This blog post is adapted from my recipe book Nourishing Newborn Mothers. You can download the first chapter for free here.
Stressful rules, including any complicated diet that makes you feel deprived, will lower your oxytocin. And the last thing I want to be is another expert pretending to know you and your baby better than you do.
So this comes with a caveat - love conquers all.
The first and only rule is to enjoy what you are eating. Eat what makes you and your baby comfortable and happy. Consider these Ayurvedic guidelines suggestions, not rigid rules. Eating food that tastes delicious and is prepared for you with love is much more valuable than any diet.
Earth, Fire, Water, Air & Space
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.
Many Newborn Mothers say they feel ‘spaced out’ or ‘dried up’ and what they literally mean is the air and space elements in their body are too high and need balancing with earth and water. Fire is needed in moderation to rekindle a mother’s digestion, but too much fire will burn up water and lead to excess air and space.
Tastes – The Ayurvedic Food Pyramid
The easiest way to tell which elements are present in a food is by the taste.
Sweet, the heaviest taste, is made up of water and earth, which is why it is at the bottom of the Ayurvedic food pyramid.
Sour and salty foods are helpful in moderation, but too much fire can be drying.
All tastes are needed to sustain life, but bitter, astringent and pungent foods are only useful in very small quantities.
You’ll probably notice yourself reaching for carbs after your baby is born. Try listening to your body instead of feeling guilty - there is a very good reason your body wants sweet foods right now.
As a Newborn Mother you need a lot of energy to breastfeed, recover from pregnancy and birth and cope with sleep deprivation. Sweet taste is the most nutritive of tastes; it builds the tissues and aids growth. Most importantly foods that taste sweet promote self-love, harmony and nurturing, and that’s what having a baby is all about. Sweet foods promote oxytocin because of that comforting, nourishing feeling we get when we taste them.
Sweet does not mean refined sugar, but fruits and vegetables, whole grains and calorie rich fats. I’ve suggested lots of meals and snacks throughout my recipe book that taste sweet and are packed with nutrition too. If you satisfy your craving for sweets with nourishing fats and whole grains you hopefully won’t be reaching for so many packets of biscuits or chocolate bars.
You’ll notice the foods in my book are not particularly high in fibre. Ayurveda teaches us that, like a newborn baby, a new mum has low digestive fire and high nutritional needs. Filling up on insoluble fibre leaves no room for the large amounts of nutrient and energy-dense foods you will need.
You are NOT what you eat. You are what you digest!
Modern nutrition looks at foods with Bunsen burners and microscopes to determine the vitamins, minerals and calories involved. However this does not take into account the complexity of the human body, and the different ways that different people digest different foods.
Ayurveda considers digestion the seat of all health, and that many more serious ailments begin with simple warning signs like constipation, gas, bloating or poor appetite. Nourishing Newborn Mothers emphasises foods that are easy to digest, and spices that improve your digestion.
Getting the energy you need is not simply a matter of eating more food – you must also digest the food you eat or it will become ama, a toxic build up in your body.
Putting It All Together
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. Start with soft, warm, soupy foods that are simple to digest, gradually introduce more texture and variety, and eventually, as your appetite and energy returns you can return to your regular diet.
I know many people feel overwhelmed by the complexity of Ayurvedic food so let’s keep it simple. Don’t get bogged down in the details. This is your food mantra:
Enjoy foods that are sweet, warm, oily, simple and moist.
Sit down to eat fresh, homemade food regularly.
If you only do one thing - eat cooked food.