Once your baby is born, this tiny, squirming, crying, helpless, and needy being may be the center of all your attention. While that’s totally understandable, it’s essential that you take care of yourself or at least make sure your partner knows how to take care of you. Your body is healing and you may be producing enormous amounts of milk to feed a growing being. A big part of caring for your newborn is making sure you are staying strong as well, and the best postpartum foods will help you heal after giving birth.
Just like the emergency instruction on flights, good postpartum nutrition is like putting your oxygen mask on first. “Your body needs key nutrients for healing and recovery post-labor,” nutritionist Tara Bassi tells Romper. “Your body also needs the fuel to provide an adequate milk supply for your baby. In addition, essential nutrients are important for overall mental function, energy levels, and to decrease the risk of postpartum depression. ” Bassi recommends including a protein, fat, and carbohydrate at each meal to stabilize blood sugar and provide lasting energy.
Some women may feel pressure to eat less to lose the baby weight, but all the experts we consulted advise against doing so. “Balanced foods are essential not only to help you recover but to allow for breast milk if you are breastfeeding and to give you the energy to keep up with your new baby,” says nutritionist Amy Shapiro, founder of Real Nutrition. “Sleep may be limited, so eating nutrient-dense foods that provide energy will help in these moments when you feel tired and will keep your immunity up and keep you healthy long after your baby grows older.”
Foods to avoid postpartum
In addition to the foods you should include in your diet, there are some key ones you should avoid during the postpartum period. Shapiro recommends eliminating processed foods, excess sugar, and foods with artificial sweeteners, all of which provide quick energy, but then end up making you feel tired and lethargic. They also promote inflammation and provide minimal nutrition, and will not help with repair and recovery, she adds.
Whatever you do, however, don’t beat yourself up about it. No one is recommending you cut all sugar out of your diet. Have an ice cream when you want it, just try to choose one with the fewest and purest ingredients, like milk, eggs and sugar. And if you’re too exhausted and busy to eat anything except fast food some days, it’s okay. But listen to your body and you may find what you crave postpartum are the nutritious and delicious foods on our list.
Salmon is rich in vitamins B12 and D, omega-3 fatty acids, and DHA, which is essential for baby’s nervous system. Bassi prefers wild-caught instead of farm-raised salmon, which may have pollutants. For breastfeeding moms, the nutrients in salmon promote baby’s brain development.
Eggs are a compact and efficient protein source and rich in choline, “a necessary nutrient for brain development and brain communication within the body,” Bassi says. You can hard boil several at a time and leave them in the fridge to grab when you need a quick energy boost.
Fruits contain antioxidants, vitamins, minerals, and fiber, all of which help nourish, build milk supply, heal and reduce inflammation, and hydrate you. If washing, peeling, and cutting fresh fruit is overwhelming, stock up on frozen fruits to add to smoothies or oatmeal.
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Whole grains, and anything full of complex carbohydrates, are another postpartum essential. They have fiber to help with regularity, provide energy, and are a good source of B vitamins, says Shapiro. Sources of whole grains include whole-wheat bread, oatmeal, quinoa, whole-grain cereals, and more. Whole grains can sometimes assist with milk production and letdown. There are so many ways to incorporate whole grains into your diet. You can use whole-grain bread to make avocado toast, you can opt for whole-wheat pasta instead of regular refined pasta, substitute whole-wheat flour for white flour when baking, or you can cook with brown rice or quinoa instead of white rice and pair it with veggies for quick, nutrition-packed meals.
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Healthy fats are a must during the postpartum period. Healthy fats like avocado help you feel full, provide energy to help with healing and milk production, keep skin glowing, and fight inflammation, says Shapiro. Avocados are also packed with omega-3, omega-6, and omega-9 fatty acids, folic acid, vitamins C and E, and potassium. If you’re not into avocado, other healthy fats include nuts, seeds, olive oil, fatty fish, and chia seeds. But do you really need an excuse to eat avocado toast every day? The postpartum period by definition doesn’t last, so take advantage of this free pass to splurge on avocados.
Since protein is such an important part of postpartum nutrition, lean meats are an easy choice to keep on any carnivore’s list. Lean meats commonly include beef, lamb, pork, chicken, and turkey, and they “help to heal your body and repair your skin inside and out,” says Shapiro. They also help to balance blood sugar, provide important nutrients like iron and vitamin B12, which support energy levels, as well as zinc, which helps with healing and immunity, she says. Incorporate a protein from any source – lean meat, fish, legumes, and eggs – into every meal to help keep you feeling full and satisfied.
