It is often regarded as one of the happiest and most fulfilling times of your life, however becoming a mother can leave you feeling fatigued, depleted and sometimes suffering with low moods. Carrying a child is one of the most energy intensive and demanding events your body will ever go through. People understand the importance of rest, recovery and nourishment after running a marathon, for example, but a mother can often ignore her own health needs after giving birth. This could be through not eating well, trying desperately to lose weight quickly and striving to be back at work within weeks.
The main focus when supporting new mothers is to provide nourishment to the body, through a nutrient dense diet. This provides the building blocks which allow your body to heal damaged tissue, resolve any inflammation present and rebuild your hormone levels. The sudden drop of female hormones is often the reason behind the common symptoms experienced, such as depression, fatigue, anxiety and insomnia. Nutrients such as omega 3, zinc, magnesium and iron are very important during the postpartum period, in order to help alleviate some of these symptoms.
The addition of certain herbs and superfoods into your daily routine can be a great way to boost your nutrient intake, especially if you are tired and rushed for time. As a Naturopathic Nutritional Therapist I always use ‘whole foods’ first, however at certain times in our lives we all need a little boost, and the use of specific herbs and superfoods can help with this. “Superfoods” are exceptionally nutrient-rich foods and are often more bio-available, therefore more easily absorbed by the body.
Here are my top recommendations, that are also safe to consume if breast feeding:
This herb is a well known ‘galactogogue’, which means it helps to promote breast milk production. Fenugreek can stimulates the milk ducts and can increase milk production in as little as 24 hours! It also has blood sugar stabilising effects, therefore may help to combat sweet cravings and prevent energy crashes.
Fenugreek appears to slow the absorption of sugars in the stomach and stimulates insulin; therefore can help to support healthy weight loss for mothers.(1)
Shatavari is one of the corner stone remedies within Ayruvedic medicine, for women’s health. It can benefit women during all stages of life, by working as an adaptogen, up or down regulating certain hormones, depending on the individual. It is a rejuvenating tonic for females and nourishes the reproductive system, even helping to ‘clean out’ the uterus after childbirth. Shatavari is another herb that helps to promote breast milk production and is rich in phytonutrients, water soluble fibre, along with traces of B complex vitamins and minerals like zinc and calcium. (2)
Commonly used for the treatment of digestive issues such as bloating, indigestion and cramps, fennel is known as a ‘carminative’ herb, which means it helps to expel excess gas from the system. Breast fed infants who suffer with colic and other digestive complaints can receive some of these beneficial properties through the mothers breast milk. It can also support females by regulating hormones and promoting the return of the menstrual cycle after giving birth. (3)
Beetroot is an amazing ‘blood builder’, which is very important after pregnancy and childbirth, due to the loss of blood and depletion of certain nutrients. It contains non heme iron, plus folate, which are both needed for oxygenation, energy production, red blood cell function and the prevention of anaemia. A compound found in beetroot, known as ‘Betaine’, is needed for liver detoxification. Liver health is important for the clearance of ‘used’ hormones, the storage or certain vitamins and the production of new hormones, such as oestrogen and progesterone. (4)
It is mainly known for its benefits during pregnancy as a ‘uterine tonic’, however raspberry is actually beneficial to women at all stages in life. This is another superfood which can help to create a plentiful supply of breast milk for new mothers! The tannins in raspberry act as an astringent, therefore help to stop excess bleeding after birth and restore elasticity of the womb. Fresh raspberries are a great source of fibre, therefore can help to support the digestive system and promote the clearance of toxins from the bowel. (5)
This superfood is a fruit that is grown from Africa’s ‘Tree of Life’. Baobab is a rich source of vitamin C which can help support the repair of tissues, improve immunity and balance stress levels after having a baby. Vitamin C also supports our adrenal glands and energy production, which can be taxed during the postpartum period.
It is also an essential nutrient for collagen production, which is needed for youthful looking skin and the repair of connective tissue found in the reproductive system. (6)
Not only does high quality, dark chocolate taste so good, but its main ingredient cacao is an amazing superfood rich in antioxidants, magnesium and ‘feel good’ compounds such as theobromine and phenylethylamine. These compounds are thought to affect levels of serotonin, which can boost your mood and ease depression!
Cacao can be stimulating due to the small amounts of caffeine present, so it may help give your energy levels a boost, without need to reach for the energy drinks and coffee! Dark chocolate can be a great food to include during the postpartum period as it is rich in healthy fats and energy to support your increased demand for nutrients, especially if breastfeeding. Cacao is also rich in zinc, which is important for tissue repair, hormone balance and the production of neurotransmitters (our brain signals). (6)
Along with adding some of these herbs and superfoods into your daily routine to support your recovery, you should make self care a priority. Each day try to find at least 10 minutes for yourself. That can be reading a new book or trashy magazine, booking a massage, doing a quick yoga sequence, putting on a face mask and having a relaxing bath or calling a friend for a chat. Remember, ‘you can’t pour from an empty cup’.
- Sim TF, Hattingh HL, Sherriff J, Tee LBG. The Use, Perceived Effectiveness and Safety of Herbal Galactagogues During Breastfeeding: A Qualitative Study. Tchounwou PB, ed. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health. 2015;12(9):11050-11071. doi:10.3390/ijerph120911050. Available at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4586661/
- Alok S, Jain SK, Verma A, Kumar M, Mahor A, Sabharwal M. Plant profile, phytochemistry and pharmacology of Asparagus racemosus (Shatavari): A review. Asian Pacific Journal of Tropical Disease. 2013;3(3):242-251. doi:10.1016/S2222-1808(13)60049-3.
- Badgujar SB, Patel VV, Bandivdekar AH. Foeniculum vulgare Mill: A Review of Its Botany, Phytochemistry, Pharmacology, Contemporary Application, and Toxicology. BioMed Research International. 2014;2014:842674. doi:10.1155/2014/842674. Available at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4137549/
- Clifford T, Howatson G, West DJ, Stevenson EJ. The Potential Benefits of Red Beetroot Supplementation in Health and Disease. Nutrients. 2015;7(4):2801-2822. doi:10.3390/nu7042801. Available at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4425174/
- Worlds Healthiest Foods. ‘Raspberries’. Available at: http://www.whfoods.com/genpage.php?tname=foodspice&dbid=39
- Ibrahima, C. et al (2013) ‘Biochemical and nutritional properties of baobab pulp from endemic species of Madagascar and the African mainland.’ African Journal of Agricultural Research. Vol. 8(47), pp. 6046-6054. Available at: http://www.academicjournals.org/article/article1386078363_Ibrahima%20et%20al.pdf
- Medical News Today (2016) ‘Baobab Health Benefits, Nutritional Breakdown’ Available at: https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/306445.php
- Nehlig A. The neuroprotective effects of cocoa flavanol and its influence on cognitive performance. British Journal of Clinical Pharmacology. 2013;75(3):716-727. doi:10.1111/j.1365-2125.2012.04378.x. Available at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3575938/