The importance of nourishing yourself postpartum

Postpartum is such an interesting time.  It is a mixed bag of challenges and joys that I have never experienced before.  I am thrilled by the love that I share with my baby, experiencing his smiles, his laughs, and watching him grow.  I also feel an immense stress by this new responsibility, my forever changed life and body, and my constantly fluctuating hormones.

I feel as if there is an extra pressure within western culture to bounce back immediately and to continue life as it were and with baby in tote.  Although the concept is very appealing to me, I have found that to be a challenge if not near impossible.  I barely, 3 months later, feel I have enough energy to start moderate excercise.  Although I have lost most of my baby weight, I look at my body more functional than sensual now.  There is a certain amount of empowerment in that, but it’s hugely different from before.  I have to admit that I haven’t studied my new self in the mirror with the most loving eyes.

In the Winter 2008 issue of Brain Child Magazine, Elena Evans says, “A negative postpartum body image can contribute to low self-esteem and postpartum depression, as well as a host of other negative emotional and societal effects.  It can also cause a mother to diet that could potentially be detrimental to her infant if she is breastfeeding as well as contribute to postpartum depression symptoms from lack of nutrients and calories.”

I can honestly say that I have no desire to diet at the moment, and anyone that has seen Sage can attest to the fact that he is at no risk of not thriving, but I do feel the pressure to be my slim active self again…and soon.  There is no doubt that with time it will happen.  They say 9 months on, 9 months off.  But I just wanted to bring into light why it’s important that mothers slow down after having a baby and take the time to nourish themselves and allow themselves to really recover.  As I write this, I am also reminding myself.

In TCM there are 3 important aspects related to pregnancy and childbirth:

Qi and blood

The uterus

The uterus is the primary sex organ responsible for the birth process.  It  is responsible for the nourishment of the fetus and is greatly dependent on having enough energy or Qi available for proper development. This energy is primarily drawn from the Kidneys which must be strong enough to sustain both the mother and the developing fetus.  In TCM there are the physical kidneys and then the energetic Kidneys.  Here I am referencing the energetic Kidneys whose most important function is storing jing.   Jing, also called Essence, is a deep form of energy in our body. Some of it we are born with and other aspects we get from food and other activities. Jing is largely responsible for our mental and physical development and forms the basis of our ability to reproduce. Imbalances in this function can include infertility, sexual issues, and physical and/or mental developmental issues.

Of equal importance to Qi is the Blood of the body. The Blood of TCM theory pertains to the smooth circulation of blood in the body along with the ability to hold and distribute nourishment. One of the primary deficiencies which may arise during pregnancy and after childbirth is that of blood deficiency.  This is due to the developing fetus taxing a woman’s system and using her blood and then also due to blood loss during childbirth.

Holding the baby in the uterus during pregnancy, development of the fetus, birthing the baby, producing milk supply, and recovering from childbirth all tax the mothers Qi and Blood.  The majority of women will come out of childbirth extremely deficient.  Qi and Blood both take time to rebuild. This happens through proper nourishment, good sleep, and sometimes herbal formulas.  Issue is how many new mothers do you know that have time to cook themselves proper food, sleep through the night, and have a baby that doesn’t get digestive upset from mother being on an herbal formula….very few.  So really most of us are looking at time as our friend.

Just so you know some of the more long-term effects of not fully recovering from childbirth could be uterus prolapse, incontinence, more severe menopausal symptoms, digestive issues, sleep disturbances, post partum depression, and general fatigue.

The postpartum period, especially 6 weeks after, are the most crucial for recovery.  The older your baby gets the more time and energy you will exert trying to entertain and keep up with her.  You may never make up for lost Qi and Blood if you don’t nourish yourself during those precious first few months.

I read a quote from another mother saying, “Women should be taught that giving birth and becoming a mother are life changing and this heavy pressure to be thin again is some bizarre ritual that negates the fact.  By returning to that pre-pregnancy figure, we are encouraged to believe that nothing has changed: we’ve just added a child to the mix and life goes on as before.” I loved that reminder.  Our body changes are a very primal and accurate reflection of the changes that have occurred in the rest of our life.  I think it’s important that we love and nourish ourselves so that we don’t suffer health issues later on down the road and also to celebrate the changes that have taken place both in our lives and bodies.

IMG_2816 First time taking a walk around the block with Sage.  1 week postpartum

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Slowly increased to short hikes. 6 weeks postpartum

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Short snow shoeing adventure.  8 weeks postpartum

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Cycling around town with baby in tow.  12 weeks postpartum

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