Mother and child preparing food together.

Postpartum Nutrition: How Proper Diet Can Help with Postpartum Depression

Postpartum nutrition plays an essential role in helping moms recover from childbirth. A comprehensive, nutrition-dense meal plan is proven to not only help in postpartum recovery, but also decrease the risk of postpartum depression and mood disorders. 

Did you know? One in eight new moms will experience symptoms of postpartum depression and anxiety

How Does Postpartum Depression Happen?

Postpartum depression isn’t a flaw or weakness of the new mom. Sometimes, the “baby blues” are just a complication from giving birth. There is no one underlying health issue that causes postpartum depression, but often it’s the perfect storm of conditions added together. It develops from many different factors ranging from physical characteristics, environment stressors, and nutrient deficiencies. 

Risks of maternal mental health issues can be influenced by:

  • Previous or underlying mental illness
  • Difficult or traumatic childbirth experiences
  • Recent exposure to psychological stressors
  • Physical and mental stressors from pregnancy, childbirth, and caring for a new baby
  • Lack of postpartum support
  • Inadequate nutrition, lacking nutrients or a poor quality diet
  • Hormone imbalance
  • Genetic predisposition 

While all of these issues cannot be controlled or prevented, there is an area new moms can control: nutrition. 

How Does Nutrition Link to Postpartum Depression?

Research shows that depleted nutrients can significantly increase depression from the time a parent is expecting to one year postpartum. During this timeframe, specific nutrients are needed in greater quantities to improve gut health, hormonal regulations, immunity, and neuroendocrine functioning. 

Nutrient Deficiencies Related to Postpartum Depression:

  • B-Vitamins
  • Essential fatty-acids
  • Folate and Trace Minerals
  • Vitamin D

If these nutrients are depleted throughout pregnancy and not adequately replenished during the postpartum period, it can trigger poor functioning of many systems in the body that can increase the risk of mood disorders, like postpartum depression.

Mother resting on bed with newborn in basket.

Eating the Right Foods: Postpartum Nutrition Meal Planning

Creating and following a postpartum eating plan after pregnancy and childbirth can help new mothers reduce the risk of maternal mental health concerns. 

A balanced postpartum nutrition meal plan should not focus on restricting types of foods or dieting, but focus on making conscious meal and snack choices that will help the body replenish nutrients, recover, and heal.

When putting together meals and snacks, include foods with critical nutrients such as:

B-Vitamins: These nutrients, specifically folate, B-6, and B-12, are required for proper red blood cell development, energy production, and forming DNA. B- vitamins also directly impact breast milk concentration. Babies with an inadequate supply of B-12 may have an increased risk for developmental delays and poor neurological function.

  • Clams
  • Eggs
  • Fortified cereal
  • Leafy greens
  • Legumes
  • Liver
  • Milk
  • Mussels
  • Nuts
  • Oysters
  • Red meat
  • Salmon
  • Sunflower seeds
  • Tuna
  • Whole grains

Fatty Acids and DHA: Healthy fats have anti-inflammatory properties that can continue the pregnancy glow post birth. Research also shows that healthy fats and DHA enhances mental focus, reduces inflammation, and can reduce postpartum depression. 

  • Dairy
  • Edamame
  • Fish
  • Fortified eggs
  • Kidney beans
  • Salmon
  • Sardines
  • Walnuts

Protein and Iron: Proteins rebuild tissues and muscles in the body while stabilizing blood sugar and promoting wound healing. Studies have demonstrated a strong relation between iron status and depression, stress, and cognitive functioning during the postpartum period.

  • Beef
  • Fortified whole grains
  • Lamb
  • Lentils
  • Liver
  • Molasses
  • Nuts
  • Seeds
  • Shrimp
  • Spinach

Vitamin D: This nutrient supports the immune system, brain, and nervous system. It is also essential in supporting calcium absorption in the body. The Vitamin-D deficiency has been linked to postpartum depression, low energy, bone problems, and even weight gain.

  • Egg yolks
  • Fortified cereal
  • Fortified dairy and orange juice
  • Liver
  • Salmon
  • Tuna

What does ‘fortified’ mean? Fortified foods are foods that have extra nutrients added to it or have nutrients added that are not normally there.

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It’s Okay to Have Help: Partnering with a Nutritionist for Postpartum Meal Planning

Sometimes, it may become overwhelming to optimize nutrition during pregnancy and postpartum. Many new moms partner with a prenatal and postpartum registered dietitian nutritionist to guide them along their journey and support a healthy pregnancy and postpartum recovery.

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