Looking after your Baby’s Mother (psst that’s you!)
When you were pregnant I bet you never missed a midwifes’ appointment, or shrugged off taking your prenatal vitamin. Did you put your feet up when they were sore and go to bed early when you we’re exhausted? Did you eat the right things and cut out the ‘wrong’ foods? Did you do prenatal yoga or maybe even have a pregnancy massage? I know I did. It seems we can be super vigilant about taking care of ourselves when we’re pregnant. Great caretakers of our baby’s home (aka our body). And then these precious bumps are born, becoming precious bundles out in the big wide world, their new home. Of course the separation, ideally, is minimal. Cuddles, carrying, skin to skin time, and breastfeeding all reduce the shock of the sudden transition from existing inside Mum to existing outside of her. But I often see something happen to Mums once baby has ‘left the building’ so to speak. She stops doing the things she was doing before. Of course yoga becomes tricky and you don’t have scheduled appointments but even taking that multivitamin doesn’t get a look in. Naturally our priority shifts, we become laser focused on nurturing this little being and we forget that baby is still completely reliant on us. On us being healthy and happy.
Let’s talk about some of the things we can do to start looking after your baby’s mother.
The first month to 8 weeks after you give birth is a very precious, surreal, joyful, intense time. Let’s throw in discombobulating! From here on suggestions apply to after that initial transition period, or, because we’re all different, to whenever you feel you’re ready. These suggestions are also assuming you’ve had a non-complicated pregnancy and birth, and that baby is doing well.
Check in with a professional
By this stage baby has probably had dozens of visits with your OB or midwife and Plunket/Newborn health nurse. We are incredibly lucky to have these support structures in place. Amidst these appointments we barely find time to shower let alone think about seeing someone about our own health. And interestingly, no one really asks. Mothers of newborns can fall through the cracks a bit. Did you need to top up your iron during pregnancy? How’s that going now? Are you feeling a LOT hormonal? Maybe you could do with some help? Talking to your midwife, GP or naturopath and possibly running some bloods post birth is a great basic step.
Speaking of hormonal….
If you’ve recently given birth you might feel that your body has been completely awash with every kind of hormone there is. The tears, the intense love, the unexpected rocks where your breasts used to be. It’s a phenomenon to behold and it’s completely normal. If you’ve always had a reasonably balanced hormonal system, you will at some point return to feeling ‘normal’. Down the track, if you feel your period is missing in action longer than usual (4-12months is common if breastfeeding), it may indicate a need to investigate. Also, if you’re having anxiety, suffering depression (or major mood swings) a blood test to check on your hormones could give some clues. If you’re out of balance there are some fantastic herbal solutions.
Breastfeeding must be one of the most surprising things about motherhood. For a lot of women it comes easily. For others it can feel like the most unnatural thing. With so many variables including milk coming in, latching, tongue tie, and painful nipples sometimes it can seem impossible. Especially first time around (for both Mum and baby!). You don’t even know what’s not working! Everyone wants the best for you and your baby and luckily there are resources set up to help. Start with your midwife who may also refer you to a specialist consultant. The La Leche League offer information and group meetings so you can talk about your challenges with experts and other Mums.
Making milk (out of thin air?)
It’s really an amazing feat of nature that our bodies are capable of producing this liquid gold, seemingly out of thin air. It’s like magic; they suck, we produce milk, they grow, and grow, and grow. Let’s have a moment of awe and gratitude for that! Supporting your body while it provides nutrition for another human being makes sense. If you don’t it can be easy to get run down, fatigued, depressed and anxious. The good thing is that baby wont generally miss out (although when deficiencies get severe your breast milk can be lacking in nutrients too).
LOTS of water, protein and good fats are really key when breastfeeding.
Post Natal Depletion
Post natal depletion is a term coined by Dr. Oscar Serrallach to describe the nutritional depletion that can last long after pregnancy in some women. He finds this depletion common in a lot of his patients up for up to 10 years postnatally (yes you read that right). Common symptoms include lethargy, memory disturbances, and poor energy levels. My clinical experience mirrors this. When asking about when certain symptoms started a common response is ‘since I had kids’. I see many women who have never recovered from the depletion of pregnancy, breastfeeding and sleep deprivation. As a mum myself I recognise there could be a myriad of reasons for the symptoms mentioned above. Quite separate from the pregnancy, breastfeeding and lack of sleep, having a child or children significantly changes your life. Your time is no longer your own in a way you couldn’t fathom pre children. Having said that, I also see certain nutrients suffer a huge dent and without proper addressing, remain depleted, causing poor health. The most common ones being omega 3 (especially DHA), iron, zinc, vitamin B12, and iodine. B12 and iron are easily checked but the others aren’t run of the mill blood tests unfortunately. You will likely get an unenthusiastic, or dismissive response from your GP if mentioned. At the least I recommend continuing with your prenatal vitamin (one with high levels of B vitamins and zinc) and eating fish high in DHA such as sardines, mackerel and salmon. If you don’t eat fish but don’t mind taking a fish oil, I recommend 2000mg/daily of a high quality molecularly distilled capsule. Vegan sources include flaxseeds and walnuts.
Eat better, feel better
The usual advice about healthy eating applies but EVEN MORE SO! And although it’s easy to fall back on toast and crackers, you will soon find your vitality dwindling if you do. It’s more effort but the benefits of a nutrient dense diet will pay off big time. Figure out (with your partner, mother, friend or even a professional) what you need for the week. Plan the meals, shopping lists, who will shop, who will cook and what could be outsourced. I know a few parents who opt for a meal delivery service for a few months to take the pressure off. As long as it’s fresh and healthy and fits the budget I think this is a great idea. When planning, be sure to include easy to grab snacks like fruit, carrots, celery, hummus and nuts and seeds. Pre freeze peeled, cut bananas and greens for smoothies. Have a big cook up every few weeks where the whole family gets involved. Bake lasagnes for the freezer, wholesome biscuits for the pantry and make bliss balls for the fridge. Basically over cater in a big way and you will probably have just enough. Mothering is HUNGRY work!
3 palm portions of protein daily such as fish, chicken, red meat, eggs, tofu, nuts, seeds or legumes.
3 palm portions of carbohydrate such as rice, kumara, potato, pumpkin, corn on the cob, wholegrain bread, or pasta.
1-2 pieces of fruit
4 cups of vegetables (minimum) such as lettuce, mushrooms, carrot, onion, broccoli, cauli, green beans, tomato, kale, spinach, silverbeet, beetroot, cabbage, celery, avocado, cucumber etc.
4 Tablespoons of good fats such as olive oil, flaxseed oil, avocado, nuts and seeds, oily fish.
2.5 litres of water or herbal teas daily
Stimulants like coffee and energy drinks bring with them a short term lift, but essentially detract from your nutritional status. Coffee depletes iron which we can’t afford to lose while also demanding a response from your likely exhausted adrenal glands. Energy drinks have the added problem of high sugar content which will wreak all sorts of havoc, most annoyingly (and ironically) energy troughs and peaks.
I know that some days you’ll have zero motivation to batch cook lasagne and roll 50 bliss balls. Some days the closest you may come to anything resembling a vegetable may be tomato sauce. No judgement! Baby steps and gentle progress will get you there eventually.