In light of Perinatal Depression Week, we wanted to highlight the importance of nutrition for mothers and how this can help them feel their absolute best. Let’s be honest, our mother’s are incredible and their constant selflessness is admirable. When considering nutrition, there are important nutrients for mothers during pregnancy as well as post partum. Focusing on these particular nutrients can help mothers feel their best and assist their healing and recovery.
Pregnancy can lower the mother’s iron stores and therefore it’s important to consume iron-rich foods to maintain iron levels. Mothers require 2x the amount of iron when pregnant, around 27mg/day, as their body is making all that extra blood for their bub. Iron can be found in beef, lamb, lentils, kidney beans, chickpeas and spinach. It’s best absorbed from animal sources rather than plant food sources. You can enhance iron absorption by consuming iron with vitamin C rich food - orange, lemon, tomato and capsicum. Additionally, cooking plant food sources will increase the absorption. Whereas, consuming coffee or tea with iron-rich foods will reduce the absorption, so wait an hour between these. It’s best to speak to your doctor about iron supplements if you’re worried you may be deficient or not absorbing enough.
B12 is required for proper red blood cell development, energy production, and helps form DNA. Without consuming enough B12, it’s easy for mother’s to feel tired, which would magnify the sleep deprivation they may be experiencing. The best sources include animal foods (tuna, beef, salmon) as well as fortified dairy and cereals.
EPA & DHA - Omega-3 Essential Fatty Acid
There has been research in the role of EPA & DHA in supporting mental health, lowering inflammation and reducing the risk of postpartum depression. Good sources include salmon, tuna, sardines, fortified eggs, and dairy. Most mothers should take an EPA and DHA supplement after pregnancy, as many people don’t consume enough in their diet.
Vitamin D improves immunity, supports brain health and the nervous system and has been found to reduce the risk of mental health issues such as postpartum depression and anxiety. The following are sources of Vitamin D salmon tuna, fortified dairy, fortified orange juice, and egg yolks.
It’s important to remember not to be too hard on yourself with nutrition. New mothers already have a hard enough time adjusting to their new lives and nutrition isn't here to make it more difficult. You don’t need to follow any specific diet or calorie count, just focus on consuming nutrient dense food, that’s full of vital minerals and nutrients to support your overall health.
The author, Alex Bovell, is a Clinical Nutritionist (BHSc) and mental health advocate who runs M'Lani Health, a wholistic health clinic specialising in women's health, reproduction, fertility and postnatal care.
If you, a friend or family member are experiencing difficulty please reach out to the PANDA National Perinatal Mental Health Helpline on 1300 726 306, available from 9am-7.30pm Monday through to Saturday.