Postpartum Nutrition

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… We all know by now how completely unrealistic our expectations are of mothers and of newborns in today’s society. Yet grocery store tabloids continue to feature celebrities who are less than a month postpartum, and they look like they stepped off the runway. Today’s employers expect new mothers to be back at work only 6 weeks after birth. They are expected to arrive with the same focus, energy levels, and capabilities that they had before giving birth. We do all of this while completely overlooking the fact that this woman has just accomplished the greatest physical feat that a human being can possibly accomplish. Her strong, capable body has been pushed to the extreme, stretched – literally and figuratively, exhausted, and almost completely depleted of nutrients and energy in the process.

Does it even make sense to expect a woman to just bounce back from birth? Oh and remember she has 24-hours care of a very needy infant. Needless to say, it’s totally unrealistic. A woman who has recently had a baby has months of healing and readjusting to do – both emotionally and physically. More than any other time in her life, a postpartum woman needs rest and support. And what is often overlooked is that she is in desperate need of restorative nutrition.

We all know by now how completely unrealistic our expectations are of mothers and of newborns in today’s society. Yet grocery store tabloids continue to feature celebrities who are less than a month postpartum, and they look like they stepped off the runway. Today’s employers expect new mothers to be back at work only 6 weeks after birth.  They are expected to arrive with the same focus, energy levels, and capabilities that they had before giving birth. We do all of this while completely overlooking the fact that this woman has just accomplished the greatest physical feat that a human being can possibly accomplish. Her strong, capable body has been pushed to the extreme, stretched – literally and figuratively, exhausted, and almost completely depleted of nutrients and energy in the process. 

Does it even make sense to expect a woman to just bounce back from birth? Oh and remember she has 24-hour care of a very needy infant. Needless to say, it’s totally unrealistic. A woman who has recently had a baby has months of healing and readjusting to do – both emotionally and physically. More than any other time in her life, a postpartum woman needs rest and support. And what is often overlooked is that she is in desperate need of restorative nutrition.

In the Chinese culture, women are given 40 days of rest after giving birth. The literal translation of this down time means “sitting the month.” In this 40 days, postpartum women are resting, recovering, and learning to breastfeed. In the original ancient Chinese tradition, postpartum women were not allowed to even bathe or go outside for those 40 days. The woman’s aunts, sisters, grandmas, and mothers took good care of the new mom and her baby. These women would teach her how to breastfeed, they would clean her house, they would cook for her, encourage her to rest, and generally forbid her to overdo anything. They understood the necessity of recuperation.

During this 40 days, women were, and are, given only what are considered to be “hot foods” to balance her qi. We in western culture are not as familiar with this concept as it relates to health. In short, the eastern medicine school of thought relies heavily on balance between the yin and yang – the hot and the cold. Too much of one or the other causes health problems.

Along with this vein, birth is said to deplete a woman of all of her warm qi, so naturally, it must be restored. The new mother is only to eat warm nutritious foods because they understand that her body needs to recover. We in modern western civilization tend to turn our heads away from the notion of balancing one’s qi. We even turn our noses up at the notion of using nutrition as the answer to any kind of physical ailment. However, these Chinese women benefit in tremendous ways from the nutritional support that they get for those 40 days after giving birth. We in the west can certainly learn a thing or two about the level of importance that Chinese culture places on nutrition as a cornerstone of postpartum recovery.

In addition, consumption of the placenta (a very special organ that grows with and for the baby) in some form plays a big role in postpartum recovery for the Chinese. The placenta is like a big pile of hormones, nutrients, amino acids, and proteins. The baby is not the only one that benefits from the placenta; we now know that the mom benefits as well. The placenta has helped sustain this pregnancy – something that has changed her very physiology for the last 9 months. When the placenta detaches itself from the uterus, the mother instantly loses the benefits she was gaining from this incredible organ.

To put this into perspective, it’s rather like becoming malnourished overnight. All of a sudden, a huge life-giving part of her is gone. To remedy this, consuming the placenta is a great option that helps keep a mother balanced during the transition to the postpartum period. Consuming the placenta puts all of those lost nutrients right back into her body. That’s why so many women in the western world are starting to embrace the practice of placenta encapsulation.

Placenta encapsulation is the process of steaming a placenta (sometimes with herbs), dehydrating it, grinding it, and placing it into ingestible pills. By simply taking her placenta pills, a new mom can easily and safely put all of that lost nutrition back into her body to help stabilize her nutrition and hormone levels. Encapsulation is said to reduce the incidence of postpartum depression (by giving the body what it needs to function optimally), give mom increased energy, boost her mood, and increase her milk production. 

When it comes to placenta encapsulation, there have not been enough scientific studies to confirm its benefits. This is mostly because nobody would benefit monetarily from the results of such studies. However, just because the scientific method controlled research has not been done doesn’t mean that the benefits don’t exist. 

Placenta consumption has been practiced for thousands of years in many varying cultures. The anecdotal reports from mothers who have done it are overwhelmingly positive. Many times, these anecdotal reports are enough for modern women to be comfortable with choosing placenta encapsulation.

Women require physical restoration and rest after giving birth, and nutrition plays an undeniable part in that. Eat whole, unprocessed foods as much as possible during the postpartum period to help you bring balance to your postpartum body.

And for good measure, try to eat some of those foods warm for the first 40 days! Maybe the Chinese are on to something!