How do you heal the body with nutrition after having a baby?
Guest blog written by Michele Kingston from TNM Clinic, St. Albans.
Hello, I am Michele Kingston, I am a registered nutritional therapist and functional medicine practitioner. Nutritional and functional medicine addresses the root cause of health problems and uses natural therapies such as diet, supplements and lifestyle to support the body back to optimum health and wellness.
I have been practising for 11yrs, both in private practice and on staff at an environmental medicine clinic working alongside doctors and other clinicians. I have worked with both adults and children, from all around the world with a variety of different illnesses and needs, such as IBS, hormonal imbalance, weight issues, skin problems, autoimmune disease, fatigue, depression and more.
I also work with clients who want to prevent health problems, or wish to switch to a vegan diet or need support whilst pregnant and post-natally. I have consistently seen amazing results and I am living proof that nutritional medicine can have a powerful impact on health. It’s something I am so passionate about.
So you’ve just given birth?
I often get women asking… What should I eat?
After giving birth we need to nourish our bodies. They have done a magical, miraculous thing and are often left rather nutrient depleted and exhausted from their efforts.
Especially in the first 3 months postnatally, also known as the 4th trimester, this is not the time to worry about losing weight and dieting, but helping the body heal and nourishing yourself back to full health.
Specific needs the body has in the 4th trimester that can be accomplished with a nutritious diet:
- Extra requirement for nutrients
After pregnancy you can be deficient in some nutrients, micro-nutrients like vitamins and minerals and macro-nutrients like carbs, protein and fat, because of a few reasons:
- During pregnancy you were literally building a human being from scratch and it is built from the nutrients you provide, the baby gets priority and uses your stores and what comes in through the diet and supplements.
- Labour and 4th trimester are mentally and physically exhausting and this drains nutrients.
- Healing requires extra nutrients, all pregnancies and labour will require some level of tissue healing. So, the diet needs to provide the constituent parts of collagen, muscle and skin, which are essentially protein, fats and micronutrients.
- If you are breastfeeding, nutrients are prioritised to make good quality milk so you have an even higher need.
- Anti-inflammatory process
Inflammation is a necessary response that occurs naturally during pregnancy and labour. Inflammation can also occur in the 4th trimester due to lack of sleep and stress experienced at this time and we need to help the immune system bring this inflammation back under control to be able to heal. So we don’t want our diet and lifestyle to exacerbate inflammation, but rather heal the damage that inflammation can inflict and allow it to naturally reduce.
- Hormonal balance
Post-natally you are in the midst of a symphony of hormones, your body is creating and reacting to an abundance of oestrogen, oxytocin, prolactin, prostaglandins, insulin, adrenaline and cortisol. Good nutrition is required so you can:
- make these hormones, many of them are made from cholesterol and essential fats
- detoxify and eliminate the hormones once they are used, otherwise they can accumulate and cause issues
- keep blood sugar balanced so as not to cause cortisol and insulin spikes.
What is optimal nutrition in the 4th Trimester?
- Keep things simple, there is no pressure for a perfect diet just do your best and try to do as much of the below as you can manage and think about what you should be including rather than excluding.
- 3 balanced meals per day, which are 50% vegetables, 25% protein, 20% complex carbohydrates and 5% good fats from nuts, seeds, olives, oily fish and avocado. A meal balanced like this provides good amounts in the right ratios of the nutrients you need to balance blood sugar, keep you feeling full and satisfied and rebuild and heal tissues in the body.
- At least 5 servings of veg and max 2 of fruit and try to eat a rainbow of different colours. Eating an abundance of veg and some fruit provides good amounts of vitamins and minerals, lots of fibre and calms inflammation.
- Fresh, wholefoods rather than processed as much as possible
- Careful with the sugar and refined white carbohydrates as these have zero nutrients, increase inflammation and actually increase fatigue.
- Try to include the specific foods mentioned below that are rich sources of nutrients
Eating like this provides 5 key things your body needs to heal:
1. Vitamins (really you will need all vitamins and minerals), but those to really focus on are:
- Vitamin C is excellent for healing and rebuilding collagen, aiding iron absorption, antioxidant protection and supporting immunity. Foods rich in vitamin C are peppers, herbs especially chives, parsley and coriander, kale, broccoli, kiwi, strawberries and oranges.
- Vitamin D is important for bone development so especially important if you are breast feeding to have good levels to pass on to baby, supporting immunity and alleviating inflammation. Vitamin D production is stimulated by sunlight on the skin so the best way to get this is being in the sun without spf. It is also a nutrient that often needs to be supplemented to get optimal levels. There is a small amount in some foods like fish, mushrooms and fortified foods.
- Vitamin E is great for healing, antioxidant protection and reducing inflammation. Foods rich in vitamin E are nuts, seeds, avocado and olive oil
- Zinc is essential for healing, antioxidant protection, thyroid and hormonal health. Foods rich in zinc are seafood, meat, nuts, lentils, soya beans and oats.
- Magnesium is used up when you are stressed. It is required to relax muscles, required to make energy and aids sleep. Foods rich in magnesium are cocoa (craving chocolate can be due to low magnesium), dark green leafy vegetables, nuts and seeds.
- Selenium is necessary for healing and hormonal balance. Foods rich in selenium are brazil nuts ( 1 contains enough for whole daily intake), fish and seafood.
- Iron is crucial, especially if you suffered with blood loss. It is needed for energy and detoxification. Haem iron is found in red meat and non-haem iron is particularly found in dark green leafy vegetables and apricots.
3. Protein is absolutely essential for healing, it provides the building blocks for collagen and tissues like skin and muscle. Quality complete proteins are only found in animal products like meat, fish, eggs and dairy. You can get protein from vegetable proteins like beans, chickpeas, lentils, grains, nuts and seeds, but they are incomplete and therefore lower quality. If these are your only source of protein ensure you combine them adequately and eat them in abundance.
4. Fats are key for healing and dampening inflammation, aim to consume each day several tablespoons of anti-inflammatory fats like olive, flax, avocado, hemp, walnut, sesame oil and omega 3s from oily fish. Do not be scared to eat fat, remember fat doesn’t make you fat, it heals and builds the body. Did you know that baby brain is caused by the body taking fat from your brain to give to the baby? So it is crucial we replace that lost fat as soon as we can post-natally. Also, if we don’t eat fat we can’t absorb fat soluble vitamins like Vitamin A and E.
5. Healthy calories in abundance, are needed right now to provide the energy for healing and coping with the stress and busyness of your new normal. Weight loss is not the objective right now and so please don’t restrict calories. Something low calorie doesn’t necessarily mean it is healthy, likewise something high calorie doesn’t mean it is unhealthy. Focusing on eating 3 balanced meals that are high in veg, low in sugar and minimally processed will naturally provide the right amount of calories you need. Please note that if you are breastfeeding and/or finding you are getting extra hungry add in some snacks and/or increase portions at mealtimes.
So there you have it, some of my key nutrition tips to help you to heal and nourish your body back to optimal health after having a baby. I really hope this has been useful.
If you would like to know more on this subject or perhaps you have a health issue you would like some help with, do get in touch, I would be delighted to help you. I offer a 15min complimentary discovery call so you can ask me any questions you may have before you book. Consultations are currently over zoom and the initial consultation is 60-90 minutes.
After the consultation I create for you a bespoke nutrition, supplement and lifestyle programme. The first consultation plus the programme is £130 and follow ups are £65. I look forward to hearing from you and nourishing you back to health. Thank you for reading, Michele.