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postnatal nutrients
First Years Pregnancy Oct 22, 2020
10 Minutes

The 8 postnatal nutrients you/your new baby need

During pregnancy the focus is all on our bodies and how we can make them the best ‘house’ for a growing baby. Often however, the moment the baby is born we stop focusing on ourselves and switch entirely to the baby. A natural response, however, pregnancy and breastfeeding depletes the body of a huge amount of resource. On top of this we have recovery from birth itself to contend with. The old adage says: put your own oxygen mask on before you help someone else. Without support and recovery for yourself and your body how can you take care of a new baby? We take a look at the key 8 postnatal nutrients to make sure you’re getting enough of post baby: 

How pregnancy, birth and breastfeeding depletes our stores: 

Growing and birthing an entirely new human is no mean feat! It takes an enormous amount of resource, energy and recovery. It is crucial we take care of our bodies in the aftermath. Particularly when breastfeeding. This is a benefit to us and our new baby. 

Here’s an example to put into context how crucial a focus on postnatal nutrients is: 

As a baby’s eyes and brain build, the baby takes as much as 67 mg/day of DHA from you during the last trimester of pregnancy. To put this into context in the West, the average intake of DHA by a sample of Australian mothers was 15mg/day. (n.b. the current recommendation is for 200-400mg/day). (1)

We also know that women’s bodies will preferentially divert DHA to the baby and the baby will take its needs from maternal stores. (1).

You can see how quickly therefore stores get depleted. Of course DHA is only one element. There are a whole host of other postnatal nutrients that play an important role. 

Why it is so important to make sure you have enough of what you need: 

Breastfeeding is of course another major drain on the body’s resources. Postnatal nutrients in your breastmilk come from your own stores of course. So, not having enough can be detrimental to your recovery and to your baby. Even more crucially, research underscores that the first 1000 days of life (from conception to age 2) are fundamental for the prevention of adulthood diseases in new babies. (2). Even more reason to make sure your postnatal nutrients store is adequate!  

On top of this, nutrient depletion has been linked to trouble with recovery and postnatal depression and anxiety. Click here for much more. 

Surprise bonus: one study showed that babies whose mothers had higher levels of DHA during pregnancy and breastfeeding exhibited more mature sleep patterns as newborns! (1). 

So how do we make sure we’re getting enough of the all important postnatal nutrients that we/a baby need? 

A balanced diet of good whole food is of course the obvious first place to start. That being said, there are areas where we may need additional support. It is absolutely worth asking your doctor for a blood test to check your own individual levels in the period post birth. 

As an aside: calorie wise, for exclusive breastfeeding we need 500 kcal extra per day (according to research from the EFSA) plus a lot of water to produce enough milk for a growing baby. Click here for more science backed tips to increase your milk supply. 

On top of this here are the 8 key postnatal nutrients research show are worth making sure you’re getting enough of: 

DHA/Omega 3: why getting enough of this is crucial for breastfeeding, recovery and postnatal mental health: 

We know that as many as 80% of the population do not get the required amount of EPA/DHA (Omega 3). We also know that ‘DHA plays major roles in the psychomotor neurodevelopment in the first months of life, when it is supplied in high amounts by breastmilk.’ 

It is also crucial when it comes physical recovery from birth. Specifically via it’s ability to combat inflammation. Something that has been linked (in high persistent amounts) to the development of postnatal anxiety and depression amongst other things. Click here for much more. 

Eating two portions of fatty fish/week is one way to achieve this. The alternative is a supplement of course. As always chat to your doctor first but look for an Omega 3 with the recommended dose of 100-200 mg/day. 

Iodine and Thyroid Health: another one of the postnatal nutrients we should be focusing on: 

To say hormones go through fluctuation during pregnancy and breastfeeding is an understatement! The Thyroid (producer of the various Thyroid hormones) is no exception. These hormones are key for a baby’s neurodevelopment. They are also key for our own mental health and immunity amongst many other things. Click here for more. 

