Birthing a baby is one of the most amazing, miraculous experiences you will ever have. While you’re focused on your new bundle of joy, don’t forget that your body has endured a very physical and emotional experience. It took nine months to conceive, grow and birth your baby. So “bouncing back” doesn’t happen instantly. It’s called “postpartum recovery” and “postpartum healing” and it takes time.
Postpartum Recovery and Healing
Essential ingredients to postpartum recovery and breastfeeding for every mom are sleep, nutrition and self-love.
Once your baby arrives, most foods that were on the “avoid” list are now safe for consumption. Plus, the painful heartburn you’ve been experiencing will miraculously disappear. But before you indulge in all those favorite foods you sacrificed during pregnancy, during your postpartum recovery, view nutritious food as medicine that will help you heal and feel your best.
Postpartum Nutrition Tips
If you breastfeed, you actually need to consume more calories during postpartum recovery than during pregnancy.
- Extra 500 calories a day (For the entire duration of breastfeeding and this is basically an extra meal each day)
- Extra 25 grams of protein a day (50-75 grams per day)
- Calcium (found in dairy – milk and yogurt; supplement if needed to meet 1000 mg daily)
- Iron – 18 mg/day
Postpartum Healing Food List
Our recommendations include food sources to aid in tissue healing and hormone balancing during your postpartum recovery.
Carbohydrates help promote healing while sustaining energy.
Whole wheat bread, whole wheat pasta, whole wheat crackers, fresh fruit, dried fruit, yogurt, kefir and fresh veggies
Protein helps rebuild and repair tissues and muscles.
Poultry, lean beef, fatty fish, eggs, cheese, nuts and seeds
Healthy fats help to absorb key nutrients.
Olive oil, avocados, walnuts, flax and chia seeds
Iron helps to manage fatigue and plays a vital role in immune system function. (Following birth, most moms need to focus on iron).
Lean red meat, beans, lentils, oatmeal and fortified cereals
Fiber helps to prevent and relieve constipation, keeps you fuller longer and aids in blood sugar control.
Beans, lentils, pears, avocadoes, apples, chia seeds, raspberries, potato with skin, almonds and peas
Hormone Balancing foods can help support your progesterone and estrogen hormone levels. (Following birth, progesterone levels tank and estrogen dominates).
Progesterone boosting foods will help combat low postpartum progesterone levels. Walnuts, almonds, pumpkin seeds, black beans, pumpkin, broccoli, leafy greens, spinach, brussels sprouts, kale, cabbage, avocados, bananas, citrus fruits, seafood, dark chocolate and coconut oil
Estrogen balancing foods will help regulate postpartum estrogen levels. Eat fiber-rich foods because the excess fiber in your diet binds with the estrogen, thereby eliminating the excess estrogen from the body. Beans, lentils, pears, avocadoes, apples, chia seeds, raspberries, potato with skin, almonds and peas.
Water consumption helps prevent headaches, constipation and urinary tract infections. Plus, it plays a huge role in breastmilk production.
Caffeine is safe. The American Academy of Pediatrics deems 300 mg per day is safe for breastfeeding moms. What is challenging is every cup of joe is different. Starbucks tends to be higher in caffeine than a store brand.
Postpartum Healing Physical Tips
As a new mom, you may be eager to get back into your routine, including your workouts. It’s important to think of getting back into pre-pregnancy shape as “rehabbing” because effective postpartum physical healing is a balance of protecting tissues and strengthening your core.
Pelvic Floor TLC
Your pelvic floor is the group of muscles and ligaments in your pelvic region. The pelvic floor acts like a sling to support the organs in your pelvis — including the bladder, rectum, and uterus. Contracting and relaxing these muscles allows you to control your bowel movements, urination, and sexual intercourse.
Pelvic floor dysfunction forces you to contract your muscles rather than relax them. As a result, you may experience difficulty having a bowel movement. Studies indicate about one in three women suffer from a pelvic floor disorder. Pushing a baby during childbirth weakens the pelvic muscles so it’s not surprising that 80 percent of these women are moms.
Proper positioning can help protect your pelvic floor and decrease your discomforts. To help promote postpartum healing don’t strain with bowel movements but instead exhale as you gently bare down. You can use a gentle “ha” exhale to put gentle pressure on your perineum to help evacuate the stool.
You can also try perineal splinting, a technique designed to reduce discomfort and strain with bowel movements. Wrap your hand in toilet paper and gently hold the perineum up to your anus to splint the tissues as you have a bowel movement. To do this you would hold the perineum, place the heal of your hand by your pubic bone and middle finger would end at the perineal body before your anus. Use a squatty potty (or something to get your knees higher than your hips).
We typically sit upright or bent forward, this produces an incorrect angle in your bowel muscle, slowing or even stopping the rectal emptying. With proper positioning, the pelvic floor muscles relax and the bowel angle decreases, allowing easier elimination which can help manage hemorrhoids.
First Two Weeks Postpartum can be gentle Kegel exercises to improve blood flow and reduce swelling.
Use the log roll method to get out of bed. You can also try ankle pumps and tension release exercises (i.e., quad sets, glute sets, toe curls), these exercises help get the brain prepared for pelvic floor muscle contraction.
Two to Four Weeks Postpartum you can start light walking. Try starting with 10 minutes and see how you do. Your posture will be key here. When standing, improve your posture by looking ahead at the horizon, glutes untucked, and feet facing forward with a gentle bend in your knees. When sitting, do your best to sit on your sit bones instead of tucking your bottom and tailbone under. This will improve the position of your bladder and help reduce low back pain. Any symptoms of abdominal, pelvic pressure or heaviness after walking indicates you did too much.
Gentle Abdominal Stretches
The cat/cow yoga pose is a great way to induce body awareness, regulate your breathing and produce a relaxed state by calming the central nervous system. It’s great for strengthening the spine and neck muscles and can improve your posture and balance.
March while laying on your back with pelvic/abdominal contraction is a great way to activate your core muscles in a gentle but effective way. Ball squeeze with abdominal contraction (laying on your back with knees bent). Remember to breathe, inhaling as you release and exhaling as you contract your abdomen gently (down and in) and squeeze the ball.
After birth, your hormones are changing, and when I say changing, I mean you instantly go into a menopause-like state, all while trying to figure out how to care for a newborn and help the family adjust to the newborn. Let’s be honest, it’s downright overwhelming. Some new moms heal quickly and adjust to motherhood while others have a harder time adjusting. And that’s OKAY.
Get Outside (daily)
Boost your mood by getting outside, breathing in fresh air and soaking up some vitamin D on your skin. Did you know that vitamin D helps with tissue repair and low levels are linked to postpartum depression? It’s a big deal.
- You can start by simply stepping outside onto your porch
- Playing in your backyard.
- Practice wearing baby or going for a stroller ride around your block
- Enjoying time at a local park or botanical garden
Deep Breathing Calms the Central Nervous System
If you ever find yourself in the midst of a stressful moment, try placing your hand on your heart and taking a deep breath. A really deep breath comes from the diaphragm, the muscle just below your lungs. When you fully expand your lungs with your breath, this helps pull down on your diaphragm and you’ll feel the expansion in either your chest or abdomen. Try to feel your ribs and abdomen expand. When you look at any baby, you’ll notice they breathe into their belly. In contrast, look at adults and you’ll notice most are predominantly chest breathers, not belly breathers.
You can work on becoming a belly breather again, one position to try is draped over a yoga ball. You can safely do this by hanging over a yoga ball with your abdomen and chest supported. As you take a deep breath, feel your back body expand.
Practice breathing from your diaphragm as this encourages full oxygen exchange, that is, the beneficial trade of incoming oxygen for outgoing carbon dioxide. This type of breathing slows the heartbeat and can lower or stabilize your blood pressure.
Ask for Help
As a new mom, you can’t be expected to do it all. No new mom can. Remember you’re healing from birth and learning how to care for your baby. Recommended helpers: Spouse, family, friends, doula or postpartum nurse, nanny, babysitter, sleep coach, house cleaner, etc. You can also talk with the nurses and pregnancy educators. Click the chat button below or call us toll free at 800-672-2296.
