"Eating well can be the first thing to get sacrificed when time, energy, and resources are lacking, yet--paradoxically--the demands of postpartum require you to stay very well fed." - Heng Ou, The First Forty Days
The pop-health industry is quick to prey on new mothers to sell shakes, weight loss supplements, meal replacements, and fat-burning workouts aimed at “getting back your pre-baby body” and fitting into your jeans again. The truth is that giving birth is a profound stress on the body and almost a super-human feat that leaves us nutritionally depleted and in need of replenishment. The postpartum period is a time for shifting our image-conscious perspective away from whittling ourselves down, losing weight, and “bouncing back” to a new and purposeful perspective set on rebuilding ourselves, refilling our vessel with dense nutrition, and growing into a new body with a new and important purpose. In many traditional cultures, women were surrounded after birth with support, given healing teas and broths, and offered the best from her family and community with quality rest and nourishing foods. These days, we feel the pressure to be and do everything—even after birth—and fully caring for ourselves is written off as indulgence.
We have to start shifting the birth paradigm back to the mother-centered perspective. So much of birth culture focuses on the babe--what's the baby's gender, what's the name going to be, what's the nursery theme? And our medical birthing practices are the same: the mother's desires, intuitions, and abilities are second only to "getting the baby out safely." And afterward, of course, it's all about the baby, and the cute little pursed lips, and who they look like and how they're sleeping. The result is a woman who literally is never by herself, but who feels utterly and completely alone. What about mom? If we can refocus the lens to include mothers, everyone benefits. A cared for, nourished, supported mother can birth and sustain her baby, bring joy and life to her family, and have the vitality to enjoy an enriching mothering experience.
As I relished the last three to four weeks of my second pregnancy, I prepared myself in many ways for birthing, recovering, and resting. One way I was able to nourish myself well during pregnancy and prepare for postpartum recovery at the same time was to make nutrient-dense meals ahead of time to store in the freezer. This way family, friends, and I could easily prepare warming delicious foods that will nourish and comfort me in the weeks following my birth.
It has been my goal during this whole pregnancy to treat myself like a client after my birth. To give myself the full attention of my skills and knowledge as a Nutritional Therapy Practitioner so that I can pass this information on first-hand to other women.
I want women to know that it's more important to spend time educating ourselves about healing nutrition than it is to research the best baby monitors; it's more important to spend money stocking our pantries with nourishment than filling a closet with adorable tiny clothes; it's more important to have a specific nutrient-dense plan and a philosophy for recovery than it is to have a weight loss goal.
Here are some recipes from my own kitchen, some knowledge from my own training and reading, and some wisdom from my own experience. I hope it supports and nourishes you. If you are past the point of preparation, I have also included some recommendations for convenient, quality, pre-made products for purchase.
In traditional Eastern cultures, friends and family would engage in a time called “warming the mother,” which included offering postpartum mothers slow-cooked, soft, easily-digestible and warm foods following birth. Today we know the wisdom behind this, as these warm and gentle foods offer essential nutrients for healing, but also give the digestive system a break. After birth, the body has several important tasks to attend to, like building a milk supply for lactation, repairing tissue, balancing hormones, and recovering from the physical stress of birth. Foods that are gentle on the digestive system allow your body to expend more energy on these other priorities without wasting added energy for digestion. Digestion is also one of your body’s main sources for detoxification, so as your body repairs, recycles water, and flushes out pregnancy hormones, smooth and easy digestion will make for an easier transition (and much less uncomfortable postpartum bowel movements!). Every batch is a little different since you can use up kitchen scraps or add in your favorite herbs.
1. Collect leftover chicken, beef, or lamb bones in a large stock pot, Instant pot, or Crock pot. (Bonus: roasting the bones first adds flavor!) You can either add in kitchen scraps OR fresh chopped veggies. I usually use onion, garlic, celery, turmeric, and a bay leaf. You can also add in egg shells for added calcium and minerals, about-to-wilt greens for extra vitamins, as well as stems and tops of other whole fresh vegetables—these all still contain viable nutrients and bone broth is a great way to reduce their waste.
2. Cover ingredients with fresh filtered water. Add 1 capful of apple cider vinegar (this helps to leach nutrients from the bones) and a few pinches of salt.
