By Anna Boetto
In this post Anna walks us through how Asian tradition and specifically Chinese medicine deals with the crucial period following childbirth, providing a week by week look at the healing foods that form the basis of 'The Golden Month'.
There is a common practice in many traditions, and especially in the Chinese Medicine tradition of one month rest and recovery period post giving birth. Known as ‘Zuo Yue Zi’ or ‘sitting the month’ it is also referred to more poetically as 'The Golden Month’.
Traditions world over see this as an essential time for a woman’s body to compensate the lost energy and blood from labour and the 9 months of pregnancy.
Zuo Yue Zi or Sitting Month
This is a time of physical rest with appropriate gentle exercise and traditionally the mother would stay indoors and be cared for by family. There is also a strong emphasis during this time on diet to build blood and energy. Chinese medicine has a long-documented history of diet and food as medicine to recover from childbirth (as well as miscarriage), and to promote lactation.
The significance of food goes beyond sustenance during the Golden month. Food possessing medicinal properties plays a crucial role in nourishing the body's postnatal energy and blood, facilitating the healing process. We recognise the heightened nutritional needs for this recovery phase after childbirth, with breastfeeding especially adding an extra requirement from the mother’s body. Nutritionally dense food is valued for its ability to aid healing, restore depleted nutrients, and provide support during the transformative journey of motherhood.
The Seven Themes of Postpartum Nutrition
- Incorporating Nourishing and Easily Digestible Foods
- Opting for Nutrient-Rich, Strengthening Food
- Including Iron and Protein-Rich Ingredients
- Emphasizing Cooked Vegetables in the Diet
- Ensuring Adequate Hydration through Food and Herbal Teas
- Moderating Salt Intake
- Utilising Browned Ginger, Black Sesame Oil, and Rice Wine
Weekly stages of Postpartum Nutrition
We incorporate the seven themes of postpartum nutrition throughout the whole of this recovery period, with emphasis each week on different stages of recuperation.
The goal for week 1 of recovery is on the consumption of foods and herbal soups that strengthen and invigorate the Blood. This helps shed ‘old Blood’ from the uterus (known as lochia), gently detoxify the uterus and pregnancy hormones, and eliminate any residue (also called ‘foetal toxins’).
Food as medicine
- Consume high protein and iron rich food, cooked with ample moisture, like soups, stews, and congees.
- Limit the consumption of greens as they can have a purging effect which can rid the body of essential fluid.
- Instead, choose vegetables that have tonifying properties, such as carrots, green papaya, pumpkin, squash, and beets.
- Include foods like eggs, fish, liver, adzuki beans, job's tears, seaweed, and rice wine in your diet. Additionally, incorporating herbal aids like red dates and hawthorn berries can provide support for the heart, blood, and circulation.
Sheng Hua Tang soup
- ‘Sheng Hua Tang’ is the ultimate ‘super soup’ to promote blood circulation, warm the body, help to discharge lochia and relieve pain consisting of the following herbs.
- Dang Gui (当归), Chuan Xiong (川芎), Tao Ren (桃仁), Pao Jiang (炮姜), and Zhi Gan Cao (炙甘草), this combination of herbs enhances the process of discharging and cleansing the uterus of old blood, mucous and tissue from the uterus and stimulate Blood flow. The formula also helps the pain and discomfort post birth caused by stagnated or irregular blood circulation. Since the body is depleted by pregnancy and childbirth, it is understood in Chinese medicine to be in a ‘cold state’. The properties of Sheng Hua Tang also help to bring warmth back to the body.
- The herbs can be taken together or can be incorporated into the chicken soup below.
Note: It is important to be in contact with your Chinese herbal practitioner to advise if this herbal formula is right for you and if so, the dispensers at the The Grove are always there to give you instructions on how to cook it.
A congee refers to a traditional Chinese medicinal porridge created by combining rice and various ingredients. Renowned for its healing properties, this nourishing dish aids in digestion, boosts energy levels, and facilitates recovery from illness.
To prepare a simple congee, combine ½ cup of rice with 3 cups of liquid.
- There are various options for the liquid base in your congee. It can be water for a plain version, chicken stock, or you can choose milk or nut milks like soya milk, rice milk, or almond milk for a sweet rice pudding style congee. Alternatively, vegetable or chicken stock can be used for a savory congee. If you prefer, you can even combine equal parts water and milk/stock to customise the taste.
- By adjusting the quantity of liquid used you can determine the consistency of the porridge to your liking. Less liquid will make it thick like breakfast porridge or more liquid, will thin it out like soup consistency.
- Typically, polished rice is used for congee, but for a sweeter taste, you can opt for sweet (glutinous) rice. For a savory congee, Arborio rice (used in risotto) can be used instead.
