We spend so much time worrying about what we eat in pregnancy that you might not even consider your postpartum diet until you’re actually in the fourth trimester (the four months following birth). The adjustment to being a new parent can be quite challenging (with a lack of sleep being a chief concern postpartum) and it’s easy to deprioritize your own meals and nutrition as you focus on your new family member. The fourth trimester is defined by the transitions experienced by both baby and mom. It’s common to experience a lot of physical and emotional changes during this time. Your body needs nourishment and care, regardless of if you are nursing (though if you are breastfeeding this is especially true to provide adequate nutrition to your baby via breast milk).
What to eat while breastfeeding and postpartum
If you’re producing breastmilk regularly in the fourth trimester, your body needs an extra 500 to 600 calories of energy daily compared to pre-pregnancy. This is 200 to 300 calories more per day than you needed during pregnancy! The nutrients in breast milk, including essential fatty acids like omega-3, come directly from your nutrient stores, so there’s a greater demand for these nutrients in your diet.
While lactating, your daily requirements of many nutrients including Vitamin B2 (riboflavin), Vitamin B6, Vitamin B12, Vitamin C, Vitamin E, Calcium, Zinc and Selenium are as high or higher than when you were pregnant. These can come from your prenatal multivitamin, fish, omega-3-fortified eggs, dairy products, nuts and seeds.
Vegetarians and vegans need to be especially keen on Vitamin B12 intake and will likely require a supplement. Low maternal B12 status means low Vitamin B12 in breast milk, which can cause a B12 deficiency in baby linked to neurological dysfunction in these infants. Vegans and vegetarians may also need to supplement with the omega-3 fatty acid DHA to make up for a lack of fish in the diet. Supplemental DHA can be derived from algae, providing a solution for non-fish-oil DHA. (** can insert info on BB’s algae-sourced DHA for postpartum**).
Regular food intake is also important as your body needs extra energy to support the postpartum changes in your bones, ligaments and muscles. This includes dietary sources of Vitamin D, Calcium, protein, and B-Vitamins. Look to fortified milk (dairy or non-dairy) products, eggs, chickpeas, lentils, mushrooms and lean poultry like chicken and turkey.
Prenatal and postpartum supplementation
Most experts will recommend you continue to take your prenatal vitamin, postpartum, especially if you are nursing. We recommend our Postpartum supplement, which has all the essentials you need during the fourth trimester (and the option to add on a lactation boost should you want some breastfeeding support).
What to include in a healthy postpartum diet
The need for protein is much higher postpartum and while lactating. You’ll need about 1.2 grams of protein per kilogram of your bodyweight per day. This averages to around 65 to80 grams of protein per day. Legumes like beans, chickpeas and lentils, along with eggs, tofu, chicken, turkey and fish are all great sources of protein.
The requirement of carbohydrates when lactating is about 200 grams per day. This can come from minimally processed whole grains, fruits and vegetables.
Omega-3 and other polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs) help support the inflammation balance (favouring anti-inflammatory signals), cardiovascular function (including blood flow) and nerve function (memory, attention, focus). Intake of PUFAs can also have a protective effect against postpartum depression, whereas intake of saturated fats may be linked to increased postpartum depression symptoms. Include food sources of PUFAs such as olive oil, avocado, fish (like salmon, sardines, anchovies, mackerel), nuts and seeds.
Calcium, Vitamin D, Zinc and Selenium
Your requirements for Calcium during pregnancy and postpartum are 1000 mg per day. Vitamin D is also recommended since this key vitamin helps your body absorb Calcium. Together, nutrient intakes from a multivitamin and diet containing Calcium, Vitamin D, Zinc and Selenium has been associated with a protective effect against postpartum depression. These are also key nutrients for bone health and immune function in both you and baby (if you are nursing).
You actually need more Vitamin C postpartum compared to during pregnancy. American and European guidelines recommend 120 to 155 mg of Vitamin C per day which helps with immune function and protection from cellular stress and damage. Top food sources include bell peppers, broccoli, citrus fruits, and strawberries. Go ahead and prep a cup of raw red pepper slices (about 118 mg of Vitamin C) to dip in hummus, or nibble on half a cup of strawberries (50 mg of Vitamin C—even better with Greek yogurt which adds 16 grams of protein and 175 mg of Calcium per serving).
