Nutrition for new moms is just as important as during pregnancy. Gestational diabetes, recovery from a Caesarean birth, and/or breastfeeding create new nutritional challenges.
Congratulations! After the rigours of pregnancy comes the joy of meeting your precious child. Emerging from watery warmth into loving arms, the arrival of each newborn marks the start of another period of development so important—and challenging—that it can be called “the fourth trimester.”
Taking care of mom
To quote author, professor, and Jungian analyst Naomi Lowinsky, a new mom “wrestles with an angel who at once wounds and blesses her.” The speed at which a woman returns to her old self after “the wounding” depends on her health and nutritional status during pregnancy, the extent of any complications, and, of course, the quality of care she receives during the first month.
To promote a healthy start for baby, mom needs to focus on her own good health. Certain nutrients can help mom recover and maintain adequate nutrient stores while providing “liquid gold”—breast milk—to her baby.
Balanced intake of all amino acids is key for all post-birth women, but for women who developed gestational diabetes it’s particularly important. The increased risk of persistent high blood sugar in this population can prolong perineum tissue damage.
Aim for lean protein sources such as chicken breast, bison, or turkey or sources that come with omega-3s such as fish, eggs, and seeds.
After a Caesarean section or natural birth with perineal tearing, antioxidant vitamins A and C support new epithelial cell and collagen formation, while bromelain, the enzyme in pineapples, reduces swelling, bruising, and pain.
A high antioxidant diet also boosts the mother’s immune system, thereby helping her to prevent sharing any post-operative infections, mastitis, and viruses with her baby.
Lianne Phillipson-Webb, RNCP, author of Sprout Right: Nutrition from Tummy to Toddler (Penguin, 2010), also recommends probiotics and vitamin D to enhance the immune function of a breastfeeding mom and her nursling.
Although the probiotics don’t reach her breast milk, the beneficial effects do, says Phillipson-Webb. Vitamin D supplementation at a level of 4,000 IU per day does impact the amount of vitamin D in breast milk and thus helps to strengthen baby’s immune and skeletal systems.
Breastfeeding—no special diet required
New parents know breast is best—for both baby and mom—from birth up until at least six months of age. The good news is that no special diet is needed to nurse a child.
Nature does a pretty good job of safeguarding breast milk production. Neither extra calories nor extra fluids, beyond the levels consumed during the third trimester, are required for lactation.
A good latch
A new mother can lose weight, be mildly dehydrated, and even abstain from eating meat and still produce enough milk. Indeed, according to Dr. Jack Newman, Canadian breastfeeding expert, the single most important factor in successful breastfeeding is a good latch.
At the Newman Breastfeeding Clinic in Toronto, mothers learn that colic is not due to the composition of the milk, but instead from improper technique. Avoidance of beans and other foods suspected of causing gas is unnecessary; the mother’s body absorbs the gas so none of it reaches the milk.
As for diet influencing allergies, Newman thinks the evidence that exclusive breastfeeding protects is fairly good, but the data are not always supportive.
The cause of allergies isn’t always clear, though Phillipson-Webb has seen issues based on what mom eats. “Whenever I ate wheat or sugar, both my daughters would break out in a rash and become constipated,” she recounts.
Although it’s unusual, she’s also seen babies with allergic reactions to milk—streaks of blood in the stool and irritability—without consuming milk themselves. Once mom took milk off her diet, the blood disappeared and baby improved. These children usually remain hypersensitive and must avoid milk when weaning, advises Phillipson-Webb.
While the macronutrient content of breast milk stays consistent regardless of mom’s diet, the fatty acid profile can change. Dr. Joey Shulman, author of Winning the Food Fight (Wiley, 2003), knows the benefits of boosting a mother’s omega-3 intake.
Whenever she sees a baby with rosacea or atopic dermatitis, she immediately recommends 2 to 3 g of omegas with a 2:1 ratio of DHA to EPA to the breastfeeding mother. With a higher intake of these anti-inflammatory fats, the child’s skin clears up, she says. Development
Aside from smoother skin, postpartum DHA and EPA supplementation also translates into higher developmental scores for the child. Conversely, a high intake of trans fats reaches human breast milk and could contribute to negative effects on baby’s growth and health.
The benefits of breastfeeding and the effects of maternal diet are the topics of exciting, ongoing research. For now, it’s known that what is healthy for mom—fruits and veggies, protein, good fats instead of trans fats—is also healthy for the nursing babe who’s watching her eat.