Postpartum Nutrition Guidelines


Staying Healthy Image Gallery Your diet after delivery is just as important as how you ate during your pregnancy. See more pictures of staying healthy.
©2006 Publications International, Ltd.

You will probably have some very specific concerns and questions about the nutritional needs of both you and your baby in the weeks and months after your baby's birth. Like most mothers, you may be concerned about losing the weight you gained during pregnancy. You may also wonder whether a dietary change can help eliminate the fatigue you feel. If you have become anemic, you need to know how to restore your iron reserves. If you have had a cesarean delivery, you should know what your special nutritional needs are.

In this article, we will answer all your questions about postpartum nutrition, including:

  • Mother's Diet After Birth In the days and weeks after the birth of your baby getting the proper nutrition is especially important. Apart from recovering the tremendous stress of delivering your baby, you will need energy to face all of your new parental duties. On this page, we will show you how to make sure your diet gives you the nutrients you need during this hectic time. We will also show you how to deal with common postpartum nutritional problems like constipation, fatigue, and anemia. Finally, we will give you some specific tips for recovering after a Caesarian section.
  • Weight Loss After Pregnancy It's only natural to gain weight during a pregnancy. After all, you are supporting another life inside of you. Unfortunately, most women are not pleased with the weight they've gained once the baby has been delivered. However, it's not realistic to expect that you will have the time or energy to lose the baby weight immediately after delivery. On this page, we will tell you all the facts about postpartum weight loss.
  • An Infant's Diet In the first year of your baby's life he will grow almost a foot and almost triple in weight. Naturally, to accommodate all of this rapid growth your baby will need the proper nutrition to stay strong. In this section, we will walk through the appropriate diet of a newborn child for the first year of life. The first year is broken up into three sections the nursing period, the transitional period, and the modified adult period. We will tell what your baby will be able to eat during these periods and what are the best food choices.
  • A Toddler's Diet As your child becomes a toddler his faculties and abilities increase across the board -- including the food they can eat. On this page, we will show all the new foods your child will be able to eat as they learn how to walk. Unfortunately, your child will also become more of a finicky eater around this time. In addition to eating tips, we will also show you how to encourage good eating habits in your child.
  • Homemade Baby Food The truth is that most commercial baby foods are just pureed vegetables or fruits. There might be more water or a few additional vitamins or minerals, but you could essentially make baby food in your own home. All you really need is a food processor and some fresh fruits and vegetables. On this page, we will show you all the pros and cons to making your own baby food so that you can make an informed choice for your child. We will give a list of ten precautions to make before getting started, when making the food, and how to store it.

Mother's Diet After Birth

Fresh fruits and vegetables make quick, easy, and nutritious meals that you can sneak in between your many responsibilities as a new mom.
Fresh fruits and vegetables make quick, easy, and nutritious meals that you can sneak in between your many responsibilities as a new mom.
©2006 Publications International, Ltd.

Eating right after delivery isn't that complex. Just continue eating a good-quality diet just as you did during pregnancy. If you are not breast-feeding, your nutrient and calorie needs are the same as they were before you became pregnant. If you are breast-feeding, or if you are anemic or recovering from a cesarean delivery, you require special nutritional management.

Keep It Simple

Take a creative approach to nutrition, choosing foods that require little or no preparation. Quick, nutritious foods include fresh fruit, raw vegetables, melted cheese on toast, cottage cheese, and yogurt with raisins, sunflower seeds, nugget-type cereal, or low-fat granola. Broiled meats and fish are faster to prepare than casseroles.

Let friends and family help you by providing nutritious meals during the early months after childbirth. Meals you can freeze are especially helpful because you can pull them out of the freezer for use on those occasional difficult days.

Nurture yourself by taking time to sit to eat your meals. Eating on the run or standing to eat makes you feel you have not had a meal; this habit contributes to fatigue and may even contribute to overeating. It's also not very good for your digestion. Place your baby in a swing or in an infant seat so your hands are free. If your baby needs to be close to you, an infant backpack or sling is helpful. Or you may wait to eat until your baby's quiet time or when she is asleep.

