New moms: do a quick search on Google for what you should be eating during your first forty days postpartum, and you’ll be accosted with links upon links full of foods you’ve never eaten (dandelion, fennel, and alfalfa leaf, for three) and recipes that you’ll never make (you know, because of the sleeplessness and the complete loss of time and space).
While dandelion root smoothies with alfalfa sprinkles are probably incredibly nutritious for a recovering postpartum mom, my idea of taking in nourishing foods for this time period is a lot more…practical.
As we ease into the postpartum period, we often overlook the fact that labor is just that…really hard labor. Whether a sprint or a marathon, the physical act of laboring a baby out of your body is both demanding and exhausting. As a result, recovery from labor can take many shapes — from stitching wounds to hormone dysregulation to muscle fatigue to digestive dysfunction.
From one hungry mother to another, here are 11 normal, everyday foods you can find at any grocery store to replenish and nourish your postpartum body.
1. Whole Grains
Whole grains (most specifically brown rice) are associated with boosting serotonin levels in the brain. Serotonin, the “happy chemical”, is responsible for regulating mood, appetite, and sleep. What’s more, getting adequate carbohydrates in the form of whole grains is super critical for keeping your energy up and your blood sugar balanced — both of which are thrown out of whack by those first few sleepless weeks/months.
While technically in the whole grain family, oats are a powerful postpartum food and should be given their own bullet point. If you’re breastfeeding, you should know that whole grain oats are considered a galactagogue. While that sounds like an otherworldly monster from Stranger Things, galactagogue is just a fancy name for foods that are alleged to boost milk supply. Oats in particular are chock-full of saponins — a chemical compound found to have a direct impact on the milk-making hormones prolactin and oxytocin. Like their whole-grain sisters and brothers, oats are also a super source of energy, as well as fiber.
Barley and brewer’s yeast, two key ingredients commonly found in beer, are full of polysaccharides — making them powerful, prolactin-impacting lactogenic foods. Got milk? Drink beer.
Speaking of fiber, legumes like chickpeas, beans, and lentils are great for your postpartum recovery because they are filled with fiber. Constipation is a common issue in postpartum women due to pregnancy hormones, iron-laden prenatals, and pain relievers, so these high-fiber foods are great at keeping your digestive system moving along (pair with your favorite name-brand stool softener and you’re ready for the day).
5. Leafy Greens
Though it may seem like common knowledge, it bears repeating: fresh fruits and vegetables are jam-packed full of good-for-you vitamins and minerals. Leafy greens in particular pack a major punch for essential nutrients that are in high demand postpartum — like vitamins A, C, K, calcium and iron.
6. Red Meat
Bleeding during delivery, and for the subsequent days/weeks post-delivery is both common and normal. But an aftereffect of that blood loss is iron deficiency and anemia, which can interfere with recovery and milk supply. Red meat is widely known to be rich in iron, and for postpartum women, particularly those who experienced significant bleeding and blood loss, this is a great food to bring into the dinner rotation. Beyond iron, red meat is packed with protein and sodium — which is excellent for restoring electrolyte balance.
If you’re looking for a one-stop-shop to improve regularity, improve your hair, skin, and nails, and boost milk supply — asparagus is it. High in fiber, folic acid, vitamins A, C, and K, and high in phytoestrogens and tryptophan (more than the sleepy chemical, tryptophan is an important amino acid that stimulates prolactin — that milk-making hormone everyone keeps talking about). You can definitely consider these stalks a postpartum superfood.
Like asparagus, apricots also contain phytoestrogens: a plant compound that helps balance hormones. They also contain a substantial amount of fiber, vitamins A and C, potassium, and calcium.
9. Nuts and Nut Butters
Not only are they super satiating, but nuts like cashews, almonds, and pecans are high in omega 3 fatty acids. These acids serve as building blocks for serotonin release — a necessary neurotransmitter for lactation — and recent research has found a link between low omega 3 levels and postpartum depression, which makes these crunchy buddies great for your brain, too.
Eggs, like nuts, are a great source of fat. But like red meat, they’re also an essential source of protein. After many hours (or days) of muscle contraction and energy expenditure, protein is the macronutrient you need to replenish your muscles and restore your energies. Leg day? Nah. Birth day.
And last but definitely not least, the almost perfect postpartum food: salmon. Like our other fatty friends, salmon is loaded with a specific type of fat called DHA. DHA is crucial to the development of your baby’s nervous system, and while all breast milk contains DHA, the levels of it are high in the milk of women who take in more DHA in their diets. So if you’re breastfeeding, salmon is a powerhouse for your newborn. DHA in salmon may also improve your mood, and is another natural fighter of postpartum depression.
And I know I said I’d keep this list to 11, but if you’re looking for a recipe enhancer that is also great for the postpartum period, garlic is your guy. We know garlic is a good immunity booster; known for fighting inflammation, but did you know that, according to a growing body of new research, there is a correlation between inflammation, serotonin levels and postpartum depression. Succinctly put, an optimally functioning gut, free of inflammation, can help combat postpartum depression.
Also, as if you needed another reason to throw too many cloves into your marinara, garlic has a lactogenic effect. It’s been reported that babies enjoy the taste of garlic, so when consumed and passed through breastmilk, babies demand more, nurse more, thus boosting supply.
Listen, you hear all the time that “food is medicine”, and while I don’t necessarily believe a slice of salmon sashimi is going to cure your cold, I do believe that taking in whole, nutrient-dense, hormone-balancing, foods will help replenish and restore your postpartum body in the most nourishing way possible.