I loved being pregnant, in fact I don’t think I’ve ever felt as healthy as I did with my baby bump! My hair was thick and shiny, my nails grew faster than I could keep up with and my skin had that constant dewy glow. I craved healthy food – mostly because I knew my body needed nutrition in order to keep building my little miracle. So I ate fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains and wild caught salmon pretty much every day. Besides the discomfort I experienced as my belly grew, I felt great all the way up to my being wheeled into the delivery room. After 33 hours of grueling labor I held my beautiful little boy in my arms for the first time. I was so entranced by him that I barely gave a second thought to the nurses who were cleaning me up and tending to my beat-up body.
The weeks following the birth of my son were a whirlwind. Looking back now, I remember feeling a huge shift down in my energy level. I didn’t think twice about this because A. I had just given birth – a process no one can walk away from unscathed and B. My life consisted of caring for another human, which involved me not sleeping or eating as much as I needed to. I was too busy changing diapers, marathon nursing and finding unique ways to sooth a fussy baby to think about how I was feeling. It wasn’t until my son was about 6 months that I finally paused for a moment to think “I don’t feel like myself at all. I’m REALLY tired.” I started researching post birth nutrition for moms and came upon all sorts of interesting information. I could go on and on about all the different vitamins your post birth body needs but for now, I’m going to focus on one: Omega 3 Fatty Acids.
Omega-3 fatty acids are “poly”unsaturated fatty acids that contain a double bond. These “double bonds” provide connections that make them more flexible and interactive as fatty acids. We need omega-3 fatty acids in order for our bodies to function on several different levels, such as controlling blood clotting and building cell membranes in the brain. Since our bodies cannot make omega-3 fats, we must get them through food. Research shows that omega-3 fatty acids reduce inflammation and may help lower risk of chronic diseases such as heart disease, cancer, arthritis and several other medical conditions.
There are 3 types of Omega 3 fatty acids:
- Alpha-Linolenic Acid (ALA) – found in some vegetable oils (soybean, canola, flaxseed and walnut) and some green vegetables, such as brussels sprouts, kale, spinach, and salad greens. Research shows that ALA reduces the risk of Coronary Heart Disease.
- Eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) – found in cold water fatty fish, such as salmon. Needed in order to maintain healthy function of the following brain and retina.
- Docosahexaenoic Acid (DHA) – found in cold water fatty fish, such as salmon. Needed in order to maintain healthy function of the following brain and retina. DHA is a building block of tissue in the brain and retina of the eye.
More and more research is showing the benefit of omega-3 supplementation during pregnancy, especially in the correct development of the baby’s brain and retina. Your body is taking from all of your nutritional reserves to properly support your pregnancy. What this means is that getting sufficient amounts of Omega 3 fatty acids is essential. Once your baby is born, you loose your placenta (your dependable hormone producer) and embark on your journey as a new mom (which is full of sleepless nights and nonstop action). It’s very common for moms (especially new moms) to put all their focus on caring for their babies while neglecting their own health. It’s SO important to eat a balanced diet, especially in those first few months after giving birth. Including Omega 3 fatty acids in your diet is essential for several reasons: for breast feeding moms they’re vital for your baby’s developing brain. They’re also important for your physical and psychological health, even potentially protecting you from postpartum depression.You just gave birth which, according to many moms, is WAAAY harder physically and emotionally on your body than running a marathon. You need to replenish your nutrient reserves, which is why eating foods rich in omega 3’s is exactly what you need.
According to Dr. Kathleen Kendall-Tackett, a health psychologist, board certified lactation consultant, and Clinical Associate Professor of Pediatrics, nursing mothers should take approximately 500-750 mg EPA and 800-1000 mg DHA per day.
So lets take a look at two of my favorite food sources for Omega 3 fatty acids: Wild caught salmon and Flaxseed.
(An interesting side note, research shows there is evidence that mothers who take EPA and DHA supplements during pregnancy and breastfeeding may protect their children against allergies. Click here to read more.)
Salmon is a nutritional powerhouse for new moms. It’s loaded with Omega 3 fatty acid DHA. DHA is crucial to the development of your baby’s nervous system. Although your breast milk already contains DHA, levels of it are higher in the milk of women who get more DHA from their diets. (Check out this interesting study where scientists examined the breast milk from mothers in Amazonian Bolivia – who eat a diet high in fish. They found that these women had DHA levels 400 times higher than their U.S. counterparts.)
When it comes to what type of salmon you should eat, you have several choices. Check out this article that breaks your choices down for you. I usually go with wild caught Alaskan Sockeye Salmon, because it’s delicious, firm and less fatty than farm raised. It’s also an environmentally conscious choice, because the populations Alaskan Sockeye Salmon are not as depleted as other salmon populations in other parts of the ocean, according to the Monterey Bay Aquarium.
According to The American Heart Association, you should be eating fish (salmon in particular) at least two times (two servings of 2-3 ounces) a week.
I eat a lot of salmon, a rather expensive taste I’m finding. To help protect my bank account I’ve been buying it in bulk during my monthly trips to Costco. I enjoy their wild caught Silver Lining Smoked Alaskan Sockeye Salmon. It’s sooooo delicious!
Flaxseeds contain omega-3 fatty acids – specifically, alpha-linolenic acid – an omega 3 known for potentially lowering one’s cholesterol and risk for heart disease. Although flaxseed is one of the best sources for this Omega 3, it does not provide a sufficient amount of omega-3 fats EPA and DHA. The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics recommends getting between 1.3 grams and 2.7 grams of ALA each day for every 2,000 calories you consume.
(An interesting side note, Flaxseeds contain a great deal of the phytonutrient lignan, which has anti-cancer properties. It’s believed that this is due to the flushing out of excess estrogen from the body. Lignans also seem to have anti-bacterial, anti-fungal, and anti-viral properties.)
My favorite flaxseed is Premium Gold Organic Golden Omega Flaxseed (True Cold Milled).
Finding creative ways to add flaxseeds to your meals can be a challenge. I’m a big fan of putting flaxseed in my smoothies.
Here is my favorite flax seed smoothie (in fact, I’m drinking it now as I write) recipe:
1 Frozen Banana (frozen bananas make your smoothie creamier, and they take the place of ice cubes)
1 Cup Almond Milk (I like the So Delicious Almond+Plus)
2 Tbsp Honey
2 Tbsp all natural Peanut Butter (my absolute favorite is Bliss Nut Butter – seriously, you’d think you were eating candy)
Dash of cinnamon (I’m a big fan of cinnamon so I do two shakes)
Put everything in the blender and Voila!
Total calories: 545
Total Omega 3 ALA: 2,800 grams
I hope this article inspires you to take care of yourself!
Do you have new information regarding omega 3 fatty acids, or perhaps a good omega 3 rich recipe to share? Please let us know in the comments below!
By Rose Ayers-Etherington