The preconception and pregnancy journey is an exciting time to focus on optimal wellness to support both mother and baby. However the transition into motherhood can bring various challenges. For many women nurturing a new born, adjusting to sleep deprivation, mind-chatter, multitasking and a rollercoaster of immense hormonal changes can make it difficult to prioritise maternal health needs.
From the moment of conception a mother begins the selfless transfer of precious nutrients to her growing baby which can leave her feeling significantly depleted in the fourth trimester (12 week period post-labour) and beyond. If she had sub-optimal nutrient stores before conceiving she may experience a heightened level of common postpartum challenges which include mental and physical exhaustion, low mood, slow recovery, anaemia and in some cases thyroid imbalances or hormonal issues.
As the effects of postnatal depletion can last for years and may compound with multiple children, adopting a holistic recovery approach can provide long lasting benefits.
Consume foods which are easily digested and tolerated by your gut, that feel uplifting and provide satiety. Individual needs vary widely and there are many factors which may determine what is manageable such as accessibility, affordability and food preparation time. Where possible, always choose organic, fresh, locally sourced wholefoods, free from synthetic ingredients including artificial sweeteners, flavours, colours and preservatives.
If suitable for your health picture and dietary preference, include a large variety of vegetables, seasonal fruits, high quality fats, wholegrains, legumes, pulses, nuts, seeds and extra-virgin/cold-pressed oils (stored in dark glass bottles). If you consume animal based proteins, try and make sure they are organic, free range/grass-fed and wild caught fish.
Examples of these nourishing foods are: Leafy greens, blueberries, avocados, alfalfa sprouts, shitake mushrooms, rolled oats, chia/flax/hemp seeds, tahini, olive oil, broths, miso, nori, spirulina, coconut yoghurt and kefir.
Improve digestion and absorption of nutrients through fermentation, soaking, activating and sprouting when possible. Little Bird Organics create a wide range of delicious and nutritious whole foods using these traditional nutrient enhancing methods as well as tasty, sweet treats made from high quality, raw, organic, and natural ingredients. For breastfeeding mums, their breakfast cookie contains many galactagogues (foods that promote the increased flow of a mother’s milk) including oats, flaxseeds, chia seeds and nuts – making it a delicious and healthy milk-promoting snack!
It is important to note that during the first few weeks of breastfeeding and potentially longer, some babies may be extra sensitive to certain foods consumed by the mother such as dairy, gluten, peanuts, eggs, seafood, citrus, soy, kale, broccoli, cabbage, beans, onion and garlic which can trigger colic, digestive discomfort, rashes and other issues. Monitor and discuss any concerns with an experienced health practitioner and be mindful that certain foods may only need to be eliminated temporarily to avoid unnecessary nutrient deficiencies in the long run for mother and baby.
Therapeutic nutrients and herbs for postpartum recovery
A wholefood diet should be the primary focus for boosting nutrition alongside a high quality prenatal supplement which is especially important if breastfeeding. Additionally, a postpartum medical check can assess thyroid function and possible nutrient deficiencies such as anaemia. It is essential to review current iron status before taking a high strength iron supplement to ensure the appropriate dose is prescribed and not exceeded.
Other supplements which may be beneficial include zinc, calcium, magnesium, omega 3 fatty acids, probiotics and vitamins B12, C and D for supporting optimal healing, mood, energy, brain function, sleep, immunity and gut health.
Herbal remedies and teas also provide wonderful nourishment and support for nervous tension, digestive discomfort, uterine recovery, hormone balance, alleviating mastitis and enriching milk quality and supply. Not all herbs are safe to take while nursing and a qualified Medical Herbalist or Naturopath can offer guidance for individual needs and desired therapeutic benefits.
Tonic Room (herbal dispensary and holistic health clinic) has tailored an amazing tea blend for postpartum recovery and breastfeeding using organic and medicinal grade herbs. This soothing caffeine-free tea can be enjoyed throughout the day or evening and offers a pleasant taste to encourage adequate hydration alongside drinking plenty of pure water.
Reduce toxin exposure through clean living
It can be eye opening to discover how many synthetic additives we are exposed to on a daily basis. They are ingested in food and beverages, inhaled through environmental pollution and absorbed through the skin and into the bloodstream via cosmetics, skincare, fragrances, household detergents and clothing. Toxic substances can easily pass through the placenta and breast milk and may have a profound detrimental impact on mood, the microbiome, immune system, cellular health and the overall well-being of both mother and baby.
NZ brands which are high quality, toxin free and safe for pregnancy and nursing include Aleph Beauty cosmetics, Abel Odor (Nurture perfume), Emma Lewisham skincare, WE-AR clothing and Nature Baby clothing and baby products.
Embrace support networks
Many cultures place significant importance on nourishing and supporting the mother during the first 40 days postpartum so that she can recover and focus on nurturing her baby. Unfortunately it is not always possible to receive this level of support and some mothers prefer to have their own space, pride themselves on being independent or find it difficult to ask for help. If the mother seems to be coping well, people may forget to offer support, or may not realise that support is needed, especially if the mother is experiencing post-natal depression or depletion.
Ideas for supporting mothers:
- Ask what foods make them feel well nourished, cook a meal and drop it off or use a meal delivery service such as Little Bird’s ready-to-eat meals or organic juice & milk boxes (the perfect one-handed super nourishing nutrient dense snack)
- Double check the arranged time to visit is still suitable before arriving and do not be offended if they cancel
- Try not to turn up empty handed and always make yourself useful - offer to do laundry, cleaning, and errands
- If they have older kids, offer to spend time with them out of the house
- Talk about positive and uplifting topics
- Give compliments and offer encouragement
If you’re an expecting or new mum, try not to be too shy to ask your friends and family for help or for no visitors while you adjust to life with a little one. Also, send your closest friends a few of your favourite recipes and have them drop off meals outside your door and tell them not to be offended if you’re not ready for visitors.
While the lifechanging transition into motherhood can feel overwhelming, with increased awareness about the importance of selfcare, open communication with family and friends, and embracing support networks, the fourth trimester can be an empowering journey and a special time to bond and feel in awe of the body’s innate ability to heal and flourish after child birth.
Written by Sarinah Hurford
Registered Naturopath and Medical Herbalist at Tonic Room and mother to baby Ella (10 months)