Every morning Mr Taiwanxifu cooks porridge for breakfast. I love sitting around the table eating porridge with him and Taiwanxifu Toddler (despite sometimes battling to get our distracted toddler to eat). Porridge is also an ideal food to eat after childbirth, and can be jazzed up with the addition of walnuts, goji berries and cinnamon to make it even more nutritious and appropriate to eat during the postpartum period.
During my month of Chinese postpartum confinement (zuo yuezi), I didn’t always have time for breakfast. Usually I would grab a bowl of sweet red bean soup or heat up some special Chinese herbal soup in the early hours of the morning after feeding baby. Then before 10.00am my postpartum nanny, Mrs Yang, would cook me a large bowl of hearty liver or kidney soup with lashings of sesame oil and rice wine. Often I was busy with baby or catching up on sleep, but on those mornings when I was more organised (more towards the end of confinement) I always prepared myself a big bowl of porridge. I had to cook before she arrived because looking after my nutritional needs was her job; I wasn’t supposed to be out of bed let alone in the kitchen while recovering from childbirth.
Oats are one of nature’s best galactogogues — a food that assists lactation. Oats are also extremely good for relieving stress and tension; and let’s face it, dealing with a crying newborn baby has a certain level of stress attached to it (witness high rates of postnatal depression). Oats are also low in fat, relatively easy to prepare, extremely good for you and full of fibre. They are a low GI food, so you they will help a hungry new Mum feel full and satisfied for longer. Prepared as porridge, the warm mush is easy to eat and even easier to digest. For best results, use rolled oats rather than instant oats. But if you are in a hurry, it is still okay to use instant oats and zap the ingredients in a microwave.
Eating oats with milk and a sprinkling of Taiwanese black sugar, or adding rock sugar during cooking, is in itself a nutritious meal (so long as you go easy on the sugar). But you can increase the nutritional value (and taste) of porridge by adding walnuts, goji berries and cinnamon: foods that have warming, healing and lactogenic properties. And as these are also naturally sweet it will help to cut down on the amount of added sugar.
From a Traditional Chinese Medicine perspective, walnuts are sweet and warming — ideal to eat during zuo yuezi. And like most nuts, walnuts have lactogenic properties. As walnuts are rich in omega-3 fatty acids, they are good for improving the quality of breast milk. Due to high omega-3 and vitamin E content, walnuts also have excellent anti-inflammatory and healing properties (useful if you have stitches after childbirth or suffer breast engorgement).
Goji berries (also called gouji or Chinese wolfberries) are a recently discovered healthstore superfood that has been used as a Chinese medicinal herb for centuries. Goji berries are extremely high in antioxidants, and as they are good for improving kidney and liver energy, feature strongly in the zuo yuezi diet.
Cinnamon not only adds a unique spicy flavour; it is valued in Traditional Chinese Medicine as a warming herb, and the cassius cinnamon bark is commonly added to zuo yuezi herbal Chinese preparations consumed after childbirth. Cinnamon also has antifungal properties, useful for women who are at risk of developing nipple thrush (more common than you might think, especially for new mothers on antibiotics), and anti-clotting properties (good to help expel stale blood from the uterus).
So start your day with a big bowl of walnut and goji porridge, and your postpartum body will thank you.
Ingredients (per person)
1/2 cup rolled oats
1 cup water
1 dessertspoon chopped walnuts
1 dessertspoon goji berries (Chinese wolfberries)
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 dessertspoon Taiwanese black sugar (brown sugar) or to taste
1/4 cup of milk
- Put the water in a saucepan and bring to boil. Add the rolled oats and stir to combine.
- Continue stirring the oats while adding the chopped walnuts, goji berries and cinnamon. Cook for three to five minutes or until the oats are soft.
- Pour into a bowl, and top with sugar and milk and enjoy.