During pregnancy, the baby is like a parasite and will take all the nutrients that he requires from you. If your diet is sufficient in nutrients for both, it does not cause any problems. If on the other hand your diet is insufficient for both, then your recovery after the birth will take longer and if you still do not replenish your body stores during the confinement period, you may remain weak for a long time. This is probably why our elders make such a lot of fuss about eating well during the confinement period.
Wherever you are in the world, everyone will try and tell you what to eat and if possible how to eat it. The most important thing to do is follow your own body's needs. Whatever you eat, do make sure that you have a good balance of proteins, vitamins, minerals, fats, carbohydrates, and water in every meal.
Just remember the following pointers:
1. If you are breast feeding whatever you eat will be transferred to your baby via your breast milk therefore it is important that you eat a balanced diet so that your baby will get the right nutrients for optimum growth and development.
2. Some food does cause the baby to become 'windy' or have loose stools. If you find that your baby is suddenly quite unsettled, try and think of what you ate during the last 12 hours. Avoid that food for a few days and then try again. If the same happens again, then you should avoid that particular food for a while and re-introduce it into your diet by taking a very small amount and see how baby reacts then slowly increase the amount so that baby gets used to the food.
3. You may find that your appetite is slightly low especially during the first week. This is normal as your body is readjusting to its non-pregnant state both physically and mentally therefore it is better to have small frequent meals instead of the normal 3 big meals a day.
4. You need to drink plenty of fluids in order to make sufficient breast milk and if you are forbidden to drink water, you can get the amount of fluid from other sources such as soup.
So what should you eat?
Most Eastern cultures believe that your body is cold after delivery therefore you should avoid cooling or cold food but eat a lot of yang or 'heaty' food to warm the body up. However, if you are normally a yang person, eating too much 'heaty' food may cause rashes and fever. In this case it would be better to reduce the amount of 'heaty' food and eat more neutral food. If you are normally a Yin person, you should not have any problems eating 'heaty' food (lucky devils). The following table gives you a quick review of the types of food to eat or avoid.
Types of food to avoid
'Cooling food' for example: banana, cabbage, cucumber, coconut and Chinese cabbage
Contribute to mother's poor blood circulation and stomach ache in the baby if you are breastfeeding. Salt as a condiment and salty foods in general are to be rejected, too, in the belief that use reduces breast milk production
'Acidic food' for example: pineapple, mango, lemon, lime
Contribute to excessive lochia in the mother and diarrhea in the baby.
Too much 'Heaty food' for example: chilli, pepper, spices, tonics, spirits and medicines.
Contribute to diarrhea in the baby and maternal headaches
'Windy food' for example: jackfruit, tapioca, pumpkin, onions.
Contribute to baby being colicky and may cause indigestion for mother and baby.
Poisonous food such as prawns, shellfish, crab, eel, ginger
Delay healing of the mother's wound and may cause allergies and eczema in the baby. These foods may cause stomach upsets and vomiting
Type of food recommended
To improve milk production
Chicken, squid, clams (small varieties), fish (especially carp), millet, mutton, pork, rice wine, sea slug, soybean milk mixed with powdered walnuts, wheat cakes, wheat noodles with egg, green papaya
To provide strength to the mother so she recovers quickly from the exertion of labor.
Chicken, frog, Panax ginseng, licorice extract and razor clam
What you eat also depends on what you believe in and who cooks for you. If it is your mother or MIL you may not have many choices. I have seen women quarrelling and not talking to each other because of this issue. Try and work out a compromise which is acceptable to both parties. Use a persuasive and logical approach instead of confrontation.