The postpartum period is one of life's greatest opportunities to transform and ensure future health. Traditionally a sacred time of convalescence - rest and recovery. Something us modern mamas need to relearn and embrace.
The postpartum period is defined as the first 6 weeks following child birth but this is an outdated guideline, we know it lasts much longer - up to 2 years. Giving birth takes a huge toll on your body and is the only naturally occurring time in your life where you loose large amounts of blood and Qi (energy) which needs to be replenished to return to full health and vitality.
Chinese Medicine Diet Therapy has a long history of use for postpartum recovery. During the post birth period nutrition and diet is used to support recovery from pregnancy and childbirth, while replenishing strength and nutrients to meet the increased demands of motherhood. Setting a mother up for the journey ahead and for future health.
Key nutrients are lost during pregnancy and childbirth and these also need to be restored - zinc, folate, B12, iodine, selenium and Omega 3's to name a few!
Modern medicine is now recognising the importance of nutrition postpartum due to the depletion of these nutrients leading to higher incidence of post natal depression and symptoms of ‘foggy head’, fatigue and mood disturbance.
Read on to learn how you can combine the best of Chinese Medicine Diet Therapy and Western Clinical Nutrition to support your postpartum recovery and future health.
Did you know there are 3 main phases in the postpartum period?
Phase 1 is the ‘acute phase’ and lasts 6-12 hours. This is a time of rapid change where any potential 'medical issues' from labour may happen.
Phase 2 is defined as 'the subacute postpartum period' lasting 2–6 weeks. During this phase, the body undergoes major changes in blood flow, genitourinary recovery, metabolism not to mention emotional ups and downs.
Phase 3 is technically the 'delayed post partum period' lasting 3 weeks to 6 months. In fact we now know it lasts up to 2 years!
Eating for postpartum health - The First Week
In Chinese Medicine the first phase is the first week post birth. During this phase, it's important to discharge the lochia (blood, mucus, and uterine tissue) and support digestion. Things can seem a little 'messy' in the first week postpartum but it's all part of becoming a mum.
Our digestive system needs to be working effectively in order for our bodies to properly utilise nutrients in food. So one of the first areas of focus post birth is the digestive system.
In Chinese Medicine when our digestive system is working effectively we feel energetic and clear headed. Bloating, gas, nausea, indigestion and constipation are all signs that our digestive system is not happy. This is common post birth as our digestive system slows down during labour, often compounded by medication and perineal tenderness - ouch!
Below are some of our top tips for post birth digestion which are especially important during the first 40 days.
🌱Eat warm cooked foods like soup and stews that can be easily digested and make sure grains are well cooked.
🌱Include warming spices in your diet like ginger, cinnamon, nutmeg, clove, black pepper, cardamom, orange peel & fennel seeds. These aid recovery and contain properties to help with postpartum abdominal pain and bleeding.
🌱Eat smaller regular meal every 2-3 hours so you don't overtax your digestive system.
🌱Drink lots of room temperature water. Without water your colon soaks up the fluid left in your food waste, resulting in constipation. This is worse if breastfeeding, so make sure you drink up to 12 glasses a day!
In order to stimulate normal digestion after giving birth, it’s traditionally recommended to eat sweet rice. Due to its sticky, clumping nature, sweet rice increases movement of food through the intestines (peristalsis). It helps to prevent stomach and intestine prolapse by eliminating the need for strong ‘bearing down’ during bowel movements and helps prevent constipation.
To help support new mamas, eat sweet rice 1-2 times a day. We recommend adding Longan Fruit which is traditionally used to nourish Qi and Blood and help with insomnia and anxiety - perfect for new mums. Recipe below.
Week 2 - Phase 2
In TCM Diet Therapy Phase 2 = Week 2. The aim during this week is to contract the uterus and pelvic cavity, helping it return to pre pregnancy size.
During this time we also want to help eliminate any excess fluid from the body. In the final stage of pregnancy, many mums to be develop oedema or water retention (swollen ankles and feet anyone?). Red adzuki beans have a strong diuretic effect, helping to get rid of this water retention. It is a great food for postpartum mums.
So what are other ‘Phase 2’ supporting foods?
🌱 Protein to help with postpartum healing is a must. High-quality organic meat is good. Stir-Fried pork with Sesame Oil is a traditionally used to help contract the uterus and pelvic cavity. Beans, pulses and tofu are good for plant lovers
🌱Stir-fried Sweet Rice
🌱Red coloured vegetables: enrich the blood and guard against constipation.
🌱 Anti inflammatory spices; ginger, cinnamon and turmeric which are also uterotonics - meaning they help your uterus back to pre-pregnancy size.
🌱 Add some basil to your food, it’s good for mood. Chinese dates, Longan fruit and lotus seeds are all traditional foods used Post birth to support mood.