3. Cooking times will vary depending on the vessel you use. In a stock pot on the stove: simmer 8-24 hours. In a slow-cooker: Low for 6-10 hours. In an Instant Pot: Manual for 2 hours.
4. Strain the broth through a mesh colander (try to avoid very fine straining materials like cheesecloth as this can also separate out the nutritious fats, which you want distributed through the broth.) You can use the entire batch immediately for soup or sipping, or continue on to the next step for storage.
5. Let the broth cool completely to room temperature before storing. There are several ways to freeze your broth. For sipping, I like to freeze mine in mason jars. That way I can put a jar or two out to thaw then heat them in a hot water bath on the stove and drink them right out of the jar. To store in glass, pour room temperature broth into the container leaving plenty of space at the top of the jar for the broth to expand while freezing. Put the jars in the refrigerator for several hours before transferring to the freezer to prevent cracking. Another method is to freeze cubes or “pucks” of broth in ice cube trays or muffin tins, then store the cubes in freezer bags. These cubes can then be easily added to slow-cooker meals, or heated up for individual small servings. For sipping, I like to add a little bit of butter or ghee and a pinch of my favorite herb blend while it’s heating.
If you are unable to make your own bone broth, you can order three varieties of broths specifically tailored for postpartum mothers from the QUEEN of postpartum nutrition herself, the author of The First Forty Days. Her company MotherBees has been delivering postpartum broths and meals to mothers in California for several years, and they have recently expanded to offer national shipping. The broths are frozen in BPA-free bags which can be put directly into hot water for preparing, and she has some amazing special ingredients like shiitake mushrooms, lotus seeds, and lily petals. Her broths are hand made with local and fresh ingredients. Check them out at www.motherbees.com.
Also check out: Osso Good Bone Broth @ www.ossogoodbones.com and Kettle and Fire Bone Broth @ www.kettleandfire.com
Add some chopped onions, celery, and carrots with some chicken from the above broth recipe, and you have a deeply nourishing easy-to-digest first food after baby arrives. It's easy to freeze in either glass containers or plastic freezer bags--just thaw thoroughly and re-heat on the stove or slow cooker. I added some dried nettles for some added wild plant power and minerals. Warm, soft, soothing foods are perfect for those first days home with baby.
You can also stock up on pre-made versions like Wolfgang Puck's Organic Chicken Noodle Soup (available in many stores as well as on Thrive Market), or a variety of Amy's Organics soups. I like the vegetable barley soup and it's easy to find at most grocery stores (I add cooked chicken or ground beef to make it more substantial).
Another staple in my kitchen is home-made sauerkraut. I made about a gallon of it in the weeks before I delivered so I would have plenty on hand. Traditional raw, uncooked, lacto-fermented vegetables yield digestive enzymes, B vitamins, vitamin C (sauerkrauts made with red cabbage contain up to 700mg of vitamin C per cup!) and of course probiotics. In the days following birth, your digestive tract is under duress--for months it has been squished and scrunched up under the weight of baby and other organs, and has slowed down to save energy for the body to facilitate the important role of, you know, building a person. Since you can't absorb and assimilate nutrients without proper digestion, it's important to really give your gut a helping hand in the first weeks after birth. When you enjoy a side of sauerkraut with a meal, the enzymes help your stomach digest your meal more easily, and the probiotics help to populate your large intestine with the "good guys." A healthy gut can mean better sleep (melatonin is manufactured in the gut), a robust immune system (70% of your immune system is in the gut), and hormone regulation (good gut bacteria like beta-glucoronidase helps to re-uptake estrogen back into the body).
Here are some instructions for making your own sauerkraut, and I highly recommend the book Wild Fermentation. All it takes is cabbage and salt. There are more methods for making a successful batch of sauerkraut than there are for spoiling it, so give it a try!
You can also purchase some excellent krauts online. Check out: OlyKraut which is locally sourced and made in my beloved Olympia, WA. Whatever you choose to buy, look for a RAW product, especially without added sugars or sweeteners.
