Ask The Nutritionist
We shared our most asked questions on pregnancy and postpartum nutrition with Nutritionist Therapist Linda, from The Fig tree Nutrition to get to the bottom of all things Nutrition - from bump and boobie!
Do you need extra protein when pregnant, or when breastfeeding?
The amino acids in protein are the building blocks of your - and your baby’s - cells, so it is important to ensure you have an adequate protein intake in pregnancy.
There is a higher protein requirement of 6-10g protein a day to account for foetal and maternal tissue, especially during the second and third trimester. Adequate protein consumption during pregnancy has been shown to help with healthier birth weights, quicker postpartum recovery and help returning to pre-pregnancy weight. Sufficient protein consumption postpartum (an extra 11g/ day compared to pre-pregnancy) will aid in maternal energy levels as well as recovery from birth. If breastfeeding, adequate protein in breast milk sustains the baby’s rapid growth in his first year of life.
Can hormones make you extra hungry?
Yes. Hormones - our body’s chemical messengers - have an impact on many of our body’s functions, including appetite. Some hormones, such as ghrelin and leptin, actively control it, and are known as the ‘hunger hormones’. Ghrelin, for example, is made in the stomach (with the tell-tale gurgling sound) and signals hunger in the brain, whilst leptin decreases your appetite. Your sex hormones may also impact your appetite: estrogen usually inhibits appetite, whilst testosterone and progesterone may stimulate it. This would explain why hunger levels increase in the second half of your menstrual, for example.
Is it safe to take nutritional supplements when a) pregnant, b) breastfeeding?
Taking a high quality prenatal during pregnancy and lactation will help replenish your nutrition stores in times when diet may not be optimal - for example, if experiencing food aversions or nausea in pregnancy or if eating erratically after giving birth. If the mother is eating a broad, nutrient dense, whole foods diet after birth, supplementation may not be necessary - however, this may be hard to do in the first few months postpartum when mother is busy looking after her newborn baby and is not eating regular meals or when sleep patterns are erratic, leading to poorer food choices for quick boosts of energy. It is also important to supplement if you are following a vegetarian or vegan diet, as these diets may be low in vitamin b12, vitamin D, vitamin A, iron, calcium and omega 3 fatty acids.
How does my diet affect my breast-milk?
Whilst there are some nutrients in the mother’s diet which may directly affect breast milk composition (in particular omega 3 fatty acids such as DHA and some fat soluble vitamins, vitamin B1 and vitamin C), mother’s milk has been designed to provide for the infant even in times of scarcity, so in theory it is not necessary to follow a perfect diet whilst breastfeeding. However, whilst women can produce milk with adequate nutrient levels despite their own diet not being optimal, any nutritional deficiencies caused by a poor diet will impact the health of the mother. It is important to aim to eat a nutrient dense diet whilst breastfeeding to ensure your own nutrition stores will not become depleted and affect your recovery and postpartum health. Furthermore, inadequate nutrient levels may affect the quantity of the breastmilk.
Ensuring you are eating enough calories (an extra 500 a day) and are adequately hydrated, as well as nursing your baby on demand, will encourage adequate milk supply. In addition, there are some specific foods which are known to be galactogues - which will increase milk production - such as oats, fenugreek and fennel seeds.
What foods should you avoid while breastfeeding?
In general, there is no need to avoid foods whilst breastfeeding, unless there is a . Aim to eat a broad, nutrient dense diet with wholefood sources of protein (organic grass fed meat, wild oily fish, organic eggs and dairy, beans, lentils and other legumes), a wide assortment of vegetables (the more diverse, the better!), complex carbohydrates (starchy vegetables such as potatoes, sweet potatoes, beets, squashes, carrots; whole grains and sourdough breads if consuming) and healthy fats (oily fish, avocado, olive oil, coconut oil, organic butter, nuts and seeds). Like in pregnancy, I would suggest avoiding high mercury fish. Limit caffeine consumption - easier said than done during the first sleepless months, I know! Not only may caffeine affect your baby’s sleep, but high consumption of caffeinated beverages will also affect your cortisol levels, which will in turn affect your hormonal health. In addition, large amounts of caffeine may affect the bioavailability of iron in your breast milk, which will in turn affect your baby’s iron stores. I would also limit alcohol consumption - it changes the taste of the breast milk and may diminish the amount consumed by the infant and it may make the baby more sleepy and less likely to feed. Some babies may experience digestive distress (gas and a tight belly) if the mother consumes foods such as cruciferous vegetables, onions, garlic, milk or soy products. Foods with spicy or strong flavours (such as garlic) can change the flavour of breast milk and this change may annoy some infants. Please observe your baby’s reactions after feeding to see if these foods may be affecting them.
What can you eat/take to help with postpartum hair-loss?
Postpartum hair loss is usually due to big hormonal changes after giving birth. Lack of sleep, erratic nutrition and stress will also have an impact on your hormonal health which in turn affects hair growth. It is also common to experience low thyroid function after giving birth, which can lead to hair loss. First of all, know that postpartum hair loss is normal and usually temporary, so try to be gentle on yourself. Aim to eat a varied and nutritious diet with foods high in B vitamins, especially biotin (found in eggs, almonds, cauliflower, sweet potato and oats), iron (organic grass-fed red meat, spinach, lentils, beans). Continue taking your prenatal vitamin or supplement with Vitimum. Drinking stinging nettle infusions can also help with hair regrowth as well as providing other health promoting minerals and much needed hydration.
How can I tell if I have a deficiency?
The best way to find out if you have a nutrient deficiency is to get tested. However, there are some symptoms which can indicate a nutrient deficiency; for example, fatigue may be caused by a deficiency in iron, b vitamins, magnesium or low thyroid function, whereas postpartum depression may be exacerbated by a deficiency in omega 3 fatty acids, vitamin b12 or iron. Speak to your healthcare professional if you suspect you are experiencing symptoms associated with a nutrient deficiency.
What’s the difference between folic acid and folate? Is folic acid bad for you?
Folic acid is the synthetic version of folate, which is the natural form of B9 found in food - especially dark green leafy vegetables, lentils, and liver. Vitamin B9 has an important role in keeping our homocysteine levels low (for heart health) as well as preventing neural tube defects in utero. When we eat folate containing foods, vitamin b9 is converted into its active form (5-methyltetrahydrofolate) in our digestive system. This may not always happen with folic acid, and some of it may remain in the bloodstream unmetabolized, which in large quantities may incur some health risks. Furthermore, some people have a genetic polymorphism which prevents this conversion; and they should avoid folic acid supplementation. The best way to ensure you have adequate folate levels is to eat plenty of folate containing foods. If supplementing, opt for methylfolate instead of folic acid - Vitimum, contains methylfolate.