Constipation

Constipation is a common and unpleasant post-partum complaint. The following advice can help relieve it:

  • Get some form of daily exercise, such as walking.
  • Make sure you have adequate dietary fiber. Bran muffins, high-fiber cereals, and lots of fruits and vegetables are good fiber choices. (Be sure to increase your fluid intake as you increase your fiber intake.)
  • Drink to fulfill your fluid needs. Two to three quarts of fluids a day is generally recommended-drink even more if you breast-feed.
  • Drink four ounces of prune juice on an empty stomach followed by several cups of hot water, decaffeinated tea, or other hot beverage.
  • Avoid the regular use of laxatives. If you use a laxative more often than every third or fourth day, you may have problems moving your bowels without the use of the laxative.
  • Try fiber-containing stool softeners such as Meta-mucil, Fiberall, and Fibercon. They can help relieve constipation without the problems associated with laxative use.

Dealing With Fatigue

No foods actually relieve fatigue. A good-quality diet helps you to feel well but is not a substitute for rest and sleep.

Most new mothers find themselves feeling tired from time to time. Getting adequate rest is important for your recovery from birth, for making milk, and for enjoying your baby.

How do you get rest? Take time to rest every time your baby rests or sleeps instead of using the time to clean house or wash clothes. During your rest times, take the phone off the hook so you are not disturbed. Let your family and friends help you by doing laundry and other household chores. Avoid caffeine to improve your rest and sleep.

Egg yolks can be an excellent source of iron, but you should limit your intake to three to four a week. Egg yolks can be an excellent source of iron, but you should limit your intake to three to four a week.
Egg yolks can be an excellent source of iron, but you should limit your intake to three to four a week.
©2006 Publications International, Ltd.

Restoring Your Iron Reserves

Some women learn they are anemic after childbirth. This means they have fewer red blood cells than is ideal to adequately supply their body with oxygen. Postpartum anemia may result from having been anemic during pregnancy, from blood loss during childbirth, or from giving birth to more than one baby.

Your doctor evaluates your blood during the post-partum period. If laboratory tests confirm you are anemic, treatment begins immediately. If blood loss was heavy during childbirth, you may have received a blood transfusion. Otherwise, treatment aims at restoring iron levels through diet and supplements.

If your doctor prescribes an iron supplement, you need to help your body absorb it. To do this, eat a meal that includes a food rich in vitamin C when you take your iron supplement. Excellent sources of vitamin C include citrus fruits, tomatoes, baked potatoes, and steamed broccoli. It also helps to include a food that contains iron.

Food sources of iron include lean red meats, organ meats, spinach, egg yolks (limit to three to four a week), and cream of wheat. Avoid taking your iron supplement with any significant source of calcium because calcium interferes with iron absorption. Calcium sources include milk, yogurt, cheese, and antacids. Since low-fat dairy products are of significant nutritional importance, don't cut these out altogether; include them in meals other than the ones that accompany your iron supplements.

Recovering From a Cesarean Delivery

Undergoing a cesarean section temporarily upsets the passage of food through the digestive tract, resulting in gas production and constipation. Both of these early discomforts can be treated by walking, which increases bowel activity and aids you in passing gas. Be sure to eat, too. There is a temptation not to eat when you feel so bloated, but consumption of food helps restore normal bowel action, thereby relieving constipation and gas.

If you are anemic after delivery, treating the anemia with the recommendations for restoring your iron reserves helps speed your recovery from surgery.

Nutritional management after surgery includes increasing the vitamin C and protein in your diet. Vitamin C contributes to wound healing, and protein helps your body repair itself.

While nutrition should be the most important concern, many new mothers are worried about losing the weight they gained during their pregnancy. We'll look at realistic expectations for this goal in our next section.

This information is solely for informational purposes. IT IS NOT INTENDED TO PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. Neither the Editors of Consumer Guide (R), Publications International, Ltd., the author nor publisher take responsibility for any possible consequences from any treatment, procedure, exercise, dietary modification, action or application of medication which results from reading or following the information contained in this information. The publication of this information does not constitute the practice of medicine, and this information does not replace the advice of your physician or other health care provider. Before undertaking any course of treatment, the reader must seek the advice of their physician or other health care provider.

