Nutrition in the Postpartum Period
In traditional cultures, the village cares for the mother while the mother cares for the baby. In Western culture, the ‘village’ of support looks very different. Women are not being nutritionally nourished after birth, and this is contributing to postpartum physical and mental imbalances.
In traditional Chinese culture, the grandmother will stay with the new mother’s family for at least 30 days and will prepare the food post-birth, ensuring optimal nutrition to support her healing and breastfeeding journey. In Australia, too often, new mums are understandably reaching for quick and easy foods (i.e. takeaway) that are low in nutrients. This then impacts long-term health for the mother and baby.
After giving birth, the body has an inbuilt healing process, however if we aren’t receiving optimal nutrients, postpartum depletion commonly arises. This can include fatigue, anxiety, depressive feelings, iron deficiency, skin concerns, hormonal issues and conditions such as thyroid illnesses.
After birth, our bodies require large amounts of quality meats and legumes for vitamins such as iron and B12, to replenish blood lost. Quality carbohydrates are required to fuel our energy demands, and these can include warm vegetables and stewed fruits (which also contain vitamin C and zinc for healing). Warmed foods are best for the new mother to aid digestion. Broths from marrow bones contain many nutrients and minerals, as do eggs, which contain choline - an important nutrient for our muscles and nerves, in addition to baby’s brain development. Omega 3 is required for similar reasons, but also to reduce inflammation, and can be found in selected meats (e.g. kangaroo), and nuts and seeds (e.g. walnuts, flaxseeds and chia seeds). Breastfeeding will consume even more nutrients, and it is recommended that lactating women receive 3.5L of fluid a day!
Postpartum food is about going back to basics - it is what we ate once upon a time, the food will give the mother energy back from the land. Food is the most important gift we can give ourselves.
But of course, this should not be the mother’s job. Invest in postpartum nutrition, just like you would your birth. If you’re in a position to, ask for meals from family, friends, food delivery services and the like.
Let’s care for ourselves so we can care for our little ones - to create a stronger and more resilient next generation.
Words: Rebecca Harwood
Rebecca is a Naturopath, Nutritionist, Herbalist, and Director of Mother Nature Heals. Rebecca has a special interest in postpartum care and children's health. After the birth of her daughter, Rebecca realised the importance of this, but even more so noticed the lack of care for women after birth. It is for these reasons that Rebecca is passionate to help others reconnect with themselves and their bodies, encompassing emotional, physical and spiritual balance.
Originally published in Connected Caregiving Autumn 2023