Congratulations! If you are reading this article, it means you have delivered or you are getting close to delivery. Nutritional intake postpartum is important, as there must be a balance between fueling your body for healing and breastfeeding and weight loss.
This article will focus on several nutrition concerns women have postpartum – weight loss, breastfeeding needs, healthy snacking, fluid consumption, vitamin and mineral intake, caffeine and alcohol consumption, and exercise.
The goal is for gradual weight loss postpartum at the rate of approximately 1lb/week (or 4.5lbs/month) after the first month. Although many want to return to their pre-pregnancy weight quickly, rapid weight loss may lead to fatigue, decrease bone mineral density, negatively impact mood, and may interrupt milk supply (if breastfeeding). Most women return to their pre-pregnancy weight within a year by eating a healthy diet and incorporating moderate exercise back into their routine. Remember, the weight gained during pregnancy was gradual so the weight loss will be gradual as well. Don’t fall victim to fad diets, as they will most likely set you up for short-term success and long term disappointment.
An additional 500 kcal/day is recommended for woman who breastfeed. This may be higher in cases where the mother is underweight, exercising vigorously, and/or nursing more than one infant. The increased needs can be met by adding healthy snacks similar to those consumed during pregnancy. By listening to your body’s hunger signals, you will be able to stay well fueled.
In addition to consuming well-balanced meals, snacks are a very important to help fuel breastfeeding and ensure safe weight loss. Use your hunger level to gauge if you need to consume a light, moderate, or heavy snack. Examples of a light snack would include fresh fruit, raisins, dry cereal, low-fat Greek yogurt or low-fat pudding. A moderate snack would include fruit with peanut butter, oatmeal, cereal and milk or yogurt parfait. A heavy snack would include a peanut butter or lean protein sandwich, cheese and crackers or omelet. For more information refer to Healthy Snacking 101.
Fluid needs increase with breastfeeding and women who are breastfeeding may notice increased thirst. It is important to drink enough to quench your thirst. It is often advised that fluid intake for women should be 91oz or 11.5cups per day. This, though, can vary due to activity level and environmental conditions thus hydration levels are best assessed by urine color and frequency. You know you are well hydrated if you are urinating frequently and it is pale yellow in color. Top fluids to consume include water, fruit juices, low-fat dairy, decaffeinated coffee and tea, low-sodium soups, and water-rich fruits and vegetables. Limit sodas, sugary beverages, and drinks containing caffeine and alcohol.
Caffeine and Alcohol Consumption
According to the Institutes of Medicine, breastfeeding mothers can consume occasional small amounts of caffeine and alcohol. A moderate amount of caffeine would be 2-3 cups of coffee/day or approximately 200-300mg/caffeine per day. Guidelines for consuming alcohol include 1) waiting until your baby has established a breastfeeding pattern (~3 months of age), 2) wait at least four hours post-single alcoholic drink before breastfeeding, and/or 3) express breast milk prior to consuming an alcoholic beverage to use for a later feeding.
Vitamins and Minerals
Two minerals that often require special attention for postpartum women include calcium and iron. See chart below for more information. In addition, postpartum woman should consume a variety of foods to provide the vitamins and minerals necessary for healthy and breastfeeding. These vitamins and minerals are plentiful in a varied diet, but it is often recommended that breastfeeding mothers continue to take a pre-natal vitamin. This is best discussed with your Physician and/or Registered Dietitian.
Minerals RDA Benefit Sources Calcium RDA:
Protect bone density, aid in muscle relaxation, blood coagulation, transmission of nerve impulses, may slightly increase weight loss milk, cheese, yogurt, tofu,
cottage cheese, fish (sardines, salmon, clams), greens, calcium-fortified
beverages such as orange juice and soymilk
Vitamin D RDA: 600 IU Enhances calcium absorption fatty fish, fortified dairy and soy products, fortified eggs, fortified cereals Iron RDA: 15mg Indicated to help return to pre-pregnancy levels and/or if blood loss higher than normal during vaginal delivery dried fruits, iron-fortified cereals,
lean red meat, fish, poultry, dried fruits
Exercise postpartum is an important part of physical and emotional recovery. Specific guidelines for postpartum exercise (vaginal and Cesarean delivery) will be discussed in the June 2016 article.
- Plan ahead. Make sure you have plenty of healthy foods and snacks on hand prior to the baby’s arrival.
- Hydrate! Grab a water bottle or two. Always carry a water bottle with you. If you are breastfeeding, keep another one next to the chair or in the room you intend to use for most of your nursing.
- Keep snacks accessible. Placing them by your water bottle, in the diaper bag, and near the chair you nurse will ensure you have the fuel you need when you are hungry.
- Nursing is a great time to hydrate and snack. While sitting to nurse, you have ample time to provide your body with nourishment.
- Eat balanced meals – meals that include carbohydrates, proteins, and fats.
- Consume calcium rich foods throughout the day.
- Do not weigh yourself more than one time/week. Remember the goal is gradual weight loss.
- Avoid fad diets. Instead focus on consuming healthy meals and snacks.
- If you feel that you need nutrition support, consult with a Registered Dietitian.
Nutritional needs postpartum vary and it is valuable for women to be in tune with their body’s needs and understand the basic recommendations. If you feel confused or feel that your questions are not being answered to your satisfaction, make an appointment with a Registered Dietitian who can help you meet your needs for a safe and healthy recovery.
Stay tuned for next month’s article that will focus on postpartum exercise recommendations.
This six-part blog series discusses the current nutrition and exercise recommendations for women before, during, and after pregnancy. Pregnancy can certainly be a trying and confusing time and these articles are intended to provide answers to the most popular questions women (and often their providers) ask.
More information can be found in 100 Questions and Answers About Sports Nutrition and Exercise by Lilah Al-Masri, MS, RD, CSSD, LD and Simon Bartlett, PhD, CSCS, ATC.
Do you have a nutrition or exercise question? If so, submit them to firstname.lastname@example.org. Questions will be answered on a monthly basis.This month, our special guest bloggers, Lilah Al-Masri, MS, RD, CSSD, LD, and Simon Bartlett, PhD, CSCS, ATC, authors of