Photo credit: @kelseybethune of sittinginourtree.com

The Baby’s Here, Now What?

Becoming a mother is in a word – transformational. It can be both the happiest and scariest moment of your life to finally have your little one in your arms. Depending on your circumstances, you may be elated to begin this new journey and also concerned about how to handle all of the changes that come with it.

At Expectful, we’ve spent a tremendous amount of time speaking with moms and experts in postnatal health to learn about what it means to be emotionally and physically healthy when you’re a new mother and what tools can help you get there.

Before you dive in, we want to let you in on a little secret: you are your best guide when it comes to what’s “right” or “not right” during your postnatal period. Overall, listen to your instincts, your body, and your mind. They already know what’s best for you.

Exercise.

“The body will heal itself, as long as you provide it with the environment for it to heal.” -Julie Renee

Whether you’re itching to get back into your exercise routine or feeling daunted at the very thought of moving your body, it’s important to know that the best thing you can do post-birth is to allow yourself to heal. Remember that it took around 40 weeks for your pregnant body to bloom and it takes time for your post-pregnancy body to heal. Whether you had a vaginal birth or cesarean, look at the first six to eight weeks postpartum as the healing phase for your body and bonding time with your baby. This doesn’t mean that you can’t do any exercise at all, but it does suggest that healing should come before working out so pay attention to what your body needs.

What if I was active throughout my entire pregnancy?

According to The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) it’s okay to slowly begin exercising again once you get the go-ahead from your health care provider and as long as you are feeling up for it. Keep in mind that working out too soon could result in injury, extending your recovery time. If your doctor gives you the OK, start gradually with light walking, modified strength training or gentle forms of stretching.

Does exercising affect breastfeeding?

Exercising hasn’t been found to have any adverse effects on breast milk production, nutrient composition or on infant weight gain.1,2 Some studies show that high-intensity exercise could increase the amount of lactic acid in breast milk resulting in a sour taste, but this is thought to be rare and only last for about an hour after working out. If you are someone who enjoys a strenuous exercise, consider feeding your baby or pumping before working out. Alternatively, if you feed after, know that some babies fuss if mom is covered in sweat because of the salty taste so it may be helpful to shower or rinse off before nursing.

As an extra tip for breastfeeding mamas, remember to wear a supportive bra and stay hydrated during your workouts.

Is there anything I should know about my postpartum body before starting to workout?

Yes. After 40 + weeks of pregnancy and giving birth, your body went through some major changes, some of which are important to know about before you dive back into your exercise routine. Below we break down the two most common things to be aware of when it comes to your postpartum body.

Let’s talk about your pelvic floor.

What is my pelvic floor?

Your pelvic floor muscles support your pelvic organs. The pelvic floor works like a hammock of muscles that hold up your uterus, bladder and rectum.

Why is your pelvic floor strength important during pregnancy and postpartum?

Pregnancy in general can weaken your pelvic floor because of the additional weight bearing it has to do to support your uterus. During birth and labor, your pelvic floor stretches to accommodate your baby’s head as it passes through you and into the world. This could leave your pelvic floor swollen, bruised and sore.

Your pelvic floor helps you have control over your bladder and bowel movements. If your pelvic floor is weak, you’ll have a difficulty squeezing your bladder muscles which could lead to accidental leakage when you cough, sneeze or exercise.

How do you know if your pelvic floor is weak?

If your pelvic floor is weak, you’ll have a difficulty squeezing your bladder muscles which could lead to accidental leakage when you cough, sneeze or exercise. Alternatively may also feel a heaviness in your pelvic area, or as if you have something between your legs (many women report this feeling like a tampon that’s only half-in). If you’re experience this, it’s a sign that you need to slow down, get off of your feet and focus on resting. When possible, lay down instead of sitting to take additional pressure off of your pelvic floor.

How do I strengthen my pelvic floor?

The best way to build / rebuild your pelvic floor is by doing kegel exercises. You can do kegels while driving, breastfeeding, folding laundry, walking, etc. They can pretty much be done anywhere.

How to do them.

Breathe in, and when you exhale pull your pelvic floor muscles up and in as if you are trying not to pee. Hold the squeeze in for a count of 5 (breathing naturally while squeezing, no need to hold your breath) and then release. Do this ten more times. It best to do this same practice three times daily. As you do this more often you can increase the holds from a five count to a ten count.

How to do them.How do I know if I’m doing it right?

It’s common to not be entirely sure if you are doing right. Luckily many companies are coming out with new technologies that help women know if they are strengthening correctly. To find out more information on that, go here.

Let’s discuss Diastasis Recti.

What is Diastasis Recti?

