A protein postpartum bowl

Here's What You Should Eat After Birth (and Why)

Posted by Hello Postpartum on

After a baby arrives, basic things like eating, drinking, and sleeping can feel hard to accomplish, but that doesn’t mean they’re not extremely important.

After childbirth, our bodies need nourishment and restoration. It might be tempting—or just a habit—to reach for our old favorite foods, but some of them may not be the most supportive right after having a baby.

But what should new moms eat after birth and throughout postpartum? Read our expert advice from an integrative pediatrician to find out.

How we eat after childbirth reflects how much we value this unique time and the world we live. Our bodies give so much to growing and birthing a child, and you must build back your reserves after giving birth.

Ancient medical traditions like Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) and Ayurveda teach that how we nourish and care for ourselves in the first weeks after childbirth (usually around the first 40 days) – determines our long-term health overall. That’s a big deal!

Want more guidance on postpartum nutrition?

Our 50+ page guide was written by postpartum nutrition experts and covers what to eat after birth support your recovery.

• A printable postpartum shopping list
• Pantry and kitchen prep guide
• An easy snack "cheat sheet"
• Postpartum meal prep tips
• 40+ recipes (like Healing Chicken Soup, Overnight Oats, Cashew Date Bites, Breakfast Burritos, and more!)

You'll find recipes, meal prep tips, and more, all in one easy-to-read guide.

What to eat after giving birth (and what to avoid!)

Below, you'll find a quick run-down on what to eat and what to avoid after birth. 

While this information is helpful, it might feel overwhelming if you don't know what to cook or how to begin prepping meals for postpartum recovery. 

Our expert-written Postpartum Nutrition Guide and Recipe Book can help. It contains 40+ easy-to-make postpartum recipes, meal prep tips, and more.

Soups, stews, and broths

Protein and rice bowls

Dishes made with warming spices

Fermented foods

Cooked veggies

Healthy fats (avocado, olive oil, ghee, nuts, etc.)

Cold smoothies

Raw vegetables and salads

Alcohol or excess caffeine

Junk food/highly processed food

Excess amounts of sugar

1. Soups and bowl-style meals

For a good reason, many people think of soup as the ultimate comfort food. Soup is excellent for colds, stomachaches, and even skin conditions. It's also ideal for recovery after birth.

So it’s no surprise that broths and soups are the mainstays of foods recommended postpartum in Traditional Chinese Medicine.

Traditionally, TCM recommends bone broths, which makes sense, considering that bone broth contains nutrients like iron and calcium – and was even shown in one study to have anti-inflammatory properties.

How we nourish and care for ourselves in the first weeks after childbirth (usually around the first 40 days) – determines our long-term health.

Chicken soup is also a great choice, as it has also been shown to have anti-inflammatory properties.

Eating miso soup has been shown in some research to help with GERD (gastroesophageal reflux disease) symptoms. So, if you enjoy miso, that can also be worth a try, especially if you’re experiencing reflux.

The idea is not to adhere to any strict diet or set of rules but to feed your body the nourishing foods that feel right.

If you’re thinking, “Soup is not enough!” then it’s likely time to introduce heartier foods, like stews and warm rice bowls. Ideally, we would make these with foods rich in the abovementioned nutrients.

In TCM, organ meats like liver and kidney are given to new moms. So, if you like liver, feel free to include it.

But you don’t have to go that route. 

Proteins like beef, chicken, seafood, eggs, beans, or tofu paired with cooked leafy greens, carrots, and healthy fat sources like avocado, nuts, and seeds in a rice bowl can make a wonderfully satisfying meal.

Choose foods that contain essential nutrients, like cooked leafy greens (rich in folate, iron, and magnesium) and seafood and chicken (rich in zinc and iron), to give just a few examples.

2. Foods made with warming spices

Including warming spices boosts the warming factor of foods, but traditional warming spices like ginger and cinnamon have other benefits, too.

Ginger can help with nausea and inflammation, and cinnamon may help with insulin resistance. Adding turmeric, an anti-inflammatory powerhouse, can make your meals even more nourishing.

Pro tip: Curcumin (turmeric's active ingredient) is not absorbed very well on its own, so adding turmeric to a meal containing both fat and black pepper will increase its absorption.

Saffron, in particular, is favored in Ayurveda for the postpartum period, and for good reason. The Ayurvedic “First Days Rice pudding” is given after childbirth. 

It is warm, easy to digest, and contains nourishing ghee (clarified butter), plus warming spices like ginger, cinnamon, black pepper, cardamom, and saffron.

