Thriving Through the 4th Trimester: Nourishing Mama with Food

Welcome to the fifth post in this series, Thriving through the 4th Trimester. Follow me as I share what I learned applying traditions from other cultures to my own postpartum journey. It is my hope that this knowledge will serve as a guide for how to truly care for a woman, as she transitions from maiden to mother, in the most wholistic way possible.

Growing a human inside your body shifts the organs all around in your abdominal cavity. After birth, there is a void that the organs will settle back down into as the uterus shrinks. This can have a profound effect on the digestive system. Many Mamas struggle with constipation in the first few days postpartum. Feeding your body foods that are easily digestible helps the body eliminate with ease and direct its energy toward healing.

In the early postpartum window, food served in weeks 1-2 should be dedicated to restoring the digestive process and helping Mama eliminate with as little pain as possible, and if she is breast feeding, it should support lactation. Food eaten in weeks 2-4 should be focused on tissue healing, and food consumed in weeks 4-6 should be aimed at rejuvenation, and if breastfeeding, lactation.

Here are some general guidelines to follow:

  • Avoid any known dietary irritants. Respect your own individual sensitivities by avoiding things that irritated you prior to pregnancy. (Think about what causes you to experience things like constipation, gas, or bloating.)
  • Drink lots of warm liquids throughout the day. It is recommended that breastfeeding Mamas consume 2.7 liters of fluid per day. Warm or room temp water, decaffeinated herbal teas, warm prune juice, warm milk/mylk tonics with digestive spices are all great choices. Avoid: cold liquids and iced, carbonated, or caffeinated beverages. Take caution with this rule- I found myself drinking less fluids for the first couple of weeks because I was trying to make sure everything I drank was warm. If it had cooled down, I was telling myself I had to warm it up again in order to drink it. If it came out of the fridge filter, it was cold and I had to wait for it to warm up to at least room temp. Don’t get caught in this vicious cycle like I did. Remember that the most important thing is to stay hydrated.
  • Foods should be easy to digest and well cooked; avoid items that will “slow things down” or cause gas or bloating. Think oatmeal, cream of rice, cream of wheat, and warm smoothies. Avoid raw salad, trail mix, and frozen or cold food/drink.
  • Food should be served warm/hot and as freshly prepared as possible, as well as spiced to help aid digestion. Some common spices that aid digestion are: cumin, coriander, clove, cinnamon, ginger, anise, fennel, and fenugreek.
  • If breast feeding, the foods you eat can increase or inhibit your milk supply. Eating foods known to promote lactation—galactogogues—can improve your supply. The following foods are known galactagogues: oatmeal, barley, amaranth, farro, spinach, arugula, collards, Swiss chard, kale, broccoli, brewers yeast, flax seeds, sweet potatoes, yams, beets, carrots, fennel, garlic, chickpeas, nuts, sesame seeds, ginger, papaya, and the spices listed above.
  • Add healthy fats to all foods. Ghee, olive oil, sesame oil (untoasted), and coconut oil are all good choices.
  • Moisture should be present in all foods. Options like puréed soups, hearty well cooked stews, smoothies and teas are great choices.
  • Eat smaller meals throughout the day. Avoid overeating as this taxes the digestive system.
  • Practice mindful eating. Sit down when eating, chew your food well, and take time to really taste and appreciate it.

These things are much easier said than done with a newborn. My tendency with my first child was to take care of all baby’s needs and neglect my own until I was starving. I would grab something quick out of the fridge that I could eat with one hand, scarf a bunch quickly while standing up, all while holding/bouncing my baby.

With my second child, I was determined to do better. I actually hired an Ayurvedic Doula to cook appropriate meals for me, for the first three weeks. She delivered the meals to my home every three days and asked about my symptoms to guide her in choosing what to bring next. All I had to do was warm up what she had brought me, and I still found this a challenge. After the first two weeks, when my husband went back to work, I had a sick toddler and my baby with me at home. Simply reheating teas and food, and consuming them while they were at the right temperature was harder than I thought it would be. I swear my tongue was scalded because I would heat my food too much and then try and scarf it down before baby woke up!

But I did try to apply all of these concepts. And I will say, these items made it easier:

I ate an Ayurvedic postpartum diet almost exclusively for four weeks. I liked everything I ate. It was flavorful, warming and nourishing. But even though it was tasty, it also felt foreign, like another culture’s comfort food. I started thinking of what would feel more “down home” for me that would still be easy to digest and warming and I always just came back to soup. I’m a big fan of making my own bone broths and I love sipping the broth with spices, and making soups. But we don’t typically utilize many of the spices that aid digestion in American cooking. I learned what those were (listed above) and utilized them, and now I want to continue cooking with them as much as possible.

My awareness around the value of slowing down and sitting to eat has improved. It truly helps my digestion. And many of the symptoms I experienced the first time around (sensory disorder, severe dryness of the skin/lips, emotional instability) didn’t occur for me until I stopped eating the foods on the diet. So, that was interesting. I did still struggle with constipation. I didn’t poop for the first three days postpartum and then was slow to process: I went about three days in between poops for a while. But when I did go it was smooth and it wasn’t painful. This is a godsend after a vaginal birth.

Overall, I would recommend looking into trying an Ayurvedic diet postpartum and seeing if it feels right for you. The books I mentioned in the first post of this series are wonderful and have many recipes. Mama’s Menu is particularly helpful if you are going to try this without the help of an AyurDoula. It provides you with enough guidance for you to have your family and friends assisting you to “do it yourself.” I would not recommend trying to actually do it yourself. That defeats the purpose completely.

If you are currently pregnant or have just had a baby, consider sharing this with your support group so that they can provide you with the kind of help you need to be able to focus your time where it’s really important!

Hot Tip for Family & Tribe: If you are supporting Mama by bringing her a meal, bring items in disposable containers. If you don’t, set up another time to come help again and collect your belongings.

Next post in this seriesThriving Through the 4th Trimester: Assembling Your Village

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