It can be hard for busy, tired moms to get regular meals, much less healthy ones. If you start asking people about the most healthy approach to eating, you might get 20 different answers. The nutritional strategy that makes one person feel fantastic can leave a different person tired and hungry. Our bodies are so unique!
But there is one type of food that goes a long way to helping mothers maintain steady energy, even moods, and sound sleep. It may not be what you think, and you won’t find it on one of those food pyramids. Lean proteins? Green vegetables? Not exactly.
Based on both Western medical evidence and the theories of Chinese medicine, the MOST important food group for moms is foods that build blood, otherwise known as iron-rich foods. Here’s why:
Women lose blood each month during a normal menstrual cycle. It’s common to experience mild anemia as a result, particularly for women with heavy periods or those who aren’t getting much dietary iron.
During pregnancy, a woman’s blood volume increases by as much as 50%. As a result, mild anemia is also common in pregnancy, because your body is drawing from existing iron storage to make that extra blood. If iron stores are already low as pregnancy begins, this problem can be compounded.
Blood is once again lost during childbirth and the postpartum period. New moms who are short on sleep for months (or even years) are often not getting the rest and nourishment their bodies need to rebuild from pregnancy and birth.
Why does this matter? In my practice, one of the most common patterns I see is mothers with what Chinese medicine calls blood deficiency, which can be described as subclinical anemia. Iron levels may or may not be within normal range, but the quality of the blood is weak. Blood is meant to bring nourishment to all the cells of the body, and in Chinese medicine it’s also considered to nourish the mind. In order to do this, the blood itself must be nourished.
So what does blood deficiency look like?
Chronic, low-level fatigue
Trouble falling or staying asleep
Dull body aches
Dry skin and/or hair
Blurry vision or floaters in the visual field
Poor memory or concentration
Very light or very heavy periods
Headaches or migraines
Not everyone will have all of these symptoms, but the vast majority of mothers I see have at least a couple of them. Fortunately, for most women, the solution is simple: eat blood-building foods regularly! There are so many delicious foods to choose from, including:
Beans and lentils
Shellfish, such as clams and mussels
Seeds and nuts
Molasses, especially blackstrap
For women who are anemic, regular bloodwork is recommended to check iron levels. If nutritional therapy is not enough to raise iron levels or eliminate symptoms of blood deficiency, an iron supplement, acupuncture, and Chinese herbs are all excellent solutions for helping mothers regain the vitality and strength they deserve!
(If any of this sounds familiar, talk with a licensed acupuncturist and herbalist or your doctor or midwife to learn more.)
Arden Yingling LAc, MAcOM
Arden is the owner of Songbird Acupuncture and a board-certified acupuncturist and herbalist. She holds a Master's Degree in Chinese medicine from the AOMA Graduate School of Integrative Medicine and also has extensive postgraduate training in pediatric medicine. As a mother herself, Arden loves helping women thrive during motherhood and beyond. In addition to her focus on the childbearing cycle, she also treats overall women's health as well as working with acute and chronic conditions in babies, children, and teenagers.