Nourishing Mama: A Nutritionist’s Tips For Great Prenatal & Postnatal Nutrition

For the second installment of our new Expert Series, we caught up with Kyla Brown, a certified nutritionist and owner of Healthy Belly nutrition consultancy in San Francisco.  We chatted through topics ranging from healthy eating during pregnancy to postpartum nutrition to shedding baby weight safely.

Q: Let’s start by talking about the pregnancy stage. What are the key concepts of prenatal nutrition that are important for moms-to-be to understand? What does the body need to nourish a growing baby and prepare for delivery?

A: The number-one nutrient that a pregnant mama needs is protein. Women who aren’t pregnant need a minimum of 60g protein each day; pregnant women need 80-100g daily. This is harder to get than most people realize, especially towards the later stages of pregnancy when it’s uncomfortable to eat big meals. Ideally, eat 20-30g per meal of protein from cold-water, wild-caught fish; grass-fed meat and dairy products; pasture-raised chickens and eggs; and beans and other legumes.

Other nutrients to consider are:

  • Magnesium (to help with leg cramps and sleep): Eat leafy greens, whole grains, kelp, nuts, tofu, and dried fruit
  • Calcium: Eat bone broth, leafy greens, sesame seeds/tahini, sea veggies, canned sardines or salmon(bone-in), and oysters
  • Iron: Clams, beef and pork contain the most, but there is also plenty in chicken, shrimp, turkey, and tuna. There is iron in vegetarian sources such as bran flakes, lentils, beans, leafy greens, soy, quinoa, and seaweed, but this kind of iron is not always as easily absorbed as that in animal products.
Q: How many extra calories a day does a pregnant woman really need, in each trimester? How would you suggest splitting those up over the course of a day (e.g. three main mails, or mini-meals throughout the day)?

A: I’m not a big calorie-counter, and every woman is different in her needs. Some women can’t eat for the first trimester (some for the first two), and thus need to eat a lot in that third trimester to compensate. Other women just aren’t hungry in that third trimester and only eat small meals.

It’s more important to be conscious about getting in plenty of protein (a minimum of 80g daily), good-quality fats, and fiber and a wide variety of vitamins and minerals from fruits, veggies, legumes and whole grains. Additionally, it’s great to add nuts, seeds, herbs, spices and good-quality oils (especially coconut and olive oils).

Don’t overeat, avoid sugary and processed foods, and avoid foods cooked in refined oils at high heat…but don’t worry about the calories! You’ll know if you’re not getting enough food if you’re tired and have cravings for sweet and/or salty foods, and you won’t eat too much if you are conscious about consuming a balanced, whole foods-based diet.

Q: It can be so hard to eat healthfully, especially when you’ve got pregnancy cravings! What are some of your favorite healthy meal/snack ideas for pregnancy that are still satisfying?

A: If you’re craving sweet, dates are great to eat during pregnancy. Even better if you put a dollop of goat cheese inside–that way you’re getting the fiber, good carbs, and minerals from the fruit, plus good fat and protein from the cheese (not to mention a delicious flavor combo).

A little bit of dark chocolate daily is absolutely fine as well, and a Finnish study showed that women who ate chocolate throughout their pregnancies had babies who cried less (I tested this study, and in fact have an exceptionally happy baby!).

If it’s salty, processed snacks that you’re craving, seaweed, nuts and seeds with fruit, or celery with nut butter and some sea salt are all great options to satisfy this craving. I also recommend always having snacks on hand, so that when cravings pop up, you have good-quality food available. Keep nuts or trail mix in your purse, and stock hard boiled eggs, pre-sliced fruits, and fresh veggies in the fridge so you can easily grab some for on-the-go.

Q: OK, now let’s talk delivery and the postpartum period. Labor & delivery obviously take a lot out of you! What does your body need in order to recover as quickly as possible? What kind of foods do you recommend, and what are your tips for making sure moms get the nutrition they need during the busy newborn period?

A: Bone broth! This is one of the most nutritious, healing foods, since it offers a wide variety of nutrients including protein, good fats, calcium, magnesium, and collagen in a very absorbable for. Some people like to sip bone broth like tea, others prefer to cook their grains in it, or use it as stock for soup. Regardless of how you consume it, it’s a great postpartum food.

