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New mothers have several objectives to meet when it comes to their health and that of their babies. They are:
- Recover from childbirth
- Keep themselves well-nourished and healthy
- Keep their babies well-nourished and healthy
- Get back to pre-pregnancy shape
That’s quite a to-do list!
And if mothers are breastfeeding, they also have to be mindful of their nutritional status to provide the demands of breastmilk production and composition.
All these may seem complicated and stressful at first, but they are actually pretty simple to achieve, provided new mommies eat a healthful whole-food diet composed of fresh vegetables and fruits, whole grains, fiber-rich legumes, occasional antibiotic, and hormone-free lean meats.
While taking supplements may help to bridge the nutritional gap in nursing moms, they won’t make up for a healthy diet during this time (1).
There is a misconception that nursing mothers need to eat lots of energy-rich foods to ensure adequate milk supply. However, the amount of breastmilk produced depends primarily on the frequency of nursing or milk-pumping sessions and to a lesser degree on the mom’s hydration status.
New moms must eat healthy to recover from the trauma of childbirth and to breastfeed their newborn. Here are some foods to include in your diet.
Some new mothers may experience constipation right after giving birth and during recovery, particularly if surgical interventions took place. Many women are prescribed laxatives, stool softeners, and mineral oil to ease their discomfort.
They are also great sources of iron, calcium, magnesium, folate, and zinc, which new moms need to avoid nutrient deficiencies.
If you are new to beans, start slow to prevent digestive discomfort, eat 1-2 tablespoons of beans a day, and increase by 1 tablespoon each week. Gradual introduction will give your digestive system and gut microbiota time to adjust.
New moms may be prone to infections and other ailments as their immune systems are weakened by childbearing, labor, and the demands of breastfeeding. They are often sleep-deprived and must stay active for long hours to care for the new baby and their older siblings.
Thus, they need the extra boost from nutritious and health-promoting foods such as berries.
Berries are great sources of antioxidants and polyphenols – nutritional compounds that support the immune system and ward off inflammation.
If fresh berries are not in season or unavailable at your locations, go for the frozen kind. They are just as nutritious as fresh ones, if not more, since berries that undergo freezing must be picked at their ripest, at their highest nutritional peak.
Ginger has potent anti-inflammatory components and helps strengthen immunity to keep moms healthy. It is known to soothe an upset stomach and bloating, which often occur in women recovering from labor.
Some studies also reported greater milk production in nursing mothers taking ginger supplements. (3)
4. Nuts, seeds, and their butter
Including small amounts of nuts and seeds and their butter in the diet of new moms will pay back with great health benefits.
Not only are they rich sources of vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, fiber, and healthy fats, but they are also filling and satiating, keeping busy new moms full for longer.
This effect is highly beneficial as time is a high-valued currency during the first few months postpartum, and women often find it hard to find time for a healthy snack or meal.
5. Leafy greens
Green leafy vegetables, such as spinach, collard greens, arugula, kale, and Swiss chard, are excellent sources of iron, calcium, vitamin C, and vitamin A.
These nutrients are potent antioxidants that support the immune system and the eye and brain health of both the mom and baby.
Green leafy veggies are easy to eat uncooked. Just throw them in a bowl, add some olive oil and lemon juice, and toss. They can be quickly prepped by sautéing for a few minutes with herbs and spices.
You can also consume them as a drink. Just blend them with fruits for a nutritious smoothie.
6. Sprouted bread and cereals
New mothers are busy, and having a toast or bowl of cereal is an easy, fast, and convenient way of filling up the tummy. However, to ensure that you are getting a variety of healthy nutrients, go for the sprouted varieties.
Sprouted breads and cereals are high in fiber and protein, low in carbohydrates, and high in vitamins, minerals, and other nutrients, which are important for new moms. (4)
7. Sweet potatoes
Sweet potatoes are treasure chests of nutrition and are widely available, affordable, and easy to make – new mommies do not want to miss out on them.
