In the United States, I find we spend a great deal of time educating women about pre-and perinatal nutrition to foster a healthy baby, but as soon as they give birth, women enter a wasteland of information on how to properly rebuild themselves after the process of growing a small human.
If you’re a woman considering having a child, if you’re pregnant, or have recently given birth, now is a great time to learn how to rebuild your reserves through food. The ability of women to grow a new human being is beyond amazing. Our ability as women, to rebuild ourselves is equally amazing; we just need to give our bodies the fuel required to regenerate ourselves after giving birth.
In my clinical practice, I find many women end up suffering from chronic conditions that can be traced back to the birth of their child or children as many as 20 years postpartum. The good news is that we can still rebuild our bodies even decades later. Some of these symptoms are conditions such as excessive worrying, feeling anxious and/or depressed, insomnia, heavy and/or painful periods once they return, lowered immunity, deep seated fatigue, restless leg syndrome, feeling feverish in the afternoon without being sick, to name a few. Some of these conditions are related to loss of sleep when caring for a new infant. It is hard to discern if the above symptoms are simply related to the initial loss of sleep when caring for a new infant, or if they represent a deeper physical need in our bodies. In the very beginning months, it is often a combination of both sleep deprivation and a need to rebuild blood, fluid, and energy stores from the perinatal and birth process. Utilizing Chinese medical nutrition to provide the nutritional tools to allow your body to rebuild itself postpartum will not take away the infant derived sleep interruptions, but it will allow your body to restore its foundation which will directly relate to helping you feel like you have a foundation to draw from during those many late night and early morning feedings, those wild toddler days, and the natural ups and downs of parenting. It will also make you less likely to suffer from chronic manifestations of the above symptoms.
Most of the above symptoms are related to what we call blood deficiency in Chinese medicine. No matter how easily a mother gave birth, there is some blood loss. If you had more than the average amount of blood loss during a pregnancy, Chinese medicine would infer that you may be more likely to experience postpartum depression, mood swings or any of the other above symptoms. Breastfeeding continues to pull on your nutritional resources. To be clear, I am an advocate of breastfeeding, but since it continues to pull on your resources, it is even more important to eat with intention after giving birth.
My goal in this post is to help women learn how to rebuild themselves after giving birth in order to avoid developing postpartum depression and chronic conditions that impact their life. We are amazingly resilient when we know what foods to fuel our bodies with, and it breaks my heart sometimes to see how much new moms suffer without the resources to use nutrition to aid in this big life transition.
What to eat:
Drink beef bone stock or vegetable/mushroom stock daily for the first 30 days. If you are an omnivore, drink beef bone stock regularly during the first 90 days of giving birth. If you are a vegetarian, try homemade vegetable stock made with a variety of mushrooms such as cremini, shiitake, maitake, et cetera.
Beef bone stock when made at home from quality bones naturally contains gelatin from the tendons and marrow of the bones and easily digestible amino acids. It also contains minerals from both the bones and vegetables added to the stock. Gelatin has many great qualities, including being a protein sparer. It helps your body extend small amount of proteins as if you ate significantly more. The entire mineral and amino acid complex in stock is easily digested and absorbed in the intestines. This can be invaluable after giving birth, especially if your appetite takes a few weeks to come back online. I recommend drinking 1 cup of stock a day for the first month, and then every other day for the rest of the 90 days. If you continue to crave it daily, listen to that craving.
Eat 80% to 100% of your food cooked. Your body has put a great deal of effort into growing a magically small human. This utilizes resources from nearly all of your organ systems, but puts a great deal of strain on the earth organ pair, the stomach and the spleen. This pair is considered the archetypal mother figure and the central pivot of our health. As a new mom, you are drawing heavily on this archetypal mother element in the act of pregnancy, and with breast-feeding. These efforts can tire out the earth pair and directly fatigue our digestive system. Often new moms can struggle a little bit with their digestion feeling off or out of sorts. Therefore it is important to avoid any unnecessary stress on the digestive system. Eating cooked food helps the digestive system do a wee bit less work. It feels like a warm, soothing balm to the stomach, and will help you get the most out of your food in these first 90 days.
Eat plenty of vegetables. This means steaming, roasting, sautéing, poaching, and putting your vegetables into soup. Make sure to eat 2-3x as much vegetables as fruit. These veggies will give you the bulk of your minerals and vitamins. If you’re wondering how to cook fruit, consider poaching or baking it with some spices like fresh ginger, cardamom, and/or cinnamon. If you had extra blood loss, try to eat plenty of red beets and dark green leafy vegetables, including beet greens. Beets strongly build blood, as do the greens.
Eat plenty of good quality fats for you and for the quality of your breast milk. Breast-feeding takes a lot of calories, so please don’t worry about adding in the fat. Good fats to focus on: coconut oil, grass fed butter or ghee, olive oil, chia seeds (rich in omega 3 fatty acids), flax seed, raw nuts, and fatty fish. If you wake up starving in the middle of the night to a hungry baby, consider even eating a tablespoon of coconut oil or nut-butter right then and there.
Use warming spices that strengthen the earth element: cinnamon, fresh ginger, cardamom, and mild curry.
Other foods the strongly restore the earth element and our essence: gou ji berries, dates, egg yolk, sweet potatoes, orange squashes and root vegetables.
If you experience quality of life concerns after giving birth such as postpartum depression, feeling a high level of anxiety, or deep seated fatigue, or if your baby’s birth caused a large loss of blood, it will be helpful to work with your local acupuncturist to create an individualized diet for you. You may even want to consider working with your acupuncturist to get an herbal formula to help your body recover faster.
Finally, focusing on quality eating during your first 90 days postpartum is crucial to continuing to feel healthy and vital. It can impact decades of your life. It is worth planning ahead, making a freezer full of beef bone or mushroom stock before giving birth, or ask your family to help out with meal and stock prep. The more you can do before the little one joins the world, the easier it will be on you to rebuild your foundation of health. No one wants to struggle with depression, anxiety, fatigue or insomnia. By taking these simple and nourishing measures, you’ll be able to rebuild your foundation of health which means you will feel more stable, a bit more like you, and you will have a foundation to stand on during the ups and downs of parenting.