The brand name products mentioned in this publication are trademarks or service marks of their respective companies. The mention of any product in this publication does not constitute an endorsement by the respective proprietors of Publications International, Ltd. or HowStuffWorks.com, nor does it constitute an endorsement by any of these companies that their products should be used in the manner described in this publication.

Weight Loss After Pregnancy

Breast-feeding may help you loose some weight after the delivery.
Breast-feeding may help you loose some weight after the delivery.
©2006 Publications International, Ltd.

The pattern of weight loss after pregnancy varies with each mother. Many factors affect your return to your usual weight. If you were overweight before pregnancy, reaching a more desirable postpartum weight may take additional effort.

If you breast-feed, the calories you use to manufacture milk may help you lose some weight, but you still need to consume more calories than you did before pregnancy. Each woman's body responds differently, so be patient. It is much more important to get adequate nutrition and calories for breast-feeding than to skimp to lose weight faster.

If you bottle-feed or you have weaned your baby from the breast, you can begin your weight-loss efforts by assessing your prepregnancy diet. If you found yourself eating better during pregnancy, try to continue those good habits by eating regular, balanced meals and including all major food groups daily. Drink plenty of fluids. And avoid sugar, high-fat foods, and alcohol; they provide empty calories.

To lose the baby weight, you must burn more calories than you consume. You achieve this by increasing your activity, not by drastically reducing your calorie intake. To only reduce your calorie intake invites your metabolism to slow down, defeating your purposes. Regular exercise, even if only dancing with your baby to music or taking her out for walks, is the best approach.

Of course child's diet is also of immense importance after delivery. We'll cover your infant's diet in the next section.

This information is solely for informational purposes. IT IS NOT INTENDED TO PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. Neither the Editors of Consumer Guide (R), Publications International, Ltd., the author nor publisher take responsibility for any possible consequences from any treatment, procedure, exercise, dietary modification, action or application of medication which results from reading or following the information contained in this information. The publication of this information does not constitute the practice of medicine, and this information does not replace the advice of your physician or other health care provider. Before undertaking any course of treatment, the reader must seek the advice of their physician or other health care provider.

An Infant's Diet

From birth to about six months, your baby will only be able to consume liquids.
From birth to about six months, your baby will only be able to consume liquids.
©2006 Publications International, Ltd.

Infant feeding practices have changed enormously since the turn of this century. From 1900 to about 1920, most babies were fed only breast milk or, occasionally, modified cow's milk formula for the first year of life. The first supplements were cod liver oil to prevent rickets and orange juice to prevent scurvy.

During the next 30 years, solids were offered earlier to supply the iron and vitamins thought to be missing from milk and to accustom the infant to a more varied diet. During that time, mothers were eager to have their babies gain weight rapidly since a fat baby was considered desirable.

By the late 1930s, the approach to infant feeding was rigid. Formula was readily available, and the trend was to bottle-feed on an inflexible four-hour schedule. By the late 1940s, more than 50 percent of babies in this country were bottle-fed. By 1970, more than 75 percent of babies were bottle-fed.

During the 1970s, primarily because breast-feeding was beginning to be considered more natural, feeding practices began to change. Today, approximately 70 percent of mothers in this country at least attempt to breast-feed their babies.

There are three feeding periods in the first year of life. The first period, the nursing period, encompasses the time during which your baby is capable only of sucking and swallowing liquids. The second period, the transitional period, begins when your baby first gets solid foods and lasts until she is able to take most of her food from the family table with only some modification. The third period, the modified adult period, occurs when your baby receives most of her food from your table.

The Nursing Period

From birth to about four to six months of age, your baby is able only to suck and swallow liquids. His ability to take food from a spoon begins about the fourth or fifth month. During these early months and for the whole first year of life, the very best food for your baby is breast milk. Breast milk provides just the right blend of proteins, fats, carbohydrates, minerals, and calories. It also contains enzymes to aid digestion and minerals, such as calcium and iron, in a form in which your baby's body can almost completely absorb. Breast milk contains antibodies, which help protect your baby from infection and disease. Breast-feeding your baby greatly reduces the incidence of allergy.

If breast milk is your baby's only food, your child's doctor may recommend certain vitamin supplements. Your baby probably received vitamin K at birth, by means of an injection or orally, to protect him from hemorrhage. Vitamin K is necessary to help the blood clot. If your baby has limited exposure to the sun, he may receive a vitamin D supplement. Your baby's doctor can discuss this with you.

