While most people generally refer to the postpartum period as the 6 weeks following the birth of your baby- that is definitely misleading. At 6 weeks a mother is still recovering from childbirth and in fact it can take 6 months (or longer) for muscle tone and connective tissue to restore to its pre pregnant state, assuming no complications. This means that although a new mom may look or even feel fine, they are still in recovery mode and we need to appreciate that. Proper nutrition/repletion of nutrients, hydration, careful and appropriate exercise, community and support, both emotional and physical, are all critical components to healing. We as mothers need to be patient and gentle with our bodies and those who support new mothers need to continue supporting well beyond 6 weeks.
Some key nutrients for postpartum healing (both physical and mental) include the following:
1) Zinc plays a large role in protein synthesis. Deficiency leads to reduced wound strength, reduced collagen synthesis and decreased immunity. Some food sources of zinc include oysters, crab, lobster, legumes, meat and poultry.
2) Vitamin D is super important for So. Many. Things. Specific to postpartum healing though we can link greater pelvic floor muscle strength to higher vitamin D status, and after carrying a baby for 9 months your pelvic floor needs all the help it can get! Low vitamin D status is also linked with a higher probability of postpartum depression and insulin resistance. You can manufacture vitamin D from the sunlight, or get it from eating fatty fish like salmon, however most should consider supplementing, especially in the winter months.
3) Protein deficiency is extremely detrimental to healing as amino acids are essential in all tissue remodelling and wound healing. Meat, fish, poultry are all great options, or vegetarian sources like hemp seeds or quinoa.
4) Vitamin C works with amino acids to synthesize collagen. Collagen is the main structural protein found in our connective tissue (so it's important!) Humans lack the ability to store vitamin C, so make sure you are eating adequate amounts daily. Some great options include kale, citrus and bell peppers.
5) Hydration-Dehydration impairs oxygen delivery to wounded tissues. Also, a collagen molecule is approximately 70% water (and collagen is awesome), so water is imperative. The hydration needs of nursing parents also go up…A LOT. So keep drinking water throughout the day.
6) Fat provides energy and spares protein so it can focus on wound healing. It also aids in the absorption of fat soluble vitamins, helps us feel satiated and adequate amounts of essential fatty acids can also help prevent postpartum depression.