Food has a direct impact on the healing process.
It's important to understand the fundamentals of a successful, awake digestive system. The subject is complex but we will keep this straightforward and concise.There is much about understanding the gut that we are still learning and what we know is fascinating!
Digestion begins in the mouth with chewing moves through the body stopping in each location allowing the body to do what it needs to do with it. The bulk of digestion happens in the small intestine (aka nutrient absorption headquarters) by pulling vitamins, minerals, amino acids, fatty acids, and glucose from the food and into the bloodstream. This is just one important part of the digestive process.
Digestion is highly personal - these times can vary significantly.
On average, it is said that it takes food:
2 -6 hours to leave the stomach
It takes 6 - 8 hours for food to reach your large intestine (colon).
Material hangs out in the colon from 4–72 hours, with a normal average of 36 hours.
On average it's about 50 hours BUT let's remember this is highly variable to the individual (and food eaten). Plus, some materials in food move through the system faster, and some more slow. In other words, they transit at their own specific pace - not moving uniformly .
There is also the added task of the Blood Brain Barrier and how it safeguards the brain. Certain nutrients need transport carriers to bring benefit to our noggin. Glucose + Fatty Acids (Omega 3s) get across easily and Vitamin C can as well (amongst others). Amino Acids and some B vitamins are in need of help to cross the BBB.
Without these helpers, the brain wouldn't be getting the benefits needed to fully support it. In postpartum, this is especially important as this includes the making of neurotransmitters that regulate mood and the nervous system - two important topics within postpartum.
Healthy Hydration practices are recommended. This means sip room temp water or tea with meals - but don't guzzle. Liquid will keep things moving but we don't want to overdo it all at once and create bloat while we eat.
The small intestine essentially uses it for diffusion to absorb nutrients.
OK, WHY IS ALL THIS IMPORTANT?
In general, we use the term 'postpartum body' to reflect the unique stage during the Fourth Trimester. It is highly unique and unlike any other time or stage in life.
The body is busy right now - it's in repair mode. From the obvious healing of both internal and external tissue, hormone levels fluctuating, to the physical reality that the abdomen literally needs to settle back into it's new unpregnant home.
A major part of what we are doing is giving the digestive system a bit of a break so it doesn't have to work so hard to breakdown food when it's already inflamed and in a heightened state.
A Question of Fiber
While we don't want low fiber in the early stages, we don't want high fiber either. It slooowwwwwss things down when we want to keep things moving. It's also fair to say that the very early (first 3 days) would be considered somewhat similar to a modified ( but ancestral version) "Soft Diet".
This can help prevent complications. It can facilitate deeper absorption. It can help with wound healing. It can provide the building blocks of repair. It can prevent constipation. It can stabilize glucose issues and blood pressure issues.
"These types of foods, says Anabelle Harari Clebaner, RD, founder of Wellspring Nutrition, give your GI tract and bowels a break by not needing to work so hard to break down food when it’s already inflamed. It’s like the digestive equivalent of taking a sick day—you need to let your gut rest in order to heal."
HERE IS HOW WE FACILITATE BETTER ABSORPTION + IMPROVE DIGESTION
Regular, moderate to smaller portions when eating.. Aim for eating 4 to 5 times spread through out the day with the "lunch" being the largest meal of the day. Nursing can bring on the hungry horrors and its craving fuel. Grazing isn't uncommon especially in the early days.
Include fat in each and every meal. It's the long burning energy needed - fat helps feel satiated. Unctuous, delicious fat is needed for absorbing fat soluble nutrients Vitamins A, D, K, E. Examples: 1/3 of an Avocado, An ounce of nuts, a Tablespoon of Ghee, Grass-fed Butter or Oil (sesame).
Using thermogenic spices with regularity in well cooked foods and teas.The link talks about six of our favorites but the powerhouse section will have more information on this.
Ideally avoid all raw and cold food. Incredibly hard on digestion's. It slow and heavy and prevents nutrients for being absorbed. During these days, digestion is consider 'weak' and raw and cold are deeply counter intuitive. The classic warming of a birth giver is something you see across traditional cultures / ancestral ways as a highly regarded method to bringing birthing people into balance.
Steer clear of packaged and processed foods - same reasons as above except they are additionally challenging to the system as they frequently are laden with chemical food stuffs.
Chew! Chew your darn food, and slow down when you eat.
Avoiding foods that are known to cause gas, distention, bloating, crankiness. This would mean avoiding broccoli, cauliflower, brussel sprouts, some beans + lentils (see separate post on soaking), corn and cabbage. Gas forms in the small intestine from undigested carbs. This moves to the large intestine where bacteria go to town doing their job at breaking it down further. The creates carbon dioxide and hydrogen aka GAS.
Try to Sip water while eating but not overdo it. Reserving the bulk of your liquid (tea!) ingestion to be in between meals. Don't overthink this -sip to quench thirst. Being hydrated is a factor in overall wellbeing and nursing parents can dehydrate quickly.
This is the million dollar question but first a word of caution. Despite what anyone says, there are variables that make giving exact days and timelines risky and can create an unnecessary barrier. Your lived experience is valuable and worthy.
One really cool thing is that the time-honored, cultural approaches used throughout the world aligns with common western gut rebuilding protocols AND the natural rhythm of healing and hormonal fluctuations. More on this later.
Within the 42 days postpartum, there is a breakdown of phases. Here you will find a few schools of thought but to generalize, we follow this roadmap (remember, no rigid rules here with many cultures aligning give or take a few days):
DAYS 1 - 3: There is a special emphasis on the First 3 days postpartum as highly acute, very hormonal, often thought to be intense and blissful. So much is happening and it's a lovely, sweaty, sometimes tearful whirlwind.
From there is further emphasis on the first two weeks (some may say 10 days).
From there, once we hit 3 weeks, we are in a different phases with strength and complexity building towards that 42 day mark.
Postpartum is forever but there are stages:
Immediate: Day 1 -3
Early: First 10 to 14 days
Sacred Window (many different names for this time: First 30 - 42 days
Fourth Trimester up to 3 months.
Fifth Trimester: After Fourth until menses start back up.
Beyond this, it's important to know that it can take up to 2 years to fully 'heal', replete, balance. Some folks more time, some folks less.