Legumes in general are an excellent postpartum choice, but lentils specifically deserve a shoutout since they are such a great source of iron. If you eat enough of them, you may even be able to skip the iron pill (although you should check with your OB-GYN first). “Anemia is a common postpartum condition typically caused by blood loss during delivery,” Bassi says. Pairing your lentils with a rich source of vitamin C, like red peppers or broccoli, can help boost absorption and rebuild your blood supply, she adds. Lentils have the added benefit of being an ideal protein for vegetarians and vegans.
You may have heard that oatmeal is a food that helps you produce breast milk, and there’s actually some truth to this. Oats are considered a galactagogue food, Bassi says, which means that they can help increase milk supply. The scientific evidence does not prove that oatmeal can improve your supply, however, but many moms report that it does. Oatmeal is a nutritious, calorie-dense food, and eating a lot of calories is key to producing breast milk. It’s also tasty and easy and quick to prepare, keeps you full, and it’s inexpensive, so it basically wins all around.
Another great source of vitamin C is broccoli. In addition, the fiber in broccoli is also key here because it can help relieve constipation, a common postpartum condition. Eat broccoli roasted on its own or add it to salads, pasta, or whole grain rice bowls.
Pumpkin seeds are a great source of magnesium, helping to reduce anxiety and muscle pain, Bassi says. They also contain omega-3 fatty acids, making them a vegan alternative to salmon, and may support a healthy milk supply. Save yourself the hassle and buy them unshelled!
You probably didn’t think to add oysters to the top of your list of foods to eat during the postpartum period, but here’s why you might want to do so. These zinc-rich mollusks help promote healing at a time when your body needs it the most. “Zinc is essential for collagen repair and wound healing, which may aid in the healing of vaginal tears and cesarean incisions,” she says. They are also a good source of protein, iron, and copper, and have high amounts of vitamins C and D. If you worry about eating raw oysters while breastfeeding, just cook them. Just be reassured that food poisoning would not affect the baby, even if an affected mom is breastfeeding.
Vitamin C helps with healing and fighting off infections and illnesses, and makes it easier for your body to absorb iron if you’re taking iron pills or eating a lot of iron-rich foods. Oranges are high in vitamin C, and it doesn’t hurt that they’re delicious fruits. Other great sources of vitamin C include lemons, strawberries, leafy greens like kale and parsley, and both green chili peppers and yellow sweet peppers. Since your body doesn’t store vitamin C, you can and should eat vitamin C-rich foods on a daily basis.
Leafy greens like spinach and kale are another essential part of your postpartum diet. They are rich in vitamins A, C, E, and K, as well as many B vitamins. They have loads of antioxidants, fiber, iron, magnesium, potassium, and calcium. Spinach is an anti-inflammatory that is rich in iron and helps reduce blood sugar. You can add leafy greens to a big salad, sauté them with just some garlic and salt, or in a vegetable stir fry, or freeze them and then blend them into smoothies (you can barely taste them when pureed with fruit and a liquid like apple juice).
Milk and other dairy products can “support your bones, promote adequate milk production, and provide protein,” Shapiro says. If milk is not appealing, then consider cottage cheese, yogurt, or cheese. All of these options can be eaten sweet or savory and paired with fresh fruit for a satisfying snack or even a meal.
Just about any yogurt is good for you during the postpartum period, but Bassi specifically recommends coconut yogurt. “Fermented foods, like coconut yogurt, are loaded with probiotics,” can help aid in digestion, and replenish your healthy gut bacteria, especially if you received antibiotics during delivery, she adds. If you don’t like coconut yogurt, which is a great non-dairy choice, grab some Greek yogurt, which has the added benefit of being packed with protein and still has loads of probiotics.
Ginger is considered another galactagogue, which is a food that can help promote the production and flow of breast milk, according to Bassi. Fresh ginger can be used in so many different ways: grated into a stir fry or fried rice, boiled to make a ginger tea, or just sliced raw and fresh to add to a glass of water. Ginger can also help calm nausea, and it’s good for digestion. It can also help fight off infections, which is important when you’re in the postpartum period and your immune system isn’t working as great as it usually does.
Sometimes the hormones that rage during the postpartum period can make you lose your appetite completely. If you’re having a hard time eating food in general, try sipping on some warm bone broth. “Bone broth is an excellent source of glycine, which is an amino acid in collagen and crucial for proper healing and recovery,” Bassi says. “It is also filled with a variety of gut- and bone-healing minerals, which may be depleted postpartum.” Bone broth takes long hours to make, so the simplest thing is to just buy bone broth from the grocery store. Warm it up on the stove or in the microwave, and sip on it whenever you need a pick-me-up.
Don’t forget to drink tons of water to keep yourself hydrated, which is key for producing breast milk, but also just good for you overall, postpartum or beyond.
Tara Bassi, MS, CNS, LDN, CHHC
Amy Shapiro, MS, RD, CDN and founder of Real Nutrition