The first 6 months postpartum - Phase 3
Phase 3 is technically the 'delayed postpartum period' lasting 3 weeks to 6 months. In fact we now know it lasts much longer - up to 2 years!
During this time we need to replenish nutrients and renew physical strength. Not only nourishing our bodies but helping to support mood and hormone health. It’s important to set yourself up for future health and the journey of motherhood ahead. So what nourishing foods should you eat?
🌱Foods to nourish 'Qi' and Blood - rich in Iron , A and B Vitamins including B12:
Organic animal protein
Dark green leafy vegetables
Red fruits like cherries, raspberries, and strawberries
Grass fed or organic bone broth
Goji berries and Chinese Dates
🌱Foods to nourish 'Yin' which are high in Omega 3’s, Zinc and Iodine:
Oily Fish & seafood
All dark colored beans
Dark berries like blackberries, mulberries, and blueberries
Fluids like soups and stocks
🌱Don’t forget to add foods for breastmilk - barley, millet, asparagus, brown rice, fenugreek, fennel seed and oats are great to help boost milk supply
🌱Include Seeds rich in magnesium, zinc, selenium and B6: flax, pumpkins, sunflower, black sesame . These are all great mood foods.
🌱 Lots of fruit & veg: to aid digestion and prevent constipation.
Postpartum is one of the most important times in a woman’s life - food as medicine is a great foundation for motherhood and future health. If you’re a mama to be, take the time to pre plan your postpartum journey, plan meals and stock up on postpartum ‘pantry essentials’. It is one of the most important things you will do! If you’re a ‘new’ mum remember it’s important to eat to restore health and give you the strength for the journey of motherhood ahead - ‘nourish the mother to nourish the child’.
Nutrition, rest, physical and emotional support are the cornerstones of postpartum recovery. We know it can be hard as a mum to get the nutrition you need. Here at HQ we've created Post Birth Vitality - a scientifically formulated superfood blend with Chinese medicine herbs, superffoods and organic wholefood vitamins to support your post birth recovery and help you thrive postpartum.
Traditional Sweet Rice Recipe
🌱Rice 150 g
🌱Dried Longan Fruit (Arillus euphoriae longanae) 100g (can buy from Asian grocer)
🌱Dark brown sugar e.g. rapadura 100-200g
🌱Filtered Water 2000 cc
🌱Optional spices: 1/2 tsp cinnamon, cardamon and ginger (to support contraction of your uterus).
Method of Preparation:
1. Put rice, Longan Fruit, Spices and Water into a pot, cover, and soak for 1 hour.
2. After soaking ingredients, bring to a boil over high heat, then reduce heat
and allow to simmer for 8 hours.
3. Turn off the burner. Add brown sugar. Divide into 2 portions. It’s ready to serve.
Sweet rice is a great ‘sweet treat’ for mums supporting all postpartum phases.
Red Adzuki Bean Recipe
🌱Red adzuki beans 200 g
🌱Brown sugar 150 g
🌱Water 1500 cc
1. Put red adzuki beans and water into a pot, cover, and soak for 8 hours.
2. Bring to a boil over high heat, then lower to medium heat and simmer, covered, for 20 minutes.
3. Turn off burner. Add brown sugar. It is ready to serve.
Traditionally eaten twice a day in the morning and afternoon. Recipe makes 6 serves.
Wholefood Energy Bliss Balls
🌱10 Medjool Dates (pits removed) . Dates are a great natural energy source high in minerals, antioxidants, fibre and natural sugars. They can help decrease cholesterol and keep your bones healthy.
🌱1 Tbsp of Goji berries. Used in Chinese medicine to nourish the blood, Goji's are full of Vitamin A, Iron, Selenium and antioxidants. Great post partum, they are high in nutrients you need more of when breastfeeding.
🌱1 cup of oats or gluten free oats. High in Beta-glucans to boost immune health, a good source of fibre to help keep you 'regular' and great for milk supply
🌱1/2 Cup of Peanut or Almond butter. Almonds are one of the best food sources of Vitamin E, which helps protect your cells from oxidative stress. They are packed full of Manganese and Magnesium too.
🌱3 Tbsp Flaxseeds. Full of plant-based Omega 3's and fibre, they are full of cancer fighting lignans and also help support your milk supply
🌱2 Tbsp Raw Cacao Powder. Full of polyphenols and flavanols to help reduce inflammation and increase blood flow. Cacao is also packed full of magnesium to support mood
🌱1 Tbsp Pumpkin Seeds. High in Iron, B Vitamins and jammed packed full of magnesium to help support sleep and keep you happy
🌱1 - 2 Tbsp coconut oil
🌱2 Tbsp water
1. Add all ingredients to a food processor and blitz until combined. Add extra oil or water until you have a 'dough' like consistency.
2. Use your hands to roll into a small ball. Keep in a sealed container in the fridge for a go to snack. They contain natural sugars so don't eat too many in one go!
Photo credit: Life After Birth
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