Taking Care of New Moms: Nutritional Needs During the Fourth Trimester by Brandi Givens, RD, IBCLC (Garden of Life)

Taking Care of New Moms: Nutritional Needs During the Fourth Trimester by Brandi Givens, RD, IBCLC (Garden of Life)

Pregnancy is a time in life that calls for specialized medical care, designed to help moms and babies thrive. But experts have recognized a major hole in our healthcare system. All too quickly, after making an entire human, attention on the mother’s well-being disappears. This happens just when moms may need more expertise than ever before — which is why there is finally a focus on the health of mothers in the weeks following birth.  

What is the Fourth Trimester? 

The 12-week period after a baby is born is called the fourth trimester by a growing number of obstetric professionals. It’s a time when tiny infants are most vulnerable, and moms are healing from childbirth. It’s also a time when many moms are learning how to breastfeed, which increases their own nutritional needs and challenges.  

What Should I Eat During the Fourth Trimester? 

While many new moms are tempted to jump into weight loss immediately after giving birth, focusing on long-term recovery is healthier. You need good nutrition during the fourth trimester for:

  • Healing the physical wounds from birth. 

  • Restoring nutrients depleted during pregnancy. 

  • Increased nutritional needs of breastfeeding moms and their infants.

Just as during pregnancy, a well-balanced diet full of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, healthy fats, and proteins is important. Letting yourself go hungry may deprive your body of the necessary nutrients to feel your best. 

Do I Need Extra Nutrients if I Breastfeed?  

Getting extra nutrients is especially important if you decide to breastfeed. A breastfed baby is growing fast and still getting everything from mom, so it makes sense that even more vitamins and minerals are necessary. 

Breastfeeding moms may need additional:  

  • Choline: This nutrient is important for the role it plays in mood, memory, and muscle control. It’s also important for infant brain development. Choline can be found in dairy, eggs, fish, meat, poultry, and soybeans. 

  • Iodine: This mineral is important for thyroid function, making hormones, and for the proper growth of the baby’s brain. Moms can get iodine from dairy, eggs, seafood, and iodized salt.  

  • Calories: Breastfeeding moms may find themselves famished! Feeding infants takes an extra 330-400 calories each day. Opt for healthy choices for added nutrient benefits. 

  • Water: You can’t make liquid without drinking liquid. Be sure to keep a water bottle handy, and pay attention to your thirst. Try to sip it throughout the day to stay hydrated.  

Should I Keep Taking My Prenatal Vitamin After Birth?

Some research indicates that continuing to take a prenatal vitamin or multivitamin after birth may be important. While a balanced diet can provide the recommended vitamins and minerals, some new parents may find it difficult to meet these needs.  

Some reasons moms may need a supplement in the fourth trimester include:

  • She’s breastfeeding. Baby is growing fast, and Mom may doubt she’s getting the nutrients they both need. Many postpartum caregivers recommend continuing a prenatal vitamin for as long the mother is breastfeeding.  

  • She’s following a vegan diet. Iron and vitamin B12 may be especially important to supplement.  

  • Mom knows she’s not meeting her nutrient needs from food alone. Fatigue during early parenthood can make it difficult to eat well every day.  

  • Mom’s healthcare provider recommends a supplement. It’s always best to follow the doctor’s personalized advice for recovery.

If a mom in her fourth trimester is struggling with slowed bowel movements related to the high iron content in some prenatal vitamins, she can ask her provider about switching to a multivitamin with lower iron, or a prenatal without iron. She can get iron in her diet by including foods like beef, lentils, spinach, and white beans.  

Foods to Avoid 

It’s time to lighten up a little. While pregnant moms need to avoid high-risk foods like raw seafood, the postpartum period is not as restrictive.

Still, there are some foods you’ll still want to limit during the fourth trimester: 

  • High-Mercury Fish: Fish is a great source of protein and brain-enriching fats for you and your breastfeeding baby. But some fish, like swordfish and marlin, are higher in methylmercury, which isn’t safe for anyone. 

  • Caffeine: This chemical is easily transferred to human milk and stays active in infants’ systems much longer than in adults. This means babies stay awake longer, and parents get less sleep.

The Bottom Line 

Many medical providers are giving upgraded attention to the needs of mothers during the weeks following pregnancy, calling it the fourth trimester. The purpose is to acknowledge the continued importance of the care of moms and babies during their vulnerable weeks after birth. 

One important component of postnatal care is nutrition, which changes after birth based on mom’s health and her infant’s breastfeeding status. Some experts recommend continuing multivitamins during the fourth trimester, and Garden of Life offers a variety of choices to meet her fourth trimester needs.