Pregnancy + Parenthood

Eating After Baby: 4 Ways to Support Postpartum Nutrition

8 min read

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It’s no secret that eating a balanced diet during pregnancy goes a long way toward supporting key nutrient needs. But once the third trimester ends and the little one arrives, many parents—and breastfeeding people in particular—are left wondering what a healthy postpartum diet plan looks like. Considering new mothers have plenty to think about that first year, from self-care and changing nutrient needs to breastfeeding positions and lactation support, we tapped Dr. Mastaneh Sharafi, PhD, a registered dietitian and Ritual’s VP of Scientific Affairs, for the straightforward scoop on all things postpartum nutrition. (As a mom, she’s got some helpful insights on pregnancy nutrition, too.)

According to Dr. Mastaneh, nutrition plays a crucial, two part-role in the postpartum phase. “The first is to replenish nutrient stores, such as folate, vitamin D, vitamin A, and choline,” she says. “The second is to support dietary requirements for breastfeeding mothers.” Translation? Prioritizing a healthy diet after giving birth isn’t just sound advice for nursing moms—it’s important for every birthing parent, whether breastfeeding or not. Here’s four simple tips to follow.* (1)

Tip #1: Focus on nourishing whole foods.

Much like a healthy pregnancy diet, a healthy postpartum diet shouldn’t really be all that different from treating the body with care during any other life stage. Put another way, we should be striving to eat healthfully most of the time—regardless of if we’re pregnant or postpartum. That’s what our food-first approach is all about, after all: aiming to meet the majority of nutrient needs through a well-diversified diet, then supplementing to help fill the gaps. (Bonus: Eating a variety of foods can make it easier to hit all the food groups, too.)

But what does healthy eating actually look like in practice? It’s about striking a careful balance of both macronutrients and micronutrients. As a quick refresher, macronutrients are the nutritional components we need more of—specifically carbohydrates (like whole wheat bread, brown rice, and starchy veggies), protein (such as red meat, chicken, fish, or vegan protein sources like lentils and Ritual’s Essential Protein Daily Shake), and healthy fats (think olive oil, nuts and seeds, oily fish—all sources of omega-3 fatty acids). Micronutrients, on the other hand, are the tiny building blocks of nutrition, the vitamins and minerals that we need in smaller amounts, but still have wide-reaching effects in the body—think iron, vitamin C, vitamin D, vitamin B12, and calcium.* (1)

"Get creative and switch things up! Try including all the food groups in your daily diet by customizing dishes to your personal preferences and cultural traditions." -Dr. Mastaneh Sharafi, PhD, RD, and Ritual’s VP of Scientific Affairs

All of this is to say, when it comes to proper nutrition, food is king. “We’re aligned with the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, which promotes the consumption of a healthy eating pattern (and accounts for all foods and beverages under an appropriate calorie level),” says Dr. Nima Alamdari, PhD, Ritual’s Chief Scientific Officer. “Consistent with this, we believe that nutritional needs should be met primarily through nutrient-dense foods.” By focusing on eating a variety of whole foods—fruits, vegetables, lean protein, healthy fats, nuts, legumes, whole grains—we can be well on our way to meeting intake levels. (1)

One exception? Breastfeeding—a stage Dr. Mastaneh says can often be the most nutritionally demanding for many women†. “The latest Dietary Guidelines for Americans has a healthy dietary pattern recommendation for postpartum women based on their caloric needs. During the first 6 months of breastfeeding, women need an additional 330 extra calories per day, and during the last 6 months, they need an additional 400 kcal,” she explains. “So, for a breastfeeding woman with caloric requirements of 2,200 kcal per day, a sample meal plan could include 3 cups of vegetables (like leafy greens), 2 cups of fruit, 7 ounces of grains (preferably 3.5 ounces from whole grains), 3 cups of dairy products (such as cow’s milk) or dairy substitutes, 6 ounces of protein, and 29 grams of oil.” (1)

Tip #2: Be strategic about seafood (and empty calories, for that matter).

In general, it’s a good idea for breastfeeding moms to avoid fish high in mercury, such as bigeye tuna, king mackerel, swordfish, and tilefish, and instead opt for safer picks like salmon, tilapia, trout, sardines, cod, and shrimp. Limiting alcoholic drinks is another positive decision—even if someone isn’t breastfeeding, imbibing offers little to no contribution to what the body needs during the postpartum period, which includes rest and nourishment. (That said, if someone wants to enjoy a glass of wine, do so in moderation, and wait at least two hours after drinking before breastfeeding or expressing breast milk.)* (1, 2)

A few more pointers to keep in mind: “There are certain food groups that postpartum and/or breastfeeding women are simply not getting enough of, such as fruits and vegetables,” says Dr. Mastaneh. “However, a great number of women are exceeding the limits of added sugar, saturated fat, and sodium. According to National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) data, 97% of breastfeeding women exceed the sodium limit, 77% exceed the saturated fat limit, and 51% exceed the added sugar limit.” She advises making every bite count by focusing on nutrient-dense foods and beverages (like these RD-created smoothie recipes), while limiting those higher in added sugars, saturated fats, and sodium, which tend to be found in processed foods.* (1, 3)

Tip #3: Take a postnatal multivitamin.

