Help Heal Postpartum Anxiety with Food

photo @elizarlopez

photo @elizarlopez

"Food is medicine." 

Hippocrates said this hundreds of years ago and it’s as true today as it was then.

As an acupuncturist, I feel lucky that I get to put this saying into practice every day with my patients. One patient might be prescribed cabbage, brussel sprouts, and lemon juice to help move their liver energy while another patient might be prescribed some cinnamon, fennel, and star anise spices to help boost their digestive fire. Who doesn’t love it when their medicine is as tasty as a hot cup of chai tea? (Or spiced pumpkin soy latte if that’s more your jam.)

Today, I want to share with you how to use food to help support the symptoms of postpartum anxiety and depression.

In Chinese medicine, we consider postpartum emotional disorders to be mainly caused by something we call blood deficiency. Sounds scary, right? Well, it’s really common and not as scary as it sounds. An added plus is that it responds really well to food as a type of therapy.

See, during pregnancy your blood volume almost doubles in order to support your growing fetus. Your hair grows long and gets thick, your nails get strong, and you might even find that previously bothersome symptoms like headaches or dizziness disappear. In Chinese medicine, these effects are all due to the abundance of blood flowing through your veins. We consider blood to be a more condensed version of Qi (life force of the body). So when you’re pregnant, your body is literally overflowing with extra Qi and blood.

But that excess amount of Qi and blood quickly diminishes after childbirth.

Blood loss is common during labor and immediately your body starts using the remaining qi and blood to produce milk for the baby. Breastfeeding creates a constant need for blood support for the mother.

One of the best ways to tonify and build up blood is through what we eat.

Food therapy has long been a part of postpartum care in Chinese medicine. Today I’m sharing with you the foods I recommend to my own patients who are new mamas. Enjoy!

Foods that can help rebuild your blood after giving birth:

  • Grains like barley, oats, and rice
  • Vegetables like sweet potatoes, beets, alfalfa sprouts, dark leafy greens, kelp, and mushrooms
  • Fruits like figs, grapes, and longan berries
  • All red meats, especially liver and bone marrow
  • Eggs, especially the yolks
  • Other dark, rich, foods like molasses

Some great meal ideas:

  • Crispy sweet potato hash topped with scrambled eggs
  • Steaming bowl of cinnamon raisin steel-cut oatmeal
  • Warm nourishing soup made with bone broth and lots of dark leafy greens (Replace the bone broth with a vegetable and seaweed broth if you’re vegetarian or vegan.)
  • Slow-cooker pot roast with root vegetables and sauteed mushrooms
  • Homemade ginger snap cookies made with molasses

One of my favorite postpartum blood tonifying recipes comes in the form of a caffeine-free tea. This herbal combination includes mineral rich and chlorophyll full plants to boost hemoglobin production. Many of the herbs are also galactagogues and can help encourage your milk supply.

Blood Tonifying Tea:
2 parts dried red raspberry leaf
1 part dried nettle leaf
1 part dried alfalfa leaf
A pinch of dried rosehips

Mix together a big batch of these dried herbs so you can make this tea as needed. I often suggest my patients make a big pot of this every morning to sip throughout the day. This is delicious when made hot on a cold winter day, or when cold-brewed in the fridge in the summertime.

Amy Kuretsky, L.Ac is a licensed acupuncturist, herbalist, and health coach living and wokring in Minneapolis, MN. From living with both Crohn’s disease and anxiety, she’s passionate about treating women’s digestive and emotional health. You can find her on IG @amykurtestky.