How eating after you give birth can change everything

Image: Shutterstock
Image: Shutterstock 

You've got all the sweet little onesies washed and Kon-maried, the baby's room is Pinterest perfect and you've done more research on car seats than a PhD student writing a thesis.

But here's the thing: none of that stuff is going to help you heal your body after the marathon of birth or soothe your mind when you're dealing with a super-fun cocktail of sleep-deprivation and fluctuating hormones.

What can? Food.

As a postpartum doula, I support women emotionally and practically in the intense weeks following the birth of their baby--and a big part of my job involves cooking nourishing food that's tailored to their needs. The food I deliver to new mums is based on traditional recipes and ingredients that have been used in cultures for centuries to care for women who have just given birth.

But there are no big secrets here. Simply stock up on a few key ingredients and get your head around what foods pack a nutrient-dense punch, and even partners with minimal cooking skills can get on board.

This bit's important

Those cultures with a strong tradition of looking after new mothers have one thing in common: the food is always warming. It makes sense; during pregnancy, your blood volumes almost doubles, but after birth you lose this warming blood which means that your circulation isn't quite up to scratch and your digestion is sluggish. Warming usually means both in temperature, and in essence - think things like simple, nourishing stews and spices that stoke circulation.

If you've given birth in the height of summer, soup might not be on the menu, but you can make smoothies with cooked (rather than raw and frozen) fruit and have things at room temperature rather than chilled. Raw salads and fruit platters? Not now. Instead, make a roasted veggie and rice bowl and stew some fruit to eat with warm custard.

Help for healing

If I had my way, every new mum would be drinking a steaming cup of bone broth within hours of delivering her baby. Think of it as an infusion of everything you need to recover, in ultra-absorbable form: protein, collagen and magnesium to help your muscles and tissues repair (if you've had a caesarean or episiotomy this is even more vital), natural electrolytes to rehydrate after you've gone through a huge physical feat, and gelatin to help your wounds recover.

Stock your freezer pre-baby, and whack a pot on the stove once a week - it's one of the easiest things you can make and its benefits extend well beyond the six week mark.

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Then I'd have her snacking on some chicken liver pate in the days and weeks after birth (and beyond). Liver is loaded with iron, which is perfect if you've lost blood during delivery, vitamin A, choline, zinc, vitamin B12, folate -- all nutrients that support the healing process and go through your breastmilk so bub can benefit too. The best part? It's easy to spread on toast and voila, you've made a super-charged snack.

Choose organic, pasture-fed products: because broth leeches out all the stuff in bones and pate uses the organ responsible for processing what goes in the chicken, you want only goodness in there.

Breastfeeding buddies

There are two things to know when you're establishing breastfeeding: first, that the quality of your diet influences the quality of your breastmilk. Does that mean you have to eat perfectly? No way, as if you need that extra pressure in your life. But it does mean you should prioritise some key ingredients and make sure you're eating plenty.

Secondly, there are a few things that are thought to help increase and support your milk supply, which can help in the early days (and times when you're feeling run down or particularly tired).

It's time to make friends with fat -- the good ones, like butter, avocado, nut butters and the Ayurvedic postpartum superfood ghee (sorry to say I'm not talking about chips here). It's also not the time to worry about cutting carbs, because sweet potatoes, pumpkin and congee are perfect for meeting your calorie needs.

Which brings me to lactation cookies: their two key ingredients, oats and brewer's yeast, are "galactogogues" thought to build your milk supply, and they have heaps of other nutritional benefits, too. I chuck plenty of good fats - coconut oil, seeds, coconut flakes, choc-chips - in those yummy little nutrient bombs too.

The gut-brain connection

Your digestion is probably a little funky right now, and your gut could use a little extra love. It's time to load up on probiotics, which handily get passed through your milk to your little baby's developing digestive system. Plus, there's research that suggests they can help guard against postpartum depression.

Think fermented foods: my pick is sauerkraut, because it's a gentle way of eating veggies (yep, even cabbage) and it offers digestive enzymes, B vitamins, vitamin C too. Just choose a raw kind (if it's on the shelf, it's not raw -- you'll find the good ones in the fridge).

A healthy gut can mean better sleep (melatonin is manufactured in the gut), a stronger immune system (70% of your immune system is in the gut), and more balanced hormones (good gut bacteria like beta-glucoronidase helps to re-uptake estrogen back into the body).

Calming cooking

Your hormones are wacky, you're getting very little sleep, you're learning how to keep a small human alive: is it any wonder your nerves are tattered? One in six women experience postpartum anxiety and depression, and most will have moments of intense stress. Cooking isn't a cure-all, but reach for things like probiotic-rich food, fatty fish and magnesium-rich dark chocolate and they could give you a little brain boost.

My favourite warm drink for new mamas is a calming hot cacao: loaded with nerve-soothing magnesium, raw cacao is a postpartum pantry essential. I add the Ayurvedic herb ashwagandha, known for its calming properties, warming spices, organic ghee and sweeten with something unrefined. It's thick, fragrant and bloody delicious.

Naomi Chrisoulakis is a postpartum doula and cook who delivers food to new mamas around Sydney. Check out the menu at cocoonbynaomi.com