So apparently growing a human being in your womb and then giving birth to him or her can have some pretty lasting impacts impacts on your body, yeah? Mom brain is a thing, y’all. So let’s talk about some things you can do postpartum to give your body its best chance at premium functionality (or, you know… any functionality).
My dear friend Tory Keeter of Faithful Lotus generously offered some tips to help all you mamas show your bodies and your baby’s diets some love. Tory teaches nutrition at OU and is also my very first birth photography gig without whom I may never have discovered the beauty of birth photography. I apologize in advance for all the things she’s going to try to take away from you, but stick it out. This is good stuff!
Bad news first. What should postpartum mamas avoid, and why?
The first main thing to avoid postpartum would be coffee (yes, yes I know!)/excess caffeine.
I know in those first few months postpartum, moms are in a daze, and just wanting to survive. Our adrenal glands are on overhaul when we are stressed, and let me tell you, having a new baby is “stress.” Add in older kids, and even a working mama going back to work, and your adrenal glands are on super overload! Well, coffee forces your body to release cortisol (a stress hormone). So, on top of the stress, you’re stressing your body even more when you drink caffeine/coffee. The body needs time to regularly rest and recover, and by giving it excessive amounts of caffeine, we push it beyond its natural limit, forcing it to run on fumes, and then sputter. The very last thing postpartum mamas need, is “sputtering!”
So what are your adrenal glands? These two tiny glands are about the size of a grape, and are responsible for your life and vitality. Giving them coffee is like stealing from the energy bank. You will have to repay this borrowed energy with exhaustion at some point. And who wants to be MORE exhausted on top of having a newborn?!
But there’s good news! Remember it’s about moderation and accountability. Having an 8-12 oz cup of organic, unsweetened (or naturally sweetened with something like stevia/honey/coconut sugar/date sugar) coffee after or with a good breakfast never hurt anyone. It’s the 3 cups before noon without breakfast that you should ditch! In addition to adrenal exhaustion, excess caffeine can contribute to heart problems (racing heart, increased blood pressure, etc), anxiety/irritability, blood sugar swings, GI problems (acid reflux/heartburn for example), nutritional deficiencies (inhibits the absorption of some nutrients and causes excretion of others), and female health problems (PMS, etc).
The next thing, (I’m working to become your worst enemy apparently), is sugar. Let me define what I mean by sugar: any form of processed sugar, artificial sweeteners, and added sugars in packaged foods. Yogurt, bread, ketchup, hummus, chicken, bacon, pasta sauce, salad dressing, and so much more. Sugar is a drug. Having just a little bit creates a desire for more, and suddenly taking it away causes withdrawal symptoms. Sugar is a diabetes causing, cancer causing, obesity exacerbating substance that has taken over our culture. Anything that ends in an “-ol” on food packaging is a sugar alcohol (mannitol, sorbitol, erythritol, xylitol), and other things such as cane sugar, corn syrup/corn syrup solids, and high fructose corn syrup. Anything that ends in an “-ose” is also a sugar (lactose, maltose, glucose, fructose, galactose, etc). So avoid packaged foods for the most part, and you should be safe in avoiding the toxic sugars! This also means soda, diet soda, and fruit juice. This means the pink, yellow, and blue packets on your restaurant table. Consider them toxic chemicals unfit for human consumption!
Third, I would say avoid any and all low-fat or fat-free foods. These contain high quantities of sugar and cheap, inflammatory oils (such as trans fat) that will just send you on a roller coaster of cravings, weight gain, poor digestive health, and exhaustion. Fat is not your enemy! Fat is your friend! More on that later.
Next, soy! This includes tofu, soymilk, edamame, and soybean oil. Watch out for these ingredients in chips, crackers, salad dressings, and other processed/packaged foods, some supplements, protein powders, and protein bars. Soy is a hormone disruptor, and mimics estrogen in the body. We don’t need an excess estrogen in our postpartum… period! It can also inhibit thyroid function by blocking the thyroid from absorbing iodine. Many postpartum women develop postpartum thyroiditis. So let’s not stress our thyroid even more. The other concern with soy is that it is 95% genetically modified (GMOs). This means that those nonorganic eggs and meat is likely fed GMO corn and soy in their conventional animal feed.
Basically, if you avoid the packaged foods and the caffeine and fake sugars, that’s a pretty good rule of thumb. The GMO fed meats and eggs here and there can be tolerated, but the other things will drive you further into exhaustion and nutrient depletion.
Ugh… FINE. What SHOULD we eat? And why?
Remember how I said to avoid coffee/caffeine? Well, by enjoying viable, tasty substitutes for coffee, you can start to give your poor little adrenal glands a rest without feeling completely deprived. Feed your adrenals well by giving them high-quality fat and protein when you wake up (which gives them what they need to make cortisol so you can have energy) instead of kicking them with coffee. Instead of coffee, maybe try green tea? It’s much less offensive to your system, not to mention, less acidic, and it contains an amino acid which calms the mind and reduces brain inflammation and helps increase focus. Let’s be real, we can all use some increased focus and calm mind in the postpartum period, eh? If you still need that caffeine or want it, try yerba mate! Some of my favorite caffeine free coffee alternatives are Dandy Blend and Swiss-water decaf coffee. Speaking of decaf coffee, caffeine is processed out of the coffee bean using chemicals, which is toxic. So, if you do want decaf, be sure it’s Swiss-water processed and organic decaf to avoid chemicals and pesticides.
