Image credit: Jacquie Manning
Car seat? Sorted. Onesies? By the dozen. But what about the most important part of the puzzle — food? Please tell me you’ve thought about the food!
As a postpartum doula, I support women emotionally and practically in the intense weeks following the birth of their baby, and a big part of my job involves cooking nourishing food that’s tailored to their needs. I’m focused on food because as well as being comforting and nourishing for those long days and nights, the right food can play a hugely important role in helping your body heal, make milk and restore your energy. After rest, it’s number one.
The food I make for new mums is based on traditional recipes and ingredients that have been used in cultures for centuries to care for women who have just given birth. But there are no big secrets here. Simply stock up on a few key ingredients, fire up the slow cooker and make room in your freezer, because it’s about to get stuffed.
Let’s start with the basics
Cultures with a strong tradition of looking after new mothers have one thing in common — the food is always warming.
It makes sense; during pregnancy, your blood volume almost doubles, but after birth you lose this warming blood which means that your circulation isn’t quite up to scratch and your digestion is sluggish. Think things like simple, nourishing soups, slow-cooked stews, curries, bolognese and meals you can cook with meat on the bone, like beef osso bucco, or chicken curry with bone-in thighs. While the nutrient value is important, don’t underestimate the power of simple comfort food, too: pasta bakes, lasagne and anything that’s going to make you feel happy definitely has a place in your postpartum freezer.
If I had my way, every new mum would be drinking a steaming cup of bone broth within hours of delivering her baby.
Think of it as an infusion of everything you need to recover, in ultra-absorbable form: protein, collagen and magnesium to help your muscles and tissues repair (if you’ve had a Caesarean or episiotomy this is even more vital), natural electrolytes to rehydrate after you’ve gone through a huge physical feat, and gelatin to help your wounds recover. Stock your freezer pre-baby, and whack a pot on the stove once a week when bub arrives – it’s one of the easiest things you can make and its benefits extend well beyond the six week mark.
If you’ve given birth in the height of summer, soup might not be on the menu (although I really, really want to push that broth on you), so think about freezing some season-friendly items instead. Your postpartum body isn’t going to make friends with salad in the first few weeks, simply because all its energy is going to things other than your digestion, which can get slow. Raw fruit and veg are just a bit much for it at first. Instead, in those last weeks of pregnancy, cut up and freeze veggies you can roast and eat cold with hummus/tuna/quinoa.
Sort out ingredients for smoothies:
Stew some fruit, steam some greens, whack some coconut cream in an ice cube tray and make up some pre-portioned bags you can just pop in the blender for a one-handed snack. Or cook up quinoa and brown rice and freeze in single serves (that way you can add a tin of tuna and some greens and you’ll have a quick meal). Definitely bake a big, veggie-packed frittata, chop into squares and freeze individually for a one-handed snack ready to roll (are you sensing a single-serve theme here?) And while we’re talking snacks, brownies and lactation cookies freeze well too. Just saying.
Okay, now that your freezer is loaded, let’s look at your pantry:
Dry mix meal kits are your friend, and you can make up a bunch of them during pregnancy (here are some recipes that are my go to). A few I love are kitchari (a kind of savoury porridge that’s a mainstay of Ayurvedic postpartum care), dal, Nepalese rice pudding and lactation cookies. Write the instructions for adding the fresh ingredients on a post-it note and anyone from a partner to a friend can easily cook up a pot while you have a rest.
If I could choose just one thing to make most meals extra nourishing for postpartum, it would be ghee.
It’s an Ayurvedic superfood that helps with your digestion and gives you much-needed fat to keep you full, feed your sleep-deprived brain and pump up the quality of your breast milk. A kind of clarified butter, it has a caramelised flavour that’s delicious and adds a nutrient punch to coffee, hot chocolate, porridge, kitchari, dal and heaps more. If in doubt, add a spoonful.
Other things that are also handy to sprinkle on just about anything:
Hemp seeds (high in fibre, because pooping can get so-not-fun during this time), chia seeds (to add to water) for protein, fibre and omegas as well as prunes (this is a great recipe for chai-spiced prunes which keep well in the fridge) and organic apricots, which are high in iron, the most common postpartum deficiency.
And remember the number one rule when it comes to postpartum food: plenty of it! If you’re breastfeeding, you’re burning 500 extra calories a day, and you need to eat to keep your supply up. Cheers to that.
Expert author: Naomi Chrisoulakis
Naomi Chrisoulakis is a postpartum doula and cook based in Sydney. She is currently on maternity leave after having her second baby earlier this year. You can find her on Instagram here.