It’s also important to eat high-fiber foods to make elimination as easy as possible — squash, sweet potato, leafy greens and crucifers (cabbage, broccoli, cabbage and brussels sprouts) are great for this.

Good fats and protein are also crucial to ensure that you have both the energy you need to exist on limited sleep AND to feed your little one. Don’t forget — breastmilk is mostly fat and protein, so you need to eat lots of these to be a good producer!

Q: When breastfeeding, how does mom’s nutrition impact baby’s food supply and nutrition? Any tips for encouraging a healthy milk supply and milk content?

A: Along with eating foods that are rich in good fats and protein, breastfeeding mamas should eat oats, which are great lactation boosters. Brewer’s yeast can also help milk production, as can Mother’s Milk tea, and fenugreek. However, these supplements are only necessary if mama is truly struggling to produce.

All breastfeeding women should make sure to stay SUPER HYDRATED as well, since this will both help with milk production, and also ensure that mama doesn’t get dehydrated as a result.

Q: Lots of moms struggle with excess weight gain during pregnancy, and/or difficulty losing the weight afterward. Any tips on both fronts?

A: It’s important to eat a well-balanced diet of foods rich in protein and good fats, plus a wide variety of fruits, veggies, and whole grains. This will help curb any cravings that might lead an expecting mama to want to eat a whole tub of ice cream or a box of cookies. It’s primarily excess sugar that will cause unnecessary weight gain during pregnancy, and this weight will be hard to take off postpartum.

Postpartum, it’s equally as important to eat a balanced, whole food-based diet, and it’s crucial not to cut calories at this time, while healing from childbirth and possibly breastfeeding. I do encourage both pregnant and postpartum women to stay as active as possible, even if it’s just regular walking and/or light yoga. Obviously postpartum movement might be limited depending on the delivery, but when physically able, I recommend some physical activity each day to help with postpartum weight loss.

Q: When would you suggest a mom seek out the help of a pre- or postnatal nutritionist such as yourself? What should someone expect from working with a nutritionist?

A: There are lots of ways people can benefit from meeting with a nutritionist. Many people aren’t totally sure how they should balance their intake of macronutrients (protein, fat and carbs), and could use some expert advice on meal planning based on the correct ratios. People planning on getting pregnant might want some tips on optimizing fertility, and women who are already pregnant probably want to know how to eat well during each trimester, and make sure they have as much energy as possible despite how exhausting those 40+ weeks can be. I work a lot with busy moms who are trying to eat healthy and cook meals that their kids will actually enjoy. I help with meal planning and grocery lists, and suggest recipes that all take less than 1 hour to prepare.

People can expect a very personalized experience with me — I create meal plans based on each individual’s specific needs, and stay in touch with my clients via text and email in between our sessions to ensure they have the support they need. We set incremental goals to help reach the larger lifestyle goals that will last forever. I work hard to make sure that the process is accessible, enjoyable, and easy for everyone.

Thank you, Kyla!

Below are some of Kyla’s favorite products for ensuring healthy prenatal & postnatal nutrition.  View her full list on TotScoop to read her commentary on each item!

More on Kyla and Healthy Belly:


Kyla Brown holds her certification from the Bauman College of Holistic Nutrition. She is the founder of Healthy Belly, a nutrition consulting business that offers one-on-one services to people who are seeking to use nutrition, and healthy eating as a way to address any health concerns. Kyla specializes in prenatal and postnatal nutrition, but her expertise is not limited to this area–she has worked with clients who are seeking to achieve weight loss, address digestive issues, skin problems, autoimmune diseases, and many other health challenges. To read some of the words of her happy clients, see:

Aside for her work as a nutritionist, Kyla has been an Educational Consultant for many years, working with kids ages 6-25 is all areas of academic tutoring, test prep, high school and college advising and applications. With two jobs and a baby, her plate is pretty full, but when she has free time she tries to devour as many novels as possible, and attend a few yoga classes, or get out for some hikes as well.