Postpartum Nutrition From a Traditional Chinese Medicine Perspective
According to Traditional Chinese Medicine, childbirth leaves a woman’s body weakened at a time when she is continuing to be the primary source of nourishment for her new baby. It is important for the new mother to nourish herself with food, rest, warmth, and support so that she is able to continue to care for her child.
Before discussing postpartum nutrition, it is important to touch on common postpartum states according to Chinese Medicine to better understand how nutrition supports them.
- Qi and blood deficiency
o Mom is qi (energy) and blood deficient postpartum because during childbirth she lost blood and energy. She is also continuing to lose blood (lochia) and use energy as she is caring for a newborn and likely not getting adequate sleep. In TCM, breastmilk is made from blood which is causing mom to be even more deficient.
- Spleen qi deficiency
o It is the spleen’s job is to hold everything up and in. Near the end of pregnancy, moms SP qi becomes weaker to allow her baby to descend and exit the uterus. If the spleen is not strong postpartum, we can find prolapses such as hemorrhoids and prolapsed uterus.
- Yin and blood deficiency
o Pregnancy is a very yin state and the mother is often deficient after childbirth. This can manifest as constipation, headaches, difficulty sleeping, and anxiety.
- Cold in the uterus
o During pregnancy the womb is filled with the love and warmth of the mother’s baby; after childbirth, it is empty and cold.
o Cold in the uterus can lead to blood stasis in lower jao
- Blood stasis can be a cause of postpartum depression in Traditional Chinese Medicine.
Blood deficiency and qi deficiency almost always coincide because qi moves blood and blood reinforces qi. Foods that will build qi and blood include red meats, organ meats, fish, eggs, collagen, greens, beets, soups, and bone broth. All foods should be organic and free-range if possible.
According to Chinese medicine, it is the spleen’s job to transform and transport foods and fluids to aid in digestion. During the postpartum period when our spleen and stomach are weak, we need to consume foods that are easier to digest. It is recommended to drink a cup of tea, warm water, or bone broth with each meal and eat warm, cooked foods, as these are easier to digest. Use warm spices such as ginger, cinnamon, black pepper, fennel, garlic, and nutmeg when cooking. Avoid cold foods and drinks as these are more difficult for the stomach and spleen to digest. Dairy can weaken the spleen and should be avoided. Butter from grass-fed sources is the only recommended dairy product. Eat small meals every few hours as large meals can be difficult for the stomach and spleen to digest.
Yin is one of the two universal energies in Chinese medicine, yang being the other. Yin is more earthy, dark, female, and restful. In your body, yin is below your waist, interior, and is the blood and bodily fluids. One can see how childbirth would leave a woman yin deficient. Foods to tonify yin include barley, millet, rice, wheat, quinoa, amaranth, seaweeds, string beans, kidney beans, animal proteins, beets, grapes, banana, and soups.
Nutrition is not only about the foods you are consuming. Nourishing your body through rest and warmth is pertinent to restoring balance during the postpartum period. The uterus is considered cold and “empty” in the immediate postpartum. If the abdomen is not kept warm, cold and wind can invade the uterus leading to blood stasis. This can manifest in clots, slowing of lochia, low back pain, and problems in the future with menstruation and future pregnancies. The postpartum woman should always be covered and kept warm.
It is often recommended to spend two weeks in the bed, two weeks on the bed, and two weeks around the bed. The fourth trimester can be filled with an array of emotions. Healing your body with food, warmth, rest, and support will begin to re-establish balance while your body continues to nourish your new baby.
Candace R Gesicki, DCBIRTHFIT Cleveland @birthfitcleveland