The weeks and months after giving birth are a time of intense healing for your body. Whether your birth was gentle and easy or strenuous and slow, your body has some work to do in order to bring you back into a state of vitality and health. Some cultures believe that the care you receive and the food you eat has a long-lasting and profound effect on your health for the rest of your life after having a baby. You can become depleted in this time, losing some of your life force and health, which will result in more sickness and an earlier death, or you can actually add to your qi (life force energy) and come back from your birth healthier and with more longevity than even before!
Through my own three pregnancies I've learned that planning for your postpartum period is really the key to being able to rest and take care of yourself in a real way. Even after my second birth, which was so sweet and easy, my brain just was not able to process and function enough to care for myself in the same capacity as it was before. I had some meals in the freezer for us to thaw out, but where I thought I'd simply wear the baby to the grocery store and resume life as normal, I kept falling short. I tried to take some of the work out of planning ahead by creating this printable checklist for you! (Scroll to the bottom)
There are many ways that a new mom needs to be nurtured and cared for, but in my opinion, food is one of the main pillars of health postpartum. To think of it in the most basic way- a woman's body goes through incredible rapid change in a short amount of time, changing quickly from a warm environment to a cold one. There is more blood and tissue to build, wounds to heal, and another little being to give life to now outside of the womb. Our bodies are miraculous, and can tend to these tasks no problem, but even more so when given the right tools.
Cultures all over the world tend to their new mothers by preparing meals, doing household chores and refueling their bodies with the things that they know it needs. We don't get the same care and attention in our modern western culture, so we need to improvise. Plan ahead to have those who are around you provide for your basic needs, and modernize the ancient practice of laying in. Not because you are broken or unable to tend to your daily tasks- because you are healing. Honor that.
Postpartum food needs to be four things in order to support a faster recovery and long-lasting health:
You don't want to give your body any extra hard work immediately postpartum. Let's just say this isn't the time for your favorite fast food! Your digestion will be slow, and the process of digesting food takes warmth and energy away from the other areas of the body that will need it right now. Making sure your food is soft will aid in elimination and make digestion easier so you can utilize those nutrients quicker and more effectively. This can look like gently cooking greens before eating them, cooking your oats or grains into a porridge, and avoiding too many crunchy raw veggies for now.
Keeping a new mom warm is a practice you see all over the world postpartum. There are practices call "mother roasting" where a woman is covered in blankets and placed over a small fire underneath her bed or surrounded by heat. Keeping her away from open windows and wind is common. This is one of the ways we preserve and rebuild her precious qi that has been lost, and it is important for her food to be warm too. Not in the sense that everything is heated up, but that the actual food, herbs and spices are warming. I like to imagine eating what we traditionally think of as Fall flavors. Things like ginger, cinnamon, chai, soups, stews, etc.
Now is a good time to get oily! With a diet leaning toward Ayurveda you might add ghee to everything postpartum, but for those of us that are vegan I recommend coconut oil or a cruelty-free palm oil. Olive oil and whole food fats such as certain nuts, avocados, etc. can also be beneficial. This is warming, grounding and will continue to aid in digestion.
Add nutrition to your food wherever you can! This was something I took away from my days at Bauman College, and I find it even more precious advice for postpartum women. Wherever possible, use a homemade mineral broth to make soups, add things like miso and fermented foods to your meals, and sprinkle everything with seaweeds, nutritional yeast, hemp seeds, etc. One of my favorite superfood snacks is dark chocolate-covered goji berries for it's high antioxidant content.
When creating this checklist for your pantry, I included pantry staples that, when readily available, will make throwing together a nutritious meal a breeze- even if you only have one hand! I highly recommend picking up a copy of the book The First Forty Days, which includes simple and delicious recipes for postpartum. It is a book for all diets, but I found it to be more vegan friendly than it looks at first glance.
With the ingredients from this checklist, you will be able to make some of my personal favorites for postpartum, whether I am eating them myself or making a meal for a doula client:
- Mineral broth
- hot chocolate
- stove top chai
- golden milk
- simple miso soup
- rice congee
- simple curries
- And you will notice I also added a few non-grocery items at the bottom such as epsom salts (for post-birth baths) and ingredients you will need to make my lactation cookie recipe.
Here's a quick breakdown of what is on this checklist, and why I've included the things that I did.
