Growing and delivering a baby is one of the most nutritionally depleting and exhausting tasks women will face. Most focus on nutrition during pregnancy, but pay little attention to nutrition after delivery. The fact is nutrient requirements in early postpartum are actually higher than during pregnancy, making food as medicine an essential for postpartum recovery.
Good nutrition is vital for postpartum recovery to help heal skin stretches, tears, cuts, surgical wounds, and blood loss. Nutrient-dense foods support the shrinking of the uterus to its pre-pregnancy size. Try to imagine all the nutrients and energy your body needs to shrink your uterus from the size of a watermelon to the size of a pear, plus help breast changes to support milk supply and skin elasticity. A high-nutrient diet can also help with the massive hormonal shifts and management of emotional stress postpartum.
Postpartum Recovery Timeline
Understanding the phases of postpartum before you embark on the journey can help you give yourself grace and start the recovery process. Remember, it took you 9 months to get here, and if you did IVF, even longer. Give yourself to some love and credit for what you, your body, and your mind did.
First 40 days (6-8 weeks)- Early Postpartum
- Bleeding usually lasts around 24-36+ days.
- Milk supply continues to be established in the first 40 days. I highly recommend meeting with a lactation consultant regularly to help best figure out breastfeeding. Even if you feel you have a good routine, a lactation expert can make sure your posture and method are the most beneficial for nurturing both mother and baby.
- Weight loss varies by individual. Some women do not lose weight until they stop breastfeeding. You can book a private consultation with me to review your nutrition and weight management goals to create a plan that works for your family.
- Initial pelvic floor and abdominal healing starts soon after delivery. I highly recommend meeting with a pelvic floor physical therapist. There are great resources and videos available online for ideas on how to start a routine.
- Baby blues are normal, especially with sleep deprivation. Give yourself grace and talk to your healthcare provider openly about it. There is a very fine line between baby blues postpartum anxiety and depression. There are support groups, specialized therapists, and medical interventions that can help with this season of life, so be sure to let your provider know they can refer you.
2 to 4 months- Fog May Start Lifting
- Milk supply is well established – a high nutrient-dense diet is needed.
- Hair loss may start due to falling estrogen levels. Hair loss is normal and unavoidable. Your hair will likely return to normal fullness within the year.
- Dermatologists recommend avoiding “conditioning shampoos” because they may be heavy on the hair and add to your hair-looking lump.
- Sleep regression may happen around 4 months. Sleep regressions are a common sign of developmental growth. When their bodies are focusing on mental, physical, and emotional growth, it can impact sleep. To learn more, Taking Cara Babies is a great website on sleep regression.
- Exhaustion may become apparent (possibly related to hours slept, mental health, thyroid, adrenals, support?)
- Movement/exercise may be easier to do.
- The pelvic floor is slowly improving. Meeting with a physical therapist specializing in pelvic floor therapy will help this process. You can find pelvic floor exercises on YouTube, but I highly recommend getting personalized advice to support your individual situation.
Up to 1 year- Creating a Family Routine and Getting to Normal
- Baby is now eating solids if nursing less frequently. Read the Cleveland Clinic Guide to feeding your baby the first year of life.
- The pelvic floor is likely getting back to normal at this point. If not, meet with a pelvic floor physical therapist. Read more about signs of pelvic floor dysfunction here.
- At this point, all physical activity should be resumed. I recommend starting a physical activity program and continuing a diet similar to your gestational diabetes meals to help reduce your risk for gestational diabetes in the next pregnancy, type to diabetes and help with weight management.
- Sleep is likely still broken. Sleep regressions will likely continue at 12 months, 18 months, 2 years, and 3 years. Do your best to control your own actions by practicing good sleep hygiene by being consistent with bedtimes, making sure your room is dark, avoiding large meals or alcohol before bed, and making sure your room is dark.
- Your hormones, like your thyroid, may still be in flux. Meet your doctor if you are worried about thyroid imbalance. Eat the following foods to support thyroid hormone balance: eggs, plain Greek yogurt, seaweed, prunes, pumpkin seeds, oysters, sardines, salmon, Brazil nuts, eggs, and cod liver oil.
1 to 2 years
- Nursing slows or has stopped.
- Weight has started to stabilize. I recommend starting a similar gestational diabetes eating plan if you are thinking of conceiving again. Read the blog to learn more about a diet to prevent gestational diabetes.
- Weight should be stabilized. Check out the store for more meal plans and support materials.
Micronutrients to Emphasize in Post-Partum
A diet high in the below nutrients and foods will help your tissues repair and hormones rebalance and may smooth your healing process. Do the best you can to incorporate these foods, and follow my tips below to make it easier.
If you have gestational diabetes, continue to focus on balanced meals and snacks the best you can to help decrease your risk for diabetes in the future. At this time, counting every gram of carbs is not necessary. Include healthy fat and protein at each meal to support balanced blood sugars and your postpartum nutrition.
- Iron + B12:
- red meat, organ meats, oysters, clams, sardines
- Bone broth/soup, slow-cooked & tough meats
- Pot roast, pulled pork, whole chicken with skin, fish, organ meats
- DHA, Iodine, DHA:
- Fish/seafood, eggs, grass-fed beef
- Beef, oysters, crab, pumpkin seeds, dark meat chicken
- Nutritional yeast, barely, millet, fish, poultry, beef, sunflower seeds, almonds, dark leafy greens
- Fruits and vegetables (aim for 5+ cups a day), plain Greek or Icelandic yogurt
- Cod liver oil, eggs, and animal sources are the most bioavailable. Plant sources such as carrots and oranges contain carotenoids, which must be converted to vitamin A
- Bell peppers, chili peppers, broccoli, cauliflower, strawberries, kale, Brussel sprouts, papaya, pineapple, kiwi, mango
- >90% dark chocolate, avocados, tofu, pumpkin seeds, spinach, tuna, lima beans, brown rice, yogurt, bananas
- Brazil nuts, yellowfin tuna
Postpartum Recovery Meal Plan Tips
Eating can be pretty challenging while taking care of your baby. To make this chapter of life easier, I recommend the below tips.
- In your third trimester, it’s best to start making freezer meals, so you have food ready when you have zero time or energy. Here are my five top favorite plan-ahead freezer meals for postpartum.
- Think of one-handed foods to make multi-tasking easier. Below are some excellent postpartum one-handed foods
- Keep a bowl of nuts and seeds by your nursing or rocking chair for easy snacking.
- When people ask you how they can help, give them a recipe you’d love them to make.
Recommended Supplements Postpartum
- Supplements (as advised by provider)
- PNV- continue for 6 months or duration of breast-feeding
- DHA- fish oil or algae-based DHA or 12 ounces of seafood per week
- Vitamin-D 6,400 IU /Day min
- Iodine- 290 mcg
- Iron as needed
- B12 as needed
Remember, this season, too, shall pass. If you need help or guidance, feel free to reach out for a consult. Make sure to sign up for my email list to stay in the loop on all nutritious ideas to make your life simpler.
Ginger Cochran is a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist, functional medicine practitioner, Certified Diabetes Educator & Care Specialist, Certified Wellness Coach, Certified Exercise Physiologist, and owner of Nutritious Ginger, an integrative and functional nutrition practice focusing on full body self-care and nourishment. Ginger’s primary specialty is women’s health, with a special emphasis on gestational diabetes, weight management, infertility, digestive wellness, and overall health + happiness.
Ginger serves on the board of director for the Nutrition Care Manual by the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.