Megan here today!
I have been waiting and watching for a year. Will my postpartum experience with Paige turn out to be like it was with Lily? Can this holistic lifestyle, natural health, hippie mom thing really save me from the horrific panic attacks, irrational crazy fears and the feeling of being “dropped off a hormonal cliff” that I experienced with my first child? Can adrenal dysfunction really be avoided, even while getting up to nurse 3 to 4 times a night?
The short answer is yes. But let’s back up a bit.
I have two children who are five years apart. Lily is six years old and Paige just turned one. The difference in my life, health and knowledge of holistic options between having my first child and today is drastic. With the knowledge that I have gained came a great reward, a positive postpartum period.
With my first baby I experienced panic attacks, irrational thoughts, horrible anxiety, depression and extreme fatigue. Not just the “I am tired because I don’t get to sleep through the night” kind of feeling, but the “I would rather break my own arm right now than go to work”. There is some level of survival mechanism that is natural when it comes to being afraid that your baby might get hurt. Having fears that they will slip in the bathtub might be normal, but being convinced that someone is going to break into your locked house through an upstairs window and steal your baby could be considered irrational.
With my second baby I still had a few instances of anxiety and irrational thoughts, but nowhere near as intense. Otherwise my mood was stable, my energy remained strong (I mean as good as it can be when you are up each night every 3 hours) and I had a positive attitude.
Although there are always variables that you cannot control in your life, I made sure to optimize everything within my control. I’m going to share my top takeaways that I think contributed to a much smoother postpartum experience.
Reasons this postpartum period was MUCH smoother than my first:
1. I was healthier going into the pregnancy and during the pregnancy.
I am so grateful to have worked on balancing hormones and supporting gut health BEFORE having Paige. After I had Lily, the nutritional deficiencies, hormone imbalances and gut dysfunction that existed before pregnancy (unknown to me!) were magnified. It is like running a marathon and starting mile 1 already depleted. You can imagine what will happen by the end of the race as you drop to your knees at the finish line. Then add lack of sleep into the mix and poor food choices and you have one tired mama!!
Not only did my health before pregnancy affect me, it also affected Lily. As Lily grew older and was dealing with tummy complaints, we ran a stool test to look at pathogens such as bacteria and parasites. Lily had the exact same species of bacterial overgrowth that I did (surprise surprise! ). The bacterial landscape of your gut as a mom will be passed on to your baby to some degree, so why wouldn’t we want our babies to get the best shot at a healthy gut.
I wish I had known about functional lab work and holistic nutrition before I had Lily! Supporting hormone and neurotransmitter balance (like we offer in our Healthy Hormone group program) made a huge difference in my mood and recovery the second time around.
2. I had a beautiful birth experience.
My first baby was an attempted unmedicated birth in a hospital. I felt scared, out of control and was told that I was in “really early labor” when actually I was transitioning and ready to push. The mismatch in what my body was telling me with what the nurse was explaining, sent me into a state of panic, begging for an epidural. The epidural completely stopped my labor from progressing, which led to other interventions such as Pitocin. The epidural and Pitocin made me feel horrible as if I had been drugged and since I couldn’t feel anything I had no idea how to “push” out a baby.
Here I am after Lily was born!
In contrast, my second birth experience was at home on Christmas day, drug free with dim lights and the people that I love around me, including my then five year old. My midwives understood my needs, concerns and wishes and my body was allowed to follow the natural process and move into the position that I wished. I was much better prepared and felt empowered in part because this was my second baby, but even more because of the knowledge I gained from the Mama Natural Birth Course. With my midwives just barely arriving on the scene, only 10 minutes before Paige was born, I was led by my instincts through the whole process. I was drawn to get onto all fours and three pushes later, baby Paige had arrived!
Here we are in our bed at home and big sister got to proudly hold her just 10 minutes after she was born!
It really isn’t a fair comparison, because the second time a mother gives birth is often quicker and much easier whether you are at home or in a hospital. But, I do feel like the preparation and understanding that I had for my body with my second birth helped me to feel in control, which is priceless.
3. I know which foods work for me and which deplete me.
Know your food sensitivities. If you are already nutritionally depleted and physically tired from having a baby, you will be doing yourself a disservice to then add the burden of eating foods that don’t support your body. I was unaware when I had Lily that gluten and dairy really are not my friends. For me, eating gluten manifests in fatigue, irritability and stomach bloating. For you, corn might be a trigger to your immune system, causing you to be tired, have headaches or rashes. Those symptoms are not fun for anyone, but definitely not something you want to add on to your already drastically changing hormones that are natural after childbirth. I highly suggest following a standard elimination diet before trying to get pregnant (if you have that luxury).