LIVER & ONIONS with BACON & SAGE
Quality grass-fed beef liver is a highly nutritious source of bio-available iron. Iron deficiency after childbirth is quite common, but including iron-rich foods in the diet can help to prevent postpartum anemia, shorten postpartum bleeding, fight fatigue, increase breast milk production and quality, and improve symptoms of postpartum depression. Liver is also rich in vitamins, Omega-3 fatty acids and DHA, and trace minerals. You may have had family members, aunties, and grandmothers who made you eat liver and onions as a kid. They were right to give it to you! But the texture can be a little much for people, and the flavor of all that nutritional iron can be unappetizing to some. With this recipe, the bacon, sage, and onions are the main flavors so it's perfect for new liver-lovers. Look for liver from a grass fed or pasture raised animal. One traditional preparation strategy to off-set the strong flavor is to soak the liver overnight in milk (preferably raw milk) and then drain the milk off before cooking.
*For this recipe, I prepared two pounds of liver, but used only one pound for this recipe and set aside the rest for the meatloaf recipe below.
1lb grass fed beef liver, sliced thin and cut into strips
1 onion, sliced
1 package uncured sugar-free bacon, finely chopped
1 bunch of kale, de-stemmed and coarsely chopped
3 cups mushrooms, sliced
4 carrots, chopped
4 cloves garlic, finely chopped
2 tablespoons fresh sage, finely chopped
1. Soak the liver in milk for several hours or overnight, then strain off the milk and rinse with filtered water. Then marinate the meat in a simple marinade like avocado oil, coconut aminos, and garlic for 3-4 hours. (The veggies in this dish also lend themselves well to a ginger/sesame flavored marinade for an Asian fusion style stir-fry.)
2. Fry the liver slices in a skillet, about 1-2 minutes per side. You will have to fry one skillet-full, set aside the cooked slices, and then cook another skillet-full.
3. While the liver cooks, sautee the bacon pieces for about 2 minutes. Add garlic and continue cooking until aromatic. Then add the onions and cook for about 4 minutes. Add carrots and cook for about 5 minutes, then add mushrooms. If at any point the mixture becomes dry, you can add a tablespoon of ghee, butter, avocado oil, or coconut oil. Add the sage and let the mixture continue to cook together while you cycle through the liver slices. Reduce the heat once the carrots are tender.
4. In a large bowl, combine all cooked ingredients and toss. Divide into two portions. You can either cook one portion for now and save the second for later, or store both.
4a. If you want to enjoy one portion now, add the stir fry back into the skillet with the kale and cook for additional 1-2 minutes until the kale becomes dark green and shiny. Serve and enjoy!
4b. To store a portion, let it cool to room temperature before adding it to a freezer bag. To serve, thaw in the refrigerator overnight and then reheat in a skillet. If you prepared any "bone broth pucks" as described above, you can add one during the reheat to add some moisture and flavor. I prefer to add fresh kale during the re-heat rather than store the cooked kale to prevent it from being too mushy.
*If liver is a stretch for you, consider halving the portion of liver and "cutting" the recipe with either beef or chicken.
And if eating liver is just an absolute NO for you, make this delicious dish as a regular stir fry and then check out: Vital Proteins beef liver capsules @ www.vitalproteins.com
LIVER + LENTIL MEATLOAF with HONEY BALSAMIC GLAZE
This recipe touts a couple of post-partum recovery heavy-hitters like liver, lentils, and fennel seeds. (If you’re wary of liver and the first recipe seems too far out for you, don’t worry! You’ll never even know it’s in here.) One cup of prepared lentils packs 18g of protein and 90% of your daily value of folate, both of which are essential for supporting recovering and breastfeeding mothers. To best prepare lentils and yield their full nutritional potential, soak and sprout them first (Directions for soaking and sprouting lentils). Lastly, fennel seeds can help to stimulate the let-down reflex in nursing mothers, and is even used in traditional home remedies for calming colicky babies. It is also calming to the digestive system, which can greatly assist a new mother in her rest and recovery. This recipe yields three loaves, so you can enjoy one for dinner and freeze two for later.
2 lbs grass fed ground beef
1 lb grass fed liver, cooked and chopped (I used the leftover cooked liver from the previous recipe)
3 cups lentils, soaked and sprouted
1/2 onion, grated
1/2 cup fennel seeds, ground
1 cup almond flour
2 cloves garlic, minced
Pinch of salt and pepper
4 Tbs tomato paste (use unsweetened organic ketchup as a substitute)
2 Tbs balsamic vinegar
2 Tbs raw honey
2 Tbs coconut aminos (use a quality soy sauce as a substitute)
1. Preheat the oven to 350. In a food processor or grinder, grind fennel seeds into a rough powder. Mix into a bowl with almond flour, salt, and pepper, and set aside.
