Growing and delivering a baby is no small job for a women’s body. Pregnancy and breastfeeding require a large number of nutrients to be passed from mother to baby. This can lead to many different nutrient deficiencies such as iron, folate and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA). In some cases, nutrient deficiencies can contribute to postpartum depression. Much research today shows that there is large connection between your gut health (including supplements and nutrients), and mental health.
During postpartum, your body uses many nutrients and calories. Here are some of the deficiencies you may be experiencing, and how you can refuel your body:
Iron is a key component of oxygen transport in the blood. Optimum delivery of oxygen to all cells is important for energy. Symptoms of iron deficiency include:
- low mood
- difficulty concentrating
- shortness of breath
- cold hands and feet
- brittle nails
- heavy or light periods
- brittle nails.
The reason deficiency is common postpartum is two-fold; large amounts of iron are given to the growing baby and more is lost in blood during childbirth.
Dietary iron is present in two forms. Heme iron is found in animal sources such as beef, lamb, chicken, duck, and sardines. Non-heme iron is found in plants. To increase absorption of non-heme iron include a source of vitamin C in your meal. Plants high in iron include broccoli, turnip, spinach, potato, asparagus, kale, apricots, oats, tempeh, and sesame seeds.
Look for a supplement with heme iron if you have experienced gastrointestinal side effects from taking iron in the past. These side effects can include constipation, diarrhea, cramping or nausea.
A third option to increase iron intake is to cook with a lucky iron fish.
This B vitamin has gained fame for its ability to prevent spina bifida. It is needed to copy DNA, which is required to create new cells. As a result, folate levels decrease during pregnancy and often remain low for months following delivery. Folate can also cause low energy due to its role in creating healthy red blood cells, the oxygen transport molecules. Folate deficiency can cause depression, low energy, confusion, headaches, pale skin, shortness of breath and heart palpitations.
Foods high in folate include:
- leafy greens (spinach, romaine, collard greens)
- legumes (beans, chickpeas)
- broccoli, asparagus
Folate is included in most prenatal vitamins. If choosing a supplement look for methyl-folate instead of folic acid. Methyl-folate is the form of folate most active in the body. 40-60% of the population has a genetic variation that decreases their ability to make methyl-folate from folic acid.
3) Docosahexaenoic acid (DHA)
DHA is an essential fatty acid, which means our body cannot make it from scratch. It is found in animal products or it’s precursor, alpha-linolenic acid (ALA) is found in nuts and seeds. The human body can convert ALA to DHA. Unfortunately, this is an inefficient conversion increasing the risk of DHA deficiency in vegetarians and vegans. DHA plays an important role in the development of the baby’s central nervous system, immune system, brain, and eyes. In some women, levels of DHA do return to pre-pregnancy levels 6 months postpartum. In addition, DHA is also an important part of breast milk. It is possible that low levels of DHA play a role in depression.
To prevent deficiency eat some DHA fortified:
Aim to choose fish low in heavy metals. Vegan options include flaxseed, walnuts, chia seeds, and pumpkin seeds.
Supplements offer a high-quality, concentrated source of DHA. Ideally, fish oil supplements should be made from a small fish species such as anchovies, mackerel, herring or sardines. Look for a company that tests its products for heavy metal and other contaminants. Algae-based vegan DHA supplements are as effective as the traditional fish oils.
In conclusion, naturopathic doctors can develop a personalized plan to identify, treat, and prevent nutrient deficiencies pre, during and postpartum. This may include dietary changes, supplementation, injections or intravenous therapy, depending on your individual case. Come see one of our Naturopathic Interns for an Integrative Assessment today, and start feeling BETTER NOW!