art I: Surviving the First Forty Days + Beyond
Today marks my fortieth day postpartum. Forty days of changing newborn diapers (and toddler diapers), nursing on demand, and sleeping in short two hour blocks. This isn’t my first time being postpartum, but so many things are different this time around. I’m desperately trying to take care of myself, my toddler and our new baby girl. After the birth of my first daughter in 2016, I had fewer responsibilities and higher expectations. I thought I would be able to continue living my pre-baby life, post-baby. And boy was I wrong! Patience isn’t really a virtue I posses. I know many new and seasoned moms can relate. I rushed back into exercise, desperately wanting to fit into my skinny jeans without accepting the reality that my body had changed forever. When I looked in the mirror, I didn’t recognize myself as me, a new mom, a new identity, an entirely new person post-birth trying to fill new shoes, manage my diastasis recti, and heal from a second degree tear and symphysis pubis dysfunction, among the other after effects of pregnancy and childbirth.
The truth is, I can’t say I don’t want the same things right now. I’d be lying if I said I didn’t. But I now know better. I know that in time, I will lose that weight I gained during pregnancy. My old jeans may (or may not) button once again. More importantly, I know that taking the proper time to heal, rest and recover is where my priority should be. I know that of all things, food will give me the life and energy I need to not only heal, but get back to movement that feels good for my (new again) body, replenish my nutrient stores and build a milk supply that nourishes my baby. This time around, I knew I’d do some things differently, primarily in regards to my attitude toward food. In order to recover from the very real trauma that is labor and birth, your body needs optimal nutrition in the postpartum healing period.
I’ve spent the last 40 days resting and healing and nourishing my body. I’ve even napped when my babies were napping, took a few showers in peace, and tried to get outside for some fresh air. Of all the struggles we face post-birth, healthy healing meals shouldn’t be one of them. After thriving during a plant-based pregnancy, I put a solid postpartum health and nutrition plan in place; one that would help me survive the first days and weeks as a mother of two. This has made a world of difference! I’ve healed safely and quickly and had the energy to nurse my newborn and keep up with my toddler all day long, while running on less than 3-4 hours of sleep some nights (because, well, this baby has her own plans); things I feared I wouldn’t be able to handle before the reality of having two became my every day life.
Did you know that these forty days postpartum are considered a sacred bonding time between mom and baby in many cultures, a time for the mother to rest and recover without lifting a finger or foot? As new mamas in America, that is sadly not really our reality. We don’t live in small communal villages and many of us don’t have the help of family and friends for extended periods of time. Among other factors, our fast paced lives often prevent us from taking the time we need to recuperate from pregnancy, labor and birth, and bond with our baby, while adapting to our new role as mamas, whether it be for the first or fourth time. Chilling in bed all day with our feet up and sleeping when baby sleeps is not our modern day reality.
But we can still set ourselves up for success by having a solid postpartum nutrition plan; one that nourishes us and supports our new lives as moms. One of the best things we can do for ourselves and our babies is to eat nutrient-dense foods that support our bodies post-birth, for the first six months postpartum and beyond.
First and foremost, when considering postpartum recovery and optimal nutrition, it’s important to keep a few things in mind. To start, you’ve just spent the last nine/ten months growing a human and you’re physically recovering from labor, not only in the first 6 weeks, but up to one year postpartum or more. Your resources are also being expended if you are a breastfeeding mom. Lactation places high demands on the body and decreased nutrient stores can wreak havoc on our physical and mental health. Recent research suggests that nutrient depletion during pregnancy, lactation and postpartum can affect the production of key mood regulating hormones like serotonin. Lower levels of folate, vitamin D, iron, selenium, zinc, fatty acids and fats have all been linked with a higher risk of PPD. Quite simply, eating in a way that nourishes your mind and body has never been more important. Here are my 10 tips for supporting postpartum health and nutrition that you can try for yourself:
1.Eat a Big Quality Breakfast
A big bowl of organic oats, quinoa porridge, superfood smoothie, 8 grain toast with nut butter or avocado. These are breakfasts for a postpartum Mama. Load up at breakfast because you need the energy for the rest of the day. High quality fiber, fat and plant protein is your goal. If you are breastfeeding, this also helps to keep your milk supply healthy.
