Nutrition & Lifestyle - 3 months postpartum
After bringing their baby into this world, many women feel relieved. Not only does the major work seem behind them and they finally get to meet their sweet little darling, but they have also entered the phase of “getting their body back”. After 9 months of sharing their body with another human being and going through so many physical changes, many women are excited to be by themselves again. The healing process after giving birth is rightfully called the last trimester. We want to guide the body back to itself gently and give it the time it needs to heal and recover.
Creating a person and delivering it into this life is a major show of strength of the female body. Many of the occurring changes seem to happen effortlessly, such as shifting pelvic bones and vertebrae, or the expansion of the uterus; and they also often return to their pre-pregnancy form on their own. With other conditions, a little help and treatment can make a huge difference in the recovery phase for a woman; for instance, how to alleviate pain from episiotomies or tears, how to repair diastasis recti, how to control incontinence or even pelvic prolapse. And then there is the labor itself. It is a marathon and the stress and exhaustion has likely left you feeling spent – even though you’re on cloud nine with your new little bundle of joy. But that tired feeling kicks in full force once the adrenaline and dopamine wear off. The fifth trimester, AKA the first three months post-birth, is a key time for you as a new mom to spend some time focusing on your own recovery (and, of course, enjoying your new babe!)
While the weight gain during pregnancy often has new moms trying to jump back on the exercise band-wagon ASAP after birth, this is better reserved for after the fifth trimester; honor your body’s need to heal and recover after all the changes it has experienced over the past nine months. After all, those first three months are an adjustment period! Life with a new baby takes some getting used to, with TONS to learn, interrupted sleep and navigating through the ever-shifting phases of the newborn. If you’re familiar with the Wonder Weeks, you’ll know what I mean!
Be prepared for the baby blues. This phase happens in the first few days after giving birth and 60-80% of women experience it. You may feel weepy, irritable, and sad, and your emotions can do a 180 from one second to the next. This is not to be confused with postpartum depression. The baby blues lasts about two weeks on average and is thought to be linked to hormonal changes. The placenta was producing progesterone which blocks the production of prolactin (the milk producing hormone). Once the placenta is delivered, the progesterone levels sink dramatically allowing prolactin to surge. This huge hormonal shift combined with diminishing adrenalin from the birth process and sleep deprivation generally causes baby blues. Some women also feel like this is a time to say goodbye to the life they knew and loved because their whole world has radically changed now that they are a mom. This new responsibility for another person who is so dependent on them can feel quite overwhelming in the first few days. The best way to make it through this phase is to know that it is ok and just let it happen.
Stock up your freezer and birthing bag with healthy nourishing foods. After you return home with your baby, the last thing you feel like doing in the next few days is cooking. Not only will you want to spend every second with your baby, but you and your partner are also sleep deprived and exhausted.
You will be grateful to just heat up delicious meals that satisfy yours and your bodies’ needs. If you have family come by for a visit and they ask how they can help, ask them to bring you food. It will help you out and make them feel good as they can contribute to the wellbeing of the family. If you have to spend a day (or a few) in the hospital after birth, ask a family member to go get your meals from your freezer or buy you fresh nourishing meals. Hospital food isn’t nutritionally dense (or satisfying). Now your prepared healthy snacks in your birthing bag come in handy.
Some good ideas to pack& prep before birth are trail mix, lactation cookies, energy bites, soups, stews, broths, dahl, fresh fruit and nut butter, hummus and veggies.
Ask for help. Even if you experience the after birth “high”, the exhaustion and stress of the labour and delivery process will catch up to you. Ask for help wherever and whenever you can, even if it’s as simple as having a friend or relative hold your new babe so you can hop in the shower (or take a nap!). The best friends and family will also be at the ready to help with food prep – you’ll have your hands full 24/7 with your new bundle, so making even the simplest meals will become quite the task!
Conserve your energy. When you get home, don’t be tempted to jump back into “normalcy”, preparing elaborate feasts and keeping a pristine home. You need to conserve your energy for recovery and looking after your new babe. Family especially want to feel useful during this time and will be more than happy to help you out with whatever you need.
Learn to set boundaries right from the start. New moms, especially first time moms, love to spend a lot of precious bonding time with their newborn, staring at him or her in disbelief and pure adoration. Often, it is a wonderful first few days for mom, dad, and the baby, enjoying their new feeling as a family of three (or four, five, six…). While grandparents and friends may be eager to visit the new family member, make sure you are ready for them. If you need a few days by yourself first, this is totally ok and should be understood by well-meaning relatives and friends. If you want to compromise with them, give them a time frame for short visits and ask for their understanding as you are still healing.
