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The Essentials of Postpartum Nutrition

An image of a mother holding her baby as she eatsGrowing a baby human is quite a feat, and a lot of emphasis is placed on having good nutrition to support your body and the growing baby during pregnancy. However, nutrition during the postpartum period, after pregnancy, is important as well. Postpartum nutrition involves the nutrients that fuel your body from the time right after birth until you have recovered from pregnancy and have stopped breastfeeding.

Good nutrition is essential to fuel your body. It can help your body recover from pregnancy and birth, help sustain you through sleepless nights and the workout of carrying around a heavy baby, and if you are breastfeeding it also provides nutrition to your baby. It can help promote milk production, rebalance hormone levels, and sustain your mental health. And it can also help you maintain a healthy weight.

How Much Energy Do You Need Postpartum?

One consideration is your energy requirements postpartum. The average energy you should be consuming is 1800 to 2200 calories per day. This requirement however will increase if you are breastfeeding, breastfeeding multiples, underweight, or are exercising for more than 45 minutes per day.

What is Required for The Best Postpartum Nutrition?

Several nutrients can become more important after birth for you and your infant. Nutrients that are important during postpartum nutrition are:

  • Protein
  • Iron
  • Iodine
  • Choline
  • Omega-3


Protein is one of the three macronutrients your body needs. Research suggests consuming adequate protein may help provide iron, if it is from some meat sources, as well as help your body in recovering and healing after birth.


Iron helps to produce new blood cells in your body and prevent anemia. It is important because your blood volume increases during pregnancy, and many women lose a lot of blood during birth. Animal meat is a source of iron, but tofu and legumes are also good sources.


This mineral is a trace mineral, meaning you need it in small amounts. However, it has an important role in supporting growth and brain development in your baby. Iodine needs double after birth. Iodine is found in many foods including dairy, seafood, and iodized salt. If you do use salt in your diet, check the labels to ensure that it does contain iodine, as some salts such as sea salt and kosher salt do not always have iodine added to them.

Individuals who are at risk for an iodine deficiency are those who do not consume dairy, who use minimal salt, and smokers.


This is not a vitamin nor mineral but instead, a water-soluble compound found in food such as eggs, meat, fish, dairy, whole grains, and cruciferous vegetables such as broccoli and cauliflower. Choline requirements increase during breastfeeding, as it is essential for the development of your baby's brain and nervous system.

Omega-3 Fatty Acids

Omega-3 plays an important role in the brain development of your baby. It also helps to reduce pain and inflammation and boosts the mother's mental health. Omega-3 is found in oily fish such as sardines, salmon, and trout, however, it is also available in chia and flax seeds and walnuts.

What Are The Best Foods for Postpartum Nutrition?

An image of a mother and her baby as the mother chops foodFor postpartum nutrition, it is important to meet your energy and nutrition requirements through a varied and diverse diet. You should avoid specific weight loss diets, as your nutrition requirements may not be met and it may deplete the nutrients available to your baby.

Fruits and Vegetables

Fruits and vegetables provide a wide range of vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants to your body. These nutrients help meet your requirements and also help to facilitate healing, reduce inflammation, and promote brain health.

It is also important to have a range of different fruits and vegetables. An easy way to do this is to eat the colors of the rainbow. Different colored fruits and vegetables contain different types of nutrients for your body and help to ensure that you are getting all your nutritional needs met.

Unrefined Carbohydrates

Carbohydrates are a major source of fuel for your body. Consuming carbohydrates daily will help provide sufficient energy to your body.

When consuming carbohydrates it is important to focus on unrefined carbohydrates such as oats, brown rice, and whole wheat bread. Unrefined carbohydrates are broken down in your body slower than refined carbohydrates and will provide you with energy over a longer period of time. Unrefined carbohydrates are also lower in sugar and higher in B vitamins and fiber. This fiber will help to support healthy bowel movements and can help to prevent the dreaded hemorrhoids that can come after childbirth.

Lean Protein

Consuming lean protein is a great way to meet your requirements for protein and iron to assist with recovery and healing after childbirth. It helps to rebuild muscle and nourish you and your baby. Some protein sources also contain iron, which helps to prevent anemia. Sources of lean protein include chicken, turkey, fish, legumes, eggs, and tofu.


Dairy not only helps to provide protein for your body but also calcium and choline. These requirements increase after birth if you are breastfeeding. If you do not meet your requirements, it can lead to a deficiency in calcium which can lead to osteoporosis. Dairy includes milk, cheese, and yogurt.


Keeping hydrated is also an important aspect of postpartum nutrition. It's recommended that you drink six to ten glasses of water per day, regardless of whether you are breastfeeding or not. Hydration can also include other drinks such as milk or fruit juice. However, be aware that caffeinated drinks can actually worsen dehydration.

Tips for Making Meals for Postpartum Nutrition

Having nutritious meals and snacks after birth is challenging enough. But finding the time to make these nutritious meals and snacks is another ball game! There are a few strategies you can use to help ensure that you receive optimal postpartum nutrition.

  1. Cook in bulk before birth and freeze. This way, when you need a meal all you have to do is defrost it.
  2. Prepare snacks before birth by choosing, portioning out, and storing them in small containers.
  3. Make a list of healthy meals and snacks to prep and gather the ingredients ahead of time, so you are ready to prep some meals in bulk after the baby goes to sleep.
  4. If you are part of a community such as a church or a school, there may be a meal roster that you can sign up for to receive meals for a specific period of time.
  5. If your friends and family ask how they can help, you can always suggest that they bring a meal that you can freeze for later use.

