In the weeks following the birth of her baby, the food that a new mother eats can make a big difference in her healing and recovery.
One of the things that I enjoy most in my work supporting pregnant and new families, is helping them plan their postpartum sanctuary. When we do this together I always ask them to put in some thought as to how they would like to be fed and nourished during the weeks following the birth of their baby.
I remind them that not only has their body just completed the extraordinary task of first growing and then birthing their newborn but they will also be moving into a time of healing and recovery from birth, as well as producing breastmilk for their little one. This alone takes an enormous amount of energy and their nutritional requirements will increase exponentially because of this.
Different cultures around the world understood this and there has always been a tradition of serving a particular diet or range of foods to a new mother to help her to regain her strength, provide abundant milk for her baby as well as keep warm which is also of utmost importance. The foods may differ depending on which cultural tradition they come from but there are marked similarities. Namely that the foods are nutritionally dense, easy to digest, warm, delicious, and most importantly, made by someone else and served to the new mother with love!
In China and throughout Asia, it’s all about the chicken soup and bone broths, slowly simmered with a range of herbs and vegetables to produce nourishing soups and gelatinous rich stews which are said to warm the blood as well as to help heal skin, connective tissues and muscle that may have been affected by birth. In India and Nepal, a new mother is served soupy dal and rice puddings, delicately flavoured with warming spices such as ginger and cinnamon and rich with ghee and coconut milk to give her the energy she needs to mother her baby. In Sri Lanka, it might be fish soup and eggs, protein-rich foods to sustain her. The similarities are clear however, the food is well cooked and warm, gentle for the digestive system, which is seen to be weakened by her pregnancy and birth, and full of wholesome and nutritional ingredients.
Postpartum is not a time for a new mother to be worrying or concerned about losing the baby weight either. Breastmilk has a large fatty component and therefore our postpartum diet needs adequate dietary fats and oils to produce this sustaining nourishment for our babies. Including such things as ghee, coconut oil, nuts and seeds or the skin and fat from a chicken or fish carcass in each meal is vitally important and will help to nourish, warm, lubricate and heal the body.
In my work as a postpartum doula, cooking for and feeding the mamas and parents that I work with is one of my most rewarding tasks. Before we start working together I might ask them to tell me of their favourite ‘comfort’ foods. Something that their mother or grandmother might have cooked for them as a child that makes them feel safe, loved and nurtured. Not only does this kind of meal feed a mama's body, but also her heart and soul. This, in turn, helps to boost her oxytocin, the essential mothering hormone of loving, bonding, and breastfeeding.
In a recent Facebook post, I asked women whether they remembered the meals that had been cooked for them during their postpartum weeks. Their comments were both heartwarming and enlightening.
“Our son’s godparents made us Shepherds Pie, lasagna, soups etc, frozen into double and single serves. Each meal had a personalised message on that brought a smile and sometimes a tear to my eye when I heated them. It was awesome to have the meals ready to go especially on those days when you can’t see the forest for the trees. Warm, comforting and nourishing food in your belly somehow made things seem 10 times better. ” Brigetta
If you are pregnant I’d love it if you would take some time to think about who will nurture and nourish you in the weeks following your baby’s ‘birth day’. Instead of the traditional ‘baby shower’ gifts of booties and blankets, why not instead set up a meal registry using a website like mealtrain.com or swap your baby shower for a postpartum party. If you are someone who cares for new families, then perhaps you might offer to cook them healthy and sustaining food as a way of helping them heal and recover from birth.
“Jo, I remember the first meals you so lovingly made for me as I sat with my bundle of joy, chatting to you as you cooked for us … I felt like you were giving me a great big hug … and friends that visited also brought treats. I felt so loved, cared for and held! Having one less thing to think about at the end of an uncertain, tiring, happy day was bliss in those early days.” Amy
If you would love more inspiration about postpartum nutrition and recipes, check out my 'Slow Postpartum Kitchen Ebook' where I share my top recipes as well as shopping lists and meal plans. You can pick up your copy here.
With love Jojo x