These are the principles:
- High-quality food that is not too heavy on the digestive system
- Less oil, less salt, less alcohol, bland
- Small meals, many meals
1. High-quality food that is not too heavy on the digestive system
Because the modern diet is already so rich in calories and fat, we want to load the postpartum body up in a more nutritionally efficient way. This means using fresh food that do not burden the body.
TCM Physicians use your body temperature, level of fatigue, body temperature and digestive function as common barometers of how you are doing during postpartum. If you use food that is not appropriate, there may be diarrhea, constipation, increase in locchia flow and duration, etc.
Quality food also means food that is not overly-stimulating. This includes food that isn’t too cooling, too greasy, to spicy. Generally, we want to err on the side of food that is mildly warming, but again that is tricky because “mildly warming” is moving target depending on the individual body constitution being discussed. For new mothers who already have a cold constitution or compromised immunity or digestive function, this is the best time to make change in your body!
Quality food often involves foods that are easy to digest. The rule is to use foods that are soft. That is why stew are good, why peanuts are not good, why steak is not good, and why it is also a conundrum to use leafy green vegetables that have too much fiber.
The best way about it is to use soups. That said, we do have to discuss sources of essential vitamins and minerals and how to get them through food.
- B12 can be gotten through the pig liver, as well as seaweed, eggs and dairy. Vegetarians/vegans may need to supplement
- Iron may be derived from dark green leafy vegetables, soy, raisins and even whole grain. Vegetarians/vegans can help this along with foods that raise vitamin C levels, as vitamin C helps with iron absorption. These include kiwi, pomegranate, oranges and strawberries, but note again how an excess of fruits can disrupt the postpartum dietary balance, so it is good to use in moderation.
- Calcium is derived from dairy products, black sesame and soy as well as other beans. This is one mineral that is often lacking in vegetarians/vegans.
- Protein is often derived from meat and eggs. Vegetarians/vegans may use more soy and leafy green vegetables.
This is often where Chinese herbal tonics come into the picture. While it is not clear exactly how it tops up certain minerals or vitamins, the herbs help with better functioning of the body, including improved circulation and body warmth, which then facilitate smoother recovery.
2. Less oil, less salt, less alcohol, bland
This is the type of food that is going to wake up the appetite, help with absorption of nutrients and also facilitate good flow of breast milk!
Therefore, you will be boiling, steaming foods and making alot of soups! Soups are really good for nutrient absorption due to pre-extraction by water! There can be some light stir-fry. Deep fried foods can cause the new mother to catch fire from being over-heated (symptoms include dry mouth, sore throat, acne, constipation and anal fissuring).
2. Small meals, many meals
This concept is not just for postpartum, it is for getting back in shape also! In fact, here are 3 benefits:
- Weight management: Because we have reduced caloric intake, we are more likely to loose the pregnancy weight. Note that during this time, apart from feeding your little one, you are trying to rest as much as you can (speak of sleep deprivation!). Already you will be moving less, so diet is an important way to manage weight.
- Blood sugar management: We also better manage blood sugar levels, because small meals means less of a spike in blood sugar.
- Improvement of digestive function: For postpartum, not overloading the stomach is paramount. This helps with absorption of nutrients to bring you back to health. This also helps your digestive system recover — less likely to have bloatedness or flatulence if absorption is optimal.This helps create virtuous cycle where good appetite that is not immediately doused by heavy food. that constant need for food that is satisfied but not overly leads to optimal digestion and absorption.
So, one way to manage this is to have all kinds of confinement food options in the house. Apart from the 3 regular meals, to have 3 regular skins akin to brunch, tea-time and supper. The snacks should never be all dried foods, and definitely NOT processed dried foods like biscuits and bread if possible. A mix is always good.