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Becoming a new parent marks the beginning of a new chapter in your life. Carrying a baby for 9 months goes by quickly but what follows is a lifelong experience. New mothers are often bombarded with advices on how to raise a baby from just about anyone, but not all advices people tell you are at par with science. Nourishing your new baby and restoring your pre-pregnancy health and body requires the right knowledge and dedication. Some women may never have their pre-pregnancy body restored and that’s okay. Pregnancy can sometimes have lasting effects on different aspects of your health that are completely normal. However, losing pregnancy fat is entirely possible, albeit difficult. At the same time, nourishing a new baby also requires proper education, support, and energy. In the following sections we’ll be outlining some of the key lifestyle modifications that you can adopt to ensure a healthy postpartum state and a well-nourished newborn.
During pregnancy, women are advised to include and exclude a number of food items from their diet. Once the baby is delivered, many assume that it’s okay to revert back to pre-pregnancy dietary habits. However, that’s where you’re wrong. Your postpartum diet has the same value, if not more, as your pregnancy diet. In fact, certain nutrients should be taken in higher quantities to fulfill lactation needs.
Women can lose a good amount of calories if they breastfeed regularly. This way of losing pregnancy fat is perhaps the best and most natural one. However, the calories lost with breastfeeding may not be enough to completely restore body shape and weight, which is why adopting a healthy eating lifestyle is necessary to shed a few more pounds. It’s important to remember that your body is in its recovery period for the next 3 months or so after delivery. That’s why fad diets and starvation is an extremely unhealthy approach and can not only affect your health but also your baby’s health particularly if you are breastfeeding.
When you’re pregnant, seafood should be consumed cautiously. That’s because despite seafood having a high amount of omega-3 fatty acids that our body needs to function optimally; seafood also comes with the risk of mercury poisoning. Large fish such as the king mackerel and shark contain the highest amount of mercury content that can be dangerous for the developing baby. So, what about your postpartum diet? If you’re breastfeeding your baby, the same seafood rule applies in your postpartum diet as well. That means you should be cautious when consuming large fish because of its high mercury content that can be passed on to your baby through breast milk. Mercury can have a number of adverse effects on the body from headaches to more severe neurological manifestations such as memory loss and tremors. If you must consume seafood, choose smaller fish such as shrimp and salmon that have a lower mercury content but are rich in omega-3 fatty acids.
Omega-3 fatty acids are essential fats that our bodies need for healthy heart and gut function. In postpartum women, omega-3 fatty acids can aid in decreasing inflammation and boosting immunity. It can also help restore gut health which is important to lose pregnancy fat.
Protein is the single most important macronutrient that a postpartum body needs for rapid recovery and restoration to pre-pregnancy body. Protein is abundant in a number of food items that we consume on the daily, but meat is probably the richest source of it. Although red meats are discouraged in pregnancy because a negative effect of this type of meat on gut motility, it is encouraged in the postpartum recovery period. Proteins are also a sure-shot way to lose pregnancy fat because they not only fulfil your calorie needs but promote healthy muscle development and fat loss. Protein-rich foods can help you regain your strength and energize you as well as aid in growth and repair of your cells. Teen mothers should consume even larger portions of protein to fully recover their body and bring it back to its pre-pregnancy form. FDA recommends consuming around 70-80 grams of protein a day after delivery. This protein requirement is identical to pregnancy protein needs because the body needs this nutrient for optimum repair.
Women who have celiac disease or gluten-sensitive enteropathy require a modified postpartum diet that not only nourishes but also helps shed pregnancy fat. A complete gluten-free diet for postpartum women looks similar to the gluten-free diet advised to women who are pregnant. Because celiac disease restricts you from consuming a number of carbohydrate options, it’s important to look for substitutes to fulfil the body’s requirement. Carbohydrates provide the body with energy and help keep your active to nourish and raise your newborn baby. The good news is that now you can get plenty of gluten-free options. Some examples of gluten-free produce that can provide you with an ample amount of carbs include rice, corn, tomatoes, kale, pineapples, papaya, apple, asparagus, herbs, and pears etc. You can also get gluten-free wheat and bread – remember to always the read the label before you choose your food! It’s important to get at least 3 portions of gluten-free carbs a day in the first few months after delivering. You can slowly decrease this amount of your carbs as your body recovers. Too many carbs, be it gluten-free, can come in the way of losing pregnancy fat and make you gain weight instead. That’s why it’s important to watch your gluten-free carbohydrate intake as you recover from your pregnancy.