Iron supplementation is not usually necessary for a full-term, healthy, breast-fed infant. The iron stores your baby accumulated in the last months of pregnancy, in addition to the iron obtained from breast milk, should be sufficient until he begins to get iron in his diet in the second six months of life.

If you do not breast-feed, a commercial formula containing iron is recommended for the whole first year. All the vitamins and minerals he requires are present in the formula.

If you breast-feed your baby on demand during the nursing period, you can expect to feed your newborn 8 to 12 times a day. Breast-fed infants generally feed more frequently because breast milk passes readily through the digestive tract. As he grows older, the number of feedings may decrease as he becomes capable of taking more milk.

Bottle-fed infants often feed less frequently than breast-fed infants because formula is not as readily digested and tends to leave the stomach less quickly. Whether you feed your infant on demand or on a schedule, be sensitive to when he finishes feeding. Even though it is tempting to have him finish the bottle of formula you have prepared, do not force him-be careful not to overfeed him. Fat babies are not necessarily healthier babies.

Do not give an infant younger than one year of age whole cow's milk, nonfat or skim milk, 2% milk, goat's milk, or homemade soy milk. All are high in protein and mineral content; the by-products of these would stress your baby's kidneys, causing dehydration. Skim milk lacks the essential fatty acids necessary for the development of the central nervous system and the vascular system, and it does not provide enough calories for growth.

Goat's milk is dangerously low in folic acid, and if unpasteurized, it may be contaminated with disease-causing bacteria. Homemade soy milk contains no vitamin K and inadequate calcium, placing an infant at risk for rickets.

Solid foods -- even such foods as baby cereal -- are inappropriate before your child is four to six months of age since your baby cannot digest and use the starches. Starting your baby on solids too early may cause diarrhea, impair growth, increase the likelihood of obesity, and increase the incidence of allergy.

Honey is another food you should not give to your infant -- in either raw or cooked form -- during the first year of life. Honey may contain spores of the bacteria that cause botulism.

By six months, most babies should be able to swallow liquids from a spoon. By six months, most babies should be able to swallow liquids from a spoon.
By six months, most babies should be able to swallow liquids from a spoon.
©2006 Publications International, Ltd.

The Transitional Period

The transitional period begins sometime between the fourth and sixth months. By then your baby can show a readiness for solids: He is able to indicate when he is hungry and full, to swallow food from a spoon without extruding it from his mouth, and to digest more complex starches, proteins, and fats. You know he is ready for solids when he shows an interest in what you are eating.

Milk, in the form of breast milk or an iron-fortified formula, is still the most important food in his diet. Since he is beginning to deplete his iron stores, experts recommend the first solid food you offer be an iron-fortified cereal. You can mix the cereal with breast milk, water, or formula. Start with just a tea-spoonful in a very liquid form.

During the next months, you might build up to three level tablespoons of cereal a day to supply the seven milligrams of iron your baby needs. Use one-grain cereals at first, such as rice, oats, or barley. Later, you can introduce multi-grain cereals. Avoid cereals that have other foods, such as fruit, added to them.

At seven to nine months, you'll offer other foods. You might offer breast-fed infants a high-protein food, such as chicken or lamb, because breast milk is somewhat lower in protein than formula. Many parents offer vegetables first, hoping to accustom their babies to foods less sweet than fruit. Once you begin to give your baby solids, also offer water because his kidneys must work harder to excrete the by-products of these foods.

Introduce only one new food a week so if any food causes a problem for your baby, you are able to identify it. You might suspect a food allergy if your baby has diarrhea, vomiting, abdominal pain, eczema, or a chronic runny nose. The most common offending foods include wheat, soy milk, cow's milk, eggs, orange juice, tomatoes, peanut butter (and other nut products), chocolate, fish, and beef. If your family has a history of allergies, tell your baby's doctor and get some special guidance for feeding your baby.

Foods to avoid in the second six months of life include honey, milks other than breast milk and formula, and allergenic foods, such as tomatoes, orange juice, nuts, and chocolate. Avoid adding salt to your baby's food; he does not need it.

