Best Nutrients for Postpartum Health

April 1, 2019 | Dr. Linda J. Dobberstein, DC, Board Certified in Clinical Nutrition

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 Best Nutrients for Postpartum Health
Pregnancy, delivery, and postpartum is like a maternal ironman triathlon. After nine months of pregnancy, your body goes through another round of enormous challenges immediately after the birth of your child and for the next several months. Labor and delivery, major hormone shifts, sleepless nights, breastfeeding, 24/7 parental care and keeping the household running leads to exhaustion and crushing fatigue.

Overwhelm and a stressed mood often go together with this level of wear-and-tear. Pressing on by shear willpower may work for some, but more often, help is needed to adjust to the intensive needs after labor and delivery and into the postpartum period. Nutritional support is just as important for postpartum care and recovery as it is during family preparation and pregnancy. In order for you to meet the needs of the new baby, you must also meet the demands of your own body. Just like an elite athlete, your needs must be met for you to stay in and finish the race.

Hormone Shifts Test Brain and Endocrine Fitness

Immediately after labor and delivery, your hormone levels rapidly change. Several hormones go through wide fluctuations with some of the most dramatic shifts seen with estrogen and progesterone. Estrogen and progesterone levels go on a massive rollercoaster ride from the highest levels immediately before delivery and then plummet right after the baby has been born. This is a massive test to the nervous system and adrenal glands and how much these systems can handle and bounce back.

Other hormones like relaxin, oxytocin, and cortisol, along with cytokines, prostaglandins, and ion channels that involve calcium and other neurochemicals are involved. Enormous amounts of these neuro-immune-endocrine chemical signals are released during the process of labor and delivery. This is followed by yet another flux of chemicals and signals to shift into postpartum with recovery, breastfeeding, bonding, and shrinkage of the uterus after delivery, and restoration of menses. This process can last for weeks and months after delivery. The entirety of it is a colossal amount of internal physiological work. It is an event and process like none other in human life and physiology.

Hormone levels are regulated and influenced by several mechanisms directed by signals from the mother and developing baby during pregnancy with the intensity ramping up during labor and delivery. The mother’s ovaries, placenta, uterus, brain and nervous system, and the baby’s adrenal glands, brain, and HPA axis (hypothalamus-pituitary-adrenal axis) neuroendocrine relay system have highly complex maternal/fetal internal interactions. Even if a C-section was performed, these chemical signals and marathon still occur.

These rapid, intense changes within the nervous system, HPA axis, adrenal glands, during labor and delivery give rise to euphoria, weeping, irritability, and other intense emotions. Once birth has occurred, over the next few weeks, the neuroendocrine and HPA axis systems recover. If the energetic reserves of the body are depleted, then it becomes more of a challenge to bounce back. More than 80 percent of women experience this dip as the “baby blues” or it may become more serious. Mood changes with the “baby blues”, feeling irritable, moody, low mood, lack of interest, and feeling anxious may occur. Physical and mental fatigue may make it feel like you need to be Super Woman to just get through the day with ordinary tasks. Just like an athlete, who needs appropriate electrolytes, hydration, food, and nutrients to train, run the race, and recover, so does a new mom.

Nutritional Fortification

After delivery, make sure to continue to support your basic nutritional basic needs as you did during pregnancy. Fundamental prenatal and postpartum nutrition includes:

Coenzyme B Vitamins and Folate: Energy demands are enormous throughout this maternal triathlon time. B vitamins and folate are critical for your brain but also your baby’s development. Coenzyme B vitamins and folate are active, methylated forms that fuel the brain, nervous system, mitochondria, muscles, blood cells, and adrenal glands. Adequate B vitamins are also needed for breastmilk production.

DHA Fish Oil: Omega-3 fish oil as DHA is critical to the brain and neurological development. It is an essential fatty acid. Your baby depends on you, the mother to have this nutrient on a daily basis. This fat is incorporated into nerves and cell membranes. It is vital for mood, intelligence, coordination, eye development, immune system function, gut health, and naturally helps normal daily inflammation management. Try taking your DHA at the last meal with some dietary fat or at bedtime as it can help calm the brain down from stress. Extra fatty acids that enter the breastmilk close to bedtime may also help the baby sleep longer at night.

Calcium and Magnesium: Baby and you both need minerals. Baby needs these minerals for growth, development, and function. Mothers need quality calcium and magnesium to help support to their bones, tendons, ligaments, muscles, energy, brain, heart, and circulation. Nearly 80 percent of the population lacks adequate magnesium. Calcium absorption requires magnesium, vitamin D, and vitamin K2.

Iodine: Iodine is a trace mineral needed for healthy thyroid hormone production but it supports more than this. Iodine is critical for neurological development and intelligence of your child. Iodine support during pregnancy helps set the metabolic tone of thyroid function and learning abilities for your child.

Vitamin D: This vitamin and hormone is essential for both mom and baby. Vitamin D regulates over a thousand gene signals, is essential for growth, bone development, muscles, mitochondria, nerve function, neurotransmitters, blood pressure regulation, and the immune system. Adequate vitamin D is needed for the placenta, proper prenatal growth and the birth cycle.

There are some additional things to help fortify your natural recovery process and may be used safely used postpartum.

Collagen Peptides: Collagen peptides help support connective tissue found in muscles, tendons, ligaments, cartilage, and even the lining of the gut. Stress and strain occurs to these tissues during pregnancy and delivery. Support is needed as your musculoskeletal system readjusts to postural changes, hormone changes as relaxin and other hormones reduce, as well as the strain of carrying baby, diaper bags, etc. Collagen peptides are safe, easily digested amino acids that may be mixed as a protein smoothie by itself or in addition to a protein powder like whey protein, or other foods and beverages like oatmeal, tea or coffee. It is neutral tasting even for those who may have a queasy stomach with pregnancy and postpartum health.

Iron: There is a high need for iron during pregnancy, but also after delivery and while breastfeeding. Even the slightest lack of iron can contribute to thyroid stress, physical and mental fatigue, poor sleep, aches and pains, and low mood. It is imperative to replenish iron stores in the body. The lab test serum ferritin reflects the first stage of inadequate iron stores in the body. In this context of postpartum care strive to get your ferritin levels up to at least 100.

Flavonoids: These plant-based antioxidants are vital for many things. Well-known for their free radical quenching capabilities, there is more to the picture for their benefits. Flavonoids, such as those found in berries, grapes, cocoa, green tea, apples, and so forth help enhance the natural activity of GABA and GABA-A receptors in the brain to support calm, rest, and manage stress effects. Flavonoids include such compounds as quercetin, chamomile, EGCG, green tea extract, fisetin, passion flower, and grape seed extract.

Pantethine: Pantethine is the active form of vitamin B5 and helps support the production of acetyl coenzyme A or CoA. CoA is required for mitochondria to produce energy. CoA is also a precursor to acetylcholine, another neurotransmitter. Acetylcholine is required for cognitive function and is essential for the autonomic nervous system, gut and brain connection. Pantethine is very helpful for stress-induced fatigue, difficulty getting out of bed in the morning, and the mid-afternoon energy drop. Pantethine helps support healthy adrenal function.

Phosphatidylserine: This special fatty acid provides critical fats for the brain. It helps neurotransmitter receptor sites function and supports mood, memory, focus, and coordination. Your baby’s brain also requires this special fatty acid to grow, learn, and function.

Daily Protein: Adequate protein is most important macronutrient to help with breastmilk production. Lack of protein makes it harder to start and maintain breastfeeding. Whey protein offers all of the essential amino acids. It makes for a quick easy meal when mixed with yogurt and some fruit or as a stand-alone beverage.

Additional Resources

Here are some additional resources to learn how to help restore vitality after your maternal triathlon.

Grumpy and Exhausted? Support Your Mitochondria, Brain, Adrenals

Stress Induced Burnout: The Path Back to Happiness

Stress and Adrenals: Restoring the HPA Axis

Low Iron Linked with Muscle Health, Sleep, Mood, and Mitochondria

Omega-3 DHA and Phosphatidylserine: Two are Better Than One

Body Temperature – Thyroid, Adrenals, or Something Else?

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