Greens provide an ample amount of nutrients that the body needs to recover properly after delivery. Vegan diets are excellent for the postpartum recovery period and to lose pregnancy fat naturally without undertaking harsh fad diets. However, it’s crucial that you include protein-rich vegetables and pulses to your plate if you are a vegan. The postpartum body needs a number of nutrients that can be found in abundance in your favorite fruits and vegetables. This includes calcium, vitamin D, magnesium, iron, and folate amongst others. Postpartum women who have a strict vegan diet are also advised to consume at least four portions of calcium in a day to meet the FDA requirement. Breastfeeding mothers should watch their calcium intake keenly to promote healthy lactation and good nourishment of the baby. Despite being a pretty much all-rounder diet for postpartum recovery, vegan diets are deficient in nutrients like vitamin B12 and important amino acids. That’s why women should consume fortified cereals or food items that are both vegan-friendly and include the required portion of the nutrients that are normally low in vegan diets.
During pregnancy, gut health can be affected in one too many ways. The major pregnancy hormone, progesterone, rises in levels during pregnancy and this can cause a decrease in gut motility, heartburn, and constipation amongst other gastrointestinal complaints. The good news is that once the baby is delivered, gut health starts to recover, slowly but steadily. There are ways that women can encourage a faster recovery to pre-pregnancy gut health. This can be done by modifying diet and making important lifestyle changes. Once the baby has been delivered, it’s a good idea to consider getting back to exercising once the body has had an ample amount of rest. Exercise has been scientifically proven to aid in improved gut motility and boost immunity. Women should consult their doctor before they start exercising to fully understand their body’s needs. Because gut health is largely determined by what you consume and the quality of your gut microbiome, many experts advise increasing probiotic intake in the postpartum period. In the intestines, reside a large number of bacteria that help digest and break down food that enters the intestines. These bacteria are usually beneficial for our health but sometimes their population can be depleted or altered to a more dangerous type. Probiotics promote a healthy gut microbiome that increases the proportion of good bacteria relative to the harmful ones. Another aspect of health that can take a hit in pregnancy is the immune system. Because of the altered immune response in a pregnant woman, the body becomes more susceptible to harm from foreign noxious agents and pathogens. This effect can continue well after the delivery of the baby as well. The pregnant and postpartum body is more vulnerable to infections and inflammation because of the dampened immune response. Sometimes, however, the immune system can become hyperactive and result in the development of autoimmune diseases during or after pregnancy. In fact, epidemiological studies show that most autoimmune diseases are more common in women in their child-bearing age. Unfortunately, many immune-related effects that arise with pregnancy can become long-lasting and even permanent, particularly the emergence of autoimmune diseases. However, there are still ways you can get your immune response in a good shape after the delivery. Apart from exercise, immune boosting activities include getting a good night’s sleep, meditating, and engaging in other stress-relieving activities, and eating a vitamin-rich diet. Vitamin C and zinc are two nutrients that have time and again shown to boost the immune cells of our body. Consuming these two immune-boosting vitamins in the form of your natural diet or even supplements can do your immune system good. Remember, regaining immune strength can be a long process. It’s important to be patient during the recovery and practice preventive measures even in the postpartum period to reduce the risk of different kinds of communicable diseases and infections.
All healthcare facilities provide postpartum follow-up checkups and for good reason. A number of diseases can arise right after the delivery or a few days into postpartum. The sudden change in the body after the delivery can sometimes become too overwhelming for the body to handle and this can result in a number of both mental and physical ailments. The following is a short list of some of the most common diseases that can occur in the postpartum period:
Postpartum mental health disorders are perhaps least recognized but may be the most frequently encountered complication after giving birth. Postpartum blues is a short and self-limiting period of sadness that goes away within 14 days. Postpartum depression, on the other hand, has a longer duration and can span for months. It can interfere with the proper nourishment and care for the newborn and usually will require proper treatment and support. At the end of the spectrum is postpartum psychosis which is a rapidly deteriorating mental health status of a woman in her postpartum period. It is characterized by delusions, hallucinations, behavioral changes and even seizures. Postpartum psychosis is a medical emergency and requires formal medical treatment at the hospital. In the west, the most common cause of death in a woman in her postpartum period or even during delivery is a pulmonary embolism. This is when a clot, usually from the deep veins of the leg, gets dislodged and obstructs blood flow in the lungs. Pulmonary embolism is an extremely fatal complication with a high mortality rate. Women who are at a high risk of getting an embolism are those who are advised prolonged bed rest during their pregnancy, women who are obese, and women who have a history of thrombotic events. These women are high risk and should be closely monitored during and after the delivery. Unless strictly advised under medical grounds, complete bed rest should be avoided in the final months of pregnancy to avoid and thromboembolic event. On the other hand, in the developing countries, the most common cause of death in a postpartum woman is a postpartum hemorrhage. This happens more commonly in home births or in women who receive subpar prenatal and natal care. Postpartum hemorrhage, like embolism, can be rapidly fatal and needs to be managed immediately. Other diseases that can occur after delivery are uncommon but usually affect the body’s immune response in some way. Many can be completely treated with proper care and management.
The two key pregnancy hormones are estrogen and progesterone. Estrogen and progesterone help maintain the pregnancy and participate in a number of different functions that benefit both the mother and the baby. Estrogen has the primary role in the proliferation of blood vessels of the uterus and placenta. This increase in vascular blood supply enables adequate nutrient and waste exchange between the mother and the baby. Estrogen also prepare the lactating glands and enables the breast to grow in size; however, it keeps milk production inhibited.
Progesterone, on the other hand, also helps to maintain the pregnancy in ways different than estrogen. It helps the uterus increase in size so that it can attain its pregnancy pear-like shape. This increase in size is necessary to allow for adequate space for the baby to grow and support. Progesterone also acts on the different ligaments and joints of the body in pregnancy by increasing their laxity. This allow the uterus to grow without restriction. The increase in the level of hormones can also have an effect in other parts of the body as well. For example, these hormones contribute to the ‘pregnancy glow’ of a woman. They also permit healthy weight gain as well as a certain degree of edema. Right after pregnancy, there is a steep decline in the circulating levels of estrogen, progesterone, and beta-HCG. Conversely, prolactin and oxytocin increase in the blood which helps in the lactation process. Prolactin is the milk-producing hormone secreted from the pituitary gland in the brain. Before pregnancy, prolactin is kept inhibited through the neurotransmitter dopamine. Once a woman gets pregnant and delivers, this inhibition is lost, and prolactin begins milk production. Oxytocin is a hormone that is also secreted from the pituitary gland but produced in the higher brain centers i.e. the hypothalamus. Oxytocin is involved in the milk let-down reflex that allow for the contraction of smooth muscles around the mammary ducts of the breasts. In short, oxytocin allows for the ejection of milk through the nipple. High levels of prolactin keep estrogen levels low by suppressing FSH and LH hormones. This provides a natural contraception that occurs when a woman is breastfeeding. However, prolactin inhibition on FSH and LH slowly wanes as the menstrual cycles restart in a woman after delivery. That is when the natural contraception method is no longer reliable.
After the baby has been delivered, many physicians will restart pre-pregnancy medicines of a woman should she have any. However, because of breastfeeding, many medications need to be taken consciously even after the delivery. Certain medications can travel through the breast milk and have effects on your newborn. It’s important to talk to your doctor before starting any new or old medicines.
Some women will also require an anti-D injection shortly after birth. This is given to prevent a hemolytic reaction in the subsequent pregnancies. Women who quality for the anti-D injection are those that have a negative blood group with a positive blood group baby. Medicines that are considered safe in pregnancy include, but are not limited to:
Some common drugs that are considered harmful during breastfeeding include:
Vitamin supplements during pregnancy are much talked about and are considered essential for the right prenatal care. These include iron, folic acid and magnesium supplements amongst others. After the pregnancy is over, the body is in its recovery phase. It’s important to keep tabs on your nutrient intake for a smooth and rapid recovery. It’s important to remember that if the mother is breastfeeding, nutrient requirements may be higher and equal to the requirement in pregnancy. Calcium is an important mineral that is rapidly used up during lactation and needs supplementing during the postpartum period. This can be done either through a balanced, calcium-rich diet or through supplements. Similarly, the requirements for vitamin D are also increased in the postpartum period for healthy recovery and nourishment of the newborn. Other nutrient requirements may decrease after the baby is delivered. Folic acid, for example, is needed in much lesser quantities after delivery. Similarly, unless the new mother is at risk of an iron deficiency, iron supplements can be discontinued. Vitamins A and E should also be taken in only minimally in the postpartum period. To ensure adequate nutrient requirements for your postpartum period, it’s a good idea to talk to your physician and monitor your vitamin and mineral levels through blood tests if needed. Generally speaking, a balanced diet after the postpartum period can provide adequate nutrient requirements for the mother and the new baby after delivery.
