The post-partum period (which extends from delivery to the return of periods) is a pivotal moment for the young mother, marking the end of pregnancy and the beginning of motherhood. It brings physical and emotional upheaval, with inevitable effects on her mood and physiological health (1).
Following the birth of her baby, the new mother is often unusually tired, both physically and mentally (2), as a result of several factors:
Some women also experience the baby-blues (3). Caused by a combination of plummeting hormones and heightened emotions, this manifests in crying, irritability, anxiety or feelings of vulnerability. Fortunately, it’s only temporary, persisting for a few days after delivery (4).
These hormonal changes also produce physical effects of varying significance: water retention, weight gain, hair loss (5-6)… What’s more, the repositioning of pelvic organs can sometimes cause mild intestinal transit problems (7).
In order to fully recover from the demands of pregnancy and get on top of all her new responsibilities, the new mum should try and include in her diet all the nutrients necessary to feel revitalised (8). If she’s breastfeeding as well, she’ll need more calories, vitamin and minerals. An overly-restrictive diet is therefore not advisable, as it could lead to or exacerbate deficiencies.
But that doesn’t mean daily trips to the cake shop. A high-fat, high-sugar diet – along with smoking and drinking alcohol – overloads the emunctory organs and prevents them from properly eliminating toxins accumulated during pregnancy (9-11). Salt intake should also be restricted, especially in cases of water retention.
There are also specific foods which should be avoided because of their content of phytoestrogens likely to upset hormonal balance (12). Soya and linseeds have the highest concentrations of these.
What about tea and coffee? It’s tempting to turn to caffeine to keep pace with the demands of daily life, but stimulating drinks only provide an immediate ‘hit’, and in some women, may stimulate already over-sensitive nerves (13). It’s better to slow down a little, always remembering to stay well-hydrated: choose warm broths or herbal teas instead, to warm the body gently.
Smart mums can also support their ‘overloaded’ bodies with the help of dietary supplements, though consulting a health professional before starting any supplementation is strongly recommended, and is absolutely essential if the mother is breastfeeding.
The star nutrient of your morning orange juice, vitamin C directly helps to reduce the fatigue that affects most new mothers (14-15). Though L-ascorbic acid is the most common form found in supplements, other much less well-known forms actually offer better bioavailability (the supplement Asc2P uses phosphorylated ascorbate, a stable form of vitamin C that’s 20 times more powerful) (16).
Synthesised primarily when the skin is exposed to sunlight, vitamin D supports good immune system function and normal calcium levels, and helps maintain healthy muscle function. With its comprehensive action, it provides a helpful ‘shot in the arm’ to those suffering from post-partum blues, as long as the formulation chosen is adequately dosed (Vitamin D3 5000 IU, is one such example, delivered in a plant oil base for maximum absorption) (17-18).
To breathe new life into dull or brittle hair, new mums can make liberal use of biotin (alias vitamin B8 or the ‘beauty vitamin’) which plays a direct role in helping to maintain healthy skin and hair (19). Found in brewer’s yeast, offal, egg yolk and mushrooms, it is also available in supplement form (such as in the product Biotin).
The blood loss associated with childbirth results in a lack of iron (20), yet for nursing mothers, this essential trace element plays a vital role in ensuring their baby develops normally (21). It’s therefore crucial to rebuild reserves by eating more iron-rich foods (red meat, liver, seafood, green leafy vegetables ...). To maximise your intake, it’s also wise to consider supplementing with iron (with, for example, Iron Bisglycinate, a specific form of chelated iron offering excellent bioavailability (22).
Vitamin B12 fulfils numerous physiological functions. In particular, it supports normal formation of red blood cells and energy metabolism and is also involved in cell division. It therefore plays a direct role in ensuring healthy development of the breastfed baby (23). As it’s completely absent from the plant kingdom, vegan mums should definitely consider supplementation (the product Methylcobalamine contains the most active form of vitamin B12) (24).
And what about fatty acids? Maternal intake of DHA (docosahexaenoic acid), a marine-source omega-3 fatty acid, contributes to normal brain and vision development in the breastfed baby (25). As it’s only found in oily fish (sardines, mackerel, anchovies …), our diets often contain too little. So it makes sense to take a DHA supplement to ensure a sufficient intake (made from sustainably-fished marine sources, the supplement Super DHA combines docosahexaenoic acid with EPA, another form of omega-3, for optimal synergistic effects) (26-27).
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