Practice skin to skin with your baby as often as possible. Your baby has just left the warm, cozy womb where it has spent the past 9 months, cuddling up as close to mom as possible. Now that he or she is “on their own”, it is no surprise that newborns love being held naked (with a diaper) against mom’s and dad’s skin. Place your newborn against your naked belly and chest every day for at least the first two weeks and after that regularly for the coming months. It helps newborns to transition to this new life outside the womb and creates a very special bonding experience for both parents and child. It also has many important health benefits for the baby, such as better blood sugar and temperature regulation, less crying, breastfeeding initiation, transfer of good bacteria from mom to baby, and communication enhancement. For mom and dad, it gets the endorphins going and produces more happiness and less anxiety.
Stay hydrated. You may be surprised how often you can forget to drink water. As you are trying to get used to your new role as a mom, focusing on someone else’s needs before your own, water intake can easily be forgotten. Yet, it is so crucial; not only to help you heal and conserve your energy, but also to produce sufficient amounts of breast milk. Your baby will be taking in between 0.5-1 liter of water through your breast milk and with diminished water intake, your supply will decrease. Drink around 3L of water or herbal teas daily. Avoid coffee, soft drinks, caffeinated beverages or sugary juices as these will ultimately cause you to burn out, as well as pass on harmful compounds to your baby through your breast milk.
If you need a reminder to drink water regularly, place water bottles in your home where you spend most of your time.
Eat regularly and eat well. Breastfeeding moms, in particular, require an additional 500 calories per day to ensure adequate milk supply for baby. And you will notice this increased appetite which can sometimes entice you to choose quick treats high in sugar or unhealthy fats. Try to eat well balanced meals as much as possible and to include a healthy fat and protein at each meal and snack. Eating regularly (i.e. no longer than 3 hours between meals/snacks) will help you to avoid cravings for quick calories as it helps balance blood sugar, boosts energy and mood, and at the same time provides your baby with important nutrients.
And while it is understandable that you can’t always eat perfectly in this busy time, keep in mind that everything you eat and drink will get passed on to your baby. Their young bodies cannot handle processed food & additives as much as adults can as their liver function is still maturing. So keep this in mind and make the conscious choice to eat healthy most of the time for yourself and baby.
If you notice any skin reaction on your purely breastfed baby, cosmetic products and mom’s diet are the first culprits to investigate. You may need to observe your food intake - possibly write down suspects and eliminate them for a few days - to see if baby’s rash disappears. While doctors still tell moms they can eat whatever they want and it won’t affect the baby, it is simply not true. It is a well known “secret” in moms circles that their diet affects their babies through their breast milk. The most popular offenders: dairy & gluten (both lead to rashes and spit ups in babies) and coffee, even decaf (often leads to reflux in babies which is very stressful for baby and parents as it leads to spit ups and crying when the baby is lying on its back as the reflux burns their esophagus).
Eat healing fats. Not only will healthy fats help balance your blood sugar and help you feel satiated (i.e. satisfied), but they will also help your body heal! Hemp seeds, flax seeds, sunflower seeds, walnuts, almonds and their oils are excellent choices to get healing omega-3 and 6 fats to help you recover. Bonus, these also contain brain boosting fats – for both you and baby!
Eat enough protein. During times of healing, our bodies require more protein production to assist in bringing back its strength through the regeneration of cells and tissues. If you feel that you are not producing adequate breast milk for your baby, or that he/she never seems satisfied after nursing, try increasing your protein intake. Good sources of protein include organic eggs, grass-fed organic meats, wild-caught low-mercury fish (particularly salmon and sardines – which add an omega-3 punch), organic tempeh, and organic, sprouted legumes.
Eat foods rich in iron. Even if you have been taking a prenatal throughout your pregnancy, your baby’s needs for iron are high and your iron stores have certainly been reduced. While your infant’s iron stores are usually covered in the first 6 months postpartum, they will still deplete your levels if they are in need of more. Plus, you have lost some iron during delivery. Sources of iron to incorporate into your diet are nettle infusions, bone broth, grass-fed organic beef, chicken, turkey, organ meats such as liver, lentils, dark chocolate, spinach, sardines, legumes, pistachios, and raisins. Also, spirulina is a great source of iron and easily added to your water.
Drink bone broths. They are such a good source of minerals and will replenish your stores that have been affected during your pregnancy. They are so easy to make yourself; just make sure to buy bones from organically raised animals. Throw some bones in a slow cooker, add water, salt, pepper and cook for 24 hours. Optionally, you can add carrot and celery sticks, and fresh herbs such as thyme and rosemary for extra flavor. Once your baby is starting solid foods around 6 months, you can even offer them plain bone broth (just the bones and water, no spices or herbs). Many kids love bone broths and drink them eagerly.