Toxins can have potentially devastating effects on the outcome of a pregnancy, but they can also have an effect after the delivery. Newborn babies have an immature immune system that is unable to cope with a number of noxious substances around us. Excessive exposure to these toxins can result in untoward consequences and even sudden infant death syndrome. Tobacco smoking is by far the biggest culprit of sudden infant death syndrome. The developing lungs of a newborn can be compromised by the constituents of cigarette smoking. This can result in rapid cardiovascular and respiratory collapse. Other toxins around the home that can become dangerous for the newborn include toluene, asbestos, silicon, lead, and mercury. All of these toxins have various effects on the health of an infant and can also come in the way of the recovery postpartum body. Heavy metals like lead and mercury can cause a number of adverse effects on the health of the baby. Lead is typically found in old homes, chipped paint, or batteries. Like mercury, lead can also pollute water bodies and contaminate drinking water supply. Exposure to household chemicals like detergents should also be limited immediately after delivery because of the harsh ingredients that are used to make these products. Detergents and similar chemicals can cause skin disorders such as rashes and burns in a newborn. It’s a good idea to invest in an air purifier once the baby arrives. Air purifiers help free the environment of toxins and allergens and make the atmosphere cleaner. They may also help improve mood and behavior – something that women in their postpartum period can benefit from. Alternatively, you can place air purifying indoor plants at home that perform a similar function.
Other common environmental toxins that exist in our homes include toluene, asbestos and formaldehyde. Toluene is a key component in glue and paint. Freshly painted homes can have high levels of toluene in the air which can harm the mother and the baby. That’s why it’s important to put all house renovation projects on hold until after you deliver the baby. Asbestos can be found in old and wearing insulation of roofs. This is a mineral that has carcinogenic properties and is implicated in certain forms of respiratory cancers. Asbestos exposure is not just harmful for a pregnant woman and the fetus, it is also problematic for just about anyone. Old roofing and insulation should be replaced as soon as possible to limit exposure to asbestos. Formaldehyde is another preservative that can cause negative effects for the mother and the baby. This is a preservative that has been clinically shown to have an effect on immature lungs of a newborn or a developing fetus. You can limit your exposure to formaldehyde by choosing formaldehyde-free preservative products, avoiding nail salons, and purchasing only pure wood furniture.
Caring for a newborn can seem like a daunting task especially if you have no prior experience. However, with the right knowledge at hand, you can provide your infant with the best possible care as efficiently as possible. It’s important to understand the dietary requirements of your baby so that you can adequately nourish your newborn. Babies have an immature gut and are deficient in vitamin K, a nutrient that is formed by our natural gut microbiome. Vitamin K is essential for clotting and hemostasis; deficiency of this vitamin can result in bleeding complications in an infant. That is why all infants are given a vitamin K injection shortly after birth. If a woman delivers her baby at home, it’s important to give the baby a vitamin K injection as soon as possible at a healthcare facility. The good news is that breast milk has most of the nutrients that a baby needs for proper growth and nourishment. However, after 4-6 months, breast milk becomes inadequate and the baby must be weaned with a solid diet. A delay in weaning time may cause nutrient deficiencies in the baby. Other important nutrients that need to be supplemented in your newborn’s diet include iron and vitamin D. Although breast milk has sufficient iron for the baby in the first 3 months, additional iron sources such as formula milk is advised to fulfill the dietary iron needs. Vitamin D is another important vitamin that the body needs for healthy bone development that may be in reduced amount in breast milk. Caring for a newborn isn’t just limited to their diet. Other aspects of their life need to be tended to as well for their healthy development. Some important newborn care pointers include the following:
Should you suspect any worrying symptoms in your infant, get an appointment with the doctor as soon as you can for a timely evaluation.
Giving birth is a roller coaster ride for women, one that doesn’t really ever end. Right after the delivery of the baby, new mothers are presented with a multitude of responsibilities of caring for the newborn as they allow their body to heal and recover. Support from your partner and other family members can benefit new mothers immensely during the postpartum period. Although the road to recovery is a long one and reverting back to a pre-pregnancy state may never be completely possible, with the right plan of action you can get through your postpartum period smoothly. At the same time, caring for a newborn also requires diligent planning and the right knowledge.
Remember: taking baby steps in your recovery is the key to a successful and stress-free postpartum. So be patient, relax and enjoy a new chapter in your life.
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