By Sharon Muza, BS, CD(DONA), BDT(DONA), LCCE, FACCE, CLE
The postpartum meal: an unusual hypothesis
Birth can be transformative. I have witnessed that time and time again as I have helped families welcome a small human(s) into the world. After attending births for almost 15 years, I have also observed an unusual phenomenon and made a very interesting hypothesis: the first meal after giving birth is always “the best meal ever.”
Many years ago, I recall attending a home birth. After the baby was born and things had settled down, I headed into the kitchen to rustle up something for the parents to eat before the birth team and I went home and the parents took that wonderful first sleep with their baby after the birth. Despite our prenatal conversations, where I discuss having healthy and nourishing foods on hand for labor and something they will enjoy for after the birth, after evaluating the situation, I realized it was unlikely that I would be able to offer anything that they might even want to eat.
I stood peering into the fridge and freezer, opening cupboards and looking in the pantry, moving items around in hopes that an idea would come to me and some delectable item would pop up that I could use to feed these tired and hungry new parents. No such luck. It was slim pickings all around.
I slowly pulled some dinosaur-shaped chicken nuggets, no doubt meant for their toddler, from the freezer and popped them in the oven. Slicing up an overripe banana and a couple of oranges, I arranged the fruit “artfully” on the plates. Some mayonnaise mixed with creamy horseradish made a “fancy” dipping sauce for the baked nuggets. I cut up some string cheese sticks and mixed the pieces with the jar of olives I found. Crackers spread with jam served on the side completed this first postpartum meal.
I carried the plates to the bedroom, where both parents were resting in bed while the newborn nursed. Placing the plates on the night table, I encouraged them to eat. And eat they did. They dug in and ate with gusto. Every last bit of food was consumed. When they were done, they leaned back against the pillows happily and commented that this was the best meal ever. They were serious!
The “nourishment” room
Surely, you have all been in my shoes, scrounging and searching in the “nourishment” room in some local hospital at 3:00 AM for items that you can offer up to your clients after their birth. In our local hospitals, if you are lucky, there might be a collection of a few frozen meals in the freezer, some canned soup in the cupboard, a bit of applesauce, and the usual assortment of graham crackers and saltines mixed in the drawer with hot chocolate and broth packets. The reality is that most hospitals have less than that and often nothing to eat in those poorly named “nourishment” rooms. It is typical to find only apple juice, orange juice, and cranberry juice stacked up in rows and some off brand lemon-lime soda. When that happens, I make a “celebratory mocktail,” mixing half cranberry juice with the soda and lots of ice. The “mocktail” is served up with some crackers and a bit of yogurt and happily wolfed down. “This is the best meal ever!”
The best meal ever!
Many of the hospitals in my area have “a la carte” dining, which means that food can be ordered from a pretty decent menu whenever the patient wants, as long as it is between 6:00 AM and 8:00 PM. If we are lucky, birth occurs during those hours. After the baby is born and I have a chance to step back, I hunch quietly in the corner dialing the food service line and whispering my order for the new parents. I make sure to choose some robust entree, some comforting side dishes, a plate of cookies, a large salad, a bowl of soup and often a fruit plate. The food arrives within the hour, and the new parents dig in as soon as they can. “This is the best meal ever,” they exclaim. I chuckle to myself.
Cheerios and milk. A handful of trail mix and a granola bar from their labor snack bag along with some beef jerky. Popsicles and “cup ‘o soup.” Toast with peanut butter. Sushi. More sushi. Jello. Oatmeal. Cottage cheese. A fresh sub from the local sub shop. Frozen pizza. Cheese and crackers. I could go on and on. What these families eat after birth is as varied as the births themselves. But no matter what I manage to pull together, scavenge or order, they always heartily say, “This is so good, this is the best meal ever!”
What is it about birth that makes parents feel this way? Why does everything (anything?) taste simply wonderful after a birth? Even hospital jello. There certainly is something special about birth. It is truly transformative. It even transforms tastebuds too!
What story can you share?
What has been your experience with providing that first meal after birth? How do you make it tasty and nourishing? What are the comments that your clients share when they enjoy those first bites after welcoming their baby? Share your stories and let me know about your experiences in our comments section.