The importance of prenatal and postnatal care is essential in both a healthy pregnancy and recovery for a number of reasons. Read on to learn more. 

 

By OBGYN and fertility specialist Dr. Kenosha Gleaton

Many people are aware how important it is to maintain a healthy lifestyle during pregnancy, but often forget about prenatal and postnatal care. Preparing your body before pregnancy and helping it to heal afterwards should also be essential components of pregnancy care.

Why prenatal care matters

Pregnancy is a demanding process for your body and mind, which is why prenatal care should mean a lot more than just taking a prenatal vitamin. It’s important that you prepare yourself for the changes you’ll go through and support the home your baby will be growing in for nine months. You will be responsible for yourself and your growing fetus when it comes to nutrition, stress, sleep, and more. 

Prenatal nutrition

When you’re pregnant, you require more vitamins and minerals than normal in order to fight off anemia, fatigue, muscle cramps, and more. It’s also been shown that changing some of your eating habits may help enhance the chances of conception:

  • Consuming at least three low-mercury seafood meals a week is a great way to increase your omega-3 intake. Omega-3s are healthy fats that are beneficial for forming the fetal nervous system and may have a positive effect on fertility.  

  • It’s also recommended to increase consumption of fruits and vegetables, specifically organic when possible.

  • Try to incorporate at least two servings of whole grains into your diet every day.

  • Avoid fast food as much as possible.

  • Avoid excess caffeine—we do know that moderate caffeine consumption is safe; but be weary before making a second cup of coffee.

There are other foods that you may want to avoid when TTC or pregnant, including raw or cured meats, fish, and eggs. Unpasteurized dairy products and cold deli meats are also a no-go. For a more exhaustive list, check out this article on What Foods to Avoid During Pregnancy.

Prenatal supplementation

Even if you eat a healthy, balanced diet, you might not be getting all of the nutrition that you and your baby need. That’s where prenatal vitamins come in. Prenatal vitamins are formulated to meet the needs of you and your baby and have many benefits. 

  • Folic acid is necessary for healthy nervous system development and lowers the risk of spinal cord defects. 

  • Iron aids in creating red blood cells and can lower the risk of low birth weight and preterm delivery.

  • Calcium and Vitamin D are key for building strong bones and teeth for you and your baby 

  • DHA is an omega-3 fatty acid that plays an important role in forming the nervous system. 

  • Choline has been shown to improve pregnancy outcomes and protect against some neural and metabolic disorders 

A good prenatal vitamin should include all of these vitamins and more. Ensuring you’re getting the adequate amount of nutrients while pregnant significantly reduces the likelihood of some birth defects, miscarriage, premature birth, and more. It’s recommended that you start taking a prenatal vitamin one to three months before TTC to ensure you’ve built up a reserve of vitamins that will be essential for fetal development. 

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Prenatal lifestyle and self-care

Nutrition isn’t the only thing to be focusing on when looking at prenatal care. For example, Dr. Audrey Gaskins has done a lot of work on examining the influences of environmental and lifestyle factors on fertility and pregnancy, and found that women exposed to high levels of air pollution have a higher risk of pregnancy loss and lower success rate with infertility treatments such as IVF. It’s also been found that high exposures to pollution may accelerate reproductive aging. Exposure to chemicals found in some personal care products and other materials may also lead to lower ovarian reserve. 

It’s also important to prepare your body and mind for pregnancy in other ways. This can include exercises to strengthen your pelvic floor, educating yourself on the symptoms of PMAD, learning how to massage the perineum to prevent tearing, and simply taking time to reflect on all the changes happening in your life and body. If you’re wondering how exercise plays a role in your prenatal care, the best rule of thumb is to try to exercise around 30-60 minutes a day, keeping weekly exercise below four hours total. Moving your body is a good thing and can improve pregnancy and fertility outcomes, but overdoing it can also have negative effects on your pregnancy.

The best advice is to listen to your body and do what you can to immerse yourself in a healthy, low-stress environment. 

Read more on Postpartum Depression Self-Care Tips

Why postnatal care matters

Whether you had a vaginal delivery or a c-section, childbirth can be a stressful, tiring, scary, and beautiful experience. Your body has been through a lot of change, and you may be planning to breastfeed, which means consuming more nutrients to keep up with the increased demand. Now you’re continuing to eat for two, while also trying to take care of a newborn and heal your body after going through labor. If anyone deserves a self-care day, it’s a new mom! Let’s talk a little more about what postnatal care might look like for you. 

Postnatal nutrition

It’s recommended that breastfeeding moms consume an extra 400-500 calories a day to make up for the nutrients shared with your baby. These calories should come from vitamin rich foods that will support the health and development of both of you. A balanced diet includes a large amount of protein, calcium, and fluids to produce nutritious breast milk. The USDA’s recommendations are:

  • Consume fat in the form of fish, nuts, and vegetable oils

  • Limit solid facts such as butter, margarine, etc

  • Choose drinks with low added sugars

Postnatal supplements

Keeping up with your prenatal multivitamin, or opting for a speciality formulated postnatal supplement, can be a great way to ensure you’re getting in those extra nutrients. Not only do breastfeeding moms need to consume extra calories, they need to be focused on getting plenty of vitamins and minerals into their diet to best support their baby’s health. 

While there’s no evidence that multivitamins can increase milk supply, research does show that breastmilk quality is enhanced with a prenatal vitamin. In fact, certain vitamins found in prenatal or postnatal supplements are beneficial for maintaining and growing hair, skin, and nails post birth.

Postnatal vitamins can be a great fix for meeting increased demand and can provide benefits such as increased milk supply, enhanced energy, and better mood stabilization. Make sure you look for these beneficial ingredients:

  • Omega DHA is good for your baby’s neurological development, can improve mood and reduce postpartum depression

  • B vitamins improve energy for mom and sleep for baby

  • Vitamin D is beneficial for boosting the immune system, reducing postpartum depression, and supporting strong bones. 

  • Vitamin C is an immune booster

Breastfeeding moms should also look for vitamins containing:

  • Iodine to ensure adequate newborn thyroid levels and protect against impaired neurological development

  • Choline to improve cognition and memory in infants and children

  • Vitamin D to prevent rickets in breastfed children

Postnatal lifestyle and self-care

Life after giving birth is a lot of adjusting, a lot of sleepless nights, and a lot of learning new things. While you take care of your little one and yourself, it can be extremely difficult to find the time for self care. Lack of sleep is a huge challenge for new parents, which is why adding in a few new habits may help ease the burden and keep you on track.

  • Have simple meals prepared ahead of time

  • Sleep (or nap) when your baby sleeps—this might not look like your typical sleep schedule, but it’s best to adapt rather than fight it

  • Prioritize self-care and resting—chores can wait

  • Ask for and accept help with shopping, cooking, cleaning, and childcare

  • Consider limiting products containing caffeine, such as soda, coffee, tea and chocolate. It’s best to adapt to your infant’s sleep schedule, which will likely be all over the place 

Getting back into exercise after birth should start slowly. Always listen to your provider’s instructions, especially if you had a c-section or complicated delivery. Start by taking walks or doing postpartum exercises and progress slowly.

Take care of yourself

Taking care of your body before, during and after pregnancy is necessary for promoting wellness, maintaining a healthy body for yourself and your baby, and healing post-birth. A comprehensive plan for prenatal and postnatal care includes eating a balanced diet, supplementing with a multivitamin, prioritizing self care and mental health, and doing what you can to exercise and limit exposure to pollution and other chemicals. Keeping up with these habits can increase your chances of a healthy pregnancy, help you breastfeed, and help you heal after childbirth. 

 

Featured Image by Ron Lach