This post is an excerpt from the book “Your Postpartum Journey – the transition from pregnancy to motherhood” by Gabriella Ignacz.
Nutrition is an often overlooked area of postpartum recovery, even though it plays a very important role. A good nutrient-dense diet can make a huge difference on how well you recover after childbirth. Typical foods for postpartum are surprisingly similar around the world, regardless of culture or culinary traditions: meat and vegetable soups, stews, eggs, chicken, starchy vegetables like sweet potatoes and squash, or root vegetables. This is not a coincidence – these foods all share characteristics that aid postpartum recovery.
The main requirements from your diet after childbirth are to replace lost blood and nutrients, to repair and heal damaged tissue, to provide warmth for the body, and to support breastfeeding – which is loads. Particularly if you’re breastfeeding, you will feel absolutely ravenous, even more so than during pregnancy. This is completely normal, so just carry on eating! Now is not the time to try to lose the baby weight – a lot of healing has to happen and depriving your body of nutrients will not only slow down your recovery, but you could also end up being depleted.
Let’s see what the characteristics of the best postpartum foods are:
You will feel colder than usual, and food is an easy way to provide warmth for your body. Keeping warm is also great for oxytocin production: comfy socks, soft blankets, snuggling a hot-water-bottle… and warm meals. (You can read more about how to boost your oxytocin levels here.) Choose herbal teas or warm milky drinks instead of icy beverages, and hot, cooked meals instead of sandwiches.
Soft and liquid
During labour and birth you will have lost a lot of fluids (literally blood, sweat, and tears, and of course the amniotic fluid), which can leave you feeling kind of “dried out”. Many mums crave liquid meals and soups, which makes perfect sense: your body knows what it needs. Warm soups are highly regarded in every traditional postpartum diet; but teas, milky drinks, porridge, or rice pudding are also great.
The foods you eat postpartum also need to be easy to digest. Your body is vulnerable, and your digestion is a little bit slower postpartum, and eating very heavy foods can overwhelm the system. Liquid, soupy, soft foods are the best to begin with: bone broth, chicken-, beef-, or fish-soup are typical postpartum foods across the world. Apart from good quality protein, bone-based soups also contain lots of minerals and gelatine, which are particularly nourishing and thus make perfect postpartum foods.
Your postpartum diet absolutely has to be nutrient-dense. Your body used so much of its own reserves to grow the baby – and now’s the time to replenish it all. If you don’t replace all the lost nutrients you can easily end up depleted or deficient, and that can cause all kinds of problems in the future.
After childbirth you have an increased need for energy, which can be provided by good quality protein and carbohydrates. Not all carbohydrates are bad: use common sense and try to avoid low quality or processed carbs, but good carbs are essential. Naturally sweet foods are not only nutritious but also give us that comforting, nurturing feeling, which makes them great for oxytocin production. When I say sweet, I don’t mean refined sugar: but fruits and vegetables that are naturally sweet. Think whole grains, oats, sweet potatoes, dates, bananas, porridge, rice pudding: sweet, soft, and easy-to-digest is a great combination in the postpartum diet.
According to Jenny Allison, author of the book “Golden Month – Caring for the World’s Mothers After Childbirth”, the nutrients that tend to be low in new mothers are iron, magnesium, calcium, and zinc. It is not surprising that nutritional depletion often occurs after pregnancy, since your body uses a huge amount of its own reserves to grow the baby. But what is not so well-known about nutritional depletion is that it can also lead to depression: a number of studies mention low levels of omega-3 fatty acids, Vitamin D, magnesium, iron, folate, zinc, and selenium as contributing factors to the development of postnatal depression. Of course, you can only be certain once your doctor runs a blood test; but it’s a good idea to eat foods that are rich in those vitamins and minerals that you need most during the postpartum. Let’s see them one by one:
- Omega 3 fatty acids: mackerel, salmon, sardines, anchovies, flax seeds, chia seeds, walnuts
- Vitamin D: salmon, herring, sardines, cod liver oil, milk, egg yolk, mushrooms; but the best source is sunshine
- Magnesium: leafy greens, lentils, beans, chickpeas, seeds, nuts, salmon, avocado, banana, dark chocolate, whole grains
- Calcium: dark green leafy vegetables, milk, cheese, yogurt, sardines, beans, lentils, seeds, nuts, almonds
- Iron: shellfish, red meat, liver and organ meat, quinoa, dark leafy greens, spinach, broccoli, parsley, beans, lentils, chickpeas, dark chocolate, almonds, brazil nuts, peanuts, pumpkin seeds, sesame seeds, blackstrap molasses, brewer’s yeast, kelp and whole grains (especially sprouted), dried fruit (figs, dates, raisins, apricots)
- Zinc: shellfish, meat, milk, cheese, eggs, whole grains, beans, lentils, chickpeas, hemp seeds, pumpkin seeds, sesame seeds, sunflower seeds, almonds, pine nuts, cashews, dark chocolate, fresh ginger, wheat germ and leafy greens
- Selenium: fish, ham, beef, pork, turkey, chicken, milk, yogurt, cottage cheese, eggs, brown rice, brazil nuts, cashews, sunflower seeds, mushrooms, oatmeal, spinach, bananas
- Folate: beef liver, beans, lentils, peas, eggs, avocado, asparagus, broccoli, brussels sprouts, leafy greens, beets, citrus fruits, bananas, nuts, seeds, wheat germ
A note on zinc and copper: Dr Serrallach, author of the book “The Postnatal Depletion Cure”, mentions that the problem with copper postpartum is not so much a deficiency, but rather an excess. Zinc and copper are the two ends of a spectrum; so when you have low levels of zinc, you tend to have high levels of copper. This copper excess can manifest as anxiety, phobias, or depression. Do ask your doctor to check both your zinc and copper levels. If your copper is too high, you might need some zinc supplements.
Food that you enjoy, cooked by someone else
It’s not just about what you eat – but also how you feel about your food. Meals that you actually enjoy have the added benefit of raising your oxytocin levels. Choose foods that you find delicious and that make you feel good: old favourites, childhood comfort foods, meals that put a smile on your face (of course be sensible with sugar and processed foods). Remember that you’re not supposed to do the cooking yourself – this should be outsourced to family, friends, or paid help. Ask for help with the cooking: visitors can bring a dish, or you can set up a meal train, or sign up for a meal delivery service for a few weeks. Eat freshly cooked, warm meals as often as you can.
This post is an excerpt from the book “Your Postpartum Journey – the transition from pregnancy to motherhood” by Gabriella Ignacz. “Your Postpartum Journey” is all about life as a new mum: how to navigate postpartum recovery so you get your strength and vitality back; how to make sense of the fact that your life has changed without getting scared by your world turning upside down; and how to become a confident mother so you can handle the challenges.
Photo by Ella Olsson on Unsplash