For so many in the initial post partum period, we jump into the realm of caregiver to such a degree that self-care is set to the back burner. In truth, to some degree, in the first 6 weeks to a year after your baby's birth it is almost impossible to achieve balance. Many do experience a normal sense of loss given these changes, and amidst the joy of watching your child grow, these feelings can turn cyclic into post partum depression.
Often in pregnancy we are so good at taking care of ourselves and making positive lifestyle changes because it’s such an obvious correlation to safeguard this developing life. Far too often, postpartum comes in with the sleeplessness and shifting hormones, and we find ourselves eating the easiest foods and forgetting about exercise because were busy celebrating fitting in the shower. We feel a deep need for connection but can hardly finish a topic of conversation.
Understanding this change and shift allows for a change in expectation, and this is needed. We have entered a different time, yet we can still maintain a watchful eye on the windows of rejuvenation and carve out time for ourselves as parents. This is why in the midwifery tradition and many traditions around the world, it is encouraged to have a laying in period of anywhere between 10 to 40 days. This tends to fill one’s cup as partners, friends, grandparents and post partum doulas help us rest more often, sleep when our baby is sleeping and take over household responsibilities. As one reintegrates out of the first few weeks to a month or maybe when work starts at 3 months we transition from the supporting help and begin to return to household and work responsibilities.
I always recommend continuing to take a high quality prenatal throughout the entire nursing
relationship or at least 6 months post partum. Continuing or beginning 1200mg of fish oil and at least 2000 IU of vitamin D depending on your unique situation are essential to support mood postpartum and help reduce the chance of post partum depression. Motherwort tincture, meaning “herb (wort) for the mother” has long served us in the post partum during the frazzled moments when you find yourself angrily lashing out at the older kids or losing your grounding in anxieties.
Many have found emotional benefits from using herbal infusion blends of nettles, red raspberry leaf and lemon balm. Nettle leaf offers its gentle adaptogenic properties of stress relief and adrenal support and is deeply nutritive. Raspberry aids hormonal balance and has a high mineral content and lemon balm calms anxieties. For those fussy babies, one might try an infusion of chamomile, catnip, lemon balm and fennel or caraway seeds.
Many find their digestion slower post delivery. This may be from the compressed intestines falling back into place. Bloating or struggling with elimination post pregnancy is common and could also reveal an undiagnosed leaky gut. Many aspects go into supporting digestion post partum. Food is of course is our best medicine and easier said than done well post partum. Yet truly continuing to focus as intently on high quality foods post partum as in pregnancy eases the transition.
Nutrient dense foods such as sweet potatoes, eggs, and greens (while minimizing the brassica or cabbage family), good fats like a variety of nuts, olives and coconut oil and keeping your sweets and even excessive fruit to a minimum helps to reduce episodes of “hunger” and stabilize moods. Many report appetites increase during breastfeeding as compared to pregnancy and experts recommend eating at least 500 more calories during breastfeeding than in pregnancy. Meal planning and freezing in the last months before delivery as well as slow cooked meals are strategies to help increase quality meals. Three hundred mg of magnesium citrate at night can also aid in elimination, sleep and nerves, and it's helpful to add a probiotic into your routine.
Of course there is exercise, so simple but so important in supporting health and so easy to drop. Most of us know it is pivotal for thriving post partum, but it is ever so hard to fit it in now with childcare requirements or within a cycle of nursing. Yet exercise today is more inventive and supportive for mothers in their post partum year. From gyms with childcare, to strollers fit to mommy and me yoga, and now home core strengthening routines, we can exercise fit into our days. Great resources include "Core Floor and Restore" and "Mama Strong" among many others. Exercise cannot be overlooked to support a post partum transition! We need the movement for our digestion, to detox, to process hormones, to prevent sickness and to help us sleep deeper at night, and most of all provide us with the endorphins to support our moods.
Within our small windows of free time, during an unexpected long nap for example, we must ask ourselves where will our time be used best to flourish our hearts? Can we release expectations about how clean we want our house to be or set aside Facebook or phones to use our time to make that nutrient dense smoothie or take that walk that will fill us up emotionally and mentally? One might find much benefit from adding in Mayan abdominal massage for a stubborn digestive issue or acupuncture for anxiety. Yet it’s important to give ourselves permission to reach out to a naturopath, doctor, and counselor when these simple measures aren’t meeting our needs. If you can’t seem to face even simple tasks, be gentle with yourself, and honor it is likely your hormones and not a fault of your own.
For further reading check out Natural Health After Birth by Aviva Romm.