Rich sources of fiber, beta-carotene (precursor of antioxidant vitamin A (5)), vitamin C, potassium, manganese, and choline, sweet potatoes should be a staple in any kitchen.
Simply bake, microwave, or steam sweet potatoes, and they are ready to go. You can add them to soups and stews or make a mash or casserole. You can also top them with a little almond butter or tahini for an extra boost of nutrition and flavor.
Enjoy sweet potatoes for breakfast, dinner, or any meal in between.
Fish, particularly the fatty types like salmon, herring, and sardines, are rich sources of essential fatty acids omega-3 and 6. These fatty acids are needed for a healthy immunity, brain, and nervous system.
New moms need to reload their fatty acid stores that were used up during pregnancy and breastfeeding.
However, fish intake must be kept to a minimum (no more than twice a week) as high amounts of mercury and some chemical residues are found in deep-water fish, such as swordfish, mackerel, tuna, Chilean seabass, and shark.
Mommies on a plant-based diet should consider taking algae-based EPA and DHA supplements, which do not contain any fish-derived components.
9. Dried fruits
Dried fruits such as prunes, dates, raisins, and apricots provide iron, magnesium, and fiber. They are easy to prepare – chopped up on top of your oatmeal or cereal bowl, added to baked products, or mixed with nuts and seeds in a homemade trail mix as a quick and filling snack.
Dried fruits are naturally sweet and will satisfy your sweet craving. Because they are dehydrated, keep in mind that they have a high concentration of sugar and are therefore quite calorie-dense. So limit the amount you prepare to avoid overeating.
10. Flaxseeds (ground)
Flaxseeds provide protein, fiber, magnesium, and omega-3 fatty acids. In order to enjoy all the benefits of flaxseeds, they need to be ground first. Otherwise, they may bypass digestion and leave the body with no effect.
Adding ground flaxseeds to oatmeal or cereal, mixing them into a smoothie, or sprinkling them on top of salads are all great ways to incorporate them in a new mommy’s diet.
The nutritional needs of new moms are different from those of other people, as they need to recover from pregnancy and childbirth and replenish their depleted stores of nutrients. However, the concept of eating a diet based on healthy whole foods stays the same.
Certain nutrients are in higher demand at this time, especially if moms are breastfeeding. They may have to look into supplementing with iron, vitamin D, vitamin B12, omega-3, selenium, and magnesium, among others, with recommendations from their doctor or dietitian.
Eating a rainbow-type diet with lots of vegetables, fruits, whole grains, and legumes does the trick of keeping new moms healthy and energized during the times of caring for their babies.
Answered by Ms. Stacy Roberts-Davis (Registered Dietitian)
What are the best fruits to eat while breastfeeding?
Avocados, berries, watermelon, melon, carrots – these are all good for a breastfeeding mother.
What foods should a new breastfeeding mother avoid?
I would like to say eat what you want, but generally your diet should also depend on the needs of your baby. Limiting coffee, tea, and chocolate could help if your baby is not sleeping well due to the caffeine. Limit gassy foods if your baby is irritable and gassy.
What vitamins and minerals are mostly needed by a new mother?
Moms should continue taking multivitamins. Calcium, zinc, magnesium, B vitamins, and phosphorus are all important.
Is there any truth to the advice “drinking ample amount of water increases breast milk production”?
Yes! Drink water as much as you can.
What lifestyle tips can help new mothers to cope better?
Take care of yourself. Relax and do not stress if your body cannot produce enough breast milk. Stress can slow down the production. Meditate, massage, or exercise – whatever makes you feel good.
About Ms. Stacy Roberts-Davis: Stacy has been a registered dietitian and culinary expert for more than a decade. She graduated from the University of Delaware with a bachelor of science degree in nutrition. Stacy holds a culinary certificate from the Art Institute in Fort Lauderdale and a weight management certificate from the Commission on Dietetic Registration.
She is also working on completing a certificate for functional medicine. Her passion for cooking manifests in her hands-on approach and unique way to heal her patients with food.