Seasonal fruits and veggies are, of course, a staple in any healthy diet. Choose juicy fruits and vegetables that you enjoy, remembering that cooking them and eating soft foods will be the most beneficial right now. A baked sweet potato is an easy and nutritious addition to any meal, or sometimes even a meal in itself! Stewed apples, especially with prunes, can be a lifesaver if like many women you become constipated. Dried mushrooms will be essential for homemade broth, which you can easily place in a crockpot with celery, leeks, carrots, kombu, etc. and leave on low all night to be drunk throughout the day or used in soups.
BEANS & GRAINS
Adzuki beans are at the top of my list for their easy digestibility. Most beans will be difficult to digest in the first few weeks, but soft red lentils can provide plenty of protein. Have some popcorn handy and season with pink salt and nutritional yeast for an easy and yummy snack!
DRIED FRUIT, NUTS & SEEDS
Oatmeal is a staple postpartum, and that can get boring... enter dried fruit. Add dried raisins or cherries to porridge, oatmeal, even congee and cookies for some added fiber and nutrients and a healthy dose of sweet. Make sure you have unsulphered prunes on hand for those first few days home.
This is a great place to stock up on food for your other family members who won't necessarily want to be eating soft, warm foods everyday. (Thrive Market is also a great resource for providing for the others in your home when you aren't ready to cook full meals or leave the house.) Make it easy on everyone and have some meals and snacks that can be simply heated up. Buying premade curry sauces can also make an easy dinner for you when you feel ready for more complex flavors and bigger meals. If you can't find kombu, you can purchase it here on Amazon, and I highly recommend it! Adding kombu to your homemade broths or when cooking beans will aid in digestion and add essential minerals into your food that are otherwise hard to get.
OILS AND VINEGAR
These are your ingredients for fat and flavor! A little splash of vinegar makes soups taste more vibrant and fats will lubricate your insides, helping you more easily absorb the nutrients in your food and providing essential fats to your growing baby if you are breastfeeding.
HERBS AND SPICES
I love herbs! These simple plant medicines provided by nature can be found online or sometimes in your health food store. Calendula flowers are excellent for healing tears or stitches and can be added to a sitz bath postpartum. Red Raspberry leaf can be drunk as a tea for uterine health and for replenishing essential nutrients. Oatstraw is calming and nourishing for times when you need to settle your mind and your nerves and can be drunk as a tea. Nettles are also incredibly mineral-rich. If you are able to get your hand on fresh nettles they can be sauteed with oil and garlic, but a tea or infusion works just as well. The rest of the spices can be used to make a delicious chai on your stove top or in the crockpot to sip on throughout the day. And lastly, if you are experiencing the joy of hemorrhoids (unfortunately, it happens), I highly highly recommend purchasing a tea blend from Euphoric Herbals called Vascular Toning Tea. It is a safe blend for breastfeeding mothers, and it works like an actual miracle!
At the bottom you will find some blank space to add in your own items that you don't want to forget while stocking up on your postpartum essentials. Print out several of these lists and use them to ask for help with grocery shopping and to remind you of what you need throughout the next several months after giving birth!
Jasmine's Mushroom Mineral Broth
1/2 onion (or saved onion skins from cooking. Waste not, want not!)
1 clove of garlic
Tops and peels from root vegetables, or 1/2 a potato with skin
2 celery stalks
1 cup dried mushrooms such as shiitake, maitake, or whatever you can find
a strip of dried kombu
Add all of the ingredients into your crockpot or a large stock pot and fill to the top with fresh water. Cook on low for a minimum of 4 hours. Strain and save in mason jars, or keep in your crockpot on warm for 1-2 days.
Nourishing Hot Chocolate
(I craved this almost immediately postpartum! Play around with the recipe and make it your own)
10 oz plant-based milk
1 Tbsp cocoa powder
2 squares super dark chocolate
a pinch of cinnamon
a small pinch of cayenne
1/4 tsp vanilla
Whisk until the chocolate is melted and all of the ingredients are incorporated. Do not boil. Serve hot.
(this was given to me by a dear friend and fellow yoga teacher. get ready for your house to smell amazing!)
2 quarts water
3 cinnamon sticks
15 whole cloves
20 cardamom pods, split
8 slices ginger (you don't have to peel)
Bring to a boil, and simmer for 1 hour or more. Add black tea if desired, turn off the heat and let sit for 5 minutes. I've also added fresh tumeric slices in addition to the ginger and orange peels.
Enjoy! If you haven't already printed out a copy of my Postpartum Wellness Plan you can do so here, and prepare to honor yourself with some intentional and nourishing self-care for mind, body and spirit. Be well!