- To enhance the flavours and medicinal properties of this basic recipe, you have the option to add any combination of the following ingredients: Chinese red dates, black dates, cinnamon, cardamom, fresh ginger, chicken, pork, or mushrooms. Adding 25g ground black sesame seeds (Nigella) helps to build Blood.
Thoroughly rinse the rice and combine with the liquid in a slow cooker. Add any optional ingredients. Set the cooker on low heat and let it sit overnight. Your nourishing congee will be ready to enjoy in the morning or consumed throughout the day.
Chicken soup for Weakness after Childbirth (strengthens & invigorates).
- 30g Dà Zǎo (red dates, Jujube)
- 1 whole chicken,
- 4 fresh ginger slices
- 30 grams brown sugar and salt to taste.
- Add any of the following culinary herbs: 1-2 Bay leaves, 1 sprig rosemary, 3-4 sprigs of Thyme. These herbs have medicinal qualities in therapeutic doses, but are here only to add flavour to the broth.
Method: Bring to boil, then simmer until chicken is cooked. Always skim off excess fat from the top while cooking.
Daily Energy Tonic
- 10 Dà Zǎo (red dates, Jujube)
- 3 g of Dāng Guī
Method: In 1 cup of water, bring to the boil, Simmer and reduce to ½ a cup
Prioritize bone broths, casseroles/stews, and herbal formulas that tonify the Blood and significantly boost Qi to promote Blood tonification. This will aid in the healing of the perineum, as and proper repositioning of the organs. Additionally, herbal treatments will be utilised to strengthen the Kidney and lower back. Your Chinese medicine practitioner will advise the specific herbal medicine for you.
Food as Medicine
- Consume the same high protein and iron-rich foods as in the first week, while gradually introducing green vegetables. Ensure that the greens are thoroughly cooked. The ability to digest these additional greens should be closely monitored.
- Examples of tender greens suitable for consumption include bok choy, choy sum, spinach, lettuce, Swiss chard, and spinach, mustard greens, turnips, and kale. As your energy (Qi) levels continue to increase and your digestive system recovers, you may gradually incorporate cruciferous vegetables such as cabbage, and Chinese broccoli. It is best to boil greens so that much of the anti-nutrients such as oxalates are removed which ensures better absorption of nutrients.
- Tremella, a type of white wood fungus / mushroom, is highly nutritious, providing nourishment to the body's yin and deeply moisturise it.
White Wood Ear Mushroom Soup
3 wood ear mushrooms – soaked overnight, chopped and remove dark base before cooking.
10 Dà Zǎo (red dates, Jujube), seeds removed.
1 tbs Gǒu Qǐ Zǐ (Goji berries)
Add wood ears to 6 cups of cold water in a pot. Bring to the boil, then simmer on low for 45 minutes. Then add the Dà Zǎo and cook for another 20 minutes. Add Gǒu Qǐ Zǐ and cook for another minute or two. Ladle into a bowl and wait to cool before adding honey to taste.
Fish, Chicken, Pork, or Beef Broth
You can use any type of bones to make a nourishing bone broth. Additionally, it can also be consumed as a tea. If vegan or vegetarian, omit the meat and substitute with mushrooms.
Consuming bone soups multiple times throughout the day is highly recommended, as it not only helps prevent the commonly experienced joint pain after childbirth, but also provides the benefits of marrow, which nourishes both the Blood and Essence, while supporting Kidneys.
Chicken Bone broth
- A whole Chicken rinsed and pat dry.
- Herbal ingredients such as Dang Gui (35g), Da Zao (10) , Long Yan Rou ~50g (Logan fruit), Zhi Gan Cao (1pc)
- Culinary herbs such as 1-2 Bay leaves, 4-5 sprigs of Thyme, 1 sprig of Rosemary.
- Salt to taste
- Place enough water in the pot to cover the chicken.
- Season with salt.
- Bring to the boil, then simmer until chicken starts to fall off the bone (1-1.5hrs).
- Skim off the fat and remnants on the surface.
- Pour off the liquid. Discard the bones and keep the meat aside to add later if desired.
- Otherwise, have the broth (warmed) throughout the day.
- 3-4 Chicken Maryland pieces.
- 1.5 cups rice wine.
- 3-5 slices of fresh ginger
- 1-2 tablespoons of black sesame oil
- Add the black sesame oil to a heated pan and stir-fry the ginger.
- Add the chicken pieces and cook for a few minutes until golden brown.
- Pour in the rice wine and bring to the boil.
- Reduce to simmer for 30 to 40 minutes.
- Add any of the recommended vegetables into the stew and cook until tender a few minutes before chicken is done.
- Chicken should almost fall off the bone.
Week 3 & 4:
Weeks 3 and 4 shifts the focus towards tonifying both Blood and Yin, with the objective of establishing a robust milk supply. Recipes incorporating vinegar and other astringent herbs are used to address issues such as night sweats and persistent spotting, preventing the leakage of fluids.
