Why it's important to eat well after giving birth.
Every culture around the world will have their own traditions for caring for new mothers, and this includes cooking and food. Interestingly many cultures share similarities in the types of food they make for women in the postpartum period - generally warm, easy to digest, nourishing, and something that can be mass produced. Another key feature is that the foods tend to invoke some kind of emotional memory, which could be due to the fact that in the majority of cultures the mothers, aunts, grandmothers and other female family members would be the ones cooking for the new mother.
I know when I think back to my childhood, whenever we were ill, or there was bad weather, my mum would spend time concocting amazing soups, stews and warm treats like rock cakes and scones to cheer us all up. These are also perfect for new mothers! I would have loved to have some of my mum’s butternut squash and sweetcorn soup after giving birth. Instead, as I was in Malaysia I was given food that was similar but at the same time very different - rice porridge, soft chicken, and fruit. When I came out of the hospital the women of Giresh’s family brought me my favourite foods with a postpartum twist - vegetable lasagna with added spinach to rebuild my strength; briyani rice with less spice to make it easier to digest; and gorgeous soups of all varieties because they’re easy to eat with one hand!
Whilst living in Malaysia I also got to know an amazing lady called Suling, who has set up a postpartum confinement centre that manages to perfectly blend tradition with evidence based care for new parents and their babies. Suling creates delicious, nourishing and balanced meals for the families that stay with her - fine noodle soups, broths, and other Malaysian and Chinese dishes designed to replenish and nurture. Whenever I see pictures of her food my mouth starts watering! I can’t imagine how wonderful the smells must be to a hungry mother!
So why is it so important to eat well?
During pregnancy your body grows a whole new organ - the placenta. It then grows a whole new human! Both of these, coupled with rapid growth and new learning (all that reading about pregnancy takes brain power!), mean that your body basically dedicates all its resources to your pregnancy, depleting your own stores of essential vitamins, fats and energy. Once you’ve given birth you need to rebuild your stores, which experts reckon takes at least one whole year (but some think it actually takes TEN years!!).
And what are the best foods to eat when you’ve recently given birth? Well, it depends on a few things.
Many people are afraid of that first poo after giving birth - if you had a vaginal birth then everything is sore, you may have some tears or if you had an episiotomy you may have stitches. If you had a Caesarean you may also be worried about the effects of straining on your wound. Constipation can also be caused by taking iron supplements, being dehydrated, and some painkillers (including epidurals). To combat this, ensure you drink lots of clear liquids, avoid caffeine, and eat foods that are rich in fibre, such as lentils, pulses, oats, and fresh fruit & veg.
If you lost a lot of blood during delivery, it’s a good idea to eat foods with lots of iron in, such as liver, red meat, egg yolk, and green leafy vegetables. It’s also becoming increasingly popular to have your placenta encapsulated and then eat the pills. Some people even turn their placenta into a smoothie and drink it down!
If you’re breastfeeding you’ll need to make sure you stay hydrated (keep a bottle of water beside you and drink every time baby drinks - like some kind of very sober drinking game…). There aren’t any specific foods to eat or avoid if you’re breastfeeding, just try to eat a balanced diet, though treats are definitely allowed because you’re doing a hard job! Some people will recommend certain supplements or products to help with milk production, but these don’t work for everyone so please consult an IBCLC (certified lactation consultant) before taking anything.
For all new parents rest is as important as nourishing food, so it’s worth building up your freezer stash of tasty meals and ensuring your store cupboard is full of your favourite snacks before baby arrives, rather than rushing around in the midst of changing nappies and trying to figure out how to stop your little one from crying.
Here are my top shortcuts for postpartum food prep:
1. Whenever you cook a larger dish such as lasagna or apple crumble, put a portion or two in the freezer to start building your supplies. Make sure you write on it what it is - you don’t want food disappointment when you’re already hormonal and tired!
2. Download food delivery apps in advance. Yes, homemade food is better for you (and your wallet) but sometimes it really is easier to just order in. Plus, no washing up, bonus!
3. Ask friends and family to bring food and snacks when they visit.
4. If you have a baby shower or have a baby registry ask for your favourite snacks. Yes, those muslins are cute, but you’ll appreciate a mars bar so much more.
5. Make sure you have a couple of decent reusable drinks bottles (sports tops are helpful so you don’t have to fiddle with the lid whilst holding your baby) that you can refill and have nearby wherever you are in the house.
6. Buy some reusable straws - I remember trying to drink from a glass whilst lying in bed after my Caesarean and it was really bloody difficult. A straw or drinking bottle will help.
7. Hire a postpartum doula (oh hey there!) who knows how to cook and can help prepare your meals and snacks. A great investment if I do say so myself!
For some tasty recipes for postpartum recovery have a look at the links below, and let me know if you have any other favourites!