Diastasis Recti is when your stomach muscles over-stretch during pregnancy, leaving a gap between the left and right muscles that run parallel along your abdomen. This results in a bulge in the middle of the abdomen where the two muscles separated.

Is there a reason why some women get it and some don’t?

Diastasis recti is more common towards the end of pregnancy, and more so if this is your second plus pregnancy. It’s important to note two things here – 100% of women have some level of diastasis recti in the third trimester (Gilliard and Brown 1996, Diane Lee 2013) and pregnancy does not cause diastasis recti, abdominal pressure does. You can be at risk for diastasis recti if you have excess abdominal fat, perform exercises that put too much stress on your abdominal muscles or if you are pregnant. The reason you are at risk during pregnancy is because your growing baby puts pressure on your core muscles causing them to stretch and separate.

How do I know if I have it?

To find out if you have diastasis recti, lie on your back and bend with your knees towards the ceiling while keeping your feet on the floor. Place your fingers along your midline right in the center of your stomach with your finger tips pointing towards your hips. Lift your head and neck as if you are about to do a crunch and measure how many fingers fit in the space between your left and right abdominal muscles. One to two finger-widths is considered to be normal, but if you have three or more fingers wide, you most likely have abdominal separation.

How can I fix it?

Most Diastasis Recti can be corrected with exercises and stretches that are specifically designed to optimize deep core muscular function. If you did the test above and believe you have separation than first consult your healthcare professional to get a second opinion and then see if they have any experts that specialize in helping women recover from this condition postpartum. If you are looking for something you can do at home, we recommend Erica Ziel’s Core Rehab Program online that focuses on helping women heal Diastasis Recti from the comfort of their own home. For more information on Erica’s program, go here.

Nutrition.

“Your body is a temple, but only if you treat it as one.” Astrid Alauda

After giving birth, it’s important to remember to fuel your body with foods that boost your energy and keep you feeling healthy and satisfied. This means filling your postpartum body with real foods that are rich in nutrients and minerals. Although time is not always on a new mother’s side, it’s important to stay mindful about what you are putting in your body as processed foods like refined carbs, white breads, and or sugary foods will spike your blood sugar, making you likely to feel even more tired than you already are.

What foods are best to eat?

A new mom’s body needs certain nutrients to keep her and her newborn healthy. Below are some nutrients that will boost your energy, help you stay healthy, and allow your body to heal quicker and shed weight faster (If that’s your goal of course).

Protein-Rich Foods

Eating foods high in protein not only helps keep your blood sugar levels stable, but it also helps to increase your mood – allowing you to feel happier and more emotionally balanced. The average amount of protein needed daily is 50 to 85 grams for nursing moms and 30 to 55 grams for moms who aren’t breastfeeding.

What foods are high in protein?

Eggs, beef, chicken, tempeh, tofu, fish, beans, legumes, dairy and nuts.

Anti-Inflammatory Foods

Inflammation is a part of your body’s immune response. In essence, it alerts your body about an injury and sends your immune system to fix it. When you give birth, your body undergoes a lot of stress and perhaps trauma, which could create internal inflammation. In addition, things like lack of sleep, excessive stress, and or a diet rich in inflammatory inducing foods can as contribute to inflammation as well. Do your best to reduce processed sugar. To help your body fight inflammation, it’s important to consume foods that are anti-inflammatories.

What foods are anti-inflammatory?

Green tea, berries, turmeric, garlic, raw oats, ginger, dark chocolate (you’re welcome), wild salmon, red peppers, beets, broccoli, black beans, chia seeds, tomatoes, olive oil, pineapple, spinach, eggs, nuts, bone broth, and raw honey.

Calcium-Rich Foods

While breastfeeding, women can lose 3 to 5 percent of their bone mass. Although, your bone mass will rapidly recover after weaning occurs, it’s important to make sure you are receiving enough calcium until then. The amount of calcium needed depends on the amount of breast milk produced, so the more you are making, the more calcium you will need. To protect your teeth and bones during breastfeeding, make sure to eat foods that are calcium rich.

What foods are high in calcium?

Milk, yogurt, cheese, dark leafy greens, figs, beans, peas, broccoli, sardines, salmon, tofu, almonds, and orange juice.

What are some healthy postpartum snacks?

Whether you are breastfeeding or not, new motherhood leaves very little room for cooking, if not eating. Below we’ve broken down some healthy, tasty and customizable snacks to get you through, all between 275 – 500 calories.

