Pregnancy nutrition - a holistic approach to your fourth trimester

As a new mother, you may be tempted to pay more attention to your baby’s well-being than your own, but the two are inextricably linked. After all, your baby needs a strong and healthy mother, and if you are breastfeeding, what you eat passes onto your baby through your milk. This gives you all the more reason to eat well! 

During your fourth trimester, your hormones are hard at work helping every cell and organ in your body to return to their pre-pregnancy state, and the fluctuating levels may leave you feeling vulnerable and fatigued. Until your body recovers, you may cry at the drop of a hat or feel an overwhelming sense of joy for no rational reason. On top of that, the most incredible physical changes have also taken place in your body; you have been through an amazing transformation for nine months, culminating in the dramatic experience of birth. Now your body needs nurturing and nourishment to return to its earlier state. In fact, healing after childbirth can take up to eighteen months, but it is the first three months I want to focus on, as starting a woman’s restorative journey immediately after birth is vital to secure health for the longer term. 

I would like to share some simple nutritional tips with you to maintain happiness and positivity in your fourth trimester and beyond. This guidance hopes to leave your baby blues and brain fog behind, and enable you to start loving motherhood to the fullest. Although feeding yourself may be the last thing on your to-do list, eating healthy food, having regular meals and snacks, and keeping well hydrated can boost your energy levels and mood, so it’s well worth the investment. 

Step 1: Eat plenty and do not worry about your weight 

First and foremost, you will need to eat lots and lots of food during your fourth trimester. Breastfeeding burns approximately five hundred calories a day, and in addition to nourishing a baby, you must also nourish yourself. If you thought you were hungry during pregnancy, just wait until you start breastfeeding! Remember that now is not the time to diet or attempt to lose weight by restricting food intake. If you eat a healthy, balanced, nutrient-rich diet that includes healthy fats (coconut oil, olive oil, grass-fed butter, etc.) and high-quality protein, you can generally expect to lose your pregnancy weight during your baby's first year of life. Please don't rush and put unnecessary pressure on yourself. It is more important to rest, eat well and spend time loving that beautiful new baby you have created. 

Step 2: Boost your happy hormones 

Serotonin is a hormone that makes us feel cheerful and positive. Initially, sleep deprivation helps to boost serotonin and that is we tend to feel okay when settling a baby in for the first few days. However, as the weeks and months go by, a lack of sleep can seriously reduce our serotonin levels and the baby blues can settle in. Obviously, nothing can quite make up for a lack of sleep, but you can give yourself a natural serotonin boost by eating foods rich in vitamin B6, such as cauliflower, celery, salmon, chicken and turkey.

Hormones are built from the amino acids we get in our diet from protein and serotonin is built from an amio acid called tryptophan. Good sources of tryptophan are oats, fish, poultry, chocolate, dates, red meat, eggs, sesame, chickpeas, almonds, sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds, milk, yoghurt, cottage cheese, spirulina, bananas and peanuts. 

It is also important to eat grain-like seeds such as quinoa, millet, amaranth and buckwheat, which are great vegan sources that help boost your serotonin levels. These can all be made into a delicious breakfast porridge that requires very little cooking, and can be topped with walnuts, linseeds and chia seeds for extra nutritional value. Fermented foods also provide beneficial bacteria, which produce serotonin in your gut. Live yoghurt, kefir, kimchi, miso and sauerkraut are all great additions to your diet for this reason and you can easily pick them up in health food shops. 

Step 3: Work on your digestion 

After birth, it is common for women to experience constipation and haemorrhoids resulting from the dramatic hormone shift you go through, In fact, it can take a while for you to feel that your digestion is working smoothly again. As such, it is really important to make sure you are well hydrated and stocked up on enough fibre to keep your bowels working efficiently. Supporting your digestive system with probiotics is a great move, especially if you were given antibiotics during or after childbirth. You can take probiotics in supplement form or you could make your own milk kefir. If you suffer from excess wind you can try dinking fennel tea, which can also help to increase milk production. Finally, feeding your baby in a rocking chair will not only cultivate a sense of calm, but it will also help your gut mobility. 

Step 4: Stay hydrated 

Delivering a baby causes massive fluid loss, so it is vital to drink enough water every day to help avoid the fatigue, headaches, and other symptoms that result from dehydration. Staying well hydrated is particularly important for mothers who are also breastfeeding, as being dehydrated can reduce milk production and affect the composition of the milk. Many women report feeling extremely thirsty when they begin a feed, so make sure you always have a big glass of water next to you when you begin. 

Step 5: Ensure you are getting enough iron 

If you were anaemic during pregnancy or if you lost a lot of blood in labour, then you will need to have your iron levels checked after birth. If you are breastfeeding, then it is important to eat lots of iron-rich foods, such as red meat, spinach, egg yolks, red beans, lentils, kale, collards, broccoli, raisins, figs, apricots and cherries. 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. 

Try to take stock of where you are, re-focus on where you want to be and then find the easiest and most enjoyable path to get there. If you are feeling overwhelmed by your fourth trimester, these simple nutritional measures hope to restore your Zen and nourish your body and mind, as they deserve. 

The views expressed in this article are those of the author. All articles published on Nutritionist Resource are reviewed by our editorial team.

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Bristol, Avon, BS16 2JP
Written by Rosie Letts, BSc Hons, MBANT, CNHC| Online Nutritionist
Bristol, Avon, BS16 2JP

Rosie Letts (Nutritional Therapist BSc Hons, mBANT, CNHC) is a fertility, pregnancy and integrated women's health expert. In recent years, she has launched Bump and Beyond Nutrition – a nutritional consultancy that celebrates pregnancy and empowers women through nutrition and natural fertility.

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