You spent the past nine months eating to nurture your baby (even if all you really relished eating was orange ice lollies or bread and jam). Now that your bundle of joy is in your arms, his or her needs occupy top priority, rather than your own nutritional requirements.
While you’re no longer eating for two, eating healthy after a Caesarean will help the tissues in your body recover from the trauma they experienced during surgery. C-section mums are also more vulnerable to other health issues, such as being in a great deal of pain, or an infected scar. “Constipation is also not uncommon after a Caesarean,” notes Dr Mansi Dhir, a Dubai-based gynaecologist, adding, “So, it’s good to continue with the pre-natal supplements, include a high fibre diet of fruits and vegetables and take stool softeners if needed.”
While a balanced diet is the best thing to help get back on the health track, there certainly are some foods that accelerate the healing process.
Probiotics improve your digestive health and can prevent post-partum constipation. A regular dose of probiotics will also help your body maximise nutrition absorption from the foods that you eat. To start with, include probiotic rich ingredients such as plain unflavored yogurt, miso, pickles, tempeh, kimchi and kombucha tea into your diet.
Blood loss occurs in both Caesarean and vaginal births, but more so in the former because it’s a surgical procedure. Getting your iron levels up is important so as to avoid postpartum anemia, which can result in excessive fatigue, irritability and even affect the quality and quantity of your breast milk. Low iron levels and anaemia are common in late pregnancy due to the increased volume of blood you need to grow your baby.
“It’s even more prevalent after the birth, due to the natural blood loss that occurs during delivery”, says Avni Kaul, nutritionist and wellness coach, founder of Nutri Activania, adding:
Anaemia can make you feel lethargic, so, boost iron stores by eating a diet rich in dark green leafy vegetables, such as spinach, watercress, chard and curly kale, plus beans, nuts, meat, apricots and prunes. You should have kidney beans, dark in colour, to get good volumes of iron.
"Vegetable sources of iron aren’t as easily absorbed as iron found in red meat, but you can maximise absorption from greens by finely chopping or puréeing them, then eating them with fish, poultry or meat", says Dr Mansi Dhir.
Incorporate more iron-rich foods into your diet such as, red meats, fish, poultry, pulses, dried fruit and green leafy veggies. If you are experiencing low iron levels, speak to your doctor and they will prescribe an iron supplement or hormone tablets, depending on how severe your situation is. Physicians often recommend iron supplements to new mothers. When the deficiency of iron in the body is high, it has to be supplemented externally.
On an average, a new mother needs around 30-50 mg iron in her diet.
Oats to Boost Energy
Sleep deprivation plus an erratic diet equals major energy troughs, but you’ll feel better faster if you choose energy-boosting options.
Wholegrain foods, such as oats and brown bread, rice and pasta, are slow-releasing carbs, which keep your energy levels constant. Oats contain a variety of nutrients and is one of the best foods to maintain the necessary iron levels in the body. Oats are also rich in iron, calcium and magnesium – vital for your depleted vitamin and mineral stores after labour – plus they’re packed with soluble fibre to ease constipation.Dr Avni Kaul
After delivery, you should include oats in your diet chart, especially for breakfast. Drop pieces of mangoes, apples or bananas into oats to increase the food value.
Whether you had a C-section, stitches or a straightforward birth, your body will benefit from a helping hand to heal. "Vitamin C – high levels of which can be found in citrus fruit, such as oranges, lemons, grapefruits and limes – will help repair and maintain tissue. Kiwis, papayas and strawberries are also bursting with this wonder vitamin, which aids the absorption of iron, too," insists Dr Dhir.
Yogurt to Nourish You Through Breastfeeding
If you’re breastfeeding, you need plenty of calcium to strengthen your baby’s bones and teeth and ensure their blood clots normally. “Yogurt is a great source of calcium. I recommend having 700mg a day, but nursing mothers need 550mg on top of that. Eating a 250g pot of yogurt and drinking half a pint of milk a day will cover the extra. It makes little difference whether it’s fruit yogurt or unsweetened, although live yogurt is best”, says Avni Kaul.
Lean Meat to Build Up those Muscles
One of the most common problems for mothers after childbirth is that they feel weak. With a baby to carry and prams and strollers to lift and fold, new motherhood requires extra stamina and strength. Lean meat is full of protein – the compound that makes up much of your muscles, organs, cells and fluids – and meals featuring chicken, turkey or lean cuts of pork will help give you the strength to get moving.
"Rich non-meat sources of protein include eggs, pulses, nuts and seeds, which help maintain and repair cells", says Avni Kaul.
Bananas to Sleep Better
This is a precious commodity when you have a newborn, and including foods in your diet that help you fall asleep will mean you won’t be lying awake for hours after the 3am feed. Tryptophan is the amino acid in protein that the body uses to make serotonin, which, in turn, makes melatonin – both calming hormones that slow down your brain and make you drowsy. Tryptophan-rich foods include bananas, cottage cheese, turkey, spinach and eggs. These need to be eaten alongside carbohydrates to help tryptophan access the brain, so mash half a banana onto wholegrain toast for a snooze-inducing bedtime snack.
Lentils consist of a variety of pulses. They are essential for the body after childbirth, as they are refined with high nutritional value. They contain a variety of vitamins and minerals, besides fibres and proteins. "The body can digest lentils easily and doctors often prescribe particular varieties of good health. Apart from boosting up the immunity system in the body, they also provide fibre to the system. It is essential to maintain a smooth bowel movement and prevent constipation. And lentils in any form - whether it is plain dal or soups, or as sprouts will definitely help", suggests Avni Kaul.
Another food you must incorporate in your post-pregnancy rebuild diet is almonds. The wonder nut can be consumed in soaked form, or by pairing it with other foods like oats. You can also drop almonds in milk shakes or smoothies to boost up the taste and food value.
(Aarti K Singh is an independent writer with close to two decades' experience in various media. Having worked in radio, TV and print media, she is now indulging in her passion to rediscover the world, besides juggling a PhD and raising her son.)