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How to optimise your health during the fourth trimester

Updated: Nov 3, 2023

New mum

You are probably aware of the first, second and third trimesters in pregnancy but have you heard of the fourth trimester? This is the period after you have given birth, it is a time when your body goes through significant changes. Your uterus begins to shrink in size, there are changes to your connective tissues, your skin starts to regain elasticity, and your breasts begin to produce breast milk. Fluctuations in hormones occur as your body adjusts to the postpartum period.

Nurturing yourself during the fourth trimester

The more time you can spend resting and replenishing your nutrient stores postpartum, the quicker and more successful your recovery so that you are able to look after your baby and prepare your body for a future child if you choose.

Looking after yourself during this stage, the importance of nutrients

The modern world is not designed for postpartum women, there is still an expectation to ‘do it all’. Women are expected to bounce back to their pre pregnancy self, whilst looking after their baby, a household, potentially others in the family, and even think about returning to work. However, this is simply not realistic. The fourth trimester is a time for recovery and re co-operation. A pregnancy is a huge drain on woman’s nutrient stores, so it is important for these to be replenished. If she is breastfeeding, then nutrient demands will continue and therefore good nutrition is even more significant.

Protein from lean meat, eggs, fish, and vegetarian sources, is essential for recovery and repair and therefore should be a key component of a postpartum diet. Protein is essential for healing stretched and torn tissues.

Protein, along with healthy fats, help to balance blood sugar levels which is important for maintaining energy and hormonal balance. The temptation maybe to reach for sugary snacks when suffering from low energy and lack of sleep, however, this can have a negative impact on energy, impact mood, and lead to energy crashes.

Healthy fats found in oily fish, walnuts and chia seeds are essential for recovery, lowering inflammation in the body and supporting baby’s brain health if breastfeeding.

Iron stores are often low postpartum, particularly if there has been significant blood loss during birth. Red meat and liver are excellent sources of iron, as well as green leafy vegetables, adding some lemon zest or juice with these foods helps to increase the absorption of iron.

Zinc rich foods from seafood, pumpkin seeds, pecan nuts, split peas, oats, almonds, and buckwheat, help to support immune system function, hormone balance, and mood.

Vegetables and fruit are high in fibre which supports gut health and are rich in antioxidants such as vitamins E and C, which can help with wound healing and supporting the skin.

What to eat if breastfeeding Nutrient needs in women who are breastfeeding are higher than whilst pregnant. You can continue eating as you did in pregnancy but your calorific need will be higher so portion sizes may need to be increased.

Eat a nutrient dense diet with plenty of colourful vegetables and fruit, protein, healthy fats and complex carbohydrates. Have nutritious snacks available round the house in places where you might be breastfeeding, so they are always to hand, energy balls, nuts and seeds, and healthy flapjacks are all good options.

Tips for stimulating milk production To establish and maintain your milk supply you need to be eating and drinking enough. Breastfeeding requires fuel so making sure you are eating plenty is important.

Warm fluids help to encourage milk production. Make sure you are well hydrated, drinking plenty of water, as dehydration can impact milk production. Aim for a glass of water or herbal tea each time you are breastfeeding to replenish lost fluids.

Ensure you are eating plenty of complex carbohydrates, such as sweet potatoes, wholegrain rice, and oats. Avoid low carbohydrate diets, as they can lead to a drop in milk supply. Oily fish such as salmon, mackerel, trout, and anchovies, contain the omega 3 fat DHA, which helps with milk supply.

And when you are tired and time is short... Packing your freezer with nutritious meals in the last few months before giving birth, can be a great way to have a meal on hand when you’re short on time.

Batch cook where possible, even better if someone offers to help, ask them to cook you a healthy meal or two.

Smoothies are a great way to pack in the nutrients, these can be compiled in advanced, stored in the fridge, and whizzed up when you want them.

Have healthy snacks to hand which contain both protein and fat such as oatcakes with nut butter, carrot sticks with hummus, hard boiled eggs, nuts, and seeds.

Taking supplements during the fourth trimester

Staying on your prenatal supplements for the first 6 months postpartum can be beneficial to help replenish your nutrient stores. Collagen can help with postpartum recovery, as it supports skin, muscle, and bone health. Omega 3 fish oils can help reduce inflammation in the body post birth and help to ensure adequate milk supply, as well as continuing to support your baby’s brain development. Vitamin D levels can be low postpartum so may need replenishing, and vitamin D requirement tends to be increased with breastfeeding. Magnesium is a mineral we are often low in which can support stress and sleep. Probiotics can also be helpful to support your gut and may enhance the nutritional value of your breast milk. It is always advisable to get professional advice before taking supplements.

If you would like some support with pregnancy, postpartum, or with your fertility book your free review to find out how I can help you.

Julia Young Nutrition T: 0771 589 0894

Disclaimer: Nutritional Therapy is not a replacement for medical advice, practitioners always refer any client with ‘red flag’ signs or symptoms to their medical professional. The information provided here is general and is not intended to treat, diagnose, prevent or cure any diseases or conditions.

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