Saturday, October 16, 2010

Special Diets for Special Times - origin of lactogenic diet

In the United States, foods are divided into groups according to kind: fat, starch, protein, fruit or vegetable. The food groups are then arranged within a pyramid to indicate which ones the government advises eating the most of (lower on the pyramid) or the least (toward the top of the pyramid). This grouping changes from time to time, to catch up with what nutritionists are learning about how the body needs and uses food. 

Peoples around the world in traditional societies think quite differently than we do about food. Their knowledge has not been reached by observing food molecules beneath a microscope, or by studying lab rats, or by statistically analyzing the effects of foods on large groups of people. Rather, highly observant and intuitive individuals analyzed different people’s reactions to the foods they ate. In understanding their observations, these early doctors developed complex systems that encompassed all the subtleties they observed. 

Traditional Perceptions of Food

Traditional approaches to diet, such as Ayurveda from India and Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), describe foods in terms of their thermal properties: whether they make the body hotter or colder where hot means strong and active, and cold means slow, weak or fatigued. Depending on a person’s unique constitution—whether they tend naturally to be hot or cool, energetic or lethargic—foods are given to create a balance. Hotter people are given cooling foods, and cooler persons are given warming foods. It's all about balance.

Special Diets for Special Times

In unique life cycles, such as pregnancy and breastfeeding, specific diets are implemented. After birth, all women are said to be on the cooler side. Their bodies are slowed down, they are convalescing. They are in a phase of restoration; the body’s organs such as the heart, liver and kidneys are recovering from the larger quantity of blood they processed during pregnancy, returning to their normal size and function. In this cooler, postpartum phase, women eat foods that are said to be gently warming. They are also said to do several very specific things:

  • Promote the lochial flow (for good detoxification and healing of the womb·)
  • Reduce sexual drive (so the mother can better focus on her baby).
  • Build blood and restore strength (especially after blood loss through birth).
  • Detoxify the mother (pregnancy and birth are said to have left her ‘polluted’).
  • Build the mother’s health (many of these foods and herbs are strong immune boosters and anti-inflammatories that are used in the treatment of chronic illness and severe disease)
  • Strengthen the mother’s digestion (many of the herbs aid in digestion, and also support the liver and the kidneys.)
  • Build and increase milk supply.

The latter, in particular, is the overriding goal of every traditional postpartum diet. That is why they are based on so-called ‘lactogenic’ foods, or foods believed to support an abundant milk supply (Goldsmith, 1994). These foods and herbs are also called galactagogues.

No Such Dietary Guidelines in the West

In the United State, England and in Europe, we do not usually think of mothers needing special dietary assistance to help with any of these biological processes. We certainly never think of women requiring nutritional or herbal aids for milk production. Yet, even in the West, we can find traditional foods and herbs recorded in early historic herbals. I'll talk more about this in later blog articles.

In general, we in the West have lost the knowledge of what it is like to be nourished by good, whole foods. We have become dulled to how food affects us--how the right kinds can enrich our lives, help emotional balance and mental clarity, and impart vigor and good sleep. We are also insensitive as to how the wrong kinds of food can dull us, trigger depression and aggression, lead to tired, compulsive thinking, and to a host of other problems and losses in the quality of our lives.

A Unique Learning Opportunity

The postpartum period, with a focus on a lactogenic diet, enables mothers to experience the effects of food in ways that are unprecedented in the lives of most western people. We feel directly how different foods affect our vigor, mood, and milk supply. If our baby has digestive issues such as colic (commonly diagnosed now as reflux) we can see how the right food choices help soothe and balance our baby.

This is a unique time for women to experience just how profoundly food choices can affect her life.


Goldsmith, Judith. Childbirth Wisdom: From the World's Oldest Societies. Brookline, Mass: East West Health Books, 1990

No comments:

Post a Comment