Myth #3: Hold the garlic

This post is part of our New Mom Success Series, where we’re taking an in-depth look at the (1) physical-nutritional and (2) mental-emotional needs of brand-new moms, especially in the sacred first six weeks after birth.
To learn more about the whole series, and to set the proper foundation with a powerful vision-casting exercise, click here.
To learn more about the physical-nutritional component, click here.
Check out the other new mom nutrition myths: Myth #1Myth #2, Myth #4, Myth #5, Myth #6, and Myth #7.
And now, welcome back to “Why common nutrition advice for new moms is all wrong (and what to do instead).” Here’s Myth #3.

New mom nutrition myth #3

“Hold the garlic and spices—they’re bad for baby.”

Why it’s faulty

Many modern women cling to the antiquated notion that a calm baby demands a bland diet. Surely, no one wants a fussy newborn, but divesting meals of garlic and other medicinal ingredients isn’t the solution, as traditional postpartum cuisine (and even modern science) so eloquently informs us.

Ayurveda, like other healing traditions around the world, features herbs and spices more prominently in a new mom’s diet than perhaps at any other time.

When you’re looking to gently warm the body and improve digestion (see Myth #1), herbs and spices step in superbly. They are a great way to support digestion, absorption, assimilation, and elimination with little effort and thus make superb allies in your post-birth recovery. They also lend their power-packed nutrition and a welcome burst of flavor to even the simplest fare.

What to do instead

Just as every meal and snack should boast a dollop of healthy fat (see Myth #2), so every postpartum dish and drink should spotlight a digestive spice or two.

Think you’re not acquainted with “digestive spices”? Think again! Many of them, like the following, may be sitting in your spice cabinet right now.

So pull them out, dust them off, and put them to use.                                 

While garlic especially tends to get a bad rap, it can be particularly therapeutic after birth. As a warming herb perfect for cold-weather fare, garlic supports immunity, enhances digestion, and improves circulation. It is grounding and rejuvenative. It aids heart function, cholesterol balance, and blood pressure.

And for new mothers, it supports lactation and brings heat to the body, which is often dispersed by the energy of labor and the intense changes of parturition.

Furthermore, garlic and other members of its plant family (Allium), including onion and shallots, richly boast sulfur compounds that contribute to a strong odor and also confer health-promoting benefits like protection against cancer, cardiovascular disease, and inflammation.

Allicin, the constituent in garlic largely associated with these antibacterial, antiviral, and anticancer properties, is most effective when you crush, chop, or mince the garlic and allow it to sit for five to ten minutes before cooking it.

That last piece is key here: traditional postpartum cuisine featured cooked garlic, not raw. As I mentioned in the intro to this new mom nutrition myth-busting series, ancient wisdom dictated not only which foods to serve but also how to prepare them for optimal results.

Each herb and spice could likewise be lauded with a litany of medicinal benefits. Far from superfluous flavor enhancers, they are nature’s superstars—concentrated sources of antioxidants and micronutrients for nourishing a baby, powerful anti-inflammatories essential after tissue trauma, and digestive allies when your whole system feels out of whack.

But postpartum cooking is just as much an art as a science, so rather than pouring over scientific studies, simply sprinkle some of these old standbys on any dish you prepare for yourself or another new mom.

Want more tips on spicing food after birth? Check out our full postpartum essentials guide.

Naturally, don’t take this to the extreme: while some spice is good, excessive spicing isn’t. Overly sharp or spicy foods like hot peppers are best avoided. Remember that gentle support—in both food and drink as well as lifestyle—takes the cake after birth.

Additionally, beyond the obvious benefits for mom and baby, herbs and spices provide a tangential advantage for the breastfed baby: they expose him subtly to a smorgasbord of flavors that will eventually season his edible world.

So, yes, those who perpetuate this myth are correct that garlic and company influence the flavor of breast milk. But rather than a detriment (or a fail-safe for fussiness), these traditional seasonings are instruments of learning. While this tactic doesn’t guarantee against picky eating, new moms who consume a variety of flavors may help their babies acclimate to novel foods and develop a wider palate preference once exposed to different cuisines later on.

In sum, don’t refrain from spice because there’s a modern (at least American) cultural bias toward bland. New mom fare can be far from boring! And there’s evidence that it benefits both you and baby when it’s not.

Naturally, though, if you know you’re sensitive to a certain food or spice, or for some reason an ingredient like garlic doesn’t sit well with you, then by all means don’t partake. Individual constitutions and dietary needs vary and may at times trump universal wisdom.

Nevertheless, if you or baby seems to react strongly to a particular flavor, it may be worthwhile to explore why. Was the food prepared properly? Is your digestion otherwise impaired? Could another factor be at play? Explore the cause before nixing the beneficial food entirely. And if you need help getting to the root, that’s what we’re here for! Reach out for a personal strategy session today.

Now what?

There you have it: Myth #3 in “Why common nutrition advice for new moms is all wrong (and what to do instead).”

But don’t stop with knowledge—take action.

1. Implement.

If relevant, apply this tip now, for yourself and your family.

How can you ensure mom gets ample digestive spices, especially in the first six weeks after birth?

2. Inform.

Share what you learn with someone you know. Even if this tip doesn’t apply to you right now, it can likely benefit someone in your midst.

Did a friend just have a baby? Bring her a meal home-cooked with garlic and digestive spices and let her know why: because healing herbs and spices dramatically improve postpartum nutrition and recovery.

Make sure she jumps on the bandwagon so she doesn’t fall into the garlic trap—or any of the other myths we’ll be unveiling in this series. 

3. Engage.

Let your voice be heard. What’s your take on Myth #3? Do you agree, or disagree? What’s your experience with herbs and spices after birth?

Bring your comments, questions, insights, and objections to the Preparing to Parent community. We want to hear from you!

Stay tuned for Myth #4. Until then, together we are “Preparing to Parent: Growing Families with Purpose…on Purpose.”

Stacy Claxton, a Functional Diagnostic Nutrition® Practitioner, Ayurvedic Health Practitioner and Educator, and Perinatal Specialist, is one half of the dynamic duo behind Preparing to Parent, where she and her identical twin, Erin, are “growing families with purpose…on purpose.” This passionate sister pair loves caring for the tender and vulnerable bodies, minds, and souls of new beings and new moms and wielding words with impact on their holistic health blog. Join their family for free recipes and more.

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