In Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), the postpartum period refers to the four months following labour and delivery. After the pregnancy, it is normal that the body is out of balance and whether these imbalances are severe determines the ease of recovery. According to TCM, women typically exhibit some form of deficiency (Qi, blood, or organ deficiencies), or are susceptible to stagnation or invasion of pathogens. The first month is the most essential and special care must be taken at this time.
During pregnancy, a woman’s blood volume doubles in order to support the placenta and developing fetus. The process of creating life depletes the mothers Qi and blood. Therefore the first month should focus on tonification of the body to replenish the blood and Qi lost. This concept is to be applied for all women, not only those who feel fatigued.
Here are some simple recommendations to help with the recovery process. Taking time to recuperate will help for long term health – particularly for those who wish to have more children in the future.
1. Rest, rest, rest! It’s important to get enough rest. In Chinese culture, it’s common that the new mother’s only responsibility is to take care of the child for the first month. Usually the family looks after the cooking and cleaning.
2. Eat to replenish the body. The digestive system tends to be weaker, therefore it’s important to have simpler to digest and nourishing foods. Traditionally broths (see below), which are warm and nourishing are used to help replenish the Qi and blood.
3. Don’t strain. Though it is tempting to rush back to exercise or work, make sure you give your body a chance to recuperate before taking on physical endeavours. When you do resume activity, go back gradually.
It has been long known that the new mother’s diet influences their milk supply. Getting enough food and hydration (aim for 2 – 3 litres a day) are the basics for supporting milk production. Eat at least one warm meal daily that includes a protein, a grain (millet or rice), and a variety of vegetables (some greens along with yams or carrots).
Lactogenic foods are known to support lactation because they contain substances that help with the biochemistry involved. These include phytoestrogens, plant sterols, saponins and many other important nutrients.
Fennel, carrots, beets, yams, dark leafy vegetables. These contain beta-carotene, essential oils, iron and phytoestrogens. They also help support healthy liver function.
Grains and Legumes
Oats, millet, barley, rice are commonly eaten grains. Legumes to include are chickpea, mung bean and lentils.
Studies have shown that babies latched on, suckle more and drink more milk when the mother had garlic prior. Introduce it slowly and take it in moderation.
"infants were attached to the breast for longer periods of time and sucked more when the milk smelled like garlic"
These are just a sampling of foods that are known to help. In addition to these, other foods that can be helpful include ginger, tumeric, oats, papaya, sesame seed, and spirulina.
Nourishing Broth Recipe
The classic example of a nourishing broth is chicken soup. Here’s a simple recipe to make your own – it’s much better than the canned stuff.
- 2 pounds hormone free chicken parts
- 3 quarts water
- 1 medium onion
- 1 cup chopped carrot
- 1 cup chopped celery
- 2 tablespoons dill
- 2 teaspoons salt
- 1 teaspoon pepper
30 grams of Dang Gui (Chinese Angelica). Dang Gui is a common Chinese herb to nourish the body’s blood.
- Rinse chicken and add to water in a stockpot.
- Add onion/celery/carrots and reduce heat to simmer for 1 hour.
- Remove chicken from broth and shred meat into small pieces.
- If you like, strain the broth and add some more vegetables.
- Bring to a boil for another 25 minutes.
- If using Dang Gui, add it and cook for 10 minutes more. Remove Dang Gui before serving.