It is well known that pregnancy puts our body through extraordinary changes and there is much focus on good nutrition during this time. However, especially for those who have experienced a very healthy pregnancy, the immediate aftermath of labour (post-partum period) can come as a bit of a shock to the system. Muscle aches and pains, blood loss, healing tissues, and establishing breastfeeding – all combined with sleep deprivation can leave you feeling like you have been hit by a bus! Popular culture tells us that we are all supposed to bounce back and get into those pre-pregnancy jeans in weeks. Images of a smiling Kate Windsor, (hair and make-up professionally done) are held up as an example to women. In reality, although she looks beautiful and is obviously thrilled with her new baby, it seems sad to think she cannot enjoy slobbing around in her PJ bottoms, working through the pain, hours after giving birth like the rest of us should.
More superficial aims like getting your body ‘back into shape’ aside, are there special nutritional facts we should be taking into consideration in the post-partum period? It may be news that it takes 12 weeks for the body’s physiology to return to normal after giving birth. That means that it takes up to 3 months for the heart, lungs, liver and blood system just to get back to a pre pregnant state. And that is when there have been no complications or surgery such as a Caesarean section involved.
Nutritional Requirements after Pregnancy
As all the focus now shifts to care of the baby, Mum’s welfare is at risk of becoming lost in the background. Without an obvious bump to remind everyone that this is a time of greater need, combined with the challenges of new parenthood, or juggling baby with older siblings - eating on the hoof, and skipped meals can become a pattern all too easily.
Breastfeeding – this is where the phrase eating for two should really be applied. A mother who is breast feeding can require up to 500 extra calories or a 25 % increase in average calorie intake per day. Nature’s best diet, breast feeding will cause, through hormone feedback and increased energy requirements an efficient reduction in the size of the womb after birth and return towards baseline weight. In many, weight loss can soon exceed baseline weight and it is worthwhile having a weight check at the six week GP appointment to see if it is needed to increase the calorie intake accordingly.
Quality, Not Quantity!
The quality of the extra food is important also – while there is never a better excuse to indulge in the odd bar of chocolate the extra calories should be best consumed as good quality starchy carbohydrates and protein. Dairy products with their fat and protein content as well as high Calcium are an ideal choice. Try your favourite nut-butter and banana on wholegrain toast as a high calorie nutritious smack that can be quickly prepared. Bear in mind caffeine and alcohol are found in small amounts in breast milk and should be taken with care.
Weight Gain During Pregnancy
The average weight gain during pregnancy is advised to be approximately 2 stone (12kg) but many do gain more than this or may have had a pre pregnancy weight above the healthy range. In this case, particularly is there has been a choice not to breastfeed, the most important thing to remember is to work slowly toward a target weight focusing on portion control, a balanced diet and exercise. For further advice on these topics lase see our previous articles on the subject.
Essentials Vitamins & Minerals
Micronutrients – While all new mothers will have their reserves lowered by their pregnancy there are some particular circumstances that can lead to an increased depletion of micronutrients.
• In teenage pregnancy the mother’s body itself is still growing while also trying to sustain a baby.
• With women often starting their families later these days, short gaps between pregnancies
• Blood loss at the time of delivery or secondary to surgery may compound Iron levels already low after the pregnancy itself.
• Women with a history of thyroid disorders will need careful monitoring during and after pregnancy
• Breastfeeding is the source of micronutrients for the baby and just as diet rich in vitamins and minerals is vital from the preconception time onward in order to develop a healthy baby in utero the mother’s postpartum nutrition will continue to support the new-born during this vital period of growth. ( Formula, as a result, is required to contain these micronutrients also)
Iron, Folic Acid and Vitamin D all come to mind but research also highlights the importance of riboflavin, B-6, B-12, selenium, zinc, Vitamin A in both foetal and maternal health and although these should always be best supplied through a wide and varied diet in some cases the consumption of a multivitamin tailored towards the postpartum/ lactation period may be well advised.
Visit Your GP
Finally, for women who have experienced Diabetes of pregnancy or have had a history of thyroid dysfunction it is important to make time for a follow up visit with your GP to discuss these issues.. Women who have had gestational diabetes are at an increased future risk of developing Type 2 diabetes. As a new parent your health is precious now not only to you – chat with your GP and you take a multidisciplinary approach towards prevention.