Essential Autumn - Warming Mums from the Inside Out
The mornings are crisp, the leaves on our maple are turning yellow and the pumpkin vines are dying off - it must be Autumn! In many non-western cultures, Autumn is considered a time of letting go of what we don’t need and turning inward so we can work on hibernation and consolidation over winter. At a time when westerners intuitively turn to nourishing soups and stews over crunchy salads, we are wise to recognise the ancient knowledge systems that encourage this transition. The ancient Indian Ayurvedic systems and Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) perspectives, honed for many thousands of years, both recommend such foods to warm us from the inside out, as our digestive power (or “fire”) wanes and the invasive evils of cold and wind tend to sneak up on us through the seasonal transition period.
Warming food (and warmth in general) is considered particularly important during the postpartum period, so Autumn presents an interesting junction for those women birthing at this time of year. Firstly, consider the “earthy” and “watery” characteristics of late pregnancy, where mum has the solid weight of baby and placenta, and the additional body fluids of blood, amniotic fluid and perhaps water retention. The baby and its associated fluids are then birthed in a huge, energetic “fiery” effort or hugely taxing c-section surgery (or both). Having shed their earthy and watery aspects and burnt up so much of their energetic fire, new mums are traditionally considered to be left with too much “air” and “space”, with their incredibly expanded uterus now sitting as an empty void and their digestive “fire” all but burnt out.
While western cultures may not view birth and postpartum in the same lens, but use similar words and conduct similar practices in our care for the sick. It is not uncommon for mums to feel “spaced out”, as if they are watching this surreal time of their life unfold from across the room. When we think of what food we would supply to an ill friend, our thoughts go to nutritious, easily digestible, warm foods like stews, not a packet of crispy corn chips or crunchy noodle salad. Autumn mums are experience a double whammy of internal and environmental airiness, so it makes sense they need more than coffee to restore their energies!
Warming foods for postpartum are slowly coming back into the western consciousness. Julia Jones’ Ayurvedic cookbook “Nourishing Newborn Mothers” and Heng Ou’s TCM-inspired recipe collection “The First Forty Days” offer a treasure trove of information for expecting mums wanting to dive deeper into this fascinating area of mother-care. The basic premise isn’t too hard to get your head around though - choose warm and moist foods, that are sweet, easily digestible and warm you from the inside out. Think porridges with gentle, sweet spices like cinnamon and nutmeg, or scrambled eggs for breakfast instead of weet-bix. It’s best to avoid crunchy apples and salted nuts that dry you out further, and instead choose soft snacks like dates and other ripe, juicy fruits. Broths and casseroles made with garlic and ginger are a winner, as are (conveniently Autumnal) vegetables like sweet potato either stewed or made into soups.
With my pumpkin vines dying off, pumpkin soup is on high rotation at our place in Autumn. Here is my pick-a-path soup adventure, with these easy premises applied in a more Indian or Asian postpartum style to suit your personal tastes. Garlic is included here, although it can be a bone of contention amongst lactating mothers, research suggests that babies like the taste of garlic through the milk and actually suck for longer and take more milk when mum has been eating garlic. Onions are similarly maligned - they are included in both traditional cooking systems for new mums but if you feel they are exacerbating gas for you or your baby you may choose to replace with leeks or shallots.
My fave postpartum pumpkin soup
- 4 tablespoons of olive oil
- 1 brown onion, roughly diced
- 2 garlic cloves, peeled and chopped
- 1 inch of ginger root (grated), or ginger powder
- 1 tablespoon of cumin seeds (or ground cumin)
- Chopped and peeled pumpkin - as much as you like, or whatever other orange and white root veggies you have (e.g. sweet potato, carrot, parsnip)
- Liquids of choice - a can of coconut cream + veggie stock (how much you need depends on your quantity of vegetables) OR 3ish cups of chicken stock
- Fry onion and spices in olive oil in a big pot over low-medium heat until the onion starts looking transparent and softening.
- Add your vegetables to the pot.
- Add liquid to the pot until only about one inch of chopped vegetables are sticking out the top. For Ayurvedic style use a can of coconut cream with additional vegetable stock to achieve this, for Chinese-style postpartum soup use broth (usually chicken is recommended for this soup, although shiitake mushroom broth can be made at home as an alternative if you avoid meat).
- Cover and bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer for 30mins, or until all the veggies start falling apart if pierced with a fork.
- Allow to cool slightly then blend and serve warm.
You may like to add some red lentils to the mix during cooking, or grains such as barley for a heartier soup. Just be careful of going overboard on the lentils, as we’re trying to avoid mum feeling the effects of internal and external “winds”!
Image credit: @timothyjrobinson on unsplash.com
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