What if I’m not breastfeeding?
Even if you’re not putting your own body’s nutrients into your baby’s food, your body still needs macronutrients (proteins, fats, carbs, fiber) and micronutrients (vitamins and minerals) as you recover from growing a baby and transition to taking care of your baby outside your womb.
Your body needs protein for muscle function and strength. As a new parent you’ll be carrying around a five- to 20-pound babe over the next year. Your pelvic floor will also need some love. Dietary protein will help your pelvic floor exercises be more effective as you strengthen these muscles. Aim for about one gram of protein per kilogram of bodyweight.
If you’re not producing breastmilk, you can reduce your carbohydrates from the above recommendations (to approximately 120 to150 grams per day or 40 to 50 percent of your diet). Keep in mind that carbohydrates aren’t just found in grains, but vegetables, fruits, and legumes like chickpeas and lentils.
Important micronutrients during this time include Calcium, omega-3 fatty acids, B-Vitamins, Vitamin C, Vitamin E, Iron, Zinc and Selenium. You and your body need these for energy production, muscle function and strength, mood regulation, and cell protection and repair.
New parents have a lot to juggle mentally. Some of these nutrients help decrease symptoms of postpartum depression, while others, like omega-3 and Choline (found in eggs) can help your cognitive function.
What not to eat postpartum or while breastfeeding
Trans fats, including hydrogenated and partially-hydrogenate oils have been known to increase the risk of metabolic disorders, affecting the function of the liver, fat tissue, and the resulting blood sugar and insulin regulation (both in the consumer and in offspring of mothers who consume them). Later in life this could translate into higher cardiovascular disease risk.
Specifically, intake of industrially-produced trans fats (as opposed to the natural trans fats found in dairy products) alters blood vessel function, increases oxidative stress and inflammation in the body, and decreases the production of HDL (the “good”) cholesterol.
Trans fats are produced from frying (including in your French fries), grilling, or from the hydrogenation of oils. Hydrogenated and partially hydrogenated oils are found in margarines, many brands of peanut butters, in baked goods and pastries.
Our intake of fatty acids, like our PUFAs and omega-3s translate into the fatty acid composition of breastmilk. Having higher amounts of trans fats in breastmilk upsets the balance of beneficial fatty acids. This increases the risk of the above metabolic and cardiovascular dysfunction in addition to affecting infant growth and development from having abnormal cholesterol levels.
Can I drink alcohol while breastfeeding?
The answer to this isn’t entirely straightforward, but if you do want to enjoy a drink during your breastfeeding journey, it is possible. Read more about how to safely imbibe while nursing, here.
An ideal postpartum and breastfeeding grocery list
When doing your meal prep or stocking up on groceries for the week, consider adding these staples to your cart. (Even better, download our grocery list at the end of this article to take with you on your next visit to the grocery store.)
- Leafy greens that don’t require cooking: spinach, baby kale, arugula, leaf lettuce, sprouts and pea shoots
- Raw veggies for snacking on (can eat with guacamole or hummus): carrots or baby carrots, cucumber, celery, fennel, bell peppers, radish
- Leafy greens and other produce items to steam, boil, sauté: bok choy, broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, brussels sprouts, collard greens, green beans, beets, mushrooms, bell peppers, sweet potato, squash, zucchini.
- Fruits: blueberries, strawberries, raspberries, apples, pears, grapes, lemons and limes, avocado
- Free-range Omega-3 Eggs
- Chickpeas, lentils and beans
- Free-range, antibiotic-free chicken
- Greek yogurt
- Cheese (such as organic cottage cheese, cheddar, swiss, mozzarella, feta)
- Whey isolate protein powder or vegan protein blend
- Dark, high fiber breads like German bread, pumpernickel, Ezekiel sprouted breads
- Plant-based wraps (such as sundried tomato or spinach flat wraps)
Other pantry staples and prepared foods
- Nut or seed butters
- Artichoke hearts packed in water or oil
- Olive oil
- Steel cut oats
- Olives, packed in olive oil
- Kimchi and sauerkraut