With additional reporting by Crystal Karges, MS, RDN, IBCLC

Postpartum nutrition is incredibly important, yet often overlooked. After all, new mamas are busy. But pregnancy and birth take a major toll on your body, and you now need to recover.

If you are breastfeeding, your body is working hard to create and maintain your milk supply—you need about 500 extra calories every day. (That's more than what you needed during pregnancy!) And of course, you are adjusting to life with a newborn, which can be physically demanding as well.

In The Motherly Guide to Becoming Mama, dietician-nutritionist Crystal Karges shares that a nutrient-dense postpartum diet is critical to replenish your energy and electrolytes, and to support wound healing (such as tears or surgical incisions).

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Not only does nourishment and postpartum recovery allow your body to heal physically from pregnancy and birth, but certain nutrients, like B vitamins, may also protect your emotional health by helping regulate your mood.

In the first few weeks after delivery, try to make your postpartum recovery nutrition a top priority (a great way to do this is by asking friends and family to help provide meals). Lean proteins, whole grains, fresh produce and hydration are going to be your best friends.

Here are the nutrients to focus on to support your postpartum recovery, plus what to add to your grocery list to get them.

Calcium

During pregnancy, the body draws calcium from mom's bones to support the growth of the baby. During breastfeeding, the body continues to pull calcium into your breast milk. Getting enough calcium is essential to preventing long-term bone loss and osteoporosis down the road.

Calcium-rich foods to add to your grocery list:

  • Dairy
  • Sesame seeds
  • Fish with small bones, like sardines
  • Legumes, like lentils and peas
  • Tofu
  • Fortified non-dairy milks

Related: A postpartum plan is just as important as a birth plan. Here’s how to make one.

B vitamins

B vitamins like folate, biotin, B6 and B12 are involved in many of the body's essential processes. Taking in these vitamins can help boost your energy and improve mood. Plus, the B vitamin biotin plays a role in hair growth. The degree to which biotin helps to regenerate new hair is debatable, but it can't hurt to boost your biotin, since its deficiency has been linked to thinning, brittle hair.

Hormonal birth control can deplete B-vitamin levels, so if you are re-starting the pill, now is an especially good time to think about these vitamins.

B vitamin-rich foods to add to your grocery list:

  • Whole grains
  • Leafy greens
  • Nuts
  • Eggs
  • Red meat

Related: Do I need postnatal supplements?

Vitamin D

Vitamin D deficiency has been linked to depression, low energy and bone problems. The best way to get vitamin D is from the sun, but that can be hard to do (especially if you're always wearing sunscreen, which we recommend). Opt for foods fortified with vitamin D or a supplement.

Vitamin D-rich foods to add to your grocery list:

  • Fortified dairy
  • Egg yolks
  • Cod and cod liver oil

Related: The postpartum wellness class every mama deserves

Protein & iron

These nutrients will help you rebuild your muscles and tissues as you heal because they replenish blood store losses. When your body has what it needs to heal, you will have more energy and feel better in general. Protein will also support your milk supply if you are breastfeeding and can help you feel more satisfied after meals and keep your energy levels stable throughout the day.

Your iron needs are higher when breastfeeding and menstruating, and if you've lost a significant amount of blood during labor. Make sure your iron levels are in check because low levels (like we see in anemia) can contribute to fatigue. Taking iron supplements may also help prevent some of that postpartum hair shedding.

Protein and iron-rich foods to add to your grocery list:

  • Lentils
  • Liver
  • Shrimp
  • Turkey
  • Lamb
  • Beef
  • Iron-fortified whole grains, like some cereals
  • Spinach, kale and other leafy greens
  • Molasses
  • Nuts

Omega-3 fatty acids

Omega-3 fatty acids have anti-inflammatory properties that can do wonders for the brain, skin and immune system. Opt for more omegas in your diet, especially since your body will be pulling in that DHA from your stores into breast milk.

Fats will help your body absorb the fat-soluble vitamins you eat, like vitamin D and K, as well as boost your energy and stabilize your hormones. Fat is also a major component of breast milk, supporting its ability to help your baby grow and develop.

Omega 3-rich foods to add to your grocery list:

  • Fatty fish (salmon, anchovies, mackerel and herring)
  • Walnuts
  • Flaxseeds
  • Chia seeds

Related: Your postpartum body: What’s normal, what’s concerning & how to feel better

The main concept, mama, is to nourish your body. Treat yourself like the goddess that you are, and fuel yourself with delicious and beneficial foods.

A portion of this article has been excerpted from The Motherly Guide to Becoming Mama. This post was originally published on June 21, 2021. It has been updated.