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Postpartum Recovery with Real Food

It’s common knowledge that pregnancy increases your nutrient requirements, but did you know that nutrient needs are actually higher during early postpartum?

That’s right. Your body has done the amazing feat of growing a brand new human being and its work is not done yet. (Sorry to break it to you!)

Why nutrient needs are higher during postpartum recovery:

First, your body needs to replenish the nutrients that were transferred to your baby during pregnancy.

Second, you need a lot of nutrients to recover the energy expended during birth and for tissue repair (this is true for all women, as pregnancy places huge demands on your connective tissues, but is especially important if you had a tear/episiotomy or had a surgical birth).

Third, if you are breastfeeding, your body has the huge task of making milk, something that is very “nutritionally expensive” in both total energy needs and nutrient needs. As I’ve talked about before, the levels of nutrients in your breast milk are, in many cases, reflective of your nutrient stores and nutrient intake. All breast milk is a nutritional powerhouse and it can be made even more nutrient-dense with a mother’s nutrient-dense diet.

For all of these reasons, we’ve got to give more support to new mothers and ensure they are well-nourished during this challenging, sleep-deprived, all-consuming time of caring for a newborn.

I recently sat down for an interview with my friend Parijat Deshpande, a high-risk pregnancy expert and clinically trained therapist, and the woman behind the Delivering Miracles Podcast. She’s an advocate for moms at risk for pregnancy complications and preterm birth. She experienced the above (a high-risk pregnancy and very preterm delivery) and is now on a mission to help others in a similar situation.

In our interview about postpartum recovery with real food, we talked about the postpartum traditions from other cultures (something western cultures can learn a lot from, by the way), how certain foods are emphasized for recovery, and practical suggestions for eating well postpartum (even if you have a baby in the NICU or another challenging circumstance).

Check it out here or on iTunes (Delivering Miracles, Episode 61)

Postpartum Recovery with Real Food Interview Highlights

  • Why I emphasize real food for postpartum recovery (as well as for preconception planning and during pregnancy, of course!).
  • Why traditional cultures emphasize consuming “warming foods” immediately after delivery.
  • Two surprising foods that traditional cultures advise against eating soon after birth (plus, why these “rules” exist and whether or not I agree with them—it’s all about #context.)
  • How to manage postpartum weight loss while eating nutrient dense food.
  • How being undernourished is common—and detrimental—to postpartum recovery and breastfeeding/pumping.
  • The importance of getting creative when it comes to eating well, especially when you have a baby in the NICU and have no time, energy or desire to cook or eat (Parijat and I share many different options and she shares from personal experience).
  • Why what you eat matters even for women who deliver preterm or those who are able to fit into pre-pregnancy clothes soon after birth.
  • How having foods that you can eat with one hand is key + how Parijat ate when she had “no hands” to eat when her son came home from the NICU.
  • My advice on what to do when you want to do it all postpartum (often, self-care means doing LESS, not more… seriously!).

I hope this interview helps you strategize your postpartum recovery with real food.

Remember, you don’t have to eat perfectly, but the more nutrient-dense the food and the more easily accessible it is to you, the easier it is to heal from pregnancy and birth. In practical terms, this means finding help!

As I cover in the 4th trimester chapter of Real Food for Pregnancy, it’s wise to think ahead about the 3 Rs:

>>> How will you rest, recover and receive support?

If there’s one common thread from how other cultures handle postpartum recovery, it’s that mothers were not expected to “do it all alone” and far from it.

In many places, the 4th trimester was a time where mothers were mothered by other relatives. This meant that daily tasks, such as cooking, cleaning, and working were left to others while a mother tended to her baby and was allowed time to actually recover. It makes perfect sense that this was once the norm (and still is in many areas) and it’s time for us to demand better for ourselves.

If you want to learn more about the postpartum practices of traditional cultures, which foods to emphasize for postpartum recovery (and why), how your diet impacts the nutrients in your breast milk, what supplements to take postpartum, and so, so, so much more, I cover all the research on these topics (plus some) in Real Food for Pregnancy.

I had some early reviewers suggest that I leave out the postpartum/4th trimester chapter because the information was enough to write another book, but I decided to leave it in.

After all, when I started writing, my son was only 10 months old and I was still “in the thick of it.” I had wished that my pregnancy and birth books covered more on postpartum, because once I was there, there was no time to read about what to do! Plus, you’re not able to do all the self-care things you want to do; you need HELP to prepare nourishing meals, to heat up your lunch, or sometimes to spoon feed you while you’re on the couch with your nursling. And, you need to give yourself a heck of a lot of grace in those months.

As I touch on in our interview, self care is often about DOING LESS, not more. Staying well-nourished while caring for a baby and recovering from pregnancy and childbirth takes HELP FROM OTHERS (whether that’s family members, a meal delivery service, a postpartum doula, a combination of the above or something else entirely).

Alright, off my soap box!

Now I want to hear from you.

If you have any thoughts on postpartum recovery with real food, please share in the comments below. I’d also love to hear how you plan to rest, recovery, and receive support (or, if you have some kiddos already, how you accomplished this). We can all learn from each other here.

Until next week,


PS – Like this “real food approach” to pregnancy and postpartum? I have a hunch you’ll like my book, Real Food for Pregnancy, so I’m giving away the first chapter for free. Check it out.

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Lily Nichols is a Registered Dietitian/Nutritionist, Certified Diabetes Educator, researcher, and author with a passion for evidence-based prenatal nutrition and exercise. Her work is known for being research-focused, thorough, and unapologetically critical of outdated dietary guidelines. She is the author of two bestselling books, Real Food for Pregnancy and Real Food for Gestational Diabetes.


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  1. That’s a great point about specifying what foods you want/don’t want from meal trains. And a big ol’ YES to planning and freezer meals!

  2. So glad you posted this. I ate last week almost entirely from your gestational diabetes book recipes because I was pretty shocked to find that I was feeling worse 11 weeks postpartum than I was at 9 months pregnant controlling my GD with diet. I was so relieved to not be endangering my baby when I ate sugar and so overcome by breastfeeding-related hunger that I allowed myself to eat ALL THE THINGS (read: angel hair pasta takes 3 minutes to cook). My joints were hurting and I didn’t feel like I was healing properly as all I had energy for was feeding my babe (in the side lying position!). Less than two weeks of going back to carb restriction and I feel so much better. I am still not entirely sure how much carbohydrate I need to make sure my milk supply continues to be strong… that is definitely my biggest concern.

    • Glad you’re listening to your body, Melanie. I address considerations/precautions for carb restriction during breastfeeding in Real Food for Pregnancy if you want more guidance.

  3. I’d love to hear more advice on longer term postpartum recovery. I’m 2 years postpartum with my twins, still breastfeeding quite a bit, and all around feeling out of sorts. I know my hormones are still out of whack…low progesterone, etc. I’d love to learn more about postpartum horomonal support/ regulation, and nurtritional support of hormonal regulation in general.

    BTW–I’m a postpartum yoga therapist, and consider your work a resource for my clients. Loving what you’re doing!

  4. I am 16 weeks postpartum with my 4th child and recently discovered real food for pregnancy. I am enjoying the section on the 4th trimester (which is more than 3 months, I believe) 9 mo in 9 mo out. Thanks for this section. It will help me transition slowly from the Standard American Diet to a more wholesome diet to help me to continue to recover and provide for my baby’s (and my) needs.

  5. I am 16 weeks postpartum with my 4th child and recently discovered real food for pregnancy. I am enjoying the section on the 4th trimester (which is more than 3 months, I believe) 9 mo in 9 mo out. Thanks for this section. It will help me transition slowly from the Standard American Diet to a more wholesome diet to help me to continue to recover and provide for my baby’s (and my) needs.

    • You’re so welcome. Cheers to a nourished postpartum and motherhood transition! <3

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