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3. Fermented foods

If you like sauerkraut, yogurt, and other fermented foods, rejoice! 

If you don’t, you may want to consider experimenting with them since more and more research shows that a healthy gut microbiome is deeply connected to overall health, including postpartum.

You could also consider adding a postpartum-specific probiotic to your daily routine. 

One study showed that people who received Lactobacillus rhamnosus HN001 in pregnancy and postpartum had significantly lower depression and anxiety scores in the postpartum period. This probiotic does contain that particular strain.

This makes sense since the bacteria in our gut help make neurotransmitters like serotonin, dopamine, GABA, and glutamate, which are deeply important to our mood regulation. About 95% of the body’s serotonin is made in the gut.

Look at the labels of your fermented foods of choice to ensure they have the beneficial bacteria you’re looking for.

A great way to start with sauerkraut is to add it to things like pulled pork tacos or scrambled eggs.

However, fermented foods are often relatively high in sodium. Use them thoughtfully if you are watching your salt intake due to high blood pressure or other salt-sensitive conditions.

Postpartum eating tips to optimize nutrition

When focusing on what to eat after birth, there are some straightforward ideas and mindsets to remember and practice throughout your day. 

Remember, perfection is not the goal. 

Focus on warm foods

Choose foods that are easy to digest

Try to practice mindfulness

1. Focus on warming foods

There’s a reason that traditional schools of medicine, like Ayurveda and TCM, recommend warm foods and drinks after birth. 

In TCM, the belief is that you lose a lot heat – the source of strength and nourishment – in childbirth.

So, in addition to wearing warm clothes, including hats and socks, TCM recommends consuming only warm foods and liquids during the “lying in” period or the first forty days after birth.

Though there is not much in the way of medical research on the postpartum practices of Traditional Chinese Medicine, a preliminary study in China showed that new mothers had fewer symptoms of postpartum depression when they adhered more strictly to the traditional “doing the month” practice.

This includes a particular postpartum diet and restrictions on housework, social activity, personal hygiene, and contact with the cold.

We understand that these principles aren’t realistic for many families. The point is to understand and appreciate what other cultures practice and try to adapt as many principles as possible into your life. 

The teachings of Ayurveda are similar, with an emphasis on warm foods and liquids, as well as warming spices (more on that below) during this time of recovery.

2. Eat foods that are easy to digest

Think of someone recovering from childbirth like you would about someone recovering from a major surgery. You probably wouldn’t start by feeding them a super-rich and decadent lasagna.

The same is true for childbirth, a demanding physical experience that often includes medical procedures. And, for the record, a C-section is a major surgery.

For people who are rebuilding and recovering, we want to use a stepwise approach, starting with gentle, easy-to-digest foods.

If the more gentle foods are being digested well or are not enough, we move on to heartier but not heavy foods. 

The idea is not to adhere to any strict diet or set of rules but to feed your body the nourishing foods that feel right to you.

To be clear, heavy foods are fatty and tough to digest – think cheesy or fried foods.

And even though they don’t count as “heavy” foods, things like raw veggies are tough to digest. Consider this before reaching for a big salad after birth.

Raw foods are not recommended right after childbirth in traditional medicine teachings because they are cold and require our digestive system to do a lot of work.

So, even if you ate salads daily before giving birth, that may not be the best choice after you have your baby. On the other hand, if your body indeed calls for a particular food, go for it – your body knows best.

But often, when we listen to what our bodies tell us, the idea of certain heavy or cold foods doesn’t sound all that great. There’s a difference between craving and needing a specific food; when we pay attention, we learn to distinguish the two.

3. Mindfulness around eating can help

Lastly, take a moment to be present and enjoy eating. Nowadays, it’s easy to think of food as just a collection of nutrients. But food and eating have always been a way for people to connect to their senses and one another.

Being present while we eat is good for our health, too, and mindful eating has been found to lower inflammation and cortisol levels. Focus on eating instead of eating in front of a screen, driving, or being distracted.

Use mealtimes to connect with yourself, your surroundings, and the people around you. Of course, with a new baby in the house, mindful eating might feel like the last thing you can do but try to keep it in mind with each meal.

Reconnecting with how important it is to recover and restore ourselves after an experience as profound as growing and birthing a child can empower us to advocate for what we need.

Hopefully, the information above provides some tools that help you get the rest and nourishment you need – and deeply deserve.

Written by: Anikó Gréger, MD, FAAP, ABOIM

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