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Disclaimer: The content provided in this post is for informational purposes only and is not intended to be a substitute for medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding your health.
By Sarah Swanberg MS LAc, Founder Indigo Wellness Group & Co-Founder The Fruitful Program
Welcoming a new baby into the world is one of the most joyous moments women experience in life. That newborn smell, those delicious little feet, those perfect little lips… there’s really nothing better.
The fact that we can build these little humans inside of us and keep them safe for nine months is truly incredible. But what we don’t often talk about is the toll it takes on our bodies. The postpartum hormonal roller coaster is NO JOKE. Greater awareness of conditions like Postpartum Anxiety and Depression has helped to shed a little light on the role of hormones and mood, but there’s actually a lot more to it than that.
In my role as an acupuncturist specializing in women’s health, I have worked with countless women in the postpartum period to help regulate hormones and get them feeling “themselves” again. It’s such a gift to be part of this incredible stage of life for so many new mamas. Earlier this year, I launched a preconception program called The Fruitful Program to help women who are “thinking about” trying to conceive make changes in their lives to optimize their health and support their fertility.
In this program, we talk about the “Fruitful Five” fundamentals for hormone health, and while the focus of the program is about hormone balancing before baby, they apply to after baby, too, so I thought this would be a great platform to share it. Thanks for inviting me here, Eva!
Information is power, and I’m all about educating women about our bodies so we can better understand what’s actually happening, so let’s start there.
What’s Happening On That Post-Baby Hormone Roller Coaster?
During pregnancy, our normal hormone balance shifts quite dramatically to create an ideal environment for your baby to thrive. Two of the most important reproductive hormones, estrogen, and progesterone, build steadily throughout pregnancy and are at their highest levels during labor.
Progesterone is produced by the placenta, so once the placenta is delivered after your baby makes his or her entrance, progesterone levels drop drastically and leave you in a state of imbalance. Add prolactin, the hormone responsible for breast milk, and oxytocin, the bonding hormone, into the mix, and things can feel pretty haywire. This relative estrogen dominance can lead to fatigue, headaches, irritability, weight gain, anxiety, depression, and even thyroid issues. Yes, a lot of this is normal, it’s not fun. The good news is there’s actually a lot that you can do to support your body’s return back to pre-pregnancy hormone balance.
WHAT CAN I DO ABOUT IT?
Please be sure to talk to your doctor if you experience any symptoms of anxiety or depression that feel bigger than the common “baby blues” which usually only last for a week or two after birth. There are wonderful medications available to help treat postpartum mood disorders, and there should be no shame in asking for help if you need it.
It’s important to remember that these hormonal shifts are completely normal. Most women that I see in my practice think they just need to “wait it out”, and the truth is, a lot of these issues will self-regulate in a few months, but there’s also so much we can do to smooth things along. I’ve modified the Fruitful Five fundamentals for the new mama crowd below:
I know it’s easy to throw out our own self-care needs when are caring for a new little person, and possibly even adding him or her into the mix with other siblings. But after childbirth, our bodies can be really deficient (think of all you’ve just given away!) and this is a time to focus on rebuilding. Focus on nutrient-rich foods like whole grains, vegetables, and proteins.
Don’t skimp on fat, it’s incredibly important for hormone health, and regaining balance with hormones is going to be the quickest way to lose that extra baby weight. Limiting calories after birth can really backfire, so focus on what you’re adding in, not what you’re removing.
Hydration is also key, so make sure you are getting plenty of water, especially if you are breastfeeding. One of the most important ways that we clear excess estrogen out of our bodies is by pooping! Painkillers taken during birth, as well as painful tearing and hemorrhoids, can make this really challenging, so stool softeners and laxatives might be necessary to keep things moving here. Talk to your doctor if bowel movements are a real problem. We’ll discuss supplements for bowel health below.
I recommend that women stay on their prenatal vitamin after birth, for at least a few months, whether or not they are breastfeeding. A prenatal (or a multivitamin with added iron) can help provide a safety net for nutrient deficiencies after birth, and these vitamins and minerals are crucial for hormone production and regulation.
If you need help on the #2 front, adding in magnesium at night can do wonders. I prefer Magnesium Citrate to help keep things moving. Try taking 200-400mg magnesium citrate before bed. Bonus: magnesium is also very relaxing, so it might help you sleep better, too. Vitamin D and a probiotic are also on the top of my list for postpartum health!
I know, I know, never talk to a new mom about sleep. But repeat after me: NOTHING IS MORE HELPFUL TO OVERALL HORMONE HEALTH THAN SLEEP. Prioritize your ZZZs however you can, and once things have steadied out, you can get back to Instagram/Netflix/News binging/Whatever you’re in to. Get help whenever you can, sleep when baby sleeps, invest in earplugs and a sleep mask if someone else is around to listen for baby cries so that you can truly sleep.
Yes, bringing a new baby into the world is joyous, but it can also be really stressful! There’s so much to think about and new things to worry about. Relationships shift, childhood memories resurface… it’s A LOT. Honor all of these shifts! Wherever you can find room in your life to manage the stress, do it. This might mean date night with your partner, daily journaling, time outside in nature (with or without the babe), mommy and me yoga, meditation apps, or reminders to just breathe!
Remember how I mentioned that pooping is one way we clear excess estrogen from the body? Well, the organ that helps break down estrogen so that we can clear it out via poop is the liver. The liver is in charge of detoxification, so we don’t want to overload it while it’s doing its job in the postpartum period. Try to limit artificial chemical exposure in body products and cleaning products. Some of the biggest offenders are artificial fragrances and perfumes as well as BPAs and phthalates that are often found in plastics. Try to eat and drink out of glass, not plastic, whenever possible, and buy fragrance-free laundry detergents and body care products.
I also can’t recommend acupuncture highly enough! I see how helpful it is for the mamas who come into my office- we use specific points that help signal the part of the brain responsible for hormone regulation, and on top of that, it’s a time where you can deeply relax without thinking about baby’s needs which provides a much-needed brain break. If you’re in Fairfield County, come visit us at Indigo Wellness Group. Need postpartum nutrition guidance? Our nutritionist, Carolyn Brown MS RD offers 1:1 virtual sessions, perfect for new mamas!
** Indigo is currently closed due to the coronavirus. Until we reopen, we are offering virtual 1:1 Chinese Medicine consultations, herbal medicine consultations, fertility coaching and more. We’ve also launched the Indigo Wellness Academy, an online learning platform where you can find free and affordable classes including yoga & acupressure for Kids, acupressure tutorials, guided meditation and more.
Hi Sarah! This is very helpful! My prenatal does not contain dha – I was taking a separate supplement for that during pregnancy. Should I continue to do so postpartum? Thank you!