So, I said avoid sugar, but, what about fruit? Eat them! Eat sweet veggies and fruit. They are sweet, healthy, amazing, and full of fiber so they won’t spike your blood sugar like the empty calorie foods (processed and packaged foods with sugar added) do. The more fruit and veggies you eat, I promise you, the less you will crave the white, processed, fake sugars. They are filling as well, rather than leaving you wanting more with things such as bread! If you must have those sweeteners in your organic, decaf coffee or your tea, try dark liquid stevia or coconut sugar.
Water! A lot of it. Speaking of sugar above, craving sweets is often dehydration in disguise. So, before you indulge your sweet tooth, drink a glass of water, wait a few minutes, and then check back in with yourself. Your body is stressed, drained, and worn out. It takes intentional thinking to drink enough water throughout the day, and it’s important for your energy, bowel movements, and milk supply.
Top quality, grass fed, organic raw cow or goat dairy products are excellent for digestive function, and deliver essential fats for cell protection. Many people cannot tolerate pasteurized dairy, but some can tolerate raw dairy. Check your state laws as raw milk is illegal for sale in some states. However, if it is available, raw, whole milk provides the perfect blend of protein, carbs, and fat to perfectly feed the thyroid gland and turn off the stress response (remember the adrenals mentioned above?). It also contains a peptide that supports restful sleep.
The next wonder food is broth! Broth broth broth. It is seriously a magical healing elixir. I had chicken feet broth immediately postpartum for my first for chicken noodle soup! Delicious! Broth promotes gut healing, helps digestion, provides things such as calcium, magnesium, potassium, phosphorous, sulphur, and trace minerals, provides gelatin and collagen, protein, supports joints, and the immune system. I don’t know about you, but I got my first cavities after my second kid was born. My bones are depleted from two kids in under 4 years, and I need that calcium and magnesium for proper bone growth! I need the protein for energy, and with achy muscles chasing around a toddler, and nursing a baby, I need all the joint support I can get! We all need immune support, right?
Leafy greens, healthy fats and oils, pasture-raised meat and eggs.
Cool. So what about treats/indulgences?
Dark chocolate is great! As mentioned above, decaf coffee is great, if you include some fat in it, like butter, coconut oil, cacao butter, etc. Some sweets such as frozen fruit, dark chocolate, and natural sweeteners such as coconut sugar, raw honey, and date sugar are all great.
Tell me about activities that will give me some much-needed energy or help me recover.
REST! I cannot say this enough. Our culture has taught women that they should be up and about immediately after birth, and if they aren’t, they’re lazy. Sleep when baby sleeps. It’s OK for your kids to watch TV if you must rest while they do. The biggest thing for energy is going to be fat, leafy greens, and organ meats (helping iron and metabolism). But even the best diet wont’ help if you aren’t sleeping well or don’t rest. Self care is not a selfish thing. Take time for yourself every day, even if that means someone coming over to hold baby for 20 min so you can shower! We must care for our mental and emotional health, as well as our physical health. Ask for help when you need it, and allow people to help if they offer.
What are some staples that you should prepare for freezing prior to birth?
BROTH! You can do egg muffins/mini quiche that are super easy to freeze and heat up, smoothie packs are helpful! Making chicken tenders/strips/nuggets to freeze are also super easy! Burgers are easy to make and freeze and heat up for later.
What about the baby? Is something I eat going to be bad for him/her?
That’s a tough one. It is dependent on each mama. Generally speaking, I would say pasteurized dairy, almost all babies have trouble with. Soy, I would avoid, as mentioned above, for hormone disrupting problems and estrogen issues. Caffeine will likely affect baby if mama drinks a lot of it. Alcohol, personally, I believe is fine in moderation, but if you’re in tune with your baby, you’ll know what bothers them. Nightshades (potatoes, tomatoes, eggplant and peppers) often cause indigestion, gas, or skin issues. Eggs are a big culprit for gassiness as well (if you can’t do eggs, try egg yolks, they’re nutritious anyway). I know I raved about eggs, but I haven’t been able to have egg whites while nursing both babies. Really it comes down to knowing your baby and recognizing symptoms of distress; gas, a change in color of bowels, more spitting up, or restless sleep and excessive crying. Skin issues are also a telltale sign that what you’re eating is affecting your baby.
How about foods that are GOOD for the little one?
Fat! Once again, all of the fats mentioned above. I would add cacao butter into that, previously not mentioned. The essential fatty acids (omega-3’s) are great for baby’s growing brain in utero and while nursing. Red meat/organ meats for proper iron and B12.
Hey you’ve had kids. What was your life-saver, couldn’t-live-without-it thing?
That’s a tough one, but I would say the number one thing was help and my placenta pills. My second postpartum was worlds different than my first, and even though I encapsulated my placenta both times, the second time I had help almost straight for 6 weeks and it was a lifesaver. I couldn’t have done it without the extended help, and taking my placenta pills made me so much more mellow and relaxed and mentally stable when my emotions, mental state, and physical health were prone to be wacky!