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How To Care for Yourself Postpartum

Cherry Blossoms

When you nourish the mother, you nourish the child

Growing and delivering a baby is hard work. It requires your body to supply a lot of nutrients to a growing child. Most of these nutrients are sourced from food, but some come from your body as well. And after birth, if you choose to breastfeed, then your supply to the baby continues. 

What does TCM have to say about the time right after giving birth?

In Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), the health of a pregnancy and the source of these nutrients depends primarily on the Blood system. This makes sense if we think about it in Western medicine, because nutrients from the mother’s body are carried to the baby via blood circulation. However, the TCM concept of Blood is a little different. 

The Concept of Blood in TCM

Blood in TCM is made from a combination of nutrients drawn from food and the mother’s own energy. If the mother’s energy, or Qi, is weak, then the blood and the resulting nutrients reaching the baby will also be weak. Hence, when you nourish the mother, you nourish the child. 

The Concept of Essence in TCM 

In addition to the Blood system, there is another vital substance important to pregnancy, and that is Essence. Each one of us is born with a certain amount of prenatal Essence, which is a fixed amount we receive from our parents. We can also acquire postnatal Essence through food and the strength of our Essence depends on our quality of life. Poor habits like overeating, under exercising, excessive alcohol use or sexual activity is said to deplete our Essence. 

Based on how prenatal Essence is described, I like to think of it like genetics. We get our genes from our parents and it’s something we can’t change. Postnatal Essence, in contrast, is something we can change so I like to think of it more like epigenetics. If we hold to a proper lifestyle, then we can influence how our genes are expressed. 

How Qi, Blood, and Essence Affect Pregnancy and Delivery

During pregnancy Qi, Blood, and Essence are all being given to the child so that they can grow. After pregnancy, these accumulated vital substances have been given to the child, so the mother is left in a relative deficit.

According to TCM, it is very important to replenish these vital nutrients as soon as possible. After the physical act of delivery (either vaginal or cesarean), the mother’s body is considered to be more open for at least a month after birth. Chinese mothers traditionally do not leave the house or expose themselves to cold water or cold weather for the first month of their baby’s life to give their body time to recover. 

One of the best things a mother can do during this first month is eat certain types of foods that are especially good for replenishing Blood and postnatal essence. The strongest way to do this is placental encapsulation, but if that’s not for you then there are other options that support new mothers with nutrition.

The traditional recipe is a chicken soup that uses a special type of chicken, along with several Chinese herbs to strongly nourish the body. The special chicken is called a silkie, or black, chicken. Black is the color associated with the Kidney system and the Kidney system is where Essence is stored, so eating foods of that color is the strongest way to tonify the Kidneys and Essence.

The herbs included are Dang Gui (angelica sinensis) and Huang Qi (Astragalus). Dang Gui tonifies the Blood, while Huang Qi tonifies the Qi.

Postpartum Chicken Soup Recipe

We’ve included two postpartum soup recipes below, chicken soup for postpartum and a vegan/vegetarian version.

You can often find frozen silkie chicken at Asian specialty stores, but if you can’t, then regular chicken is just fine.

If you are making the vegetarian version, we highly recommend looking for mushrooms at your farmers’ market (there are some great ones in Washington, DC).

The soup is best eaten in the first week postpartum. You can even make it before delivery, freeze it, and have something to eat on hand after you give birth. Check in with us after one batch and we can discuss if you should make more!

a bowl of nourishing soup

Chicken Soup

Zach Beattie, MAc.OM, Dipl.O.M., L.Ac.
This chicken soup, brimming with TCM herbal medicine is just the thing to deeply nourish and support new mothers.

Ingredients
  

  • 1 whole Chicken silkie or black chicken if possible, regular chicken if not - around 2 lbs or 1 kg.
  • ¼ Cup (60ml) Shaoxing Chinese cooking wine or sherry
  • 4 (2oz or 60g) Scallions, chopped
  • 1.5 oz (45g) Fresh ginger, peeled and sliced thin
  • 1 oz (25g) Shiitake mushrooms (optional)
  • 1 bag Dried herbs from Cherry Blossom Healing Arts separate out the goji berries and red dates
  • White (or regular) soy sauce to taste (optional)
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Instructions
 

  • Rinse chicken, remove giblets, and place in a large stockpot or dutch oven. Add in cooking wine, scallions, ginger, and bagged herbs.
  • Bring to a gentle simmer over medium heat and scoop off any foam that rises to the surface. Continue at a gentle simmer until the chicken is cooked through and falls off the bone, about 45 minutes.
  • Carefully remove chicken from the broth and allow time to cool before removing the meat (and skin if you like it).
  • Return carcass to broth, cover, and cook at a very gentle simmer for a clearer broth, about 3 hours, or a light boil for a creamier broth, about 2 hours.
  • Strain broth, discarding chicken carcass and aromatics. Return broth to the pot, add in chicken meat, goji berries, dates, and mushrooms. Simmer until mushrooms are cooked through about 2-4 minutes.
  • Season with additional salt, pepper, or soy sauce as needed.  Garnish with chopped scallions and enjoy!
a bolw of mushroom soup

Vegetarian soup

Zach Beattie, MAc.OM, Dipl.O.M., L.Ac.
This rich mushroom soup can be made vegetarian or vegan. Our amazing herb combination in conjunction with the healing power of mushrooms will deeply nourish postpartum mothers.

Ingredients
  

  • 1.5-2 lbs Mushrooms Pick your favorites or do a blend. We recommend a “meatier” mushroom like portobellos or shiitakes
  • ¼ cup (60ml) Shaoxing Chinese cooking wine (or sherry)
  • 2 bunches Scallions, chopped with white and green parts separated
  • 1.5 oz (45g) Fresh ginger, peeled and sliced thin
  • 6 cloves Garlic, dice or use a garlic press
  • 2-4 ribs Celery, thinly sliced
  • Carrots or other vegetables (optional)
  • 2 Tbsp 2 Ume plum vinegar (optional)
  • 1 bag Dried herbs from Cherry Blossom Healing Arts Separate out the goji berries and red dates
  • 64 oz Vegetable stock, depending on pot size
  • White (or regular) soy sauce to taste (optional)
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Instructions
 

  • Wash and slice mushrooms, ginger, garlic, and vegetables
  • In a large stock pot, add oil and saute ginger, garlic, celery, and onion whites until fragrant and tender, 3-5 minutes.
  • Add in mushrooms and cooking wine, then saute for 2 minutes
  • Add in vegetable broth, plum vinegar, and herbs from Cherry Blossom. 
  • Bring the broth to a simmer and cook for 15-20 minutes until mushrooms are tender and cooked through.
  • Remove the herb bag from the soup.  Add in goji berries and red dates, then simmer for another 2 minutes until fruits are rehydrated.
  • Season with additional salt, pepper, or soy sauce as needed.  Garnish with chopped scallions and enjoy!

About the Author

I find working as an acupuncturist to be truly inspiring, and am excited to come to work each day. I consider myself to be an integrative practitioner, and while I focus on Chinese medicine, I also incorporate Western medical concepts to best serve my patients.

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Cherry Blossom Healing Arts
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