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Home > Learn > Postpartum > >A Guide to Prenatal and Postnatal Health and Wellness

A Guide to Prenatal and Postnatal Health and Wellness

Jan 29, 24 12 min

By OBGYN and fertility specialist Dr. Kenosha Gleaton

Health and wellness should be a priority for anyone trying to conceive (TTC), pregnant, or postpartum. The body goes through many changes, both physical and emotional, when creating a tiny human. Preparing your mind and body for what’s to come is an essential part of reproductive care. 

How to Support Reproductive Health and Wellness

So what can be done to support your health and wellness during your family planning journey? There are many factors to consider, but research shows that some priority areas to focus on include [1-3]:

  • Eating a balanced diet: Including fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean protein, healthy fats, and more. 
  • Supplementing with vitamins: Especially those formulated with the needs of your growing or breastfeeding baby in mind. Natalist is proud to offer subscriptions for many different vitamins, drink mixes, bundles, and more. 
  • Making lifestyle changes: Such as cutting out alcohol, tobacco, marijuana, and other drugs. It’s also important to have a healthy exercise routine and to prioritize your mental and physical well-being. 
  • Limiting exposure to toxins: Toxins can be found in various products, foods, and environments. Speak with your healthcare provider about what you can do to limit exposure to toxins. 

    Prenatal Health and Wellness

    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. [4-5] 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. [2,5] Omega-3s are healthy fats that are beneficial for forming the fetal nervous system and may have a positive effect on fertility.  [2,5] 
    • It’s also recommended to increase the consumption of fruits and vegetables, specifically organic when possible. [1,6] 
    • Try to incorporate at least two servings of whole grains into your diet every day. [1] 
    • Avoid fast food as much as possible. [1,2] 
    • Avoid excess caffeine when TTC—we do know that moderate caffeine consumption is safe, but you may want to avoid large amounts of caffeine. [1,2,5]

    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. [2,5] For a more exhaustive list, check out this article on What Foods to Avoid During Pregnancy.

    Prenatal Vitamins and Supplements

    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 for women come in. Prenatal vitamins are formulated to meet the needs of you and your baby and have many benefits. [2,5] 

    • Folate is necessary for healthy nervous system development and lowers the risk of spinal cord defects.  [1,2,5] 
    • Iron aids in creating red blood cells and can lower the risk of low birth weight and preterm delivery. [4,5] 
    • Calcium and Vitamin D are key for building strong bones and teeth for you and your baby. [1,4,5] 
    • 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. [1,2,5,7] 

    A good prenatal vitamin should include all of these vitamins and more. [2,5] Ensuring you’re getting an adequate amount of nutrients while pregnant significantly reduces the likelihood of some birth defects, miscarriage, premature birth, and more. [5] 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. [2,5] 

    Prenatal Lifestyle and Selfcare

    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 a lower success rate with infertility treatments such as IVF. [3,8] It’s also been found that high exposure to pollution may accelerate reproductive aging. [9] Exposure to chemicals found in some personal care products and other materials may also lead to lower ovarian reserve. [10] 

    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. [2,5]  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. [2,5] 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. [11]  The best advice is to listen to your body and do what you can to immerse yourself in a healthy, low-stress environment. 

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    Postnatal Health and Wellness

    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. [4] 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. [12] 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 [13]:

    • 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 Vitamins and Supplements

    Keeping up with your prenatal multivitamin, or opting for a specialty formulated postnatal supplement, can be a great way to ensure you’re getting in those extra nutrients. [5,12] 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 breast milk quality is enhanced with a comprehensive vitamin. [14] In fact, certain vitamins found in prenatal or postnatal supplements are beneficial for maintaining and growing hair, skin, and nails post-birth. [15] 

    Make sure you look for these beneficial ingredients [4,12,15]:

    • 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 Selfcare

    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. [13] 

    • 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. Learn how long it takes to recover from childbirth → 

    Support Health and Wellness With Natalist

    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. Natalist is here to support your journey from concept to conception, and beyond. View all product offerings, or keep learning on the Natalist blog. 