Coconut Energy Balls

Roughly 95 calories per ball
Ingredients
1 cup dates, pitted
3 tablespoons peanut butter
¼ cup dark chocolate chips
1 tablespoon chia seeds
⅔ cup rolled oats
⅔ cup shredded coconut (unsweetened if possible)
How to make
Pulse dates in a food processor until broken down. Add oats, chocolate, chia seeds and peanut butter and mix until combined. Batter should be a crunchy smooth consistency. Roll into balls. Spread coconut on a plate and then roll the balls on the plate till they are generously coated. Put in fridge for 15 minutes and then enjoy. Keep in airtight container to store for up to a week.
Want to substitute a different nut butter? Try:
Sunflower seed butter
Cashew butter
Want to substitute a different superfood seed? Try:
Hemp seeds
Ground flaxseed
Sesame seeds

Cinnamon Apple & Nut Butter Toast with Superfood Seeds

467 -475 calories
Whole grain bread: 69 calories, 1 slice, toasted
Apple: 95 calories, medium size, sliced
Cinnamon: 6 calories, 1 teaspoon
Pick your favorite nut butter:
Peanut butter: 190 calories for two tablespoons
Almond butter: 196 calories for two tablespoons
Sunflower seed butter: 198 calories
Pick your favorite superfood seed:
Chia seeds: 70 calories, 1 tablespoon
Ground flaxseed: 37 calories, 1 tablespoon
Pumpkin seeds: 18 calories, 1 tablespoon, raw

Spicy Hard-boiled Egg & Avocado Toast with Super Seeds

324 – 422 calories
Hard boiled egg: 78 calorie, sliced
½ avocado: 120 calories, medium size, sliced
Whole grain bread: 69 calories, 1 slice, toasted
Sunflower seeds: 51 calories, 1 tablespoon
Chia seeds: 70 calories, 1 tablespoon
1/2 Lime: 5 calories
Chili flakes: 5 calories, 1 teaspoon
For vegan mamas…
Swap out the egg for:
Tofu scramble: 94 calories, ½ cup
For gluten free mamas…
Swap out whole grain bread for:
Gluten free bread: 70 calories, 1 slice, toasted
I can’t handle spice right now…
Swap out chili flakes for:
Dried basil: 2 calories, 1 teaspoon

Cottage Cheese with fresh berries & nuts

225 – 281 calories
Cottage Cheese: 203 calories, 1 cup, 2% milkfat
Pick your favorite berry:
Strawberries: 13 calories, ¼ cup
Blackberries: 15 calories, ¼ cup
Blueberries: 21 calories, ¼ cup
Pick your favorite nut:
Walnuts: 50 calories, 1 tablespoon, raw, chopped
Almonds: 40 calories, 1 tablespoon, raw, sliced
Pecans: 50 calories, 1 tablespoon, raw, chopped
For vegan mamas…
Swap out cottage cheese for:
Coconut yogurt: 210 calories, 1 cup
Not a fan of cottage cheese…
Swap out cottage cheese for:
Plain yogurt: 154 calories, 1 cup

Mexican Baked Sweet Potato

304 – 337 calories
Sweet potato: 103 calories, medium size, baked.
½ avocado: 120 calories, medium size
Salsa, 36 calories, 1 tablespoon
Shredded cheddar cheese: 74 calories, 2 tablespoons
Arugula: 5 calories, ½ cup
Vegan mama here…
Shredded vegan cheese: 40 calories, 2 tablespoons

What if I’m breastfeeding?

If you’re a breastfeeding mom, it’s good to know that you will need to take in around 500 extra calories daily to make up for the 300-500 calories that feeding your little one burns. It’s also important to be getting the right amount of nutrients from foods or supplements to ensure that your baby is receiving adequate vitamins and minerals. Before we will discuss the top vitamins and below that, we’ll break down some simple 300-500 calorie snacks.

As a side note, remember to drink plenty of liquids. Always drink to satisfy your thirst, but a good target is to drink six to 10 glasses of water every day. Below are guides to food groups and serving sizes for postpartum mothers.

Vitamins & minerals for breastfeeding

Although most women are very diligent when it comes to taking their prenatal vitamins during pregnancy, most new moms don’t know how much vitamins can benefit them and their growing baby during the postpartum period. Below we will break down the key vitamins to incorporate in your postpartum diet.

Vitamin A

Why is this important?
Vitamin A is a powerful antioxidant that reduces inflammation and helps you maintain healthy vision and skin. The need for vitamin A rises in new mothers to 1,300 micrograms per day. Women who are breastfeeding will need more since they lose a lot vitamin A while breastfeeding.

What foods have it?
Eggs, milk, liver, carrots, yellow or orange vegetables such as squash, spinach, and other leafy green vegetables.

