The Art of Nourishment in the Postpartum Period

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The amount of time, energy, and resources that are vested in women during pregnancy versus postpartum is truly staggering. During my first pregnancy, I poured over childbirth books, nutrition recommendations, Pinterest boards, baby registries, breastfeeding classes and hospital bag checklists to ensure I was prepared for that climactic moment when my baby would enter the world. When we brought our first daughter home, I realized that none of those things had prepared me for anything I was about to face as a new mother.  

Lack of Postpartum Resources

Sadly, mothers in postpartum have very minimal resources for one of the most foundational elements of motherhood: how to heal from childbirth. And I’m not just talking about the “six to eight week” period allotment that we are all given to heal from a vaginal or cesarean birth. I mean, how do you truly replenish and restore your body and mind from the life-changing experience of growing and birthing a baby into the world?

The reality is that most mothers in the United States get one postpartum check-up after having their baby, maybe more for reasons that warrant “medical necessity”. Compared to the countless appointments during pregnancy and leading up to childbirth, this discrepancy in prenatal and postpartum care creates a vacuum of isolation and negligence for mothers during one of their most vulnerable seasons in life.   

Learning how to adjust to caring for a newborn is one thing. What about understanding and knowing how to care for yourself AFTER pregnancy and childbirth? With up to one in four women returning to work within two weeks of giving birth and countless more left without adequate support or resources in postpartum, it is no wonder that many mothers find themselves struggling: physically, mentally, emotionally and more. Self-care and nourishment are pushed to the backburner for many women navigating motherhood.

Postpartum Practices Around the World

In many cultures around the world, there are customary postpartum practices that are honoring to a new mother, allowing her the space, time and resources to rest and heal following childbirth. Several Latin American, Asian, and Middle Eastern countries uphold a forty day period after birth where the mother is nourished and cared for to allow for optimal recovery.

Nourishment in the postpartum period is experienced in multiple ways, including through wholesome foods that both replenish the body and support breastfeeding, and with the opportunity to rest and bond with baby. A woman’s postpartum body is treated gently and allowed time for healing, not rushed or pressured to fit back into a pair of pre-pregnancy jeans.

The main focus of many of these postpartum practices is the health and recovery of the new mother, a concept that has sadly been neglected in the United States.

Learning to Prioritize Self-Care

Many women simply do not have the support or resources needed to properly heal and recover in the days, months, even years following childbirth. This can deplete a mother entirely, affecting not only her ability to thrive as an individual but also in limiting her capacity to care for her baby and family. Ultimately, this is damaging to mothers, families, and society as a whole, and we have to do better about how we care for women, especially in postpartum.

While there are many things that we cannot control or change overnight, like our maternal health care practices, there are ways to better prioritize self-care, particularly during postpartum. We may not be able to take the desired time off from work or have all the help we need to simply rest; however, we can begin to make choices that better serve our overall well-being. This may be in the form of asking for help for simple things around the house that you would ordinarily do yourself, getting breastfeeding and nutrition support, or being more intentional about your tasks and schedule.

Nourishment in Postpartum

Nourishing yourself in the postpartum period is a necessity for thriving, as a woman and a mother. While this may look different from one woman to the next, there is no question that you deserve care, respect, and space/time for healing from the precious miracle of pregnancy and childbirth.

Begin with the premise of your own worth and value, and making decisions that prioritize your self-care will come more easily. Restoring your health through intentional nourishment in the postpartum period is essential for caring for your baby AND yourself.

What are the challenges you faced in caring for yourself during the postpartum period?  

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Crystal Karges, MS, RDN, IBCLC

Crystal Karges Nutrition

Crystal Karges, MS, RDN, IBCLC is a San Diego-based private practice dietitian helping others embrace their health for themselves and their loved ones.  Focusing on maternal/child health and eating disorders, Crystal creates the nurturing, safe environment that is needed to help guide individuals towards a peaceful relationship with food and their bodies.