Postpartum recovery using Chinese medicine: Improving digestion

Women’s health expert, Josie Bouchier, shares tips on how to recover sooner after giving birth. In part 1 of her postpartum series, Josie discusses improving digestion.

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Giving birth is a big deal, to say the least. It takes a remarkable toll on the body. From a Chinese medicine point of view, giving birth is the only naturally occurring event in a woman’s life where she loses such high amounts of Qi (energy), blood, Yin and Yang, all of which need to be replenished in order to fully recover her strength and vitality.

How long will it take to replenish your Qi, blood, Yin and Yang post-delivery? It depends. For some women, it can take four to six months, for some women up to two years, for others it could take longer than that. These tips I’m going to share with you will help you recover sooner, more completely, and with more ease.

The first organ system we need to pay attention to during postpartum recovery is the spleen and stomach, aka our digestion. In Chinese medicine, our digestion is responsible for transforming food into Qi, blood, Yin and Yang. If our digestion is working properly (i.e. no gas, no bloating, no heartburn, no nausea, 1-3 well-formed bowel movements per day), then we will benefit from the nutritious food we eat. If our digestion is not working properly, our bodies will not benefit from the food we eat, no matter how nutritious, because our Spleen / Stomach won’t be able to do its job of transforming food into Qi, Blood, Yin, and Yang.

According to Chinese medicine, when our spleen and stomach Qi are strong, we will feel energetic and clear-headed, we will worry less, we will have stronger immune systems and more stamina, and will be less prone to what we call Damp pathologies such as yeast overgrowth which can manifest as yeast infections or thrush in mama and baby.

Here are some tips to help you heal and support your digestion, especially during the first few weeks after giving birth when your digestion is the most compromised:

  • Eat mostly warm, cooked foods that are easy to digest like soups and stews
  • Make sure whole grains are well-cooked and easy to digest
  • Drink a small teacup of warm water, broth, or tea with your meal
  • Use warm spices like ginger, cinnamon, nutmeg, clove, nutmeg, black or white pepper, cardamom, orange peel, and fennel
  • Eat small meals and snacks every 2-3 hours so as not to overwhelm your digestion
  • Drink room temperature water between meals so it doesn’t dilute your naturally occurring digestive enzymes and never drink ice water with your meals, which will put out your digestive fire
  • Consider taking a high quality digestive enzyme and probiotic

Now that we’ve got your digestion operating more smoothly, I’m going to share with you specific foods to help nourish and build your Qi, blood, Yin and Yang.

Qi and Blood Nourishing Foods

  • Clean animal protein
  • Black beans
  • Lentils
  • Green leafy vegetables
  • Red fruits like cherries, raspberries, and strawberries
  • Beets
  • Stocks and soups made from bones
  • Egg yolks
  • Whole grains

Yin Nourishing Foods

  • Clean seafood
  • Barley and millet
  • String beans
  • Asparagus
  • All dark colored beans
  • Dark berries like blackberries, mulberries, and blueberries
  • Seaweeds
  • Animal products like fish, eggs, dairy, duck, and pork
  • Tofu
  • Fluids like soups and stocks

Yang Nourishing Foods

  • Walnuts
  • Chestnuts
  • Pistachio
  • Garlic
  • Onion
  • Goji berries
  • Raspberries
  • Chicken
  • Lamb
  • Black beans
  • Quinoa

In my next article I will discuss the second most important organ system to bring into balance during the postpartum phase—the Liver. You’ll want to learn this information if you’re feeling stressed, depressed, irritable, if you’re not sleeping well when you have the opportunity, if you’re having skin breakouts, headaches, strong cravings for chocolate, caffeine or alcohol, PMS, or irregular cycles if your cycle has returned.