You have just had a baby and have probably realized by now that your body is capable of a lot. But what about after the baby is born? You and your body have gone through a lot and need to make a strong recovery—for you and your new baby.
While pregnant, you’re coached by doctors, friends, and family—all in preparation for childbirth. After childbirth, you read parenting books and attend many appointments. What you may not know, however, is what it takes for your body to fully recover. You are so focused, as you should be, on your new baby that it can be easy to forget your own needs. Especially if breastfeeding, the quality of your recovery will affect your dependent baby. So, what do you need to know about your postnatal recovery?
Your nutrition after childbirth can positively or negatively impact your body and your baby.
Stress Response During Labor
Whenever faced with danger or distress, your body begins the stress response. You may have heard this response referred to as the flight or fight response. When giving birth, and even in the moments before, your body prepares for anticipated stress with a cascade of effects, such as
- increased awareness
- quickened impulses,
- shut down of major organs,
- energy bursts, and
- increased blood pressure1.
Put simply, your body focuses all efforts on the source of stress and expends all unnecessary functions. Especially if your first pregnancy, your body may even overreact to labor. Your body will overproduce hormones that place a significant strain on your nutritional stores.
How does this strain affect you? For one example, excessive bleeding often occurs during this labor-induced stress response. This blood loss depletes your iron stores and can cause postnatal anemia. With your nutritional stores depleted, you aren’t exactly prepared to tackle your postnatal recovery. Though you expect a rigorous recovery, you may not expect the intense replenishment you will need.
Most women take a prenatal to support themselves and their baby during pregnancy. Yet, many quit supplementation once their child is born. Again, you become so focused on your new baby—as you should—but neglect your own nutritional needs. The nutritional depletion following childbirth can affect many aspects of your post-labor recovery, such as mental wellness, breastfeeding, recovery length, and weight loss. Luckily, postnatal supplementation and a well-balanced diet can soften this stressful toll.
Below are some ways nutrition can help you with your recovery after labor.
1- Mental Wellness and Nutrition
Your nutritional status following pregnancy can affect your physical and your mental health. Postpartum depression remains fairly common among post-pregnant women. About one in seven women who give birth each year experience postpartum depression symptoms. And half of the women diagnosed with PPD have never had an episode of depression before2.
Nutrition and the severity of mental illness have been increasingly linked in recent research. Adequate levels of nutrients such as
- vitamin C,
- vitamin B1, B2, B6, B12,
- vitamin A,
- magnesium, and
are often linked to greater improvement and outcomes in depressed individuals3,4,5,6. Your levels of these essential nutrients can improve or even ward against the “baby blues”. However, nutrition is often left out of the postpartum discussion. During postpartum treatment, nutrition is a vital part of your mental and emotional recovery and complements the effects of sufficient exercise and sleep. Consult with a physician about your nutritional options.
2- Nutrition and Your Breastfed Baby
You are your new baby’s life source—especially if breastfeeding. And you can only provide your child with what he/she needs if you get what you need. Women who breastfeed have an increased energy demand, with an additional 500 calories a day recommended7. An increased nutritional demand accompanies this increased energy demand.
While breastfeeding, you transfer nutrients essential to your baby’s development. Nutrients such as calcium, zinc, and iron are not only essential for your baby’s development but for YOUR well-being.
Calcium: When breastfeeding, you transfer 250-350mg of calcium to your baby8. Having appropriate calcium levels will support your bones and the healthy growth of your little one.
Zinc: Pregnancy affects your zinc absorption and may cause a deficiency after childbirth. Getting the right amount of zinc can boost your energy levels and lower the chance of colic for your baby!
Iron: You hear about anemia during pregnancy. However, if you lose a lot of blood during delivery, you may become anemic after pregnancy as well. Postpartum anemia can cause fatigue and weakness and can even take a toll on your breast milk quality.
As you focus on your baby’s needs, make sure to remember your nutritional needs. It will benefit you both!
3- Length of Recovery
You will probably be told that you should be back to normal in six weeks. Considering the stress and depletion you experienced during pregnancy, six weeks seems unrealistic. After all, you were pregnant for nine months and delivered a human! In a study conducted by the University of Salford, it was concluded that women need a full year to recover from the physical and emotion effects of pregnancy9. And if you plan on having more children, it can take up to two years to prepare your body for another pregnancy.
Your life is busy, and you want to get back on your feet. Optimal nutrition can help you get back to normal, stronger and faster. You shouldn’t rush your recovery, but a lack of nutritional support can slow your overall recoup.
4- Recovery and Weight Loss
Weight gain—the dreaded aftereffect of pregnancy. Many women begin varied diet programs and routines immediately after pregnancy because it sounds like the healthy choice. However, many weight-loss diets don’t provide the needed nutrition to support your postnatal recovery.
Poor nutrition and restricted calories can cause bone loss, malnutrition (for you and baby), and even excessive weight gain—the opposite of what you want. Receiving proper nutrition is the best thing you can do for you and your body. On top of eating a well-balanced diet, investing in high-quality supplements can support a healthy weight.
If you feel you are not getting enough from your diet, supplementation may be your solution. Again, consult with your physician if you have worries or concerns.
Simply, your body is in recovery overdrive.
Wait, wasn’t your body in overdrive while pregnant? True, your body works double time while pregnant to create a healthy home for the growing baby. However, though childbirth provides some relief, your body must now return to the former prenatal state, whether regulating your weight, returning your organs to their proper place, or adjusting your hormone levels.
Your body is depleted and requires intense replenishment and rest.
Additional nutrition supports a healthy recovery, especially if done with help from professional consultants, physicians, and healthy habits. It is important to understand that a thorough recovery doesn’t happen overnight. Your body will need plenty of rest and plenty of nourishment, so take it easy and give your body everything it needs to recover.
- Curt A. Sandman and Elysia Pogg Davis, “Neurobehavioral Risk Is Associated With Gestational Exposure to Stress Hormones,” Medscape, 2012, 445-459, accessed August 15, 2016, http://www.medscape.com/viewarticle/769063_2.
- What is postpartum depression & anxiety? http://www.apa.org/pi/women/resources/reports/postpartum-depression.aspx. Accessed August 19, 2016.
- Gülsah Kaner, Meltem Soylu, Nimet Yüksel, Neriman Inaç, Dilek Ongan, Eda Basmisirli. Evaluation of nutritional status of patients with depression. BioMed research International, vol 2015, Article ID 521481.
- Jukka hintikka, Tommi Tolmunen, Antti Tanskanen, Heimo Viinamäki. High vitamin B12 level and good treatment outcome may be associated in major depressive disorder. BCM Psychiatry 2003, 3:17.
- Pennix BQJH, Guralnik JM et al. Vitamin B12 deficiency and depression in physically disabled older women. AM J Psychiatry 2000, 157:715-721.
- Bell IR, Edman JS, Morrow FD, et al. Vitamin B1, B2, and B6 augmentation of tricyclic antidepressant treatment in geriatric depression and cognitive dysfunction. J AM Coll Nutr 1992, 11:159-63.
- Association of Reproductive Health Professionals. Postpartum Counseling. Available at http://www.arhp.org/publications-and-resources/ quick-reference-guide-for-clinicians/postpartum-counseling/diet.
- Oliveri B, et al. Mineral and bone mass changes during pregnancy and lactation. Nutrition 2004;20(2):235-240.
- Wray, J 2012, ‘Impact of place upon celebration of birth ¿ experiences of new mothers on a postnatal ward’, MIDIRS Midwifery Digest, 23(3), pp.357-361.