2. Using a blender or a food processor, pulse liver and eggs together until smooth (some small pieces may still be intact) OR finely chop liver and mix with eggs. In a large bowl, combine liver, eggs, and ground beef evenly. Add lentils, garlic, and onions and continue to combine.
3. Add the almond flour and fennel mixture to the meat mixture and combine evenly. Add additional almond flour if necessary to reach desired texture. Press into baking pans.
4. Mix glaze ingredients, then coat the top of each loaf generously and evenly. Bake at 350 for 50-60 minutes or until a fork can be removed cleanly from the center.
5. After baking, allow the meatloaves to cool to room temperature or slightly warmer, then drain any excess liquid from the baking pans. You can either remove each loaf from the pan and wrap tightly in foil, or wrap and store the baking pan itself in the freezer. It is best to refrigerate them overnight before transferring to the freezer. To reheat, fully thaw the meatloaves and then bake covered at 300 for 20 minutes or until hot all the way through (to moisten them up a bit after they've been frozen, add a few tablespoons of bone broth to the pan when you reheat). Add some extra glaze during reheating and serve with a side of mashed sweet potatoes or your favorite veggie medley.
For some pre-made options with similar ingredients, check out: Alexian liver pate @ www.alexianpate.com, Amy’s Organic lentil soup @ www.amys.com, Alvita fennel seed tea @ alvita.com
"LABOR-ADE" ELECTROLYTE DRINK
I prepared this "Laborade" electrolyte drink a little over a week before I was due and kept it in the refrigerator so that I could easily take it with me to the birth center when it was "time!" I wanted something refreshing and hydrating with plentiful electrolytes that also tasted great. This is basically an amped up lemonade--and honestly, a home made lemonade mixed with some coconut water with a little bit of unrefined sea salt would still be an excellent electrolyte drink. I wanted a wider range of minerals offered through the shilajit, as well as the flavor and benefits of shizandra berry. Shizandra is an adaptogenic food that supports the adrenals to relieve stress, assists in balancing hormones, and promotes focus & mental clarity--all things helpful to a woman in labor!
1 one-inch cube of fresh ginger
1 thumbnail sized cube of fresh turmeric
1 heaping spoonful Surthrival dried shizandra berry
1 portion Shilajit mineral resin
1 cup coconut water
4 Tbs raw honey
1. Juice the lemons, ginger, and turmeric (you can fresh-squeeze the lemons and press the ginger and turmeric in a garlic press if you don't have a juicer).
2. Boil 2 cups of filtered water in a kettle. In a mason jar or large glass, fully dissolve the honey and shilajit resin in the boiling water. Then add to the lemon juice.
3. Add the coconut water and shizandra berry, then shake or mix vigorously to combine. Store in the refrigerator. (Shake before drinking). You may continue to add coconut water and/or filtered water to taste.
DARK CHOCOLATE LACTATION ENERGY BITES
These tasty bites are a treat and a nutrient-bomb in one! There is no specific requirement for certain foods in order to have a healthy supply of breast milk, but there are some foods that can assist the body in the process, like iron-rich oatmeal and brewer’s yeast, a galactagogue with plentiful B vitamins. Even if you (and family members) are not breastfeeding, these are tasty little bites of energy for late nights, early mornings, and mid-meal snacks, and are especially delicious with a mug of hot tea.
This is an easy recipe to modify and add to with your favorite chopped nuts or dried fruit, or a powdered version of your favorite herbs and medicinal mushrooms like ashwagandha or reishi.
2 cups organic rolled oats*
1 cup organic unsweetened dry shredded coconut
1 cup ground flax seeds
1 cup chia seeds
1 cup nut butter
1/2 cup organic cacao powder
1/2 cup cacao nibs
1/3 cup honey
1/3 cup brewers yeast
4 scoops collagen
2 tbs vanilla
2 tbs ghee
2 tbs coconut oil
*If you don’t tolerate oats well, you can substitute large coconut flakes or pumpkin seeds to achieve a similar consistency.
1. Mix oats, coconut, flax, chia, nut butter, honey, brewers yeast, collagen, and vanilla evenly in a large bowl.
2. In a saucepan, gently heat ghee and coconut oil until liquid, then add cacao powder and whisk until smooth. Add to oats mixture and combine evenly. Then mix in cacao nibs.
