Category Archives: Motherhood

My Top Prenatal Care Tips After 5 Pregnancies

Today is my oldest son’s 6th birthday and I’m just weeks away from my third child’s birth. As I prepare to bid farewell to the years spent TTC, being pregnant, coping with loss and medical complications, and recovering from childbirth, it seems appropriate to take a moment to reflect and share a bit of advice about how I’ve found wellness through all the ups and downs.

I’m not a perfect mom. Far from it. I can get impatient, irritable and exhausted just like anyone else. There are days when I feel like I can conquer the world for my children and other times when I surrender to my inability to do it all, no matter how hard I try. Sometimes I can’t stop smothering my little ones with kisses and affection and, at other moments, I firmly step away and demand my personal space and sanity. We’ve all “been there.” Life isn’t just a highlight reel of our best planned playdates, outings, art crafts, and children’s holiday apparel. It’s messy and complicated – and that’s okay!

I share all of this because I want you to know that my attempt to offer up some helpful advice isn’t because I have superior notions of myself as a mother. It’s because I’ve been in the trenches too and want to help other women out.

Over the past 6-7 years my life has consisted of the following:

  • 2 vaginal deliveries, 1 emergency c-section and 1 planned c-section (upcoming)
  • 7 hospital stays due to pregnancy complications, labor/delivery, and children’s health emergencies
  • 3 cumulative years of breastfeeding my 2 sons (no, it wasn’t easy/breezy) and 1 daughter to breastfeed once she’s born
  • 1 early pregnancy loss and 1 late pregnancy loss
  • 1 poor prenatal diagnosis
  • 1 preterm labor
  • 1 fallopian tube removed and 1 uterine artery cauterized

Wow…when I look at that list I’m dumbfounded and also grateful that despite all the trauma, I’ve found ways to advocate for my wellness and care for my body. The prenatal and pregnancy loss care tips that I have included below are what worked for me but I acknowledge that there is no one-size-fits solution or set of advice for each and every women out there. Also, this is *not* medical advice, so if you want to speak to someone about your personal health and fertility then please consult your doctor or OBGYN (…I encourage this communication before posting to Facebook moms groups or forums for advice…please…for your health’s sake…k?).

 

 

Trying to Conceive

  • Focusing on your physical health prior to trying to conceive (preconception) is a really important, often overlooked step in the prenatal process. Experts often recommend focusing on improving health habits for a minimum of 3 months prior to trying for a baby. This is a great time to focus on nutritious foods, taking daily prenatals, limiting alcohol, exercising in moderation, reducing stress and participating in joyful activities. Preconception health is important for BOTH partners and has been shown to reduce preterm birth and low birth weight for babies. I focused intently on preconception health for all of my pregnancies except the one where I had a late pregnancy loss after a poor prenatal diagnosis. Although I was still leading a healther-than-average lifestyle, I will always wonder if there was something I could have done differently. I’m told that none of what happened was my fault and I’ve let go of guilt. Nonetheless, I wish the dawn of the coronavirus pandemic hadn’t derailed my health habits to the extent that it did.

 

  • Dropping expectations and timelines for TTC was critical every step of the way for all 5 of my pregnancies. It’s all too easy to compare your TTC experience to another woman’s but there’s no measuring stick when it comes to starting and growing a family. Stay focused and loving towards yourself and your partner. That’s all that matters.

 

  • In a similar vein, I encourage women to embrace the fact that every couple’s parenting journey is unique. Sometimes you will find yourself envying a friend or acquaintance’s circumstances only to find that a couple years down the line they face something harder than anyone you know. None of this should make aspiring mothers or mothers feel better or less than someone else. Dropping comparison games is one of the first lessons most new parents learn. Doing so is critical for a family’s well-being, and it begins before a baby arrives.

 

  • Try not to get into your head about “advanced” maternal age or prior pregnancy experiences. Preconception health can help many women healthfully conceive babies in time, and the level of reproductive assistance needed may wildly vary from one pregnancy to the next. I know of women who conceived quickly for their first pregnancies only to have long waiting periods for their subsequent ones. Likewise, I know several women who needed IVF to get pregnant the first time and then went on to surprisingly conceive other babies naturally. You may find that every time TTC is different. That’s okay! Just stay focused on your mental/physical well-being, the relationship with your partner, and seeking fertility advice when/where needed be that from an app, ovulation predictor kits, a fertility clinic consultation, a conversation with an OB, etc.

 

  • Speaking of ovulation predictor kits…I know they can be expensive so take this or leave it… but I found that investing in them for periods of time significantly helped me discern which physical symptoms of mine were related to ovulation, as well as get a handle on the timing of it. I understand these sticks can cause some women stress while empowering others with a feeling of control. My advice is that if you can afford to give them a try then it can’t hurt to use them during your preconception period to figure out your cycles and peak fertility days. This might help you learn something about your body while you’re not actively trying for a baby, thus reducing stress over the whole ordeal.

 

First trimester

  • It goes without saying that frequent snacking is crucial for first trimester nausea. I learned this and relearned this many times.

