Understanding Nutrition During the Postpartum Phase – The Often Ignored ‘Fourth Trimester’

Understanding Nutrition During the Postpartum Phase – The Often Ignored ‘Fourth Trimester’

Gina Seligsohn

New mammas or mammas to be, this is for you! You’ve just been on a rollercoaster of a journey during pregnancy. A time of joy, growth, and change. We tend to put a huge amount of importance on our nutrition and diet during pregnancy, to make sure that both we, and our babies stay healthy. It’s no surprise that our bodies undergo additionally stress through pregnancy, birth and the months to follow. After giving birth, the focus seems to move to the baby’s intake and nutrition. We often ignore the ‘fourth trimester.’ Just as you make changes between the pregnancy trimesters, the fourth trimester is your bodies time for recovery, and will allow you to support your baby too. A time to prioritise YOU. Not just a few days, but months. You have just brought a new person into the world, so it’s time to appreciate your bodies hard work and provide it with the recovery and nourishment it needs. This period can actually be more nutritionally demanding than pregnancy itself. Research shows a lack of knowledge, preparation, and continued care for postpartum experiences.

Receiving adequate nutrition can make all the difference when you’re recovering from childbirth and taking care of your little one. Navigating this period’s diet and nutrition requirements can feel overwhelming.

Why is nutrition so important for new mums? With pregnancy, your body goes through significant changes, whether its physical or emotional stress, hormonal changes, preparing for breastfeeding or working hard to recover from pregnancy. Fatigue, mood swings, body aches, anxiety (the list goes on) are normal, and you are not alone.

It’s normal to want to get back to your pre-pregnancy weight, but it’s also a vital time for nourishment, not restriction. A balanced diet here will help support the healing process, provide you with energy to care for yourself and your new baby, and ensure your newborn receives the essential nutrients through breastmilk, if you choose to breastfeed. And now into some of the don’ts in postpartum nutrition patterns. Stay clear of any diet requiring you to restrict calories or food choices.

So here its important to combine all 3 macronutrients to ensure you are receiving a varied, abundant, and nutrient-dense diet, providing you with the nourishment and energy you need. And here are some simple and practical ways on how to achieve this:

Macro Why? Where can we find it?   Easy and practical tips
Protein Through iron, protein repletes blood loss and energy from pregnancy and birth. Protein is an essential building block for produce fuel and energy for the body and support the rebuilding process for your organs and tissues. Legumes, green leafy vegetables, poultry, nuts, seeds, fish, whole grains, seafoods, eggs, tofu
  • Add a boiled egg to your morning snack
  • Add milk to your oats
  • Hummus and crackers 
  • Have tins of tuna and beans on hand
  • Greek yogurt with peanut butter
Complex Carbohydrates Complex carbs are essential for energy production, an important consideration for the busy and sleep deprived mums! These carbohydrates that release energy slowly, providing us with more sustained energy. This also helps to keep our blood glucose stable. Complex carbs are high in fibre, which helps to keep the digestive system moving with anti-inflammatory properties, thus keeping to bowels moving to avoid constipation Starchy vegetables, fruit (bananas), whole legumes, avocado, whole grains, brown rice, oats 
  • Blueberries + oats
  • Sliced banana or apple with peanut butter
  • Tins of chickpeas and corn on hand 
  • Choose whole fruit instead of juice
  • Choose wholegrains over refined grains
  • Iodine fortified breads
Healthy fats

Healthy unsaturated fats, high in omega-3 fatty acids are important to helping your body absorb fat-soluble vitamins (Vitamin A, D), which helps reduce inflammation in the body.

In the fourth trimester, oestrogen drops significantly – associated with depressive symptoms. Omega 3 fatty acids improve oestrogen levels postnatally. This is another nutrient transferred in breastmilk, so a greater intake is needed for both you and your baby. 

Oily fish, nuts, avocado, extra virgin olive oil, olives, seeds
  • Peanut butter on toast
  • Roasted nuts
  • Baked beans
  • Protein ball with oats, nut butter, dates
  • Tuna or salmon tins

By balancing your plate with these macronutrients, you will inevitably consume some of these critical nutrients for postpartum mothers. The good news is, these nutrients are found in everyday foods and in our macros, so you don’t need to go out of your way to get them. Note, these are just a few! 

Nutrient Why From which macronutrient?
Iron When we lose blood, we need to replace the haemoglobin that we have lost by eating protein and iron-rich foods. And a quick tip, to optimise absorption, pair them with a source of Vitamin C.  Protein 
Calcium Vital for bone development, where during pregnancy and breastfeeding, your body will draw calcium out of your bones to supply to the baby.  Protein, complex carbohydrates, healthy fats
Vitamin D Vitamin D helps maintain calcium levels in the body for bone, muscle, and heart health. Supplementation has also shown to positively influence postpartum mood. Protein 
Vitamin C and E These vitamins are major antioxidants and tend to dip in postpartum. Vitamin C increases the absorption of iron, whilst assisting in wound healing. Vitamin E – a fat-soluble nutrient – is especially needed to help immune and lung system development.   Protein, heathy fats, complex carbohydrates 
  Iodine  Iodine is crucial for infant brain development, thyroid function and the five senses. The required intake is higher for women who are breastfeeding as iodine is taken up into breastmilk to provide iodine for the baby.  Protein, complex carbohydrates

And finally, let’s not forget hydration. This is especially vital for those who are breastfeeding, where water is needed to help ensure you are sufficiently hydrated to be producing plenty of milk for your baby. 

So in summary, whether you are breastfeeding or not, it’s crucial that all new mums ensure they’re getting enough nutritious food. Taking care of a precious newborn can be a challenge, sometimes leaving you with little time and energy to take care of yourself. Keeping these postpartum nutritional recommendations in mind will support your body in the recovery period. And remember, don’t put too much pressure on yourself – you just spent 9 months growing a baby and your body has gone through some beautiful changes. 

Disclaimer: This blog post is for informational purposes only and should not be considered medical advice. Please consult with a healthcare professional before making any significant changes to your diet or exercise routine, especially during the postpartum period.