The thyroid needs Iodine to function well. In fact, a woman’s iodine requirements increase substantially during pregnancy (from 150 to 250 µg/day) to ensure adequate supplies are given to the fetus. (4)

Our needs also fluctuate as pregnancy progresses. Studies have shown that from mid gestation (around 24-28 weeks) various forms of our thyroid hormones (T3 and T4 alongside TSH which is the thyroid stimulating hormone) begin to rise. At birth there is a sudden release of all three hormones. This is believed to help the baby adjust to life outside the womb. (3)

A lot for the Thyroid to deal with! 

Having a functioning thyroid is key for a baby’s development. Deficiency has also been linked to postnatal depression and anxiety. Click here for more. 

How to give your Thyroid a helping hand? 

Thyroids are very sensitive to toxins, specifically certain pesticides like Glyphosate. Plus elements like Bromine, common in processed foods. Click here for more.  Even more reasons to be conscious about eating good, clean, whole foods in the postnatal period. 

In addition; getting enough Iodine and getting Thyroid levels checked at your postnatal doctors check up is a great idea. Sources of Iodine once again include fatty fish and algae (good option if you’re vegetarian/vegan). 

Iron: why recovery of your stores of this postnatally is crucial:

Iron is a major component of the blood. It has also been connected to Thyroid health. Pretty important! Absolutely worth being on top of when you’re considering your postnatal nutrients. 

It is fundamental for a baby’s growth and development during pregnancy (immune and neurological). As well as being crucial for recovery for your own body post birth where blood loss is inevitable. 

In fact, the research around how crucial getting ‘enough’ is for a new baby is why delayed cord clamping has been more widely adopted by the medical community. Click here for more. 

Deficiency is actually very common: 

One study also suggested that over 50% of iron deficiency gets missed. (4) We also know that iron deficiency and iron deficiency anaemia are common during pregnancy with an estimated prevalence of 30-50% for iron deficiency and 15-20% for iron deficiency anemia. (5

Iron: how to make sure you’re getting enough to replenish this crucial postnatal nutrient: 

In terms of some numbers: a normal pregnancy consumes 500-800mg of iron from you. Meaning our requirements go from around 0.8mg/day up to 7mg/day increasing as your pregnancy processes. (6)

Getting enough to replenish stores (Ferritin) is crucial postnatally as well as prenatally.

The body is much more able to absorb what’s known as heme iron which comes mainly from animal products such as lean red meat, chicken etc. Leafy green vegetables or fortified breakfast cereals (non-heme iron) makes up a smaller amount of your iron intake as it is harder for the body to absorb. (6) 

The symptoms of iron deficiency and iron deficiency anemia can also be vague. They can be everything from fatigue and shortness of breath (common in pregnancy) to headaches, brittle nails, dizziness and restless leg syndrome. (7

That is why the best way to keep on top of this is regular blood tests with your doctor. Sometimes a supplement may be needed: ‘In general, iron supplementation is considered low risk and an iron supplement of 65mg elemental iron per day beginning at 20 weeks gestation is adequate to prevent iron deficiency during pregnancy.’ (6). Always check with your doctor first. 

Folate/Folic Acid and B12: not just something required in pregnancy. When it comes to postnatal nutrients these two are crucial:  

When we think of pregnancy nutrition and supplements, often the first thing we think of is Folic Acid. This is the synthetic form of the B vitamin: Folate. Crucial for proper nervous system and brain development of a baby. 

However, this too gets depleted during pregnancy. It is also crucial for breastfeeding. In fact, research shows that the folate concentration in breastmilk increases progressively from colostrum to nature milk. Interestingly it reaches much higher levels than those measured in the mother’s blood plasma. Once again indicating that any reserves are diverted to the baby. (2) 

The recommendation for Folate intake (click here as to why Folate vs. Folic Acid as a supplement is a better way to go) is 500 micrograms/day. (2) 

Adequate Folate and Vitamin B12 is also important for ensuring our bodies can absorb iron. 

