Deeply nourishing food is one of the most important parts of postpartum recovery. Nutrient-dense foods promote healing after birth, necessary energy, support the production of breast milk, and help rebalance hormones. Postpartum nutrition is key for both physical and emotional wellbeing. If you’re overwhelmed by what to eat as a postpartum mom, don’t fret. In this guide, you’ll learn about eight supportive foods and herbs I recommend during the postpartum period.
Traditional Postpartum Practices
As a Certified Nutrition Consultant — with a specialty in postpartum nutrition — I am particularly passionate about the postpartum time period. It is such a coveted season in a woman’s life, one that is synonymous with healing and resting. In the first few weeks after your baby is born, you’re not only getting to know your baby, but you’re also getting to know yourself, as a mother. Entering motherhood is a massive adjustment. Speaking from personal experience, it’s an emotional rollercoaster. Women experience physical, mental, and emotional changes unlike anything else.
For thousands of years, different cultures have deeply valued the importance of this ordinary but extraordinary transition. In doing so, they’ve implemented and honored an extended period of healing and adjusting for postpartum women. Female relatives — and sometimes females from the community — would nourish her with ceremonial foods, tend to her needs, nurture her, and relieve her of all responsibilities. Her only focus is to rest and recover, restore her vitality, replenish her reserves, and care for her newborn baby.
This time allowed baby to transition slowly to life, earth-side, allowed an expecting woman to become a mother, and served to create a solid foundation for motherhood. Respecting this was considered necessary for mother, baby, and all of society at large.
AN EMPHASIS ON WARMING FOODS
No matter what part of the world they live in, traditional cultures prioritize foods that are:
- Easily digestible
Most traditional cultures advise new mothers to eat especially slow, put a heavy emphasis on nutrient-dense bone broths and healing herbs, and strictly prohibit cold foods. They believe cold foods can slow down circulation, which is essential for optimal healing. This means warm water instead of cold, no ice cubes, and in some cultures, no raw vegetables.
Postpartum nutrition and MAcronutrients
In the early days after birth, a new mother should consider foods she might turn to when recovering from the flu. The emphasis should be on hydrating, easy to digest, nutrient-dense foods like soups, cooked vegetables, and fruit. As you can imagine, all of the organs in the abdomen are going through a massive shift and digestion is likely to be compromised.
When supporting postpartum moms with their nutrition and wellbeing, I don’t focus on calories. However, when it comes to calories during the postpartum period, needs increase for breastfeeding women. This means that requirements for all macronutrients, and the large majority of micronutrients, increase during this time as well.
- Carbohydrates: Energy-rich and help build milk supply.
- Protein: Helps repair and rebuild tissue and muscle.
- Fats: Help stabilize blood sugar, balance hormones, and nourish breast milk.
Stocking the freezer with healthy meals and snacks
Eating nourishing foods is an essential part of recovering after birth, as well as replenishing breast milk. Mothers need the energy and strength to care for themselves while simultaneously caring for their babies — no small feat. Ideally, extended family and friends will bring you food, but you can also prepare healthy, pre-cooked freezer meals as before baby arrives. These freezer meals will be a life saver after the initial influx of visitors dies down.
Having satiating, breastfeeding-friendly snacks prepared can be incredibly beneficial as well. Many women share that they’ve never experienced hunger quite like they did in those first few days after birth as their milk was coming in. Ahem, that was me. Having nourishing meals and snacks to grab in the postpartum period will reduce the likelihood of reaching for poorer quality foods out of convenience and lack of options.
- Cooked vegetables: A big, raw salad may seem like the epitome of a healthy meal, but if your digestion is compromised (normal during the fourth trimester), that salad is akin to throwing wet logs on a weak fire. The saying goes “you are what you eat,” but in reality, you are what you assimilate (breakdown and absorb). When digestion is weak, it’s best to consume cooked and fermented vegetables.
- Digestive enzymes: A digestive enzyme is worth exploring if you foresee digestion being an issue during postpartum.
Supportive foods for postpartum
- Fermented food: Aids digestion, nourishes breast milk, and helps rebuild microbiome for those who were administered antibiotics during labor.
- Bone broth: Slow-simmered bone broth plays a key role in the postpartum practices of many traditional cultures. Not only is bone broth nutrient-dense and a rich source of collagen, it also aligns with the traditional practice of serving new mothers warm beverages and soups rather than cold food.
- Nut butter: It’s common for new mothers to experience highs and lows due to hormonal fluctuations and fatigue. Monounsaturated fats — the majority of fat found in nuts — help combat this by steadying blood sugar. A quick spoonful of nut butter can be a savior in the early postpartum days. I love Santa Cruz Organic peanut butter and Costco’s organic almond butter.
- Sardines: Sardines are a rich source of many important nutrients that new mothers require, such as DHA, calcium, and vitamin D3. They are also available canned, which makes them a quick and easy addition to a meal.
- Coconut: Nourishes breast milk and helps balance blood sugar.
- Winter squash and root veggies: These comfort foods are easy to roast and they keep well in the fridge. Pair them with a healthy fat to help keep blood sugar stable and increase the absorption of nutrients like beta-carotene.
- Chia seeds: High in fiber to aid digestion, protein to balance energy, and a good source of calcium, which is especially important for breastfeeding mothers. Chia seed pudding is fast to make for busy mothers.
- Grass-fed liver: Rich in iron to replete losses from birth. Rich in vitamin A to support the immune system and promote repair of the mucous membranes in the vaginal canal or skin healing of an incision.
Warming spices for postpartum
- Turmeric: Incredibly supportive for the early postpartum period. Known as a uterotonic, this herb gently stimulates the uterus, which helps it return to its pre-pregnancy size. Curcumin, the active compound in turmeric, gives the root its rich, golden color and has powerful anti-inflammatory properties that aid recovery after birth.
- Ginger: Well known for improving digestion. Organs shift during pregnancy to make room for baby, which can lead to digestive complications after birth as the body adjusts back. It’s also a lactogenic herb that supports milk supply.
- Cinnamon and cardamom: Help warm the body. Ancient eastern and Ayurvedic wisdom place a particular emphasis on warming foods and spices in the postpartum period to increase circulation, improve digestion, and restore energy.
In need of postpartum recipes or nutrition support? I provide nutrition counseling for postpartum mamas. Whether you’re at the end of your pregnancy or months into the postpartum time period, I’m here to help. See here for my coaching services.