600 IU DAILY.
Vitamin D is important for everything from bone formation to gut and even brain health. Research indicates that vitamin D is likely to be a significant factor in the development and/or severity of postpartum depression. Adequate supplementation is needed for both breastfeeding and non-breastfeeding moms.
Vitamin D is found in many prenatal vitamins as well as foods such as salmon (570 IU for 3 oz), egg (44 IU for 1 egg), and fortified milk (120 IU for 1 cup).
VITAMIN B12- POSTPARTUM WOMEN NEED AT LEAST 2.8 MCG.
Vitamin B12 is needed for red blood cell development, energy production, and the formation of DNA. Breastfeeding moms need to make sure they have adequate B12 stores for the health benefits of themselves and their children. Even if you do not breastfeed adequate B12 is important. Vegan moms are advised to take a B12 supplement to maintain stores.
Some of the best sources of vitamin B12 are animal foods. Salmon contains 2.6 mcg per 3 oz and beef contains 2.4 mcg per 3 oz. Nutritional yeast (like a vegan “cheese” supplement) contains at least 8.3 mcg (depending on the brand) per ¼ cup.
- Institute of Medicine (US) Committee on Nutritional Status During Pregnancy and Lactation.
- Nutrition Services in Perinatal Care: Second Edition. Washington (DC): National Academies
- Press (US); 1992. 2, Nutritional Concerns of Women in the Preconceptional, Prenatal, and
- Postpartum Periods. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK235913/
- Caudill, M. A. (2010). Pre- and Postnatal Health: Evidence of Increased Choline Needs. Journal of American Dietetic Association.
- https://www.cdc.gov/breastfeeding/breastfeeding-special-circumstances/diet-and- micronutrients/iodine.html https://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/Iodine-HealthProfessional/ Front. Neurosci., 29 November 2019 | https://doi.org/10.3389/fnins.2019.01295
- https://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/Selenium- HealthProfessional/#:~:text=Includes%20a%20variety%20of%20protein,especially%20Brazil%20 nuts%2C%20contain%20selenium. Mokhber, N., Namjoo, M., Tara, F., Boskabadi, H., Rayman, M. P., Ghayour-Mobarhan, M., Sahebkar, A., Majdi, M. R., Tavallaie, S., Azimi-Nezhad, M., Shakeri, M. T., Nematy, M., Oladi, M., Mohammadi, M., & Ferns, G. (2011). Effect of supplementation with selenium on postpartum depression: a randomized double-blind placebo-controlled trial. The journal of maternal-fetal & neonatal medicine : the official journal of the European Association of Perinatal Medicine, the Federation of Asia and Oceania Perinatal Societies, the International Society of Perinatal Obstetricians, 24(1), 104–108.