2.Keep Your Fridge Stocked with Snacks + Superfoods
Carrots, peppers, hummus, bean dip, nuts, fruit, guacamole, quinoa salad, freezer smoothie. Your health and recovery heavily depends on your intake of healthy wholesome foods. Available snacks help with milk quality and supply, energy levels, sleep habits and post baby weight loss (when the time is right and it’s supported by mindful movement).
3.Eat Every 3-4 Hours
Health snacks and leftovers are the key here. This is where those nutrient dense meals come in handy – the ones that are easy to heat up on a whim. Avoid letting your blood sugar get too low – this is when we tend to reach for the unhealthy snack options like crackers, cookies and chips.
4.Master the One-Pot Meal
Soups, stews, chilis – these meals are your new best friend. They are chock full of vitamins and nutrients, take less than 30 minutes to make and are perfect for leftovers.
5.Increase Your Intake of Health Fats
Not only are healthy fats brain food for mama, they are brain food for baby too. Increase your intake of healthy fats in the form of omega 3s from lactation boosting foods like walnuts, flax seeds, chia seeds, coconut milk and of course, avocados.
6.Drinks Lots of Water
Staying hydrated is essential to recovering and stimulating milk production. Ideally, aim to drink half your body weight in ounces of water per day. Every time you sit down to breastfeed and/or have a snack, drink a full glass of water.
I love this one and I know you’re laughing. When people tell you to sleep as much as you can after you have a baby or nap when baby naps, it’s okay to cringe inside. If possible, sleep should be a priority. Which often means that we need some help at home and support. It’s difficult to think straight and clear brain fog, recover – mentally and physically, and take care of baby, babies, or children when you are overtired and utterly exhausted. Sleep is a crucial piece of the healing process – that is when our body regenerates cells, downloads daily brain activity, and aids in healthy digestion. Sleep deprivation is no joke and there is only so much we can control the first few weeks and months with our little night owls. But keep in mind that long term sleep deprivation makes us prone to accidents, impairs cognitive processes, causes depression and anxiety, aging, memory loss, weight gain and impaired judgment. Ask for help so you can sleep.
8.Stretch, Walk, Move
Your primary goal here is not to lose that baby weight. Your goal is to promote healthy blood flow to your organs, limbs, your C-section wound and/or your healing vagina and perineum, and entire pelvic floor region. Get some fresh air and take your baby outside. Of course, consider your own personal limits and oversight of a certified prenatal and postnatal personal trainer (hello, Nora) and pelvic floor therapist.
9.Focus on Anti-Inflammatory Foods
Think colorful produce that is seasonal and supportive. By adding anti-inflammatory foods that fight inflammation and restore health at a cellular level, you will be helping to repair the body. For instance, dark leafy greens and green vegetables operate as anti-inflammatory flavonoids and are rich in antioxidants that restore cellular health. Swiss chard for example, is extremely high in antioxidants vitamin A and C, as well as Vitamin K, which can protect your brain against oxidative stress caused by free radical damage.
Health is bigger than just the food on our plates. It may feel like a stretch to do something for yourself during this chapter of life, but without a healthy mama, there is no happy baby. Learning to put ourselves first can be hard, but ultimately everyone around us suffers if we don’t. Take a shower alone, read a book, go for a walk. Whatever self-care looks like for you, ask for support and carve out the time to make it happen.
These ten tips have helped me to create a routine and have some sort of control over my days. I Part III of the guide, you’ll see what my day looks like when it comes to meals, which seems to be the focal point of my entire existence lately! Eat, sleep, nurse, repeat.
Next up: Part II: Plant Based Foods for Recovery.
In Health + Healing,