3. Chill ingredients in the refrigerator for 30 minutes, then form into bite-sized balls and set onto a lined cookie sheet. Chill or freeze for 1 hour then transfer them to a storage container to freeze (using parchment paper between layers will keep them from sticking together). To enjoy, thaw in the refrigerator overnight.
I stored mine in separate smaller containers with about a week’s worth so I can thaw a batch for the week and leave the rest in the freezer for later. They should be kept in the refrigerator to prevent them from softening and melting.
With all the wonderful melty ghee, nut butter, and cacao nibs in this recipe, these snacks do not travel well. If you're looking for a couple of convenient options for lactation snacks (think on your bedside table or in your backpack or purse), two brands I've had the pleasure of reviewing are Milkful Mamas and Ommie Snacks, two small-scale women-run companies I'm happy to recommend to you.
Milkful lactation bars contain many of the ingredients as described above like oats and brewers yeast, with the addition of some other milk-boosting ingredients like black sesame seeds and fenugreek. As much as I have TRIED making bars before, I can never get them to hold together the right way for them to be easily transportable. The Milkful bars are so easy to keep in my backpack (I brought one with me for our first checkup with the midwives) or stashed around the house for an easy-to-reach bite. You also HAVE to try one slathered with your favorite nut butter--so good. All the Milkful bars are soy- dairy- egg- and wheat-free. My favorite is the maple walnut, hands down.
If your digestion is sensitive to oats though, no worries! Ommie snack bars aren't actually "lactation" snacks, but their ingredients are top notch, and most of them are made with pumpkin seeds--another milk-booster. They're also made and packaged sustainably for minimal waste. They're very dense and filling, easy to transport, and delicious with a mug of tea. They come in 9 different flavors, apricot chai being my overall favorite.
HERBS, TINCTURES, & SUPPLEMENTS
I'm not an herbalist, so I will let you read about various herbs and their benefits from another source, or check out "Aromatherapy and Herbal Remedies for Pregnancy, Birth, and Breastfeeding," by Demetria Clark. Once or twice a day I have a postpartum support tea with a little spoonful of coconut fat or ghee. I prefer loose-leaf teas, and there are some wonderful blends out there--look for things like red raspberry leaf (for uterine toning), fennel and fenugreek (for lactation), chamomile and lavender (for calm), rose (for uterine cramping), dandelion (for digestive support), and nettle (for ALL THE MINERALS).
For loose herbs and some fantastic blends like their Nurse-Me-Rhyme lactation tea, check out Mountain Rose Herbs: www.mountainroseherbs.com
In addition to herbal teas, I also incorporate various tinctures and supplemental ingredients into my drinks and smoothies.
SURTHRIVAL CHAGA - Potent anti-oxidant and immune support. I like to add this to smoothies and tea or take directly. *You can purchase Surthrival products through my affiliate link by clicking on the Surthrival banner at the bottom of the page*
SURTHRIVAL SHIZANDRA - Also known as the "beauty berry," Shizandra supports the adrenal glands, beautifies skin and hair, promotes healthy circulation and respiration, and tones the liver and kidneys. Shizandra also facilitates both stage 1 and stage 2 of detoxification, aiding the liver in removing toxins from the body. After birth is an important natural detoxification state for women as we flush hormones, fluids, and other materials from our bodies. I like to add this to warm lemon water, teas, and placenta+fruit smoothies.
ASHWAGANDHA - A gentle non-stimulating adaptogen to relieve stress, aid sleep, and stimulate milk production. I take it under my tongue as a tincture, or add it to lemon water or tea.
LIQUID CHLOROPHYLL - Chlorophyll facilitates liver detoxification, blood circulation, and wound healing. It also aids in balancing blood sugar. Since the postpartum period can mean sporadic meal times and frequent snacking, blood sugar regulation is important for maintaining energy and not experiencing a crash.
I wish you well on your journey into motherhood, whether this is your first time or your family is expanding yet again. I hope that by preparing and strategizing for your own health, that you refresh and rebuild your body, and nourish yourself with healing nutritive foods that will warm and heal you through and through. I hope that by filling your vessel, you ascend to a new level of self-care and appreciation that propels you FORWARD into lifelong fulfillment--that you look backwards only in fondness for memories and not wistfully for what was. Let your nourishment usher you through the threshold restored.
Further reading recommendations: