There are many factors influencing how you feel and function during the fourth trimester or the postnatal phase. A healthy diet is just one piece of the jigsaw puzzle, but eating well has many benefits. It supports your recovery, helps your immune system to work effectively, supports your overall mood and wellbeing and, if you choose to breastfeed, supports milk production. This post provides an overview of dietary considerations and tips to help you achieve a healthy diet when time is often not on your side

What is a healthy diet for new mums?

A healthy diet for new mums is similar to any adult female but with some additional requirements if you are breastfeeding (see below). As a reminder, a healthy diet is one that is balanced and contains a variety of different foods. This means it will cover all of your nutritional requirements from the macronutrients – carbohydrates (including fibre), fats and proteins and a range of micronutrients – vitamins, minerals and polyphenols.

What do I need to eat if I am breastfeeding?

  • Increased energy

The first thing I always check is if a new mum (who has chosen to breastfeed) is actually eating enough, because your body needs around an extra 500 calories (kcal) per day. Therefore it is recommended that you eat a little more than usual while breastfeeding – a few healthy snacks or a small meal will help meet this extra demand. Eat regularly throughout the day if you can to avoid becoming overly hungry.

  • Increased calcium

An extra 550mg per day is required to support milk production and to replace any depletion in your calcium stores as a result of the pregnancy. Include calcium-rich foods in your diet such as milk, cheese, yoghurts. If you are plant-based choose calcium-enriched options.

  • Increased zinc

An extra 6mg per day is required if breastfeeding a baby under 4 months and an extra 2.5mg per day if your baby is over 4 months. Zinc plays a role in the function of our immune system and is found in beef, shellfish, fish, beans, lentils, tofu, nuts and seeds.

  • Omega-3s

Evidence suggests that a diet rich in omega-3s results in omega-3 rich breast milk, which is important as it supports brain development in babies. Sources of omega-3 includes nuts, seeds and oily fish e.g. salmon, sardines, mackerel, trout. Try and incorporate one-two servings of oily fish per week (N.B. the advice is to not eat more than two portions due to a potential risk of contamination from pollutants in the water).

  • Increased water/fluids

You will need to drink more fluids, and remember to drink the fluids before a headache begins. It is difficult to quantify just how much you’ll need as it depends on the amount of milk produced, how hot it is and exercise levels, but the European Food Safety Authority recommend around 10-12 glasses of water in comparison to 8 glasses for adults in general.