Speaking of nutrients, we’d be remiss not to mention the importance of taking a postnatal multivitamin—that is, a multi designed to support the nutritional needs of postpartum mothers. Many opt to continue taking their prenatal multivitamins which, while better than nothing, aren’t necessarily made for the specific postpartum life stage, since needs for many nutrients (like vitamin A, vitamin C, and zinc, for example) tend to be highest among lactating women when compared to women in other life stages. (1)

Additionally, “There are some key nutrients that postpartum and/or breastfeeding women are not getting enough of, such as choline, omega-3 DHA, and vitamin D3,” notes Dr. Mastaneh. “It can also be difficult to get these nutrients solely from the diet—especially for those who are plant-based.” That’s where a high-quality postnatal multivitamin comes in: to support the new nutrient demands of this period, and to help fill potential dietary gaps.* (1, 4, 5)

Essential Postnatal multivitamin was created with all that in mind. Featuring 15 key nutrients in obsessively-researched forms, just two vegan capsules a day to help support normal immune function, brain health, bone health, and lactation.*

Tip #4: Stay hydrated and rest up.

Last but not least, go slow, give yourself time, and treat your body with the TLC it needs—whether that comes in the form of taking naps, meditating, or creating small routines. “The postpartum period starts when the baby is delivered, and ends when the body gets back to its pre-pregnancy state—a process that typically takes up to six months,” explains Dr. Mastaneh.* (1)

Dr. Mastaneh also underscores the importance of staying hydrated post-pregnancy, particularly if breastfeeding: “The recommendation for total water intake increases by 27% from pregnancy and 41% from pre-pregnancy.” (6)

The essential takeaway

Healthy eating isn’t a panacea, but it does play a major role in supporting the postpartum phase, in addition to getting quality sleep and regular exercise. By prioritizing nutritious food choices, sufficient calorie intake, and adequate hydration—and incorporating a high-quality postnatal multivitamin, like Essential Postnatal—we can help set the stage for success.*

Have questions about nutrition, postpartum nutrient needs, or the decision to breastfeed? We suggest reaching out to a trusted health care provider, dietitian, and/or lactation consultant for support.*

References:

  1. U.S. Department of Agriculture and U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 2020-2025. 9th Edition. December 2020. Available at DietaryGuidelines.gov.
  2. Food & Drug Administration (FDA). Advice about Eating Fish: For Women Who Are or Might Become Pregnant, Breastfeeding Mothers, and Young Children. https://www.fda.gov/food/consumers/advice-about-eating-fish. December 12, 2020. Last accessed August 21, 2021.
  3. USDA, Agricultural Research Service. Usual Nutrient Intake from Food and Beverages, by Pregnancy/Lactation Status, What We Eat in America, NHANES 2013-2016. 2020.
  4. Zhang Z, Fulgoni VL, Kris-Etherton PM, Mitmesser SH. Dietary intakes of EPA and DHA omega-3 fatty acids among US childbearing-age and pregnant women: an analysis of NHANES 2001-2014. Nutrients. 2018;10:416.
  5. USDA, Agricultural Research Service. Usual Nutrient Intake from Food and Beverages, by Pregnancy/Lactation Status, What We Eat in America, NHANES 2015-2018. 2020.
  6. National Academies of Medicine. Dietary Reference Intakes for Water, Potassium, Sodium, Chloride, and Sulfate. 2005.

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Meet Our Experts

This article features advice and has been reviewed by members of our Science Team.

Science Thumb — Mastaneh

Dr. Mastaneh Sharafi, PhD, RD, VP of Scientific Affairs

Dr. Mastaneh Sharafi has a PhD in Nutritional Sciences and is a Registered Dietitian. She received her training from Penn State University and University of Connecticut where she researched dietary patterns, chemosensory perception and community nutrition. Her dietetic work is focused on promoting healthy eating habits by translating the science of nutrition into practical information for the public.

Science Thumb — Mastaneh

Dr. Mastaneh Sharafi, PhD, RD, VP of Scientific Affairs

Dr. Mastaneh Sharafi has a PhD in Nutritional Sciences and is a Registered Dietitian. She received her training from Penn State University and University of Connecticut where she researched dietary patterns, chemosensory perception and community nutrition. Her dietetic work is focused on promoting healthy eating habits by translating the science of nutrition into practical information for the public.

Dr. Nima Alamdari PhD

Dr. Nima Alamdari, Ph.D, Ritual's Chief Scientific Officer

Dr. Nima is Ritual's Chief Scientific Officer. He has a Ph.D in Physiology & Muscle Metabolism, and has spent his career studying the relationship between nutrition, exercise, and the human body.

Dr. Nima Alamdari PhD

Dr. Nima Alamdari, Ph.D, Ritual's Chief Scientific Officer

Dr. Nima is Ritual's Chief Scientific Officer. He has a Ph.D in Physiology & Muscle Metabolism, and has spent his career studying the relationship between nutrition, exercise, and the human body.

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