Do not give him large pieces of meat, hard candy, nuts, or popcorn, which may cause him to choke. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends not giving your baby juice in a bottle since this increases your child's risk of tooth decay.

The Modified Adult Period

This period begins about the eighth month of life, when your baby is able to eat chunkier foods and a more varied diet. You will find he is finally on a more predictable feeding schedule. Most of his food can come from the family table, although you will have to cut it in smaller pieces and perhaps grind his meat. (Combination baby foods are not recommended because they are nutritionally inferior to table food.)

Avoid using highly salted or seasoned foods. Prepare food without seasoning; have family members season to taste at the table, but do not add salt to your baby's food. Carbonated beverages, candy, tea, and other sweet foods may ruin a baby's appetite for good food. Also avoid giving fruit juice whenever the baby is thirsty; it can have a similar effect. If he wants more to drink, offer water.

In the next section, we will examine dietary concerns during the toddler years.

This information is solely for informational purposes. IT IS NOT INTENDED TO PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. Neither the Editors of Consumer Guide (R), Publications International, Ltd., the author nor publisher take responsibility for any possible consequences from any treatment, procedure, exercise, dietary modification, action or application of medication which results from reading or following the information contained in this information. The publication of this information does not constitute the practice of medicine, and this information does not replace the advice of your physician or other health care provider. Before undertaking any course of treatment, the reader must seek the advice of their physician or other health care provider.

A Toddler's Diet

After the first year your child will be able to eat a wider range of foods.
After the first year your child will be able to eat a wider range of foods.
©2006 Publications International, Ltd.

The rapid rate of growth in the first year of life slows during the second year. Correspondingly, your baby's appetite diminishes as well. He may express some very strong food preferences and refuse to eat foods he seemed to enjoy as an infant.

He may show lack of interest in eating and may dawdle for what seems like hours over his meal. He wants to feed himself but may be very messy with cup, spoon, and fingers. If a food is too difficult to chew, he will take it out of his mouth and not eat it. Be sure to cut his food into easy-to-eat pieces.

Since individual children vary so much in their growth, activity level, and interest in food, the frequency of feeding and the amount of food vary, too. In general, your toddler needs about 950 to 1,300 calories a day in his second year. The calories should be from a high-quality, varied diet.

Your baby's doctor should monitor his milk intake. Some toddlers do not get enough milk, while others get too many of their daily calories from milk. Use whole milk, offered only in a cup, after one year of age, unless your child's doctor advises you otherwise.

The best approach to feeding is to offer your child a balanced, varied diet, including some high-quality protein foods, and avoid junk food. Never force-feed your toddler. Even when it seems he is not eating at all, force-feeding is not the answer; this approach may lead to the development of some unnecessary feeding problems. Let his natural appetite be your guide. If you offer him only good food, then when he does eat, he will eat well.

Once your child appears to have lost interest in the meal or is just playing with his food, he should receive one warning about eating. If, after that, the lack of interest continues, remove the food and declare the meal over. Never strongly encourage or force your child to finish the meal or clear his plate. Don't bribe your child with sweets or other rewards for clearing the plate. Most children will, over a 24- to 36-hour period, eat what they need.

If you over-encourage children to eat, they have an increased chance of becoming fat and developing eating disorders in the future. If your child insists he is hungry a few hours after dinner is over, give him a nutritious snack such as fruit or cheese. If his lack of eating appears to affect his weight, consult your doctor.

Each new stage of development offers new feeding challenges to parents. Remember that by offering your baby very nutritious foods, prepared and portioned appropriately for his age, you are doing the very best you can to help him be healthy.

In our final section, we will look at an alternative that more and more parents have been pursuing -- making your own baby food.

This information is solely for informational purposes. IT IS NOT INTENDED TO PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. Neither the Editors of Consumer Guide (R), Publications International, Ltd., the author nor publisher take responsibility for any possible consequences from any treatment, procedure, exercise, dietary modification, action or application of medication which results from reading or following the information contained in this information. The publication of this information does not constitute the practice of medicine, and this information does not replace the advice of your physician or other health care provider. Before undertaking any course of treatment, the reader must seek the advice of their physician or other health care provider.

Homemade Baby Food

The most important step to remember when making your own baby food is to use fresh ingredients.
The most important step to remember when making your own baby food is to use fresh ingredients.
©2006 Publications International, Ltd.

