Byline: Julia Jones
Pregnancy is a time of wonder, hope and anticipation. But after that little bundle of joy arrives many mothers find themselves struggling. Postnatal depression and divorce rates are high, and breastfeeding rates are low. Over 80% of new mothers say they feel exhausted and overwhelmed.
But before I scare you away I want you to know it doesn’t have to be like this. After giving birth women have very special physical and emotional needs, recognised by hundreds of different cultures for thousands of years. Anthropologists Stern and Kruckman found that cultures with low incidence of postpartum mood disorders share a range of protective social structures that provide support and care for new mothers.
Similarly, anthropologist Dr. Dana Raphael studied how humans have managed to keep their babies alive for so long when breastfeeding seems so hard. She found the same pattern occurring in nearly 200 cultures around the world. Ancient communities appreciate a new mother’s needs, not the least of which is your need to be nurtured and loved and cared for in the same way that you nurture and love and care for your baby.
Why hospital food is the worst thing you can eat after birth. And what to eat instead.
One of the key universal features of postpartum care around the world is warm, nourishing comfort foods. Soups, stews and puddings feature on international postpartum menus and are always cooked for the mother, not by her. Different cultures have variations in detail. I cook Ayurvedic food for my clients, based on ancient Indian medicine.
Ayurveda is an elemental science, meaning it is based on the five elements – earth, fire, water, air and space. If you picture a pregnant woman you can see her abundance of earth and water! Childbirth is the biggest and fastest change in a woman’s life. In just a few hours her body loses vast amounts of earth (for example the baby and placenta), water (in amniotic fluid and tears) and fire (through her blood and sweat). Ayurveda emphasises balancing the elements in your body, meaning you need to replace the earth, water and fire that is lost in childbirth.
Even if you normally enjoy eating raw foods, Ayurveda teaches us that different foods are appropriate for different stages of life. Raw foods are suitable for people with strong digestion and lots of earth and fire. New mothers on the other hand are already high in air and space. The qualities needed after birth are sweetness, warmth, oiliness, simplicity and moisture. Soups, stews and puddings, good fats and good sugars will give you the energy you need, but to digest them you will need to add spices and keep meals simple and regular.
An Ayurvedic postpartum diet is like weaning a baby. When you eat after giving birth, start with soft, warm, soupy foods that are simple to digest, gradually introduce more texture and variety, and eventually, as your appetite and energy return you can go back to your regular diet. Sit down to eat fresh, homemade food regularly. If you only do one thing – eat cooked food.
You can see how standard issue hospital food does not fit the postpartum bill as it is often old, cold, dry and heavy to digest.
This is a recipe I suggest instead, as it aids digestion, has instantly accessible energy and builds blood. Rice pudding is a wonderful food for friends and family to bring you in hospital in a thermos, so add this recipe to your birth plan.
Nepali Rice Pudding Recipe
Cooking time 35 minutes
- 5 cups pure water
- 1 cup basmati rice
- ¼ cup jaggery
- ¼ cup ghee
- 2 teaspoon ginger powder
- 2/3 teaspoon cinnamon powder
- pinch nutmeg
- ½ teaspoon ground black pepper
- 1 cup milk
Bring water and rice to a boil in large pot. Simmer, stirring occasionally until it begins to thicken. This should take about 20 minutes.
Add the sugar and spices and ghee. You may need to add an extra cup of water at this stage if your pudding is too thick.
Continue to cook slowly; stirring as needed. When gelatinous consistency add milk. Cook for a few more minutes to thicken.
Serve hot, with sugar and ghee to taste. Serve as desired throughout the day.
This recipe is from my book Nourishing Newborn Mother – Ayurvedic recipes to heal your mind, body and soul after childbirth. You can check it out at www.newbornmothers.com.au.
Julia works with pregnant women who want to find peace and joy in motherhood and is the founder of Newborn Mothers. She is an Ayurvedic postnatal doula, recipe book author and creator of a weekly free pregnancy podcast. Click here to listen to her free podcasts.