Nutrition should be a critical focus for a new mum to ensure both her and her baby’s needs are met. And here, we asked Keeley Berry, nutritional expert and Product Developer at BetterYou, what key issues need to be considered.
True Health: What are the key health issues that a new mum needs to keep in mind for her health?
Keeley: The most prominent health issue for new mum’s to be aware of is mental health. Research has shown that 70 per cent of new and expectant mums experience mental ill health during or after pregnancy, with the most common issues being anxiety and postnatal depression.
From a nutritional perspective, it is important to acknowledge the relationship between vitamin D and anxiety and depression. Vitamin D has been shown to significantly decrease the risk of postnatal depression in new mums, with studies reporting a correlation between low vitamin D status and higher levels of postnatal depression symptoms. Additionally, low vitamin D during pregnancy has been identified as a risk factor for the development of postpartum depression symptoms, so this is something to be aware of if you have struggled with your vitamin D levels during this time.
Postpartum hair loss is a lesser talked about health issue, yet one that is completely normal and as many as 90 per cent of us will experience a form of it, shedding around 400 hairs a day. Caused by a levelling out of our hormones, namely oestrogen, hair can remain in a ‘resting’ stage for approximately three months before it falls out and new growth shows, with this slowing to pre-pregnancy amounts – around 80 hairs per day – by six months postpartum.
Another thing for new mums to keep in mind is that your period may return anywhere from six weeks after giving birth. Having not experienced a menstrual cycle for the best part of a year, this itself can induce feelings of anxiety. Usually, your first period is fairly heavy as the body releases blood clots from the birth along with the uterine lining, this is quite normal, but iron levels can be quite low during this time due to blood loss, increasing lethargy.
True Health: Can women be at risk of any deficiencies after having a baby?
Keeley: Many women are known to develop iron deficiency anaemia during pregnancy and after childbirth due to the blood loss experienced and increased nutrient needs. This anaemia can produce feelings of fatigue, weakness and heightens the risk of infection. To prevent this, I advise increasing intakes of iron-rich foods such as meat, green leafy vegetables, and lentils, or consider taking an iron supplement.
Calcium is an essential nutrient for new mums that decide to breastfeed. Not only does calcium contribute to the formation of healthy bones and teeth, but it is also responsible for the functioning of the circulatory, muscular, and nervous systems. During lactation, baby’s increased need for calcium is drawn from mum’s bone mass and studies have shown that we can often lose three to five per cent of our bone mass during breastfeeding, which can increase the risk of fractures and osteoporosis in later life. To maintain healthy calcium levels, try to incorporate low-fat dairy, spinach, calcium-fortified orange juice and cereals into your diet, or you might want to consider a daily supplement alongside magnesium and vitamins D3 and K2 to safeguard bone health.
We can also be at greater risk of low zinc levels during breastfeeding, particularly if levels are poor going into pregnancy or nursing, as nutrients are derived from maternal stores. Essential for skin health, immune function and proper growth and development, there is an increased need for zinc during lactation to meet baby’s needs. However, if appropriate levels are maintained, breast milk should provide enough zinc for mum as well as for the first four to six months of baby’s life. Meat, avocados, pomegranates, nuts, and seeds are all rich in zinc, so include these in your diet where you can.
True Health: Can you suggest a healthy plan for a mum to ensure she’s getting key nutrients?
Keeley: When breastfeeding, mums need extra vitamin D to maintain bone health, as well as to provide nutrients to their baby. To supply these increased nutrient needs, and to counteract not only the lack of sunshine in the UK but also our increasingly indoor lifestyles and processed diets, the NHS suggests that new mums take a vitamin D supplement. This will also help to support mood and lessen the risk of developing symptoms of postpartum depression.
In addition to vitamin D, vitamin B12 is recommended to enhance energy levels, as well as to support baby’s cognitive development and calcium is advised to maintain healthy bones. You may also benefit from supplementing zinc for immune health and cell growth – to stimulate repair of hair follicles, supporting those experiencing postpartum hair loss.
The mineral, magnesium, can deactivate the release of adrenaline, which is a stress hormone that interferes with the production of breast milk. Incorporating magnesium into your daily routine, by applying a lotion or oil to the skin, can be a quick and easy way to remineralise and support overall wellbeing.
The fatty acids, omega 3 and omega 6, can also play an important role for new mums as it has been shown to support cognitive function, aid in sleep quality and, like vitamin D, may reduce the risk of postpartum depression symptoms.
True Health: And in terms of baby, from a nutritional perspective, what is important to consider?
Keeley: Vitamin D is essential for children as it is crucial in the body’s absorption of calcium, which helps to build baby’s bones and teeth. Without vitamin D, there is a danger that babies will develop problems with their bones and muscles and with vitamin D-related diseases, such as rickets, making a comeback, it’s more important than ever to ensure we are protecting our children from a deficiency that is easily rectified with supplementation.
Another nutrient to be aware of is iron. Iron transports oxygen from the lungs to the rest of the body and helps muscles store and use oxygen. If the body does not get enough iron, tissues and organs will not get the oxygen they need, which can cause cognitive and behavioural deficits and delays. When healthy and carried to full-term, babies have enough iron stores to last for at least their first six months of life, with many paediatricians recommending that their first foods should be iron-rich, and an iron supplement may be needed after six months of age.
Vitamin B12 is crucial in creating the foundations for the brain and nervous system, as well as in the formation of red blood cells, therefore, a deficiency can have long-term consequences. Breastmilk contains almost exactly the same amount of vitamin B12 as mum’s blood, so it’s important for us to ensure we get enough of this vital vitamin not only for ourselves, but for baby too.
You may not know that babies are born naturally deficient in vitamin K. This is because it doesn’t cross the placenta well and breast milk contains only small amounts, meaning that all newborns have low levels and need to find it from another source. Vitamin K is used by the body to form blood clots and to stop bleeding, without it babies cannot form clotting factors and severe bleeding can occur, which can be fatal. Giving a vitamin K injection at birth is the best way to prevent low vitamin K levels and vitamin K deficiency bleeding.
True Health: Would you recommend supplements for baby?
Keeley: Many nutrients can be obtained either through breastmilk or fortified formula milk, however one supplement that I would recommend from birth is vitamin D. Babies are born with around half of the mother’s vitamin D levels and with breastmilk known to be a very poor source of vitamin D, babies simply aren’t obtaining enough vitamin D from their mother’s milk. To raise levels and protect against vitamin D- related diseases, infants in the UK should be given a vitamin D supplement from soon after birth as there is not enough sunlight to allow them to make vitamin D themselves. The Department of Health (DoH) recommends that all infants and young children under five-years-old use a vitamin D supplement containing 8.5µg to 10µg of vitamin D (340-400IU) daily.
I advise using a vitamin oral spray as just one spray per day onto the inside of your child’s cheek is a fuss-free way of ensuring your little one gets their recommended daily dose of vitamin D.