TCM Principles in Postpartum Nutrition

Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) embodies a rich tapestry of principles aimed at nurturing and restoring the body, especially crucial during the postpartum period. In TCM, postpartum nutrition is meticulously curated to facilitate a mother’s recovery and rebalance the body’s energy. A fundamental rule prescribes the avoidance of raw fruits and vegetables, as they are believed to introduce "cold" into the body. Instead, a priority is placed on consuming warm or hot foods, enriched with spices like ginger, which are intrinsic in reviving the body’s "heat." Ginger, being a quintessential element, is often used in teas and various dishes for its warming properties and ability to promote healing. Drinking warm water is also emphasized, aiding in maintaining the body’s internal warmth and harmony. Aligning with these principles, foods that embody the "heat" characteristic according to Chinese dietary philosophy are highly recommended, ensuring that the mother’s body is nurtured with warmth and care, essential for effective postpartum recovery.

Foods to Avoid Postpartum

If you are breastfeeding, it is important to remember that everything you ingest, you pass on to your baby in the breastmilk. Much of what you eat normally should be fine unless the baby has certain allergies. However, it's important to practice caution with:

  • An image of a woman saying no to a glass of wineAlcohol: There are various opinions on the use of alcohol whilst breastfeeding. Because of this, chat with your healthcare professional before you consume alcohol.
  • Caffeine: Try to keep to below 2 cups of coffee per day, and be aware that it does pass through breastmilk, and it can take several days for a newborn to digest caffeine.
  • Sugary drinks or foods: Keep them to a minimum. They spike your blood sugar, cause energy crashes, and contain few nutrients.
  • Fish high in mercury such as swordfish, king mackerel, and shark.

Should I Use Supplements for Postpartum Nutrition?

A diverse and varied diet can help to provide your body and baby with the necessary nutrients. However postpartum nutrition is critical, and if you do not meet the nutrient requirements it can cause consequences on your health as well as your baby's health. If you do not eat a particular food group, are vegan, or are not certain if your diet is adequate, supplements can come in handy. Supplementation can ensure that you are meeting the requirements for the different nutrients and can help ensure that you and your baby are getting the nutrients that you need in optimal quantities.

When choosing a supplement for postpartum, it is best to choose one that specifically caters to postpartum women as the nutrient needs are different after birth.

Adrenal Fatigue Syndrome and Postpartum Nutrition

Adrenal Fatigue Syndrome (AFS) is a condition that occurs as a result of chronic stress. Your adrenal glands and the NeuroEndoMetabolic (NEM) Stress Response system assist your body with dealing with stress. Your adrenal glands are two glands that sit atop your kidneys and release stress hormones. As the stress persists, your adrenal glands continue to release these hormones. However, with chronic stress, your adrenal glands eventually become depleted. This can start to cause imbalances in your NEM system. Your NEM system consists of six different circuits each made up of three organs each. With AFS, imbalances can occur in these circuits and will result in symptoms. The symptoms that you experience will depend on which circuit the imbalance is occurring in.

One of the circuits within the NEM system is the Hormone circuit. The Hormone circuit consists of the adrenal glands, the thyroid glands, and the reproductive organs. The symptoms of an imbalance in this circuit are fatigue, infertility, irregular periods, PMS, and low libido.

AFS and imbalances within the hormonal circuit can occur postpartum due to the stressors of pregnancy and birth, busy schedules, and the ongoing responsibilities that new moms have to juggle after birth. This stress can start to increase levels of hormones such as estrogen in the body. This can cause an imbalance between progesterone and estrogen and start to cause symptoms of AFS. If this is not identified, AFS can progress and more symptoms can start to occur.

Cautions of AFS

An image of a fatigued mother sitting on the couch as she holds her baby and her foreheadIf you are currently experiencing AFS after birth, it is important to be even more mindful of your nutrition. During AFS, your body can become more sensitive to foods and supplements. This includes any new food products or supplements that you may try postpartum. Due to the increase in sensitivity your body can react negatively to any new food products, and this can set you back in healing from AFS.

Supplements are also not regulated by the FDA. Therefore the quality and safety of ingredients are not always guaranteed. Before trying out a new supplement, chat with your healthcare provider for guidance on what products will be able to support your body the best.

Postpartum Nutrition: The Takeaway

Postpartum is a sacred time, and optimal postpartum nutrition is crucial for optimal health for you and your baby. Whilst it can seem daunting to be responsible for supplying your and your baby's body with optimal nutrition focusing on the fundamentals of nutrition can help. Be sure to get:

  • Fruits and vegetables every day
  • Unrefined grains
  • Lean protein
  • Six to ten glasses of water per day

If you are currently in the postpartum period and are concerned about how to meet your nutritional needs best, you can contact our team at +1 (626) 571-1234 or click here for a free initial consultation.

© Copyright 2023 Michael Lam, M.D. All Rights Reserved.

Dr. Lam’s Key Question

It can be tough to determine whether or not your postpartum nutrition is optimal. However, it is important to ensure that you are consuming small frequent meals, with a range of fruits, vegetables, and whole grains as well as 6-10 glasses of water to best support your body.

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