If I could go back in time and give my pregnant self – one piece of advice, it would be to spend more time preparing for my postpartum! There is nothing more exciting than the impending birth of your baby, but who is with me when I say the first time around, it was all about them – what clothes they would wear, what pram you would buy, what ‘theme’ you would go with for the nursery… Those things are important to some extent, but for many (me included!) it is only once you have experienced the postpartum period, that you realise you might have gotten it all wrong..
My daughter is 18 months old, and it took me the best part of a year to finally start feeling myself again. Postpartum got me good – I was exhausted, dizzy, losing my hair, my skin was breaking out, all the while lying awake at night anxiously worrying about my new baby. A postpartum blood test also showed significant nutrient depletion, so if this could happen to me, I can only imagine what many other women are also experiencing.
We always focus on the health of our babies but vary rarely on the health of ourselves.
Truthfully, a woman will never undergo as big of a shift in her world (mentally, physically, emotionally, physiologically) as she does in the days, weeks, months after giving birth. For thousands of years, many cultures around the world have placed huge importance on this period of change, banding together relatives and community members to nourish and support a woman in the early days, giving her the time to rest and focus on caring for her new baby.
In today’s world, women are praised for how quickly they have “bounced back” after baby, how “together” they seem and how much they can accomplish after just having their baby. This unnecessary pressure can put a lot of strain on a new mother, especially when operating on so little sleep. A new mother needs to be cared for, nurtured, and rested so she can give her body (and mind) the recovery it needs for the adventures that lie ahead.
Traditional postpartum practices focus on 3 key pillars:
- Support and rest
Let’s take a little look at what each is all about…
Support and Rest:
It is important that you go with what feels right for you in the early days. But equally, it is important that you don’t try to do it all, this is a time for rest and recovery and that often requires support from others (especially if you already have older children).
When building a postpartum support team:
- Give yourself time: think about when you are ready to welcome people into your newborn bubble.
- Think about who you want to invite into your space: you want people who will take care of your needs, not make you feel as though you need to take care of them. You are likely to be feeling extremely vulnerable during this time: recovering physically, experiencing a flood of emotions, and learning to feed your baby. You want people who are going to uplift and support, not drag you down with unsolicited advice.
- Make sure you communicate this clearly before birth.
When at home, it can be hard to completely switch off from regular household chores and allow yourself permission to just rest and be with your baby. Often friends and family want to help, but they don’t really know how.
Consider the below options for support, enabling you and your partner more time to rest. This time around, I am asking family to gift food and services instead of presents for the baby, since we already had more than what we need from our first born.
- Pre-book a cleaner (if budget allows). Once a week or once a fortnight for the first 2-3 months would take a lot of stress away!
- Leave a list of chores on the fridge or bench for visitors to see, so when they ask if you need any help, you can direct them there.
- Meal train: ask friends and family to bring snacks or meals instead of gifts, which will save you a lot of time preparing during witching hour.
- Postpartum Doula: becoming more and more popular, doulas can offer emotional support, advice around recovery, infant feeding, soothing and sleep, meal preparation and light household chores – like the fairy godmother you never realised you needed!
When it comes to postpartum, nourishing, nutrient-dense food plays a critical role in a mother’s internal healing and recovery. Food is the fuel source for the body, providing energy when sleep-deprived, key nutrients to produce breastmilk and helps to regulate hormones.
After 9 months of pregnancy, digestive organs have shifted around to make room for baby. The uterus has also expanded up to 1,000 times its normal size, so there is a lot of movement that takes place in the early postpartum days and weeks to bring things back to where they belong.
During this time, it is important to choose foods that are warm, soft and easily digestible to take additional pressure off the digestive system.
Nutritional requirements significantly increase (think about all that milk your body is producing, around the clock), so it is completely normal to experience strong feelings of hunger or cravings. Listen to your body’s cues and eat when you are hungry, this is not the time to count calories and worry about weight loss. Focus on eating meals that include a balance of the 3 macronutrients:
- Carbohydrates: required for energy and building milk supply
- Fats: help stabilise blood sugar (reducing energy crashes), balance hormones and provide nourishment to breast milk
- Protein: keeps you feeling fuller for longer, repairs and rebuilds muscle tissue
It is unlikely you will have time (or mental capacity!) to focus on preparing nourishing food for yourself, so a little pre-thought can really make life a whole lot easier in the early postpartum days.
Some of the foods I like to recommend to new mums include:
- Fermented food: to support digestion and nourish breastmilk with beneficial bacteria. Also especially important for those who had antibiotics during birth (eg: c-section)
- Bone broth / collagen: nutrient-dense, helps repair tissues (especially if you have experienced vaginal tears or c-section birth)
- Nut butters: rich in mono-unsaturated fats, which help to balance hormones and blood sugar, keep you feeling full + a super easy snack on their own, on toast or with veggies.
- Oily fish (eg; salmon and sardines): rich in key nutrients such as DHA, calcium and vitamin D3 which are going to boost the quality of your breast milk. DHA and vitamin D3 also play a role in helping reduce symptoms of postpartum depression.
- Grass-fed liver: high in iron which helps to rebuild stores depleted after birth (and 9 months of pregnancy), plus vitamin A which supports immunity and repair.
- Turmeric: a well-known uterotonic, meaning it helps with the stimulation of the uterus back to its normal size.
- Hydration: water is essential to replenish lost liquid through breastmilk, night sweats and bleeding. Aim to drink 250ml with every feed, averaging 2-3L across the day. Keeping multiple drink bottles around the house where you will be feeding can be handy.
My top tips for food preparation are:
- Stock your freezer / pantry with healthy, balanced meals and snacks: This reduces the chance of reaching for poor quality / sugary foods which are only going to exacerbate hunger and mess around with blood sugar (leaving you feeling even more tired). Think about foods that are easily reheated (eg: lasagne, pasta sauces, soups) and snacks that can be consumed with one hand (bliss balls, cookies, slices).
- Organise a meal train: instead of gifts for the baby, ask that friends and family participate in a meal train. You can organise this yourself, or ask someone close to you to help with coordination, or use a website such as Mealtrain.
- Order from a postpartum meal service: again, a great alternative gift idea! Some services I love are (for Australian-based Mumma’s): Dinner Ladies, Feed Mama First and The Golden Month.
Preparing for your recovery after birth is just as beneficial as rest / recovery itself. Having everything on hand that you may need will allow for more rest and prevent and late-night store runs!
Here are some essentials for the recovery period:
- High-waisted undies: These can help you to feel more secure and comfortable, especially if you end up having a c-section, as you avoid the waistband rubbing on the scar area.
- Comfy pillow: something to consider for lengthy hospital stays, so you sleep better and generally feel more comfortable. Also doubles as a breastfeeding support for your back & shoulders.
- Padsicles: made from maternity pads soaked in witch hazel & lavender, these are incredibly helpful to reduce inflammation and soothe swelling after birth.
- Frozen nappies: place a couple of these in your freezer to use on swollen, engorged breasts as milk comes in. Be mindful of how often you do this, as “cool” can potentially lower milk supply.
- High-potency probiotics: especially necessary after caesarean birth to help strengthen the microbiome of both mother and baby for 2 reasons: 1) antibiotics are administered to the mother to prevent infection from surgery; 2) babies do not pass through the vaginal canal, which is where they pick up a lot of beneficial bacterial necessary for building the immune system. Choose a multi-strain product with 50-80 billion CFU, or reach out to me for an express supplement protocol.
I am available for Postpartum Nutrition Consultations, if you need any extra support with food, nutrients, or supplementation to aid with your recovery. Good luck with the journey ahead Mumma!