    References:

    1. Gaskins AJ, Chavarro JE. Diet and fertility: a review. Am J Obstet Gynecol. 2018;218(4):379-389. doi:10.1016/j.ajog.2017.08.010
    2. Good Health Before Pregnancy: Prepregnancy Care. ACOG. FAQ 056. December 2021. https://www.acog.org/womens-health/faqs/good-health-before-pregnancy-prepregnancy-care
    3. Audrey J Gaskins, Jaime E Hart, Jorge E Chavarro, Stacey A Missmer, Janet W Rich-Edwards, Francine Laden, Shruthi Mahalingaiah, Air pollution exposure and risk of spontaneous abortion in the Nurses’ Health Study II, Human Reproduction, Volume 34, Issue 9, September 2019, Pages 1809–1817, https://doi.org/10.1093/humrep/dez111
    4. Jouanne M, Oddoux S, Noël A, Voisin-Chiret AS. Nutrient Requirements during Pregnancy and Lactation. Nutrients. 2021;13(2):692. Published 2021 Feb 21. doi:10.3390/nu13020692
    5. Nutrition During Pregnancy. ACOG. FAQ 001. June 2023. https://www.acog.org/womens-health/faqs/nutrition-during-pregnancy
    6. Chiu YH, Williams PL, Gillman MW, et al. Association Between Pesticide Residue Intake From Consumption of Fruits and Vegetables and Pregnancy Outcomes Among Women Undergoing Infertility Treatment With Assisted Reproductive Technology. JAMA Intern Med. 2018;178(1):17-26. doi:10.1001/jamainternmed.2017.5038
    7. Korsmo HW, Jiang X, Caudill MA. Choline: Exploring the Growing Science on Its Benefits for Moms and Babies. Nutrients. 2019;11(8):1823. Published 2019 Aug 7. doi:10.3390/nu11081823
    8. Wieczorek K, Szczęsna D, Radwan M, Radwan P, Polańska K, Kilanowicz A, Jurewicz J, Exposure to air pollution and ovarian reserve parameters, Scientific Reports, 10.1038/s41598-023-50753-6, 14, 1, (2024).
    9. Gaskins A, Mínguez-Alarcón L, Fong K, et al.. Exposure to Fine Particulate Matter and Ovarian Reserve Among Women from a Fertility Clinic. Epidemiology. 2019; 30 (4): 486-491. doi: 10.1097/EDE.0000000000001029
    10. Messerlian C, Souter I, Gaskins AJ, et al. Urinary phthalate metabolites and ovarian reserve among women seeking infertility care. Hum Reprod. 2016;31(1):75-83. doi:10.1093/humrep/dev292
    11. Cooper DB, Yang L. Pregnancy And Exercise. [Updated 2023 Apr 17]. In: StatPearls [Internet]. Treasure Island (FL): StatPearls Publishing; 2024 Jan-. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK430821/
    12. Maternal Diet. CDC. May 2022. https://www.cdc.gov/breastfeeding/breastfeeding-special-circumstances/diet-and-micronutrients/maternal-diet.html
    13. Nutrition and Sleep Postpartum: New Mom Services at UPMC Magee-Womens in Central Pa. UPMC. Accessed January 2024. https://www.upmc.com/services/south-central-pa/women/services/pregnancy-childbirth/new-moms/after-birth/nutrition-sleep-postpartum
    14. Bravi F, Wiens F, Decarli A, Dal Pont A, Agostoni C, Ferraroni M. Impact of maternal nutrition on breast-milk composition: a systematic review. Am J Clin Nutr. 2016;104(3):646-662. doi:10.3945/ajcn.115.120881
    15. Draelos ZD. An Oral Supplement and the Nutrition-Skin Connection. J Clin Aesthet Dermatol. 2019;12(7):13-16.

    Originally published 07/07/2022. Updated for accuracy and relevancy on 01/29/2024.

    Dr. Kenosha Gleaton is board-certified in gynecology and obstetrics and is the Medical Advisor of Natalist. She received her MD from MUSC and completed her residency at Carolinas Medical Center in Charlotte, NC.

    Dr. Gleaton is passionate about women, health equity, and mentoring. She is the CEO of The EpiCentre, an OBGYN spa-like practice, and is a Clinical faculty member of Charleston Southern University. She is also a member of the American College of Obstetrics & Gynecology, the American Association of Gynecologic Laparoscopists, and the American Association of Professional Women

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