Best foods to eat for new mums during confinement

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Eating well after childbirth helps you speed up recovery and boost your breast milk supply, too. We ask the experts for the best foods to load up on during confinement.

OATS

Best eaten: Stirred into milk and topped with fruit. Try including them in homemade cookies.

How it helps: Oats are a great energy booster for sleep-deprived mums. According to Sarah Sinaram, dietetics manager at Mount Alvernia Hospital, they're high in protein, dietary fibre, vitamins and minerals. This wholegrain food might even help boost your milk supply. There is no solid scientific evidence to back this claim by some nursing mums, but it's worth a try if you're worried that you can't keep up with Baby's demands, says Sarah.

TUMERIC

Best eaten: Add ¼ teaspoon of turmeric powder to any dish.

How it helps: A spice commonly used by Indian mothers during confinement, turmeric contains a myriad of nutrients, including vitamins B6 and C, fibre, potassium and magnesium. A few studies suggest that it may help reduce inflammation and tackle digestive woes. According to Sarah, new mums following traditional Indian confinement practices would typically include this spice in a dish dubbed hariri, containing various nuts and seeds, sugar and ghee, to supplement their main meals. The recipe is believed to boost breast-milk production.

BLACK PEPPER

Best eaten: Add a dash to any dish.

How it helps: Besides turmeric, Indian mums also traditionally include other "warming" spices, such as black pepper, in their confinement dishes, shares Janice Chong, a dietitian at Nutrition and Dietetics Services at Mount Alvernia Hospital. Black pepper is often used as a substitute for green and red chilli, which are staples in many Indian dishes. "Similar to the Chinese and Malay, the Indians believe that body pores are opened during delivery, so mums are encouraged to take 'warming' dishes," she says.

SALMON

Best eaten: Steamed, baked or stir-fried.

How it helps: Feeling the post-baby blues? Have some salmon. Besides being high in protein, which helps with wound healing, it also contains zinc, which is good for fighting postpartum depression, says Jaclyn. Another reason why you should load up on this power ingredient: it contains the brain-boosting DHA, or docosahexaenoic acid, a healthy fat that can be passed from your diet to breast milk for Baby, she adds.

GREEN PAPAYA

Best eaten: Cooked in soup with fish.

How it helps: Unripe green papaya contains milky sap, which is believed to help boost breast-milk production, says Kang Phaik Gaik, senior nurse manager and senior lactation consultant at Mount Alvernia Hospital. She advises adding it into soup only in the final 15 minutes of cooking to maintain its milk-boosting benefit.

CITRUS FRUITS AND KIWIFRUITS

Best eaten: As is, or in a smoothie.

How it helps: These fruit increase collagen production, which quickens wound healing - helpful if you've had stitches, says clinical dietitian Jaclyn Reutens, who plans the menu for confinement-meal caterer Yeyeah Delights. Citrus fruit, such as orange, generally have higher levels of vitamin C and also help your body absorb iron better. Have a serving with your lunch and dinner, suggests Pauline Xie, senior dietitian at National Healthcare Group Polyclinics (NHGP). Instead of juicing, blend them to make smoothies, because this retains the nutrient-rich pulp and fibre. Other fruit that are high in vitamin C include kiwifruits and papayas.

SPINACH

Best eaten: Stir-fried, steamed or cooked in soup.

How it helps: There's a reason Popeye loves this green leafy veggie. This multitasker is loaded with various nutrients, including vitamins A and C, fibre and iron, all of which replenish your red blood cell count and help you recover faster, says Jaclyn from Yeyeah Delights. Do include broccoli, cai xin and kai lan in your diet, too.

PORK LIVER

Best eaten: Stir-fried with ginger and sesame oil.

How it helps: Another excellent source of iron, liver is high in vitamin A as well. But be sure to consume this and other innards, such as pork stomach, kidney and intestines, in moderation. They're high in uric acid and cholesterol, cautions Jaclyn.

PRAWNS

Best eaten: Cooked with rice wine, stir-fried or steamed.

How they help: Did Grandma warn you to stay away from shellfish during your confinement? Contrary to this traditional belief, prawns are, in fact, a high-quality protein food for new mums, says senior traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) physician Zhong Xi Ming. They're loaded with vitamins and minerals, including omega-3 fatty acids, and may even help boost your breast milk supply, says Xi Ming, who practises at Eu Yan Sang Premier TCM Centre at Paragon. But, avoid taking them if you have sensitive skin or allergies.