Your Chinese medicine practitioner will recommend the Blood and Yin nourishing herbal formula that is right for you.
Milk Supply Boosting Recipes
Recipe 1: Fig and Red Date Drink
- 1 to 3 fresh figs (or 30 grams dry figs)
- 2 red dates (Red Jujube from a Chinese grocer)
- 60 grams lean pork
- Boil the figs and red dates until they become very soft.
- Add the lean pork to the boiling mixture.
- Allow the ingredients to cook thoroughly.
- Once cooked, consume this drink once a day to increase milk secretion after childbirth.
Recipe 2: Traditional Fish Soup
- 1 flathead (or any bony fish) cleaned and scaled.
- 1 small papaya.
- 1 (2cm) piece of ginger peeled and sliced.
- 500g beef shin (high in collagen).
- Cut off the fish head and make 3-4 shallow cuts on both sides of the fish without cutting all the way through.
- Wash the fish and lightly season it with salt.
- Fry the fish on both sides until it turns brown, then set it aside.
- Slice the beef into large chunks and place them in a pot. Cover the beef with water and heat on high until the water boils. Once the water boils, discard it. This step helps clean the meat.
- Add the beef to the stock pot with the ginger and cover with water.
- Bring the mixture to a boil, then reduce the heat to low. Simmer for 30-40 mins.
- Add fried fish and bring the soup to a boil then down to simmer.
- Add chopped papaya to the soup and continue to simmer for 1 hour.
Note: Consume one serving of this soup daily until your milk supply increases.
What to Avoid During Postpartum
- Refrain from alcohol and smoking – of course!
- Avoid chives, hot chili, and pungent foods, oranges, onions, and garlic as they may lead to bloating, irritation (heat) and diarrhea in newborns.
- Do not consume frozen or extremely cold foods and beverages, including ice cream, water, and soda.
- Minimize intake of sugary foods such as cakes, pastries, and desserts.
- Avoid excessively oily or greasy or fried foods, and barbequed foods.
- Do not consume ginseng or barley (ptisan) tea.
Postpartum Nutrients and Supplements.
- Prenatal vitamin with iron (practitioner recommended product advised) continue to take this formula to replenish Vitamins A C D and E. Iron is required to maintain energy and for proper development of your baby. Good iron sources are found in red meat, liver, dark green leafy vegetables. Vegetarian sources: spinach (+lemon juice) and black wood ear fungus (found in Asian supermarkets).
- Vitamin B12 is an essential nutrient responsible for proper development of red blood cells, energy production, and DNA formation. Inadequate levels of B12 in infants can lead to increased irritability, failure to thrive, developmental delays, and impaired brain growth. Tuna, liver, beef, and salmon are excellent sources of B12. Grains and cereals also provide this nutrient. Vegans should supplement their diet with B12.
- Omega-3 fatty acids have been shown to contribute to improved brain and vision development in infants when present in high concentrations in breast milk. EPA/DHA, the primary of Omega-3s, offer numerous health benefits including enhanced mental focus, reduced inflammation, and lower the risk of postpartum depression. Sources rich in omega-3s include salmon, sardines, fortified eggs, and dairy products, especially those from pasture-raised animals.
- Choline plays an important role in liver function, brain development, muscle movement, the nervous system, and metabolism. Sufficient intake of choline is particularly important during pregnancy and for breastfeeding mothers. Additionally, choline is vital for infant memory and brain development. Eggs, organ meat, liver, cod fish, salmon, and soybeans are excellent food sources of choline.
- Vitamin D is a vital nutrient that supports the immune system, brain, and nervous system while reducing the risk of postpartum depression and anxiety. Fatty fish like salmon and tuna, liver, fortified dairy products, orange juice, and egg yolks are the best dietary sources of vitamin D.
* Always seek the advice of a functional medicine practitioner or a Chinese medicine practitioner qualified to give supplement advice.
The general advice above is to help the new mother and those who are caring for her, to be aware of the importance of diet therapy, herbal medicine, and supplementation during the Golden month. It is important to seek advice from your Chinese medicine practitioner or functional medicine practitioner, as each person has a different constitution and may vary from the usual presentations after childbirth, thus requiring a customised diet and supplementation according to your specific needs.
- “Chinese Foods for Longevity: The Art of Long Life” Henry C Lu. (Recipes for post birth recovery).
- Ou Heng. (2016). The First Forty Days: The Essential Art of Nourishing the New Mother
- Debra Betts (2006). Postnatal Recovery.
- Breastmilk-Making Fish Soup for Postnatal Care- by Rebecca Mar Young. 2015.
Interested in learning more about how Chinese medicine can support you and your baby's health? Contact us for a chat and book an appointment with one of our expert practitioners - either at the clinic, or via telehealth for your postpartum convenience!