The African Post-Partum Diet
"...In the womb, the baby is receiving everything that the mother consumes and those responses are felt by her. Once the baby is born, the mother is still passing everything along to baby through breastfeeding. In traditional Africa (Meritah), this is one of the main considerations in the discussion of diet and nutrition and how it’s modified postpartum..."
As a mother transitions from pregnancy to the birth of her child, many components to her life, including her diet transition to accommodate her recovery. In the womb, the baby is receiving everything that the mother consumes and those responses are felt by her. Once the baby is born, the mother is still passing everything along to baby through breastfeeding. In traditional Africa (Meritah), this is one of the main considerations in the discussion of diet and nutrition and how it’s modified postpartum.
What the mother consumes also has a direct effect on her postpartum recovery. Modifying the diet after birth is about ensuring a mother can regain the strength she will need to give her newborn the proper care and attention. The foods and liquids help to eliminate waste in the body, produce milk for the baby so that they can gain steady weight.
In Meritah, a child born into the world is seen as a spirit, a valuable entity that has a destiny and bloodline that all of us who come in contact with the child, must honor and respect. Everyone takes responsibility for how the child ends up because they are not only a reflection of the individual who raised them, but are representative of a whole culture.
Carrying a child to term and birthing that child in the best way is of utmost importance. Therefore, there are some behavioral and dietary restrictions that are imposed during pregnancy on the mother to ensure she stays healthy (physically and spiritually) while her unborn child is growing and maturing inside her.
This article is a collection of questions I posed and the responses I received by the elder women who supported me and taught me how to care for my newborn son. Bathing is one of the most important occurrences in the life of an infant and throughout their childhood. In the Tem culture of Sokode, Togo, bathing is done very thoroughly.
Hot foods and beverages
Consuming hot foods is highly recommended for the overall benefit of mother and baby. Heat helps to facilitate a speedy recovery because it keeps the body warm and stimulates the blood flowing strong throughout the body.
In traditional Africa (Meritah) babies are bathed in very warm water to help eliminate their fatigue and strengthen their muscles and joints. Hot water also is more effective in removing dirt and cleaning the small crevices of their bodies. (You can learn more in the Traditional Healing Bath article) In the mother, heat encourages the “dirty blood” or left over waste from the birthing process to be eliminated efficiently and provides the internal environment she needs to recover well.
After delivering, there are some beverages and porridge that a mother will consume to help her produce milk, avoid sickness and other health complications as she adjusts.
Negro Pepper (sozey) – This is a pretty common herb you can find in most shops or stores that sell African or Caribbean foods and spices. It is prepared by grinding fine and boiling it in water for 10 to 15 minutes. This medicine aids in the elimination of waste from birthing and cleans out the lower stomach. If you have a large thermos, it is best to have this tea on hand. In Meritah this is what a postpartum mother will drink any time she is thirsty, or at any moment of the day. If she drinks this all day and avoids cold beverages, this medicine will help clean her body out quickly and efficiently. It helps to remove the “dirty” blood that can cause clotting and other sickness. It also helps to close the placenta sized wound inside of you. When I gave birth I kept a large thermos of prepared souzey tea next to me at all times and whenever I was thristy, I drank it like water.
Koko/Porridge – Small/green millet is the richest staple and helps a nursing mother tremendously with milk production. This porridge is very rich in vitamins and nutrients and helps the mother to regain her strength after such a major and physically tiring transformation. Drinking koko allows a nursing mother to pass along a high nutrient diet to her infant.
Preparation: The preparation is very straightforward. You simply boil water in a pot and add a little potassium. While the water is heating up, mix the millet flour and water in a separate bowl until the consistency is that of pancake batter. Once the water boils, add your water flour mixture to the pot and stir to avoid lumping. Turn the heat down slightly and let it cook for about 15 minutes. Keep in mind, if you cover the pot, keep a close eye on it. Because of the added potassium it is likely to boil over. When it’s finished boiling, put it in a bowl or cup and drink with condensed or powdered milk and a small amount of (raw) sugar. Koko is a huge staple for a nursing mother.
As the baby gets a little older, this Koko is a little more fortified and includes a few more staples. As early as three months mother and baby can start eating this porridge. It is prepared the same way, but with a few more ingredients. They include rice, corn, red millet, green millet, a bean they call “Sodja” — it resembles a yellow kidney bean, which you can find in specialty stores in the West — some peanuts, a small amount of dried fish and a few souzey (pictured in previous section). In Africa, all the grains are washed, dried and browned over high heat, with no oil or anything else added to the pot. The grains are added little by little to the pot and stirred until well browned. Afterwards, they are combined in a container and brought to the mill to be ground into one flour. Prepare the same as the simple millet Koko, but without the potassium if giving it to the baby.
What to Avoid
At this point, some of the dietary restrictions reverse. What mother consumed while the baby was inside of her will be the opposite now of what she will eat post partum. During pregnancy, spicy foods are discouraged because of the effects it has on the baby. But, now piment (Hot peppers), or spicy foods are encouraged because it helps alot with the elimination process. Even the post partum sauce that is made in Sokode, Togo consists of very spicy element such as peppers and ginger. And the mother eats this almost exclusively with the exception of a rich coco. Fish is good to add to spicy sauces that you can eat with a staple such as Toh, or simply drink.
Avoid breads, beans and heavy starches such as yam, or anything that requires more effort from your digestive system a least for a short time after you deliver. This reduces the stress on your digestive process while these organs are trying to reposition themselves as the uterus shrinks.
It is always advised to avoid anything cold, prenatal or postpartum. Cold temperatures tend to shock the body and reduce the healthy stimulation of blood a mother needs while carrying her child.
In general, excessive consumption of cold substances such as iced beverages, ice cream, frozen yogurts, cold smoothies etc., (pretty much anything that’s ready to eat or drink out of the fridge) has an adverse effect on a person’s health.
In the case of postpartum recovery, it retards the healing process by slowing down the closing of the wound for the mother. It also prolongs bleeding or spotting after delivery.
Now is the time to stop consumption of slimy, or slippery sauces until your wound has healed. A typical diet in the life of a new mother is pretty simple, yet fulfilling and nutritious. Every day, she will have a large thermos filled with souzey tea that she will drink whenever she is thirsty. In the mornings, she may have nice hot koko with a little sugar and either condensed or powdered milk (I liked Nido). For lunch, she’ll have Toh and sauce.
Keep in mind these meals are very simple and the routine is very simple, but the sauce and koko are very rich and very filling, not to mention very tasty. It’s a good idea to stick close to this diet for at least a couple weeks or until the bleeding/spotting is finished. After a week or two, she can start introducing things little by little into her diet that are different.
The main things that are still important to avoid would be sugar and anything icy or very cold. Remember, everythign you consume, so is your baby. While your digestive system is used to certain foods, your babies systems are only just getting acclimated to life in the world and their diets should be kept in the utmost consideration. As a mother, this means your diet. As long as you keep your consumption balanced and consider the content mentioned above, things should go smoothly!
Stay tuned for part Two
Part two coming soon! Please leave your comments and questions below. For more literature on traditional culture, you can also visit the website below where many of these articles (and others similar) are published.
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