Alison Boden is a registered dietitian and functional nutritionist specializing in women’s reproductive health from fertility through postpartum. She has a “food first” nourishing approach to wellness and healing and loves working with women on the transition from pregnancy to motherhood. Today Alison is here to share tips on supporting healing and good nutrition in the fourth trimester.
During the transition from pregnancy to motherhood the focus typically shifts from taking care of you – the expecting mama to all eyes and hands on the new little bundle. While this shift is normal and expected, we don’t want to overlook the nutrition needs of the healing mother. No matter how you gave birth, your body just underwent an amazing transformation and physical event that requires time, space and nourishment to bring back balance.
In the first days and weeks home after delivery can be a blur. Physically, you are healing and it takes time, nourishment and rest to complete this process. Your pregnancy hormones have significantly dropped, almost mimicking a menopausal state. This, plus the exhaustion and overwhelm of new motherhood, is a driver in the “baby blues” or more seriously Postpartum Depression and Anxiety, and also a reason for physical symptoms such as night sweats. If you also lost a significant amount of blood and are nursing, you can see how the nutrition needs during postpartum far exceed those of pregnancy!
Here are my top 5 tips for fast, easy nutrient packed meals and snacks:
- Make smoothies. This quintessential one-handed meal or snack can pack a huge burst of nutrients and be very filling if done right. My formula for this is a 2/3 fresh or frozen greens, 1/3 fresh or frozen fruit. Spinach and berries are a great combination. Use water, coconut water or 100% juice as the liquid for easy blending and a protein or fat to make this a more substantial meal. Avocado, coconut butter, flax seed, nut butter and whole milk yogurt are all wonderful additions.
- Use a slow cooker. If you have one laying around in a box somewhere collecting dust, now is the time to whip it out. These are best for cooking large batches of protein, which you need more of to help the healing process and if you are nursing. A slow cooked whole chicken is a staple in my house – I use a pre-mixed dry rub and place the chicken on a bed of whatever aromatic vegetables I have on hand (onion, celery, carrot, garlic etc) and cook on low for 6-8 hours.
- Prep in advance. On a day that you’re feeling energized and/or have some help at home, make a big batch of “breakfast cookies” with oats, flax and nuts (sample recipe here); prep smoothies in advance in mason jars and freeze; or roast a huge tray of root vegetables in the oven.
- Eat frequently with healthy snack foods. Keep your favorite nuts around the house to grab handfuls as you’re walking baby to sleep, quick proteins like canned beans, eggs and smoked salmon and lots of fruit and vegetables with a healthy dip like hummus.
- Recruit a village. Friends and family near and far often want to help but don’t know what you need. Let them know! Start a meal train and have folks sign up to bring or send meals for the first month. If someone is stopping by to meet baby, ask them to bring a meal.
Remember that all of the special circumstances that come with birth also bring special nutritional needs. Here are a few of the essentials for the fourth trimester you can easily implement into my tips above. These nutrients will support healing and health in the early days of motherhood and beyond:
- Vitamin A, C and Zinc. For healing after trauma to the tissues (incisions, stitches and tears) you need extra Vitamin A, C and Zinc as well as protein. Great sources of each of these are leafy greens, citrus, broccoli, nuts, seeds and meat.
- High iron sources. If blood loss was significant (especially if you were running low during pregnancy) – you’ll want to continue eating high iron sources and/or taking your supplement. Red meat is far and away the most usable form of iron we can eat, and vegetarians can combine beans and leafy greens with vitamin C for better absorption.
- Omega 3 supplements. They have been shown to lessen the severity of baby blues or PPD, so keep taking that prenatal fish oil and aim for a fish meal 2x/week.
- Flax seed and sweet potato. These are two of my favorite foods that can support bringing back up your female hormones to more balanced levels.