As a new mum, you may barely have enough time to eat, let along cook – and what you do eat might compose of whatever is easy and quick rather than something deeply nourishing and healing. I remember in the early days with my son, being so caught up in looking after his needs that I would very often forget about my own, only realising when I was absolutely starving, exhausted and needing a hit of sugar 'fast'!! This is not a good scenario as proper nutrition is the most effective way to restore your energy, heal your body and give your beautiful baby a healthy start in life, especially if you are breastfeeding. I'd like to share some tips that I found helpful in my journey and that will help you to embrace this magical time feeling replenished and revitalised.
As Hippocrates stated millenia ago, a long, long time before food came in packets, food is your best medicine when there is healing to be done. This is true at all times, but especially so during the postpartum period when your body is recovering from the massive physiological process of pregnancy and birth, and you are providing nourishment for the healthy growth and development of your newborn baby. You might already be aware that eating fresh, organic and whole-foods will be the best choices for providing quality nutrients to you and your baby, as well as avoiding excess herbicides and pesticides from conventional produce. However, back in circa 400BC when Hippocrates was speaking, we can safely assume that they were eating fresh organic foods, so there must be more to it than that – and indeed there is, although this is a great place to start.
Nutritional wisdom from the Chinese tradition differs from that of the Western tradition because it focuses on the energetic properties of foods and how they affect the body, as well as the biochemical properties like proteins, fats and carbohydrates. Each food can be classified as one or more of the six 'Tastes' (bitter, sweet, salty, pungent, sour, bland) and one of the four 'Temperatures' (hot, warm, cool and cold). Understanding how these qualities affect your body can help you make the right choices in what to eat. For example, sour foods can help with postpartum hemorrhoids as they have an astringing effect, however it is advisable to eat them sparingly because you don't want to also astringe (slow down) the flow of blood from the uterus – it is important for this to flow freely for efficient recovery after birth.
The most important recommendation from Chinese nutritional wisdom for postpartum mothers is to eat foods that are cooked and warming in nature. Warming foods promote circulation of blood and Qi to areas of the body that need healing, whereas cooling foods tend to obstruct or disrupt the smooth flow of blood and Qi as they have a constricting, congealing effect. It is important to avoid icy cold drinks, ice cream and frozen yoghurt, especially in the first month after birth as your body is already a little cold after the blood loss of labour, and needs warming up to promote healing and repair. Raw vegetables also have a cooling effect on the body and are more difficult to digest, therefore try to eat cooked (but not overcooked!) vegetables, as they will be more warming and your body will be able to obtain their nutrients more easily that way.
Here are some basic food recommendations from Chinese Medicine as to the best kinds of foods to be including in your diet at this time:
Animal Products (if eaten)
Fruit (limit to 1-2 servings a day as fruit is cooling or cold in nature)
Whole grains (all are beneficial)
Putting it all together
It may seem overwhelming to look at this list of foods and recommendations and wonder how on earth you are going to find ways to implement these ideas. This is where asking for help is so important. Have you read my earlier article on the Chinese tradition of a 'Sitting Moon'? Try to enlist as many of your support people as possible to help you with shopping and cooking with (and cleaning up afterwards!) your healthy, nourishing foods.
Cook (or ask for) big batches of food and freeze them in single servings when you have the time. Once you are feeling up to it, big batch cooking with other mothers is great fun and a very productive way to stock up your fridge and freezer with homecooked foods. Great online resources to get you started are Mamabake and Once A Month Meals.
Read the wonderful book “Sitting Moon – A guide to natural rejuvination after pregnancy" by Daosheng Ni and Jessica Chen, where most of the information for this post was drawn – they go into a lot more detail and provide week-by-week meal plans and recipes. Or just search for recipes online and send copies to your family and friends, asking them to help you eat better for your optimal health and recovery.
Aim to eat five to six smaller means throughout the day to help keep your blood sugar levels even and reduce stress on your digestive system. Set an alarm if you need reminding. Chew your food slowly and mindfully tell yourself that your nutrition and self-care matters. And have wholesome food always stocked in your kitchen so you aren't tempted to reach for something that won't be so helpful!
The main message I want you to take home from all this is to:
You are extremely important, dear mother! Please look after yourself well :-)
If you have found this article helpful, you may want to read the others in this series:
Self-healing techinques for the Postnatal period, Part Two: Acupressure for new mums
Self-healing techniques for the Postnatal period, Part One: "Mother warming" and Meditation
"Sitting Moon" - Chinese Wisdom for the Postpartum period
Wellbeing Checklist for new mothers
And if you know anyone who you think might also benefit from this information, please do forward this on to them, and click the 'like' and 'share' buttons below. The more mothers looking after themselves well, the better! :-) My best wishes to you.
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