Postpartum and Breastfeeding

Why you shouldn’t stop supplementing postpartum

Steph Greunke

Table of contents

  • Intro
  • What is postpartum depletion?
  • Nutritional factors in depletion
  • How to support your body postpartum

0 min read

Intro

The moment you become pregnant, you start to think about how your lifestyle could impact the health of your baby. You might think twice about that extra cup of coffee, you regularly take your prenatal and do your best to eat more fruits and vegetables. Maybe (if you’re lucky) you focus on getting more rest and quality sleep. You do what you can to best support your pregnancy. 

But did you know about the benefits of prenatal vitamins while not pregnant?

For many women, once the baby arrives, things change. This can be especially true for women living in modern day America often without much support from others. And while you want to continue taking care of yourself, it becomes much harder.

You’re not able to get consistent sleep. You try to eat well, but the demands placed on you and your fatigue make it difficult. You may focus on your baby’s feeding and sleep schedule at the expense of remembering to take care of your needs. 

Postpartum looks different for every woman, but nearly every woman has barriers that make nourishing herself hard as a new mom. Barriers that can make it harder to replenish nutrient stores and support her vitality, which is why continuing to supplement should be something we all consider. 

What is postpartum depletion?

While “postpartum depletion” isn’t recognized as a specific diagnosable condition, it is well recognized that many women are not getting access to the care and assessments they need in the early weeks and months after having baby, and these nutritional, lifestyle, and environmental factors can play a significant physical and emotional toll on new mothers. You can think of postpartum depletion as the physical, emotional, and psychosocial impacts on a woman after her baby arrives.It may be experiencing physical symptoms like fatigue, hair loss, or slow regrowth, digestive issues, brain fog, and low libido. 

Nutritional factors in depletion

Pregnancy, postpartum, and lactation are the most nutritionally demanding periods of a woman’s life. Yet, in the US, we haven’t given this time period the attention and care it deserves.

In early postpartum, a woman’s energy and nutrient requirements are higher than they were during pregnancy, for several reasons. 

  • Your body needs to replenish energy and nutrients lost during the marathon of labor. IIt also has to take in additional nutrients to account for blood loss and wound healing. 
  • Your body is working hard to shrink your uterus down to pre-pregnancy size, help your connective tissues adapt, help your skin regain elasticity, and help your body produce milk, if you’re nursing. 
  • If you’re nursing, your baby is relying on your nutrient stores.
  • If you did not consistently take prenatal vitamins, or chose ones with minimal nutrients and bare minimum dosing, your nutrient stores may have taken a hit.

How to support your body postpartum

Providing your body with enough of the right fuel will help it do its job. If you’re nursing, it’s even more important to make sure you’re replenishing your nutrient stores. A nursing mothers diet and supplementation influences the concentration of certain nutrients in breast milk including B-vitamins, vitamins A, D, E, and K, choline, fatty acids (like EPA/DHA), and trace minerals like selenium, zinc, and iodine.

A diet that prioritizes whole foods and staying on your prenatal for at least 6 months postpartum will help replenish and support your increased nutrient needs and help optimize the nutrient levels in your breastmilk. Focusing on high-quality supplements and nutrient-dense foods will also help support your body’s ability to recover more efficiently and quickly. 

Foods To Focus On

There are several foods that are best choices to support postpartum healing, as observed by traditional cultures and research. These foods are rich in protein, healthy fat, iron, B12, collagen, glycine, omega-3 fatty acids, iodine and choline. Wondering where to get these foods? Red meat, organ meats, oysters, fish, shellfish, bone broth, slow-cooked meats, meat on the bone with skin, eggs, and cooked vegetables are your best bets.

Specific amino acids like glycine and proline in these protein-rich foods and drinks help heal tissues that have been stretched, torn, or cut during pregnancy and delivery. Electrolytes in bone broth help replenish what was lost during labor. Red meat and organ meats help replenish iron that was lost through blood during delivery. Cholesterol and vitamin A found in eggs, dairy, liver, and fish help repair damaged tissues. Eggs and fatty fish support mood and memory in the postpartum period, help support the immune system and a healthy inflammatory response.  These foods have been prioritized and recommended for centuries. 

Nourishing postpartum meals that prioritize these foods  include homemade broth or stew made with meat and/or seaweed, organ meats, meat on the bone (like whole chicken, roasts), cooked vegetables, healthy fats like ghee, coconut oil, and “warming” spices that support digestion like turmeric, cinnamon, and ginger. 

In many cultures, grandmothers, mothers-in-law, mothers, aunts, doulas, partners, and sisters often handled housework so the new mom could rest and focus on healing and feeding the baby. While this may not be the case for you, since many of us (myself included) have moved away from family, it’s important to enroll the help of neighbors and friends and maybe even a postpartum doula to support your recovery. 

It’s also important to find shortcuts since we often don’t have as much help. Meal delivery services or meal trains, frozen veggies, premade broth, slow cooker/sheet pan/pressure cooker meals can make eating well possible. 

Supplements to focus on

During pregnancy and postpartum, your increased nutrient demands require thoughtful nutrition and supplementation. Food alone won’t cut it.

In the postpartum period, you can benefit from taking:

  • Prenatal vitamin - Your prenatal vitamin is not just for pregnancy, it’s also essential for postpartum healing and recovery. Take your prenatal for a minimum of 6 months postpartum, or longer if you’re nursing or if you’re feeling depleted.

  • Additional Vitamin D - Depending on your blood levels of vitamin D and how much is in your prenatal, you may need additional supplementation. This is especially true if you’re nursing.

  • Omega-3 - 95% of women are deficient in Omega-3, a nutrient essential for a healthy pregnancy and fetal development. Unless you’re eating fatty fish multiple times a week and know your levels are in optimal range, you likely need to supplement.

  • Choline - 95%+ of women are not getting enough Choline, which supports a woman’s healthy metabolism, blood pressure, and mood. Most prenatal vitamins contain 1/10th or less of the RDA, which increase to 550 mg/day, if nursing. 

  • Collagen - Protein needs also increase in the postpartum period to support tissue healing.  It can be difficult to get enough protein to support postpartum healing, particularly the amino acids proline and glycine that support connective tissue health. Collagen supports  healthy joints, pelvic floor tissue, skin elasticity, and postpartum hair. 

  • Pre/Probiotic - The health of your microbiome can influence baby’s microbiome through exposure via breastmilk, skin-to-skin contact, and nurturing kisses. A pre/probiotic that’s provides specific strains for perinatal health can support key perinatal needs like vaginal balance, digestive comfort, and iron absorption.

  • Iron, if needed. - While not everyone needs to take additional iron, it’s important to see where your levels are at and dose accordingly. Ask your provider to order a full iron panel to determine your need and supplement accordingly.

  • Because of the additional stress and demands of motherhood, you may want to also consider herbs and adaptogens that can support your stress and sleep. Needed’s Stress Support and Sleep and Relaxation Support also support moms navigating postpartum depletion. 

    Needed’s Fourth Trimester Plan takes the guesswork of knowing what you need to support your nutrient stores after birth.



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    Steph Greunke, MS, RD, CPT, PMH-C

    Stephanie Greunke is a registered dietitian that specializes in prenatal/postnatal nutrition, behavioral psychology, and holds additional certifications in perinatal mental health and fitness. She's a key contributor and advisor to Needed as well as Needed’s Head of Practitioner Relationships. Steph is the owner of Postpartum Reset, an online postpartum nutrition course, and the co-host of "Doctor Mom" podcast.