Nutrients for healing. Birth is a very demanding process on the body. If you’ve had a vaginal birth, you’re likely sore – especially if you tore or had an episiotomy. If you’ve had a caesarean section, it will be 6-8 weeks before you can resume your normal physical activities. Getting the right nutrients can help speed the healing process. Along with a good pre/post-natal vitamin and a healthy, balanced diet, the following nutrients may be helpful in your recovery:
Most mothers continue taking their prenatal for at least 6 months postpartum - be sure to include the following:
Vitamins A, C, E and zinc are particularly key for repairing damaged tissues, as are essential fats (omega 3s, especially).
Vitamin A is vital for wound healing and bruising and will help restore your uterus, vagina and abdomen to their former size
Vitamin E can also be used topically to heal scarring or stretch marks
Vitamin C, along with vitamin E, encourages skin elasticity and the contraction of skin across the abdomen
Zinc is also depleted during any physically demanding event, such as giving birth, so your zinc stores will likely already be low
The amino acid L-glutamine is particularly effective in mending cuts and wounds, making it a helpful supplement post-surgery
The homeopathic remedy arnica is useful for bruising – it is also safe while breastfeeding, and the healing properties will be carried on to your newborn too
B vitamins are also lost during labour and delivery with all of the energy that is expended, so supplementing with a good B-complex will help restore your energy
Calcium and magnesium are also depleted by hours of muscle contractions during labour and delivery, so supplementing with these post-birth is advisable
Magnesium, in particular, is depleted during times of stress and life with a newborn can be rather stressful! Not to mention that the majority of people are magnesium deficient – so a good magnesium with calcium supplement is generally a good idea
An antioxidant formula for two weeks post-birth will give you a boost of all the nutrients you need to bounce back into super-health
If you have lost a lot of blood during delivery, it is advisable to take an iron supplement for a few days. It will replenish your iron stores and also help keep the post delivery bleeding at bay. Take 30mg per day and have your iron levels checked (especially your ferritin levels) to see if they are at a normal level. If your ferritin levels are low or borderline low, keep taking an iron supplement for 2-3 months and then have your levels re-tested.
Since you’ll have your hands-full after birth, preparing your supplements in advance and placing them into small containers (pill boxes work fabulously) for use when you arrive home, will make your post-birth recovery that much smoother.
Finally, vitamin K is an essential nutrient for blood clotting for your baby post-birth. While hospitals will generally, as part of their birthing protocol, provide your newborn with a vitamin K injection (or vitamin K orally), consuming foods high in vitamin K post-birth will help to ensure your newborn doesn’t suffer from internal hemorrhaging. Foods such as broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage and kale should be a regular part of your meals for the first few weeks after birth – the vitamin K in these foods will be passed on to your baby through breast milk.
Red Raspberry. Red raspberry leaf tea is a fantastic uterine tonic to take both before, during and after pregnancy to strengthen and tone the tissue of the womb. Try 1-5 tbsp full of the dried herb, infused in a quart mason jar with hot water - infuse for 4-8 hours. You can drink this infusion throughout the day. As all herbs will be passed on to your newborn through breast milk, make sure to observe your baby for any changes that could be linked to the herb. While generally considered safe, not one baby is alike and an individual can always react differently, even if it is just a diaper rash or eczema.
Nettle -This plant is an all time favorite in that it contains almost all the vitamins and minerals needed for human growth, a true superfood! Nettles are an excellent source of vitamins A, B complex, C and K, minerals calcium, iron and zinc. Nettles also have a lot of chlorophyll, with strong antioxidant properties, improving liver and kidney function, as well as improving digestion. They also support the adrenal and strengthens the body’s response to stress. Because of its high mineral and vitamin content it really is a great restorative herb, helping repair muscles, bone and joints. Due to its high vitamin K content it helps to rebuild blood, making it a great option for those in need of blood-building. Try 1-5 tbsp full of the dried herb, infused in a quart mason jar with cold (filtered) water - infuse for 4-8 hours. You can drink this infusion throughout the day.
False Unicorn Root. One of the best tonics and strengtheners to the reproductive system, false unicorn root is known to contain precursors of the estrogens. However, it acts in an amphoteric way to normalize function (i.e. will either upregulate or downregulate estrogenic activity, depending on the needs of the body). The body will use this herb to balance and tone while being useful in all issues relating to the uterus. To prepare a decoction, add 1-3 tsps. of the root in a cup of water, bring to a boil, and simmer for 10-15 minutes. This should be taken no more than three times daily. Note that large doses can cause nausea and vomiting, so start slowly.
