Postpartum Traditions and Nutrition

By Nilma Black, 23 May 2019
After giving birth, your body requires healing and rebalancing like never before. So many changes have taken place inside and out, organs have shifted to completely new places, your blood volume doubled and your body will get busy ridding itself of fluids for the first few weeks postpartum.Your pregnancy hormone levels that shot way up now plummet. You may be dealing with vaginal tearing or abdominal surgery as well. These are all the things that are happening in addition to taking care of another delicate life 24/7. The smartest thing you can do is to acknowledge that you will need not only time to regain strength, but also lots of good food to support your body’s ability to heal. Hundreds of cultures around the world recognize the need for the mother to be cared for after birth. Some call this important and vulnerable time in a woman’s life the “sacred window”, others call it “the golden month”. It is widely seen as a time that can revitalize and renew your entire system OR, when ignored, can adversely affect your physical and emotional health for decades to come. Although our culture has nearly erased mother centered postpartum traditions from our practices of welcoming new life, we are now beginning to experience a powerful renaissance of remembering why this time so special, and so deserving of attention. If we return to the wisdom of ancient and current postpartum practices worldwide, we see a consistent emphasis placed on keeping the mother warm, just like her baby. Why? The simple answer is because warmth promotes growth and healing. Coincidentally, warmth and warm foods also release oxytocin into your body. When you enjoy a comforting, delicious hot meal, your oxytocin levels spike. What’s the big deal about oxytocin? You’ve probably heard that it’s responsible for labor, but it’s also responsible for many more wonderful things, including the milk letdown reflex, the regeneration of cells, the blocking of anxiety producing stress hormones, and sleep. But most importantly for mothering, oxytocin is directly responsible for that delicious mushy gooey in love feeling you’ve been waiting for - i.e. bonding! So bump up that love hormone as much as you can. The first month after birth is not the time to be eating cold cuts out of the fridge, even though that’s all you feel you have time for. Cold and raw foods are not encouraged in any traditional postpartum diet because they are difficult to digest and your digestive and immune system are weak. Warm foods full of rich flavors and good fats (not the processed or fried kinds) are the key to rebuilding. Easiy digestible soups, stews, and whole grain porridges are perfect comfort food for the new mom. Ghee (clarified butter) is an excellent source of healthy fat. Spices like cardamoncinnamon, cumin, fennel, nutmeg, turmeric, and ginger all have properties that warm, heal, and protect against infection. Dates are perfect for providing sustained energy and iron to help you through the sleepless nights. Your baby doesn’t really need ten thousand newborn onesies, but she really does need a healthy mommy! Invite friends and family to forgo the gifts of burp cloths and booties. Instead, ask them to hop on the food wagon. Try a food registry website like mealtrain.com, and ask your postpartum doula to set it up for you. Loved ones and colleagues can make food at home and bring it over, cook while visiting you, or even (NYC style) order you delicious and nutritious prepared meals from a postpartum chef or a company like Munchery.com. So, don’t spend your 4th trimester eating pizza, carrot sticks, and chinese food. Decide to love yourself. Loving yourself as a mother is a way of loving your whole family. Warm comfort food, NOT COOKED BY YOU, but by your mom, partner, friend, or doula, is THE BEST. It will transform your first month as a parent into a sanctuary where you can focus on what matters most - feeding your baby and falling in love. When you are well nourished during your postpartum recovery, you can more easily be there for your loved ones, recognize your own needs, and emerge transformed.