4. I had a healthy hormone toolkit and was better prepared.
Being prepared for the postpartum period led to drastic improvements in my energy and mood. Since I had already been through the process of balancing hormones, just like we offer to the ladies in our Healthy Hormones Group program, I have a hormone health toolkit that I can dig into at anytime. Some examples include adding lots of pink salt to my meals, lemon water each morning, daily elixirs and lots of bone broth. I also focused on having meals and snacks that included adequate fat, carbohydrates and protein. Having a freezer full of meals that I prepared ahead of time made it easy to have nutrient dense meals.
5. I worked less.
I took the staying in bed, sleeping when baby sleeps and resting advice much more seriously this time around. I read in one of my hippie books that some cultures say not to let your feet hit the ground for 40 days after birth. I remember reading this out loud to my husband after I had Paige trying to hint to him, “hey buddy, plan on taking care of me for a lot longer than 2 days!!” And he looked at me confused and said “Well that doesn’t make any sense, how are you supposed to get anywhere, walk on your hands?” He was serious.
After I had Lily, I started working (from home, on my computer) only ONE week after having her. This was definitely not the plan, but I had lost my contract work two months prior to having Lily, so by the time I hit maternity leave my two months worth of funds were gone!! Knowing what I know now, I would have opted to be poor and live more frugally and started working much later.
6. I made stress management a priority.
I mentioned that there may be situations in your life that are not necessarily in your control. With my first child I had a very intense experience on the day that I went into labor, that not only couldn’t have been predicted but I also had no control over. Maybe I will share the detailed story some day, but the short story is that I had to deal with a person that I feared. We had to abruptly move everything we owned into a storage facility, leaving us temporarily “homeless” with a new baby on the way. My mama bear instincts kicked into high gear and I had the most intense physical reaction to any perceived stress that I have ever experienced in my life. Such a strong reaction, that my body physically shut down from all signs of labor and contractions for nine hours while we dealt with the situation. The second that we got in our car and were driving to a safety, labor resumed immediately, my water broke and we were on our way to the hospital. This mama wasn’t going to have her baby anywhere near danger.
If you experience a very stressful situation during pregnancy or birth, please keep in mind the effects that this can have on you and don’t minimize the situation. It took me a year to discover and understand the imbalances that resulted from this stressful situation. PTSD is more common for mothers than you may think. My hormone and neurotransmitter testing a year later still told the story of an extremely depleted person which is common in people with PTSD.
Although you cannot necessarily stop something crazy from happening, whether something causes physiological changes in response to a stressor or not is whether or not you perceive it to be stressful. Stress management techniques such as yoga, meditation, long walks and recognizing when you need to talk to a professional can make a huge difference in how long you remain in a fearful state.
7. Functional movement… but not too much!
Because of the crazy situation I explained above, by the time Lily was four months old we had moved four times! Since I physically felt pretty good, I took on the attitude that many American, type A women do, “I may have just had a baby, but that’s not going to stop me! I am strong and can will my way through anything. I will carry these bags and boxes up and down many stairs with a baby strapped to me 10 days after birth”. Looking back, that was really dumb to say the least. I may have thought I was being strong, but what I didn’t know was that “resting” isn’t just a recommendation, it is a requirement if you want your body to fully heal. Your pelvic floor and all of your other body parts that have been moved or displaced by the baby need time to return. My lack of rest also led to mastitis which is 1) extremely painful and 2) required that I take antibiotics .
My suggestion is to follow your doctor’s guidelines even if you feel great and are dying to get back to your normal exercise routine. It might be an extra month, but you will save yourself years in trying to restore the damage you did. Check out Katy Bowman’s books Diastasis Recti and Move Your DNA for better suggestions on how to get started.
Now don’t get me wrong, it is not like everything was horrible with Lily and by the time I had Paige it was rainbows and unicorns. Both experiences were amazing and incredibly depleting at times. But, I do feel like my overall sense of wellbeing and control the second time around made for a much smoother transition, which I hope that you can experience too!
What about you? Have you had two or more very different postpartum experiences? And what do you feel like you learned? We’d love to hear your story!