How to care for your own health after the birth of a baby.

By Fiona Taylor

The birth of a new baby can often find us in a state of shock and bewilderment due to the constant demands of a tiny infant, sleep deprivation, nappy washing and the seeming lack of time to get anything else done. The overwhelming love we feel for our new baby often means that we have become completely focussed upon their needs. Baby’s slightest sniffle sends us running to alleviate them from any sense of discomfort while our own health needs go untreated and ignored. Despite the upheaval however, many mothers emerge again 12 –18 months later, with a growing list of health complaints such as backache, fatigue, depression or anxiety, memory and concentration difficulties, and menstrual problems. It is easy to prevent many of these by taking better care of ourselves once the baby is born.

As most women have or will go through pregnancy, childbirth and breastfeeding it is easy to take the whole process for granted and underestimate the impact that these events can have on our bodies. In pregnancy the baby’s nutritional needs comes first, with the growing child taking what nutrients it needs. If these are in short supply the mother will become depleted. Followed with the traumatic event of childbirth a mother can become dangerously low on important vitamins and minerals such as iron, zinc, calcium, magnesium and B group vitamins. It is therefore very important to build up your strength after birth to support yourself through the demands of breastfeeding, sleep deprivation and the general care of your baby.

In many traditional cultures mothers are very supported immediately following the birth and up to 6 weeks later. Other women provide nourishing foods with tonic herbs, daily massages with medicated oils and assist with other children and household chores. These cultures recognise the importance of restoring the mother’s health so that she can be at her best to care for the baby. Unfortunately our modern western society seems to lack that organised support for new mothers and places more emphasis on losing weight and getting out and about as quickly as possible. This puts mothers at higher risk of fatigue, poor milk supply and depression.

Below is a list of some simple steps you can take to renourish your body and deal with some common post-partum complaints.

Following a birth we are left, energetically cold and dry. Consequently it is really important to eat as much warm, moist food as we can. When people make offers of help, ask them to cook you scrumptious soups and heartwarming casseroles. Eat well cooked foods, limiting raw, dry and cold foods. Eat porridge for breakfast or at least warmed milk with your cereal. Add cinnamon, grated ginger, cardamom, and honey to your milk, porridge, or other meals where appropriate. If you are feeling really run down or are anaemic there are wonderful tonic and adaptogenic herbs to rebuild your strength, such as Withania, Dong Quai and Licorice. You should also check your diet to ensure adequate levels of protein, essential fatty acids, iron, calcium, magnesium, zinc, vitamin C and the B group vitamins.

Sore/Cracked Nipples
It is important to keep nipples as dry as possible, so change breast pads regularly and find a private spot where you can expose your nipples to fresh air and sunlight. Some creams to help healing include Calendula and Pawpaw. If your nipples are continually sore it may be because the baby is not attached correctly when feeding. You can check this with an Australian Breastfeeding Association Counsellor or Lactation Consultant.

Most women experience engorgement to some degree when their milk first comes in. This can be alleviated by the use of cold packs or frozen cabbage leaves placed over the breasts and frequent feeding, or expressing small amounts to relieve the build up. As the baby settles into a feeding pattern this should settle down. If this continues, herbs such as sage can help to reduce supply but should only be used under the guidance of a qualified herbalist.

This is most often caused by a blockage in the ducts, which then becomes infected. Early warning signs such as redness, heat and tenderness of the breasts if detected can prevent a full-blown case of mastitis occurring. If you notice these signs then it is important to feed or express as often as possible to drain the infected breast. Applying heat and massaging the breast by moving from under the arm down towards the nipple, will also help to drain the breast and shift any blockages. If it is persistent you may need to use lymphatic and antibacterial herbs.

Insufficient Supply of Milk
Firstly, it is important to ensure that your diet is adequate to supply both you and your baby’s needs. On average a women needs to consume another 500 calories while breastfeeding and most of these should come from protein foods. Other things to consider are adequate water and rest. Stress can also play a very big role in reducing milk production. Herbs such as Fennel and Shatavari can work to increase milk production and supply along with other tonic and adaptogenic herbs.

Most new mothers experience fatigue to some degree, so it is important to find time to rest, do gentle exercise and eat warming and nourishing foods. Limit overly sweet foods which can initially boost energy but then deplete it further very quickly. If you need some extra information and support, seek the assistance of a healthcare practitioner to provide more specific dietary advice, nutrient support, tonics and adaptogenic herbs.

Recent research has shown that most women suffering depression after the birth of a child do so because of sleep deprivation. They recover quickly once sleep is restored. Some women however do suffer from postnatal depression. Often this can be relieved by a combination of nutrient and herbal support, flower essences and counselling. It is very important that it does not go untreated. It is important to consult a healthcare practitioner if you believe that you or your partner may be suffering from this.

Weight Loss
Many women are concerned about getting back into shape once the baby is born. Considerable societal pressure to be slim ignores women’s changing and varying body shapes and can create anxiety around our changing figure. It is important to remember that if you didn’t have a weight problem before pregnancy you probably won’t have one after. For most women breastfeeding will help them lose weight while for others they won’t lose weight until they’ve stopped feeding – we are all different! Use gentle exercise such as walking, swimming or yoga to rebuild your strength. Eat a balanced diet with adequate protein and avoid sugary foods that can deplete energy and provide little nutritional goodness. Value your body for the wonderful job it has done in growing your child and trust that it knows now how to restore itself with nurturance and healthy living. Make your focus your health and happiness rather than your body shape.

For any more serious or persistent health conditions please consult your healthcare practitioner for an individualised treatment. Naturopaths work by taking a detailed case history together with iridology, then treat with diet and lifestyle advice, herbs and/or nutritional supplements prescribed on an individual basis to treat the specifics of the person and their condition. Remember that if you take care of yourself first then you will be a happier and healthier mother, able to cope more easily with the daily stresses of motherhood and more freely enjoy the wonderful joys as well!

Fiona is a practising Naturopath and Herbalist at Latrobe Health Centre where she treats mainly women and children. She is a mother of three, Emily 8, Gessica 5 and Isabel 2 ½ years old.

Great to nourish and rebuild

1/3 cup oats
1 dsp ghee
¾ cup unhomogenised milk
¼ tsp cardamom
Pinch cinnamon
Sultanas/apples/apricots etc

Gently melt the ghee in a saucepan. Add the oats and fry without browning. Next add the milk, spices and sultanas or desired fruit. Stir on and off for 5-10 minutes until desired consistency is reached.

The ghee and spices help to improve the digestibility of the oats and provide a nourishing, warming and low GI breakfast.

Variation: Use semolina instead of oats and add stewed fruit when cooked.