The first foods you offer should be smooth in texture and thin in consistency. Initially, you should offer solid foods in a very liquid form -- in other words, pureed. But pureeing your baby's food is a temporary task. At about seven to eight months, your baby is able to manage soft chunks of food with some substance (such as bits of cheese, flakes of fish, peas, and Cheerios), which she can get from the family table.

What is the difference between commercial and homemade baby food? It really depends on the quality of the foods used to make the baby food, the care given to preserve the vitamin and mineral content, and the amount of added salt, sugar, preservatives, and spices. In general, homemade baby food is often denser in calories: It often is thicker and has less water. Commercial baby food is required by law to list the ingredients contained in each jar. In response to parents' wishes, commercial baby food now rarely contains added salt, sugar, spices, or preservatives.

Homemade baby food may have a higher vitamin and mineral content than commercial baby food if it is made from the very freshest foods and if it is served soon after preparation. A long shelf life and exposure to light may reduce the vitamin content of commercial baby food.

In the preparation of commercial baby food, care is taken to be certain the food is free of bacteria and other organisms that could make your baby sick.

Homemade baby food is safe, too, if you maintain a high standard of cleanliness when you prepare it.

If you decide to make your own baby food, the following method may be helpful:

  1. Use the freshest and best food available. Avoid canned foods, which are high in salt and additives. Avoid using foods that have added sugar, spices, preservatives, or fat, and don't add these ingredients yourself.
  2. Wash your hands carefully before handling the food or equipment.
  3. Make sure all the cooking utensils, the cutting board, and the blender or food processor are very clean. Scrub all equipment with hot, soapy water and rinse it well.
  4. Prepare the food for cooking by washing fruits and vegetables well and removing skins, pits, and seeds. Remove the fat, skin, and bones from meats.
  5. Cook the food by steaming, microwaving, or boiling in a very small amount of water in a covered pot. Cook until tender.
  6. Add a cupful of the cooked food to the blender or processor and puree with just enough of the cooking liquid to allow the blades to spin. Add more cooking liquid or water if necessary.
  7. Some foods do not need to be cooked. Fresh peaches, pears, and bananas are examples. Cut the peeled fruits into chunks and then puree.
  8. You can serve the pureed food right away. Store the remainder carefully.
  9. To store the pureed food, place serving-size portions in an ice cube tray, a paper cupcake liner, a glass dish, or a piece of plastic wrap and freeze. Two tablespoons is a typical serving size. Make the servings larger or smaller, depending on what your baby eats.
  10. To serve stored food, reheat the individual portions. Microwave ovens can be dangerous since they may create hot spots in the cooked food, which can burn your baby's mouth. Be sure to cool the food to a safe temperature before feeding.

Once your baby no longer requires pureed food, a baby food grinder is a convenient way to make baby food right at the table. The grinder should be very clean, and the food used in the grinder should be fresh, unsalted, and without spices, fat, or skins. Place the right portion in the grinder; add water or cooking water as needed. As your baby grows older, she will prefer foods from your table since she wants to eat the same foods she sees you eating.

During the trials and travails of the first few months of your baby's life, proper nutrition is important for the both of you. The constant care your newborn requires will require all of your time and energy, and that is not the time to cut corners on the food you eat.

©Publications International, Ltd.

This information is solely for informational purposes. IT IS NOT INTENDED TO PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. Neither the Editors of Consumer Guide (R), Publications International, Ltd., the author nor publisher take responsibility for any possible consequences from any treatment, procedure, exercise, dietary modification, action or application of medication which results from reading or following the information contained in this information. The publication of this information does not constitute the practice of medicine, and this information does not replace the advice of your physician or other health care provider. Before undertaking any course of treatment, the reader must seek the advice of their physician or other health care provider.

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About the Consultant:

Alvin Eden, M.D.: Alvin Eden, M.D. serves as a Clinical Professor of Pediatrics at the Weil Medical College of Cornell University in New York, New York. He is Chairman of the Department of Pediatrics at the Wyckoff Heights Medical Center in Brooklyn. Dr. Eden is also the author of a number of child care book, including Positive Parenting and Growing Up Thin.