I highly recommend the book The First Forty Days - The Essential Art of Nourishing the New Mother by Heng Ou. Not only is the layout and presentation beautiful and calming, but its chock full of great information, nutritious and out-of-the-box recipes, ancient traditions that have been passed on and helpful tips. I wish I had this book when I was pregnant so that I'd have had this information and new perspective on things as a new mother.
I really like and this passage from the book:
"The matriarchs of China knew that the kitchen is where you heal the people you love. Using food as medicine was in their bones, and the ingredients they tossed in the pot weren't added just for their taste: They brought priceless benefits of greater vitality, beauty and longevity...
Furthermore, consuming speciality dishes for certain seasons of your life such as puberty, pregnancy or old age was pure common sense - as obvious as wearing certain clothes in January and others in July. In this Tao, or balanced way, of eating, your diet was chosen to address the body's shifting needs, balance out any extreme states, or replenish any lacks - not just to feed the sudden urge for, say, spaghetti and meatballs.
For the new mother, this meant meals rich in iron to rebuild blood, protein to repair tissues and support hormones, fatty acids to enrich the breast milk, vitamins and antioxidants to speed tissue healing, and therapeutic herbs and spices to counter inflammation or boost milk flow, if needed. She couldn't take a few pre- or postnatal vitamins and consider the job done - her daily meals and drinks had to truly do the job of nourishing and building her up...
The way you eat after giving birth can fuel, build, and heal you, and it is often the humblest food that does it best."
Start with good proteins to fuel you and help with milk production if you're breastfeeding. Eat light in the first two to five days after birth, gradually adding in more protein, good fats and slow-releasing carbohydrates. If you're not sure what slow-releasing carbohydrates are, see the link and excuse the obnoxious ads that are on the site, the info is good though! Ask others to help keep you fed and assist with meal/snack preparation because believe it or not, feeding yourself might not always be at the top of your priority list (but needs to be)! Or better yet, hire a Postpartum and Infant Care Doula to come in and help ease your load. The meal prep and having easy-access foods on hand is one of my favorite tasks as a doula!
Its also helpful to include a little bit of grain and beans into your diet after the first week or so after birth. If you live a grain-free life, then you'd skip that, of course, but if not, a little bit is okay to start with. Some mothers worry that beans and legumes might cause gas in the newborn and that is a legit concern. A newborn's gut is brand new and it is harder for them to break down and digest certain foods, but it doesn't mean that you as the mother have to avoid them completely. Introduce things into your diet slowly and consciously, making note of how it makes you feel and if your baby seems to tolerate it well. Give yourself two or three days with each new thing you add back into your diet. If you're paying attention, you'll be able to see right away if its a good thing to eat for you and/or your baby.
As much as possible, eating locally-sourced, organic foods is what's healthiest, but I realize that's not always possible due to your budget, access to local farmers, etc. Here's a list of what's known as The Dirty Dozen, the top foods that are the most contaminated that one should try to buy organic. The site also references The Clean Fifteen, foods that are safer to buy if they're not organic. Again, all of this in moderation and when/how you can afford it. Organic or not, if you're conscious of the good proteins, fats, etc. that you're consuming, you're far better off than many people who merely consume food just to consume it.
In closing, another quote from Ou's book:
"... birth and mothering is not a one-size-fits-all experience - every woman has her own way of doing it and her own needs to satisfy... listen to yourself and select dishes and drinks based on what you feel your body or mind needs to be comfortable, vital and calm."
Stay tuned for a future post with suggestions for what foods and drinks you could enjoy in the days immediately following the birth of your little one. This is a lot of information, I know, but I feel it is so vital to women in our culture and something that is often overlooked. Like I said before, I wish I had known these things when I was pregnant. I sure didn't approach nutrition this way after giving birth. If I can influence even one mama to just think about doing things a little differently and with great intention after birth, I'd be happy.