Vitamin C

Why is this important?
Vitamin C is specifically important for breastfeeding moms because it passes through breast milk to assist in your infant’s tissue growth. It also helps to boost your and your baby’s immune system.

What foods have it?
Oranges, red peppers, broccoli, tomatoes, berries, brussel sprouts, kale, strawberries, grapefruit, and guava.

Vitamin D

Why is this important?
Vitamin D keeps bones strong, and boost immunity. Because it is produced from exposure to sunlight, it’s important that new moms and their babies get enough of it, especially because many new moms stay indoors most of the day.

What foods have it?
Tuna, mackerel, salmon, dairy products, orange juice, soy milk, cereals, beef liver, mushrooms and egg yolks

Note: Your healthcare professional might recommend Vitamin D supplements for your baby to ensure that he /she is getting enough.

Vitamin E

Why is this important?
Vitamin E is an antioxidant that helps maintain healthy circulation, protects your baby’s eyes and lungs, and helps to promote healthy muscular development.

What foods have it?
Almonds, spinach, sweet potato, squash, palm oil, sunflower seeds, avocado, and eggs.

Are there foods to avoid while breastfeeding?

Generally nursing moms can eat whatever foods they prefer. During pregnancy, the food you eat goes into the amniotic fluid. Babies tend to swallow a good amount of that fluid, so they are most likely accustomed to the your chosen diet. However, some baby’s become fussy when moms eat certain gassy foods while breastfeeding. The most reported foods that could cause digestive discomfort for your baby are:

  • Caffeine (coffee and chocolate)
  • Spices (cinnamon, garlic, curry, chili pepper, and peppermint)
  • Citrus fruits or juices (oranges, lemons, limes, and grapefruit)
  • Dairy (cow’s milk, cheese, and soy milk)
  • Alcohol
  • Gassy vegetables (onion, cabbage, cauliflower, broccoli, cucumbers, and peppers)

Emotional.

“You can’t stop the waves, but you can learn to surf.” ~ Jon Kabat-Zinn

There’s no doubt that motherhood is stressful. The lack of sleep, the shift in attention from your own needs to another, the process of breastfeeding or getting into a feeding rhythm, and the absence of time for yourself can be challenging for new moms. In fact, it’s very common to feel as if you are on an emotional rollercoaster most days.

Just as your body goes through obvious physical changes after giving birth, your mind goes through emotionally changes as well. The difference is that everyone can see your body changing, no one can see your emotions unless you reveal them.

What about Postpartum Depression (PPD)?

Feeling some baby blues is completely normal but if your feelings worsen or persist over time, it could be a sign of PPD. It’s estimated that 1 in 10 women suffers from postpartum depression and given the shame associated with PPD, it’s likely that number is higher because some don’t report symptoms. If you’re experiencing PPD, contact your healthcare provider and speak with them directly about treatment.

Can meditation help PPD?

Meditation isn’t a replacement for medication or psychotherapy when it comes to PPD but it has been proven to reduce your risk of developing PPD and it’s a mindfulness tool that can be used while undergoing PPD treatment. Meditation and techniques learned through psychotherapy can help to reframe a person’s relationship to negative beliefs and thought patterns about themselves and their situation, which helps when dealing with depression.

Meditation and postnatal care.

Emotional well-being during the new motherhood is Expectful’s top priority because we believe it’s the most neglected part of postnatal care. We call meditation “the prenatal vitamin for the mind” because of all the science that shows it can help benefit both you and your baby’s health and wellbeing. It can also support you across the spectrum of emotions that come up during this transformational time. It’s been proven to help you sleep better, increase your milk production and ease the burden of uncertainty – to name a few.

The Science Behind Postnatal Meditation

Higher Quality Sleep

Studies have shown that individuals who practice meditation experience higher quality sleep than non-meditators (1).

Reduced Risk Of Postpartum Depression

At least 1 in 10 women experience postpartum depression, although the prevalence may actually be much higher (7). Mindfulness practices have been associated with reduced depression during and following pregnancy (8), which may improve psychological health (2).

Enhanced Emotional Regulation

Mindfulness practices are associated with increased emotional regulation, which increases your ability to act in accordance with your core values rather than transient emotions (3) This may allow you to control, rather than be controlled by, unpleasant situations.

Increased Lactogenesis

Breastfeeding has long been considered beneficial for both mothers and infants (4) However, stress is known to reduce milk production (5). Engaging in a regular meditation practice may help maximize your ability to nurse your child naturally by reducing your stress.

Tolerance For Uncertainty

Learning to navigate parenthood can create feelings of uncertainty. Mindfulness practice has been associated with less fear of the unknown, which may allow you to better cope with the stresses of parenting (6).

A regular meditation practice can help you navigate difficult moments with more self-compassion and be more present during the enjoyable ones.

To get more information on Expectful and the science behind meditation, click here.

Relationships.

“It is an absolute human certainty that no one can know his own beauty or perceive a sense of his own worth until it has been reflected back to him in the mirror of another loving, caring human being.” John Joseph Powell

New motherhood is a time of great transition on an individual level and on a relationship level. In fact, marital researchers consider the birth of a first child to be the biggest challenge partners face throughout their lifetime. Psychologist John Gottman, the leading international researcher on why marriages succeed or fail, found that 67 percent of couples experience a decrease in marital satisfaction during the first three years of baby’s life.

This might not come as a surprise when you consider the lack of sleep, little to no sex and challenges in navigating each other’s differences in parenting styles during the first year of your child’s life. It’s because of all of this that communication is key. Discussing and listening to each others needs will help you better understand what the other person is experiencing.

What changes may happen in my relationship?

After giving birth, there are three common changes that can occur for women and men in their relationships.

Divvying up responsibilities

When you bring home a baby, you bring home a whole new responsibility. For many couples, adapting to this new routine can be not only exhausting, but overwhelming. Although you are taking care of a baby, you must also be aware of taking care of your partner as well. If one of you is working full-time while the other one of you stays at home with the baby – it’s imperative that the partner who works is mindful of their stay-at-home partner’s needs when they get back from work. Checking in, asking how your partner’s day was, and offering if they’d like to get out of the house for a bit is a great place to start. Understanding that everything might not be clean, dinner might not be done, and your partner might be emotional. All of this is normal and ok. If you are both working, talk about how you can divide your time so that you both get some self-care opportunities. When you make sure you are both taking care of your relationship, you will naturally feel more at ease because it will be less likely for resentment to arise.

Being intimate

It’s very common for new parents to have little, if any, intimacy. This decrease could have started during pregnancy or it could be something that happened due to your new role in taking care of a baby. Either way, the transitions that occur during this time don’t leave much space or energy for having sex with your partner. Understandably, this can be difficult for couples. The best thing you can do as a couple is to not view your lack of sex as a sign of trouble or rejection in your relationship. Not being as sexually active during the postpartum period is normal. Take this as an opportunity to be intimate in other ways like through comforting touch, kissing or cuddling. Communication about your needs is also a great way to understand how your partner is feeling and what you can do together to make sure you are both feeling supported and desired in other ways.

Money issues

Beginning a new family is exciting, but it can also be taxing financially. Some couples go from being a two-income family to a single-income family overnight, whereas others can’t afford or don’t have the work flexibility for either parent to stay at home. Money stress can feel like a direct threat to our survival which is why it’s essential to look for opportunities to discuss your worries with one another instead of letting yourselves become overwhelmed both financially and emotionally. Speak to friends or family who have had children and ask them about their money saving tips. They might suggest finding people who may have hand-me-down clothes, toys, or even bigger things like car seats and baby furniture. If you need additional support, seek out financial professionals that can assist you in managing your money.

Parenting styles

It’s inevitable that you and your partner are going to have different values around parenting. Much of what we know about parenting comes from our own upbringing. If you had a much different childhood than your partner, chances are you’re going to notice some big differences when it comes to raising your child. The best thing you can do for you, your child and your partner is to create your own parenting styles together. This means recognizing where you have stark contrasts and coming to compromising solutions that benefit everyone involved.

It goes without saying that communication is the key to a healthy relationship and becoming a parent only intensifies that need. During this time of great change, check in with one another whenever you have an opportunity. Even if you have to schedule it, or turn it into a ritual that you do the same time each day. Just ask these two things – “How are you holding up?” and “What can I do to support you?” These two simple questions can save your relationship from a lot of uncertainty, misunderstandings and most importantly, pain.

Enjoy this time.

Whether you are just about to give birth or well into your postpartum journey, let this guide be a place where you come for support and information. Refer back to it when you need and know that you are always the leading expert on you, remember to listen to how your body feels, nourish your mind and be kind to yourself.

If you have any questions, comments or concerns, contact care@expectful.com. We’d love to hear from you.

References:

  1. Daley AJ, Thomas A, Cooper H, et al. Maternal exercise and growth in breastfed infants: a meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials. Pediatrics 2012 Jul;130(1):108-14.
  2. Dewey KG, Lovelady CA, Nommsen-Rivers LA, McCrory MA, Lonnerdal B. A randomized study of the effects of aerobic exercise by lactating women on breast-milk volume and composition. N Engl J Med 1994 Feb 17;330:449-453.
  3. (Gilliard and Brown 1996, Diane Lee 2013)