Having a baby can be an exhausting time! We carry, feed and nurture another living being for 9, or even 10, months. Then we go through labour to deliver our mini-me. You just have to pick up a copy of a pregnancy magazine or look at one of the many baby-focused forums to find long and comprehensive lists of what to buy for baby, what to eat during pregnancy and what to pack for labour. For me, ‘Don’t forget the snacks’ is always a top priority!
Once the baby is safe and well, we are often discharged without a clue how to care for them, or perhaps that was just in my case! We muddle through though and our babies thrive. We can focus so much on the baby that we forget about ourselves. Often I have heard “I had to make cups of tea for visitors all day long” or “my family decided to come and stay just after I had the baby… and didn’t even lift a finger… or tried their best to help but were more a hindrance”. It’s important to remember that those first few weeks with baby are important for you both and it is best to set limits on visitors, even if they come with the best intentions!
I believe the first few days are a crucial bonding time for the parent/s, and possibly siblings, and their new baby. The next few weeks are then crucial for the mother to recover; to restore her hormonal balance, regain her sense of physical self and let go of any emotional anxiety from pregnancy. Everyone is different and some people genuinely do ‘bounce back’ but most women need to take time out and focus on the most important things – their baby and themselves.
The baby is often the easier part (go with me on this!). If they are hungry, they cry. If they are uncomfortable, they cry. Babies’ cries are designed to get to us, to make us react and respond. So we do, rightly so. Babies and children instinctively know what they need and how to make themselves heard. We as adults, especially women, aren’t quite as responsive to our own needs! We tend to nurture other people before ourselves.
Foods for recovery post labour:
• Oats. If there is just one food I recommend it is oats. They contain mucilaginous fibre to gently get the digestive system moving again. They are also known as an anxiolytic, which is essentially a naturally antidepressant food so great for your mood. If you are breastfeeding oats are, in my personal and clinical experience, the single most important nutritional source for increasing and maintaining milk supply. It is thought that the beta glucans in oats can increase milk supply and reduce cholesterol.
• Colour. Increase your intake of colour in the form of fruits and vegetables. Colour is formed by nutrients so if you eat a lot of colour you are getting a good basic broad spectrum of nutrients.
• Water. Good quality clean water, filtered or bottled if possible. We lose on average 500ml blood during labour, which doesn’t sound a lot but remember half of this is water. Blood donation guidelines recommend waiting 16 weeks between donations due to the time it takes to replenish haemoglobin and fluid, so maintaining your water intake at this time is essential. Ironically, fluid loss can cause fluid retention; it can also reduce fluid retention by flushing out the system.
• Minerals. Many ladies lose hair after pregnancy. While some degree of loss is perfectly normal, so don’t panic, mineral loss is unfortunately very normal too. The baby we nurtured and fed thankfully took everything they needed but this can deplete our vitamin and mineral stores. The most important minerals to replenish are Iron and Magnesium. Natural sources of Iron are red meat and black lentils. Alternatively, Spatone make a good natural supplement that doesn’t cause constipation like the inorganic prescribed ones do.
• Vitamins. As with minerals, we lose vitamin stores to the baby. Eating a varied diet can help but unless all our fruit and veg are organic and locally grown a supplement is often needed.
• Herbal tea. Green tea (only 1 cup a day if breastfeeding) is high in antioxidants. Camomile tea is great for calming mum and baby (if you have chosen to breastfeed).
• Keep it simple. Most babies are unsettled from 5pm to 9pm or thereabouts. You aren’t going to get a gourmet meal cooked in that time. Either accept help (this is when relatives or friends being close by comes in handy) or plan simple meals. Batch cook a warming vegetable soup for the first few days, then once your body settles down a little cottage pie, lasagne or casserole are good meals. Salads or steamed vegetables with a piece of meat were the staple in my house post baby. They’re especially good if you have a partner who is useful with a BBQ! There is a theory that meat is difficult to digest for the first 4 weeks post labour so I recommend keeping it minimal, just a small amount if you do have it and just a couple of times a week.
• Vegetarian. Vegetarian meals are ideal after labour.
• Comfort foods. Denying yourself sweet, stodgy comfort foods is difficult and rarely effective! Eat some of your favourite foods but try to plan when you eat them and how much you eat. Setting aside a serving of your particular comfort food helps you to feel in control, as you know you have a treat and you know when you are going to have it.
• Nourishing foods. I recommend a recipe of what I have named ‘medicine soup’. You can find it here. This soup will nourish the body and soul, is warming, rehydrating and full of minerals.
Is there anything food related that worked well for you post labour? Let us know your favourite new mum meals. Please share this article if you like it!
Emma Nutrition MSc is a Nutritionist based in Essex who has experience working with many companies and currently writes articles while on maternity leave.
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