Postnatal nutrition

Postpartum | Wellbeing | | Helen Farnsworth


After the birth of your baby, there are so many life changes and new things to think about that the nutritional balance of your postpartum diet is probably the last thing on your mind. Grabbing something quick and easy is probably your top priority.

However, it is important to give the quantity and quality of the foods and drinks you’re consuming some thought to ensure you are receiving all the energy and nutrients you need to produce milk for your baby, and to optimise your own health. Whether or not you are breastfeeding, a well-balanced, healthy diet should help you feel more energised and less tired, preparing you well for the busy days ahead.

What does a healthy diet look like for new mums?

Well actually, it’s about the same as a healthy diet recommended for the rest of the population. Here’s a quick recap:

Fruits and vegetables – aim for at least five portions of fruit and veg a day, which can include fresh, frozen, tinned, dried or juiced.

Starchy foods - should make up a third of overall food eaten. Aiming for wholegrain varieties will provide additional dietary fibre in your diet, which can really help if you have been affected by bowel issues or constipation after giving birth to your baby.

Protein - such as lean meat and chicken, fish, eggs, nuts, seeds, soya foods and pulses provide a diverse range of vitamins and minerals. Aim for at least two portions of fish every week – oily fish, such as salmon & mackerel contain omega 3 fatty acids, so include at least one portion of oily fish as part of your weekly fish intake.

Dairy & Alternatives - such as milk, cheese, fromage frais and yoghurt contain calcium and other important nutrients. Choose lower fat and lower sugar options.

Healthy fats - Choose unsaturated oils such as rapeseed or olive oil, and spreads made from these, and consume in small amounts.

Stay hydrated - As always, make sure you’re drinking enough fluids, especially if you’re breastfeeding. Always keep a drink handy; water and skimmed or semi-skimmed milk are all good choices.

There are plenty of places containing more detailed advice on healthy eating, but I can recommend the NHS website.

If you’re worried about finding time to eat healthily whilst settling into looking after your new baby, don’t be… doesn’t have to complicated! Here are some quick and easy healthy meal ideas to help maintain good postpartum nutrition:

Breakfast – Breakfast is a great opportunity to get fibre into your system. Wholegrain cereals, porridge and wholemeal toast are all good sources of fibre. Add fruit, nuts or nut butter and seeds to really set yourself up for the day.

Lunch –Low-fat cheese or a tinned salmon sandwich with wholegrain bread, baked beans on toast or in a baked potato, hummus with wholemeal pitta bread and vegetable sticks – the options for a healthy, hearty lunch are many and varied! Go for wholemeal bread, pasta and rice, and try to get some veg in there if you can.

Dinner – Any dinner options that include a range of protein, wholegrain starch and vegetables, are a winner. For example, wholegrain pasta with bolognese, vegetable lasagne, stir fry, curry, etc.

Snacks – Fresh fruit with low fat yoghurt, nuts (the low-salt kind), hummus and breadsticks, homemade trail mix (nuts, seeds, dried fruit)

And here’s some top tips for those early weeks and months:

  • Choose things you can eat with one hand, as it’s almost guaranteed the baby will want to eat when you do!
  • If a dish is ‘freezable’, try cooking more than you need and freeze the extra portions for another day.
  • When friends and family are keen to help, take up their offer of a healthy home-cooked dinner once in a while.
  • If you do find yourself struggling to put together nutritious meals, try subscribing to a recipe box service like HelloFresh or Gousto, or pick up a range of COOK ready meals, which can be cooked from frozen without any effort on your part. COOK even offer a ‘New mum’s survival box’, which includes 10 single portions of dinner or lunch.

If you are breastfeeding, should you be careful with any particular foods? What about extra energy and nutrients?

You don’t need to eat anything special when you’re breastfeeding, as a healthy postpartum diet will provide the additional nutrition that you need while breastfeeding.

However, it is important to keep your fluids up. HiPP mum Karen suggests making sure you have a glass or bottle of water ready before you settle down to a feed. “Once your baby is latched on its hard to move, so be prepared and have some water ready (and maybe a cheeky snack!)

Extra energy? - Each mum will be different. While breastfeeding does require energy, the amount depends on how much you’re breastfeeding and for how long. Exclusive breastfeeding in the first 6 months may increase your energy requirements by up to an extra 300 calories per day, but if you are combination feeding, this will be less.

Extra nutrients? – Again, this is very individual, but there are increased needs for some nutrients, which can mainly be met through a healthy postpartum diet (bar vitamin D). If you have any concerns, please speak to your Healthcare Professional.

Vitamin D – The NHS advice is that everyone, including pregnant and breastfeeding women should consider taking a daily supplement containing 10mcg of vitamin D, especially during autumn and winter.

Foods to limit and avoid - For advice on what is ‘off limit’ whilst breastfeeding, including some fish and caffeine-containing drinks and foods, have a look here.

To summarise the main points:

Caffeine and alcohol - Caffeine can reach your baby through your breast milk and may keep them awake, so it’s a good idea to restrict your caffeine intake to less than 200mg a day when breastfeeding. Things to keep an eye on beside coffee are tea, chocolate, energy drinks and soft drinks, as well as some cold and flu remedies. If you’re going to drink alcohol while breastfeeding, try to limit to one or two units a week, and allow a couple of hours between drinking and breastfeeding.

Peanuts and other allergens – Peanuts or foods containing peanuts, such as peanut butter, can be included as part of a healthy, varied diet while breastfeeding – unless you’re allergic! Avoiding peanuts or other allergenic foods (for example eggs or wheat) while breastfeeding won’t reduce your baby’s chances of developing an allergy and is not recommended.

However, if you have a family history of food allergies or other allergic conditions, then your baby may be at higher risk of developing an allergy, and you may wish to discuss this further with your GP, midwife or health visitor.