When it comes to B12: the World Health Organisation recommends 3x more Vitamin B12 during pregnancy. Our needs go from 0.4 micrograms/day to 1.4 micrograms/day. Vegans and vegetarians need to be particularly mindful of their intake of this important postnatal nutrient as it comes principally from animal products. 

Vitamin D: crucial for every step of the way including when it comes to thinking about postnatal nutrients: 

Modern research is pointing to ‘enough’ vitamin D as crucial for every step of the journey. From conception through to the postnatal. We also know that most of us do not get enough…. 

We know there is a connection between adequate Vitamin D when it comes to elements such as:

The recommended level during pregnancy is 400 iu/day. This is also important during recovery and lactation. As always, ask your doctor to check your own individual levels to ensure you’re getting the support you need. 

Choline: one you may have heard less about but one that is crucial for breastfeeding and postnatal life: 

As with the research around Vitamin D, the research around the importance of the nutrient Choline continues to grow. 

This important nutrient plays a role in many of our bodily functions. It is also key for fetal development. The guidelines suggest that pregnant women require an intake of 450mg/day which actually rises to 550mg/day during lactation.

In fact: in 2018, the American Academy of Pediatrics recognised choline as a ‘brain-building’ nutrient.

Check out the wide variety of roles it plays:

postnatal nutrients

Regulating inflammation (the root of many issues) is another area where research suggests this can play a helping hand. Once again, including potentially helping to reduce the risks of developing postnatal anxiety and depression. 

Despite the importance of it, many pre and postnatal supplements do not contain it. For more: click here. 

Pro and Prebiotics: postnatal nutrients that can help support a baby’s long term health? 

Another ripe area for modern research is the importance of the microbiomes within the body. These are the collections of virus, bacteria and fungi that live within our body. These appear to play a role in regulating our immunity, to conception, to inflammation, to brain development, to metabolism and everything in between. Even mental health, mood and anxiety have been connected. 

The jury is still out when it comes to supplements for the gut. This is because of low regulation (varying doses/strains etc). It is also to do with the fact we are not entirely sure what is a ‘healthy gut’ other than one where there is a balanced ecosystem, diversity (when it comes to the gut microbiome in particular) and no major imbalances. 

We do however know two things:

Firstly: a baby’s own microbiomes will be colonised from the mother (in utero, birth canal, skin and breastfeeding) so it is important from the earliest stages to give it the best chance. Click here for more. 

Two: what we eat can have an influence on our microbiomes in as little as 24hrs. Click here for more. 

How do we achieve a healthy microbiome? 

Based on current understandings several things help:

Click here for the five ways to boost yours and your baby’s. 

References: 

  1. Kendall-Tackett K: A new paradigm for depression in new mothers: the central role of inflammation and how breastfeeding and anti-inflammatory treatments protect maternal mental health: International Breastfeeding Journal: March 2007
  2. Moon JS: Nutritional Management of breastfeeding infants for the prevention of common nutrient deficiencies and excesses: Korean Journal of Paediatrics: 2011; 54(7): 282-286
  3. https://www.who.int/elena/titles/iodine_pregnancy/en/
  4. Auerbach M: Iron Deficiency of pregnancy – a new approach involving intravenous iron: Reproductive Health: 2018 15 (1) 96 
  5. Wiegersma AM, Dalman C, Lee BK, Association of Prenatal Maternal Anaemia  With Neurodevelopmental Disorders: JAMA Psychiatry: September 2019
  6. Means RT: Iron Deficiency and Iron Deficiency Anaemia : Implications and Impact i Pregnancy Fetal development, and Early Childhood Parameters: MDPI Nutrients 2020 Feb 11;12(2); 447
  7. Auberbach M, Adamson JW: How we diagnose and treat iron deficiency anaemia: American Journal of Haematology: Sep 2015 i

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This article is for informational purposes only. This article is not, nor is it intended to be, a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment and should never be relied upon for specific medical advice. The information on this website has been developed following years of personal research and from referenced and sourced medical research. Before making any changes we strongly recommend you consult a healthcare professional before you begin.

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