"Eat ENOUGH food. This is where you need to put your big girl pants on, ignore the ridiculous cultural push to lose the "baby weight" as fast as possible... and eat like a grown-ass woman."
And, it is said in Chinese medicine, what you eat and how well you take care of yourself during this crucial time has the power to impact your health 20, 30 or more YEARS down the track.
There are other important things to think about in your Golden Month, which I mention here - but of course, being a nutritionist, I believe the food you eat after having a baby is crucial.
Nutritional requirements during recovery and breastfeeding unsurprisingly increase, and in the case of some specific nutrients, quite significantly so.
If you're breastfeeding your requirements for protein, zinc, iodine and vitamin A literally double.
And to produce milk, you need to be getting more overall calories than even during your third trimester of pregnancy; around 500-600 calories more for the first six months postpartum if breastfeeding exclusively (as recommended by the World Health Organisation), which is an extra meal or 2-3 extra snacks a day.
Of course I don't recommend calorie counting and nothing is set in stone - listen to your hunger and fullness cues and you will be fine. Note: If you have a history of or current disordered eating you may find it difficult to follow your body's hunger and fullness cues, in which case seeing a HAES or non-diet health professional would be super helpful for you.
Even if you cannot or choose not to breastfeed, extra nutrition is required to heal from childbirth and replenish your body after nine months of pregnancy.
And if your kids are more school age than newborn, you need some serious fuel to keep up with all the crazy demands asked of you, mama. You have important shit to do and you need energy and nutrients to do it.
So without going into a huge amount of detail on exact postpartum nutrition requirements, here are the three big nutritional principles from TCM you can aim to follow in your Golden Month.
And by the way, nourishing yourself well is as crucial in healing immediately after childbirth, as it is 10 years postpartum. These three tips apply just as much years after your last child is born, as they do as soon as the baby is born.
1. Eat Warm.
This is the logic behind not having showers for the first 40 days. But in our world of hot water showers and hairdryers perhaps it's not so crucial to avoid bathing for that long! Especially if you give birth in Summer in SE Queensland like I did. Not showering for a month would probably be pretty uncomfortably and smelly.
One of the traditional indictments against cold that won't make you stink is to eat plenty of warm, soft, simple, easy-to-digest foods like cooked vegetables, slow-cooked meat, and starchy porridges.
Even if you don't buy the energetic justification of balancing excess cold with warmth, your body can more readily extract calories from cooked foods compared to raw foods. Basically by eating warm foods you'll absorb as much nutrition as possible.
2. Eat Nutrient-dense.
Keeping in mind the increased nutritional requirements during healing, recovery and breastfeeding, a nutrient-dense diet is both necessary and smart.
Make sure you get all the macronutrients: carbohydrates, fat, and protein are all equally crucial.
This is no time for LCHF (low carb high fat) BS, or fat aversion, or any form of restrictive dieting. This is the time to eat like a grown ass woman - because if you're breastfeeding, you are growing a baby, and that shit is hard yakka.
What does such a diet look like, you may ask. Well it includes as many whole foods as you can afford and access, and in as wide a variety as you can get.
Whole foods just means as unrefined as possible, which means you get more nutrients for you and baby if you're breastfeeding.
That's it. No cutting things out - focus on getting things IN. There's always room for non "whole foods" like cake and chocolate! Try to base your eating on a foundation of good-quality complex carbohydrates (fibre, people), biologically available proteins, and healthy fats, and your body will take care of itself.
What does that look like? Here's a list, remembering that there is crossover (i.e. some foods, like peanut butter, are good sources of both fat and protein.)
Starchy or complex carbohydrate foods:
- Grains - Rice, barley, buckwheat, quinoa, oats, and 100% whole wheat breads and cereal
- Legumes - Beans, lentils, and other plant-based proteins
- Starchy Vegetables - Potatoes, sweet potatoes, pumpkin, and corn.
- Dairy - Milk, yoghurt, kefir, and cheese
- Fruit - Whole fruit and fruit juice
- Animal sources - Eggs, poultry, oily fish, offal (ideally organic), grass fed beef and lamb, dairy
- Plant sources - Nuts (walnut, almonds, pecans), nut butters, peanut butter, legumes, pumpkin seeds, tofu and tempeh
- Nuts and seeds: Flaxseed, almonds, walnuts, pecans, cashews, peanuts, hemp seeds, and nut butters
- Oils: Olive oil, Virgin coconut oil, Hemp seed oil
- Avocado, Ripe olives
- Deep sea oily fish - Salmon (ideally wild caught), sardines, herring. Here's how to make your fish choice sustainable as well as healthy.
- Dairy - Butter, clarified butter (ghee), dark chocolate
Additionally you can round out your nutrient dense diet with these incredibly nutritious foods. You already know liver is going to be on that list, don't you.
3. Eat Enough.
I'm talking about food quantity. Food adequacy. Just getting enough damn food into your body. Which is harder than you think in our current fat-phobic, weight-obsessed world.
I've already spoken extensively about why restricting your calories as a new mum is not a good idea. I understand the immense pressure you are under, as a postnatal woman in this culture, to lose the "baby weight" as fast as you possibly can.
I know that fad diets abound, and that living in a weight-obsessed culture you may be tempted to bend to these pressures by restricting your food, even "just a little bit". Or pushing yourself to exercise harder than you probably should this soon after having a baby, "just a little bit".
All I can say is this: don't do it. Postpartum is a time to put your big girl pants on, say enough with the diet culture bullshit, and eat like a grown-ass woman.
It is time to do what is best for you and your child, and frankly that is not undereating and overexercising to get down to some predetermined ideal weight.
Plus, it's pretty hard to get all the nutrients (see above) that you need for repair, recovery and especially breastfeeding if you're not actually eating a high enough volume of food to ferry those nutrients into your body and cells where its needed.
There's no point eating 100% organic whole foods if you skip breakfast, eat a few spoons of your kid's or husband's lunch from the same plate (you are not a dog who eats others' scraps, get your own plate - even if it takes and extra 5 seconds), and eat a dinner with one small potato as your only carb source. You definitely will not be getting enough energy, and you probably won't be getting enough nutrients.
If you don't eat enough, your health will eventually suffer. Read: immune deficiency, fatigue, greater susceptibility to colds and flus, muscle wasting, metabolic disturbances, hormonal imbalances, and more.
Remember, mama: Big girl pants ON. Eat warm, eat well, and eat enough.