Socializing Reduces Postpartum Depression Risks
With social distancing mandates this can be challenging. But do your best to enjoy face-to-face interactions with your family and friends, in a safe way (best if support team can quarantine with you). The happiest people in the world, recently reported that they spend most of their days interacting with people (face-to-face).
Studies show that having limited face-to-face social contact nearly doubles someone’s risk of having depression. Study participants who met in person regularly with family and friends were less likely to report symptoms of depression, compared with participants who emailed or spoke on the phone.
Ask Yourself Daily, “How am I feeling?”
Postpartum Depression, known as Perinatal Mood and Anxiety Disorders, are one of the most frequent medical complications of childbirth. Mood disorders are not something you can “snap out of.” Depression and anxiety develop when chemical changes in the way your brain works begin to affect how you feel. It requires help from a doctor. Good news is that perinatal mood and anxiety disorders are treatable through a combination of treatments and supportive therapy (i.e. counseling, medication, supplements, exercise, support groups, etc.).
If your doctor recommends medication, be sure to tell them you’re breastfeeding so they can prescribe a medication that’s safe while breastfeeding.
If you want to talk with a mental health professional, here are some helpful numbers:
National Postpartum Depression Hotline: 1-800-PPD-MOMS
Text Message Crisis Line: Text CONNECT to 741741 in the United States
Pro Tip: Lean on your support team and ask for help. Get fresh air every day and most importantly, be gentle with yourself and talk about how you are feeling. There is always a huge learning curve, but it will get easier. We recommend prepping meals and snacks ahead of time. That way, you always have something on hand. You should spread high fiber foods throughout your day, incorporating them at meals!
Try and eat every three hours, even if it’s a small snack to help balance blood sugar, fight off headaches and give you the energy you need to take care of your newborn. Hydration is KEY. Be sure your urine is clear. Have water in every room as water consumption helps decrease pelvic floor discomfort, migraine symptoms and aids with breast milk production. Engage in mindful movement and focus on healing.
For more information and support on pregnancy and through the transition into motherhood, visit Unique Footprints.
This article is from Unique Footprints authors:
Jenny Morrow, RN, IBCLC, LCCE, RYT
Jenny is a mom, neonatal nurse, lactation consultant, childbirth educator, yoga instructor and founder of Unique Footprints (a pregnancy and new mom resource). Learn more about Jenny.
Caroline Susie, RD/LD
Caroline Susie is in private practice and is the Unique Footprints Registered Dietitian, specializing in prenatal and postnatal nutrition. She believes that taking a personalized nutrition approach is best. She is a contributor to Fox News and many other publications. Learn more about Caroline.
Chelsea Harkins, PT, DPT
Chelsea is the Unique Footprints Doctor of Physical Therapy and founder of Dallas Pelvic Health, specializing in treating prenatal and postnatal women. She believes in a holistic approach to pelvic floor therapy and integrates her orthopedic experience into her practice to help mothers achieve complete restoration and healing of their postpartum body. Learn more about Chelsea.
- Unique Footprints
- ACOG: Breastfeeding Your Baby
- Institute of Medicine: Dietary Reference Intakes
- National Institutes of Health: Pregnancy, Breastfeeding and Bone Health
- National Academies: Nutrition During Lactation
- AAP: American Academy of Pediatrics Policy Statement on Calcium Requirements for Infants
- US Department of Agriculture’s Food and Nutrition Information Center
- Lamaze: What to Eat After Giving Birth – https://www.lamaze.org/Giving-Birth-with-Confidence/GBWC-Post/what-to-eat-right-after-giving-birth-1
- WebMD – 12 Super Foods for New Moms – https://www.webmd.com/parenting/baby/breast-feeding-diet#1
- WebMD – New Mom’s Guide to Nutrition After Childbirth – https://www.webmd.com/parenting/baby/nutrition-guide-new-moms#1