TOFU

Best eaten: Steamed or cooked in soup.

How it helps: A staple in Chinese cuisine, tofu (beancurd) is high in protein and calcium, and low in calories. Compared to meat protein, it is also friendlier on the wallet. Xi Ming says tofu helps to release "heatiness" and makes a great confinement dish when cooked with rice wine.

CHINESE RICE WINE

Best eaten: Add it during the final stage of cooking.

How it helps: From a TCM perspective, rice wine - made from fermented glutinous rice - helps to warm your body and promote blood circulation after childbirth. It also helps clear postpartum discharge (lochia), says Xi Ming. Because it has a lower alcohol content than other types of wine, she says it's safe for breastfeeding mums. Just make sure you add it during the final stage of cooking so the alcohol evaporates.

CHICKEN FEET

Best eaten: Cooked in soup or stews.

How it helps: Don't cringe at this - chicken feet are a good source of collagen and can help improve blood flow after childbirth, says Xi Ming. Having double-boiled chicken feet and peanut soup regularly can help boost your breast milk supply, too. TCM practitioners also consider peanuts a superfood - they contain protein, good fats and vitamins, which nourish the spleen and stomach, she adds.

DAIRY

Best eaten: Opt for low-fat versions.

How it helps: Calcium is important at all stages of your life, says Pauline. But you'll need more of it - about 1,000mg per day - if you're breastfeeding, to maintain healthy bones and teeth. Dairy products, such as milk, cheese and yoghurt, are the best sources, says Jaclyn. Make sure to have one to two servings every day - one serving is equivalent to a glass of milk, two slices of cheese and a 150g tub of yoghurt.

LEGUMES

Best eaten: Slow-cooked in soup and stews, and with some ginger or turmeric to aid digestion.

How it helps: Lentils, peas, green and yellow mung beans are high in vitamins and minerals and low in fat and cholesterol, says Sarah of Mount Alvernia. In fact, with their high-protein content, legumes can be a healthier alternative to meat, as well. Soya nuts and edamame make better snacks than junk food.

LEAN RED MEAT

Best eaten: Stir-fried, stewed or grilled.

How it helps: You'll need at least 19mg of iron daily to help replenish blood loss during childbirth, says Pauline. One serving of lean beef contains about 3.2mg of iron. Your body absorbs iron better when it comes from animal sources (such as red meat) compared to plants (like legumes and spinach), she adds. Serve with a side of vitamin C-rich fruit or greens to boost iron absorption, but don't wash your meals down with a cup of teh or kopi - these caffeinated beverages can counter the effect.

FENUGREEK

Best taken: Brewed as a tea.

How it helps: Breastfeeding mums in India have traditionally used this herb to increase their milk supply. According to Dr Tan Thiam Chye, visiting consultant at the Department of Obstetrics and Gynaecology at KK Women's and Children's Hospital, fenugreek is considered safe for nursing mums, although having too much of it can lead to loose stools. Make the tea by adding one teaspoon of fenugreek seeds into a cup of hot water. Take this three times a day, says Prof Tan. It's also available in capsule form from pharmacies.

BROWN RICE

Best eaten: Steamed.

How it helps: Don't cut the carbs even if you're eager to lose that post-baby weight. Any sudden drop in your calorie intake after delivery can make your milk supply dip, says Pauline. Jaclyn suggests eating smart by opting for wholegrain carbohydrates, such as brown rice, which burns energy gradually. It's also high in fibre, which aids bowel movements.

WATER

Best taken: As is.

How it helps: While some mums swear by red date tea to prevent water retention after childbirth, the experts say that plain water is a better hydration option. About 88 per cent of breast milk is made up of water, so it's important for nursing mums to drink up, explains Pauline from NHGP. Aim for eight glasses per day.

EGGS

Best eaten: Hard-boiled, scrambled, steamed - whichever way you prefer.

How they help: They aren't just a good source of protein; eggs also contain vitamin D, which enhances calcium absorption, says Pauline. For an added nutritious boost, opt for DHA-fortified ones.

This article was first published in Young Parents.

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