When it comes to pregnancy, people become over cautious about health, environment, mental health, etc., and being over-anxious during a pandemic is natural.
Pregnant women are more vulnerable to viral infections due to modulation of the immune system leading to differential responses. Evidence has indicated that risks of SARS-CoV-2 in pregnancy are similar to that with general population. WHO indicates that pregnant women who are older, overweight, or have pre-existing medical conditions such as hypertension (high blood pressure) and diabetes are at particular risk of serious outcomes of COVID-19.
RCOG also mentioned that majority of pregnant women with COVID-19 were in their third trimester when admitted to the hospital. Therefore, it’s clearly indicated that women pregnant at 28 weeks or beyond are at highest risk.
Post child birth, returning to a “normal” pre-pregnant immune state is not well characterized and may take as long as an year after the birth. Most mothers are concerned about staying well as immune system is directly impacted by factors like childbirth, high level of stress, altered sleeping patterns, etc. We all can agree that during the early postpartum phase, a woman’s body works overtime to restore & repair itself; while some might take the slow & steady path, for others, it might be a complete U-turn bringing body back to the pre-pregnancy immunity.
WHO suggests that our diet can significantly impact our body’s ability to prevent, fight & recover from infections. There is no single food or dietary supplement that can cure or prevent Covid-19 infection, however, a healthy diet can support building a strong immune system. For mothers recovering from childbirth, immune system requires the support of many nutrients and several macro nutrients (protein, whole-carbohydrates, and essential fats) & micro nutrients (calcium, iron, folate, iodine, selenium, zinc, vitamin A, C, D, E,etc.) to replenish stores during postpartum phase.
Nutritional Goals for New Mothers:
1. Since a year, we are witnessing thousands of people falling victim to COVID-19 on a daily basis. The biggest contributor to pre-existing heath conditions that put individuals at a far greater risk is their unhealthy diet. Unprocessed food should make up the bulk of every mother’s diet (breastfeeding or not). Due to high healing requirements, high quality nutrition will provide greater support.
2. If mother chooses to breastfeed, an additional 500 calorie (approx.) must be ingested to get adequate vitamins & minerals, otherwise body starts pulling body reserves to fulfil the nutritional requirements of the baby. Eating a diet with low nutritional value will negatively affect the mother, more than it will to the baby. Women diagnosed with COVID-19 are highly encouraged to breastfeed as these women produce specific antibodies called IgA that are believed to protect nursing infants from infection.
3. During early postpartum, if a mother has undergone a C-section or had perinealtearing, eating good proteins (a serving per meal) and variety of fruits & vegetables can promote tissue repair & healing.
4. Too much inflammation might hinder the healing process & it’s imperative to reduce and manage it in the first 24-48 hours. Consume dietary Sources like olive oil, fatty fish, nuts, fish oils, seeds, etc. that contain anti-inflammatory fats.
5. Hydration is essential to promote optimal cell function, kidney function, body temperature control, mood regulation, cognitive function, gastrointestinal and heart function, and headache prevention.
6. Go low on sugar. Consuming sugary drinks increases the intake of carbohydrates & calories, thereby raising blood glucose levels aggravating obesity & other diseases.
7. Adequate intake of essential micronutrients may be attained through a daily diet that includes meat, fish, lentils and beans, dairy foods, nuts, seeds, eggs, citrus fruits, kiwi, strawberries, and vegetables.
8. ACOG recommends of at least 150 minutes of moderate intensity aerobic activity per week during the postpartum period. It can help improving the conditions that are known to increase the susceptibility to Covid-19. We recommend slowly getting into a structured exercise regime to promote optimal healing under a specialized postnatal guide.
9. Sleep deprivation is an inevitable part of motherhood. Sudden shift in hormones, accumulated fatigue & high demand of caring for an infant can mess up with recovery, hence increasing the stress level. Stress being a stimulant to immune system can gravely impact recovery process overtime.
Postpartum nutrition should emphasize on a well-balanced diet using whole foods to provide both mother & baby the best nutrition possible, especially during the pandemic period. Nutrition goals should focus on optimal recovery, quality eating & maintaining hydration. Give yourself time to heal as a well-rested body recovers better.
Author is Health Coach at MyHealthBuddy, an Online Health & Fitness Platform.