I wish we were talking more about postpartum nutrition. Society is so quick to talk about dieting to “get your body back” after baby—instead of focusing on fueling to support healing your body and feeding a growing baby. They’re such polar opposite concepts: deprivation and punishment versus nourishment and fueling.
There’s not enough people talking about postpartum nutrition. Once I realized that all of the baby’s nutrients are coming from me (because I was breastfeeding), it made me a lot more aware of what I was eating—was it nutrient dense or junk food?—and if I was eating enough so that I could keep up with my 7-month-old daughter’s appetite demands.
And whether you’re a new mom or an athlete, that’s also how we have to look at food when it comes to performance. Are you eating enough to keep up with energy demands, and is it nutrient dense so that your body has all the tools to recover and repair well? It’s really that simple.
I’ve actually learned that whatever the baby needs, your body can actually leach those vitamins or minerals from your body to give to the baby. The baby will always get what it needs—which can leave you lacking in minerals and vitamins causing long-term health impacts. So that’s why focusing on the quality of your nutrients is so important, both for your baby’s health if you are breastfeeding and also for your health.
A helpful resource for this is Real Food for Pregnancy by Lily Nichols, which lays out what foods are going to be the most impactful to support your body during this time.
We need to be talking more about nutrition with new mom athletes; after birth we are already starting off in a depleted state (studies show that folate, iron, and vitamins A, C, and D in particular were most likely to be below the recommended intake in pregnant women in America, and breastfeeding can deplete further. And if you start back into running in such a depleted state, it’s no wonder running can feel tough at first.
Good nutrition helps everything. With it your body heals faster, your baby is well nourished and healthy, and ultimately your mental health is better, because when you’re deficient in minerals and vitamins it affects everything.
5 Nutritional Focuses for Postpartum Runners
Some things I’ve focused on during this postpartum time:
Not caring about calories at all.
That’s also how I am outside of pregnancy, but during a good portion of postpartum I haven’t been running/working out. That does not impact my nutrition choices. A girl’s still gotta eat—and eat well.
Preferring more nutrient-dense options.
The more nutrients we get in, the better it is for us and for the baby. Liver, for example, is nature’s multivitamin and one of the most nutrient-dense foods we can eat. It is rich in vitamins A and B, folic acid, and iron.
This might sound weird, but I’ll put some frozen raw liver into my morning smoothies (I promise, you can’t taste it) because with as much as my body is being depleted by around the clock feedings, I need to be continually pumping it full of nutrients. If this sound too weird to you (like it does most people), you can take desiccated liver in capsule form, which is still incredibly nourishing.
[Editor’s note: According to the USDA, freezing foods does inactivate bacteria, yeast, and molds. However, once thawed those microbes become active again. Note that consuming raw meat can potentially expose you to harmful bacteria.]
Hydrate, hydrate, hydrate.
As a new mom, it’s so easy to skip over hydration because you’re stretched pretty thin, so I go through coconut water like it’s my job (the electrolytes are key to making milk). And the other liquids I drink, I make sure have minerals or electrolytes in them.
I try not to drink any “hungry” water (i.e. water that’s plain without minerals and electrolytes added). We are constantly losing minerals during breastfeeding so to be putting in liquids without replenishing those minerals can leave you in a depleted state
Every morning, I’ll have a glass of fresh squeezed lemon juice, a tablespoon of Celtic salt, and chlorophyll. Those minerals help me to feel more like myself. When you are not replenishing minerals, you’re at a greater risk for cavities and bone fractures since your baby will take from you what it needs.
Juices do the job.
I’ll try to do fresh-pressed juices throughout the day to get those minerals and vitamins in from a whole food source. (Your body usually does absorbs nutrients better from whole food sources). Prenatal and postnatal supplements are great—but I look at them more like a back up and not the main source we should be leaning on. Our diet should be providing everything we need to nourish the baby, and the postnatal supplement should just be the insurance that we didn’t miss something. (I take New Chapter Postnatals, which helps you to get all those nutrients you need after baby, and they have lactation support.)
Just like in a plane when they tell you to put the air mask on first before you help someone else, it’s important to be refueling ourselves well if we are to meet the demands of our baby…and then adding running back into our routines.
I’m so much more proactive with nutrition because I know that everything I’m doing directly impacts my daughter. And it also impacts how I feel. And it’s important for me to be feeling good in order to take care of her and get back to my running!