Walk. Walking, if weather permits, is a great activity to do with baby! Once your physician gives you the go-ahead to engage in more regular physical activity, strap your little bundle into a stroller or even a carrier and hit the street for a stroll. You can add in leg kicks and even arm circles to bump up the intensity slightly. As an added bonus, the fresh air and sun will boost your mood and energy levels! This applies to your little babe too :)
Do yoga, tai chi, or meditate. Most women are not given the green-light from their physician to perform regular activity until 6-8 weeks post-birth. This is a recovery period for your body to heal from the sometimes traumatizing effects of labour and birth. Once your doctor has cleared you to resume physical activity, start slowly – your body has been through a marathon, has been stretched and contorted, and has been in recovery mode for the past 6-8 weeks. Start with very gentle, postnatal yoga and tai chi postures or simply meditate to get your body back into the habit of performing regular activity. Once your stamina and endurance has grown, you can participate in progressively more vigorous activities – such as swimming, aerobic exercise, or lifting weights.
Again, take it slow! Aim for 2-3 days per week to start, at a lower level than you may have been accustomed to pre-pregnancy (or possibly while pregnant). It is absolutely crucial to listen to the signals your body may give you. If your body is not ready for an activity, a stretch, or any exercise, trust it and try again another time. Anything else will delay your healing process. Plus, with a newborn who is up multiple times during the night, you’ll likely not have the energy for high intensity workouts in the beginning.
Always assume your baby’s innocence. If you just had your first baby, it may take some time getting used to a baby’s frequent crying. Especially when you’re already tired and exhausted. Try to remember that each episode of crying is your baby’s only way of communicating with you. They are talking to you, trying to get your attention because they either need something or something doesn’t feel right. You as a mom will quickly develop an unsurpassed intuition as to why your baby is crying. And while doctors, apps, and internet articles are good resources to have that can teach you a lot, always trust your own intuition first. No one spends as much time with your baby and observes its patterns as much as you do. Be prepared to be stubborn with health care providers if you think something is wrong.
If you find yourself exhausted and even angry because your baby is crying again, always remember that they truly don’t cry for no reason - even if other people may try to convince you so. Imagine we didn’t have a voice to communicate our needs. Yes, it can be frustrating because we don’t always know what they need or we find it strange if they need to nurse every hour for 7 hours straight (as they do in growth spurts for example). But if you learn to trust your baby, the whole journey will be much easier on you and your little one. When you assume your baby’s innocence with each cry and give them your attention, it will help you feel better because instead of anger and frustration (negative energy), you will feel sympathy and compassion (positive energy). Babies pick up on the energy of the people around them and with your positive energy, you will raise a baby who develops a very close bond to you and gives you their full trust which will make it easier for both of you along the way.
Keep stress to a minimum. In those early days, life with a newborn can be stressful and really take a toll on your emotional and mental health, not to mention your relationship with your partner. Find stress relieving activities that you enjoy to keep your stress hormones from going haywire. Journalling, getting out in nature, basking in the sun (if possible), meditation, listening to music, a warm bath with epsom salts and lavender essential oil are all great ways to wind down and de-stress. Don’t forget the tips above & ask for help! If your relationship with your partner is taking a seat on the backburner, ask a friend or relative to watch your baby so you can enjoy some special time together - even if it’s a short trip out for a cup of tea. Neglecting your relationship in the early days can snowball later on, so don’t forget to find time to reconnect after baby is born.
Practice positive affirmations. It will take some time to get used to being a mom. Especially if you just had your first baby, you wonder what you are doing right and maybe even doubt yourself at times. This is very normal. Often, moms are also flooded with well-meant advice from family members, friends, other moms, parenting articles etc. Unfortunately, this can leave a mom feeling overwhelmed and put a dent in her confidence as a mother. If you notice this is happening to you - and it happens a lot - it is time to remind yourself that you are always giving your best and are a great mom.
Write a few positive affirmations suited for your needs on sticky notes and put them up in your bathroom mirror and fridge - places you walk by daily - and say them out loud. You could use for example: “I am the exact parent my child needs to blossom and thrive. Worrying about what others think only distracts me from being the parent I need to be”, “In the eyes, heart, and mind of my child I am a great mom”, “Today I will find peace in being good enough, because perfection is impossible”, “I will do my best as a mom, and that will always be enough”. See how those simple statements make you feel better immediately.
Start using raw shea butter. Raw shea butter is an excellent source of vitamins A and E and has been successfully used by many pregnant women to prevent stretch marks. Unfortunately, stretch marks cannot only happen in pregnancy but also after delivery. Common spots are the breasts (because they grow quite a bit in the first few days after delivery due to the milk production), the belly, the bottom, and thighs. Whenever you find the time, keep applying shea butter to your breasts (especially the underside) and other body parts you think have changed their shape a lot. It is also a wonderful self-care ritual that you may enjoy in the few minutes in a day you have to yourself. Just a side note: Raw shea butter will leave stains in your clothes. It is therefore best applied at night when you can let it soak in for hours. Make sure to buy simple shirts and pants that you don’t mind throwing out later once you are done using shea butter.