 

  • During the first trimester of my 4th and 5th pregnancies I was stunned by how exhausted I was, especially because my other pregnancies didn’t carry the same weight of fatigue. I took frequent naps, deciding to accept my body’s needs. As a type A person, this was challenging because I always had to sacrifice or cut short something I was trying to get done. My two cents in retrospect – drop the guilt and sleep if you need to.

 

  • Whether due to nausea or fatigue, the first trimester can feel like it drags on forever. Remind yourself that this will be worth it. Stick inspirational notes on your desk or schedule motivational memos to pop up on your phone. Have a weekly check-in with a friend or therapist. Whatever it takes!

 

  • Nausea with my girl pregnancy was a different beast than my many boy pregnancies. Frequent snacking wasn’t helping as much as in the past so I opted for these nausea sea bands. I found that putting them on took the edge off the nausea and that wearing for them for long periods of time seemed to bring it back, so I spent a lot of days slipping them on and off as needed. It was life saving!

 

  • Weight gain is perfectly normal in the first trimester but it’s important for women to remember that the focus on weight gain doesn’t typically come until the second trimester. Unless you’re underweight or directed otherwise by your OB, focus on eating as normally as possible (and to relieve nausea) without going overboard on portions, sweets, and greasy foods. One study found that women who were a healthy weight before getting pregnant were overweight one year after their baby was born. A lot of this can be attributed to the challenges of caring for a baby but for some women gaining more than the recommended amount of weight for their size during pregnancy might contribute to it.

 

  • When possible (ahem, energy permitting) work on building core strength during the first trimester. This is a time when most core exercises are still fair game. Beginning in the second trimester, women will need to modify a number of core exercises so take advantage of building a strong base from the beginning so that you can safely maintain the support your body needs for posture and protection from diastasis recti as the pregnancy progresses. As a fitness professional, core exercises are top priority for my prenatal clients!

 

 

Early Pregnancy Loss

  • If you experience an early pregnancy loss please know that you have my deepest condolences. I’m so sorry this happened to you. I’ve been there and it sucks. Please know that you’re allowed to validate any and all feelings of disappointment, anger, grief, shock, etc. that you may have. Science shows us that denying negative feelings can actually heighten stress in our bodies so take the time you need to face and move through these tough emotions.

 

 

  • If it helps (which it may not), remind yourself that you’re not alone. Other women have struggled through pregnancy loss(es) and are slowly speaking up on social media in particular, in hopes of helping one another. If it’s not triggering, you can check out hashtags such as #iamoneinfour, #pregnancylossawareness, #pregnancylosssupport and #ihadamiscarriage, to name a few.

 

  • Your timeline for trying again (or not) is valid. Do what you need.

 

Second Trimester

  • If possible, tackle house projects and bigger baby projects now while you have some energy. It can be hard to frontload task lists that feel so distant in the future, but it’s worth it. With my first pregnancy, I was relieved to have done this because I had an unexpected family death and a preterm delivery that needed my attention more than folding laundry, prepping the nursery, and finishing house projects.

 

  • Healthy eating while gaining weight is important for the baby’s nutrition and your own, and for reducing the risk of gestational diabetes. My advice is to balance carbs and protein. In other words, be cautious not to sit down and eat tons of breads/muffins/baked goods without incorporating some protein in the same meal setting.

 

  • Our bodies have an intuitive ability to know how much weight we need to gain. Instead of calorie counting, try to listen to your body’s unique prenatal needs. I’ve personally found it fascinating that all three of my pregnancies have resulted in more or less the same weight gain and pacing of weight gain simply by eating what my body seems to be telling me to. During my first pregnancy I weighed myself once a week but in subsequent ones I backed off the scale and found a similar pattern of weight gain nonetheless!

 

  • Some of my favorite prenatal exercises for both myself and clients include: clamshells, single leg balance exercises, modified planks, single arm bench rows, squats, side lunges, and modified v-sits.

 

  • Towards the middle to end of your second trimester you will need to complete a glucose screening to asses your personal risk for gestational diabetes. Most women think they have no option but to go into the OB’s office and drink a highly processed sugary beverage with zero nutritional benefits. But guess what?!? You can speak to your OB about consuming a healthier beverage option at home with the proper grams of sugar (usually approx 50 grams) in five minutes, one hour prior to your blood draw. I’ve done this for two pregnancies and really appreciated that the beverage was both more palatable and nutritious. One time I had acai juice and the next I chose pomegranate juice. After quickly drinking 12 or so ounces it was done, less dramatic feeling, and I was still in the comfort of my home.

 

  • I recommend going to a chiropractor as your body and alignment begin to shift. Chiropractic care is safe for pregnant women, can help your baby achieve an optimal position for birth, and reduces postural stress and aches/pains for the mom.

 

 

Unexpected Medical Complications

  • I sat in this very challenging space following my third son’s poor prenatal diagnosis and was surprised that my gut instinct had been speaking to me the whole pregnancy. It can be hard to quiet the overwhelming news and whirlwind around you amid a poor prenatal diagnosis but if you can, try to sit in silence and listen to what your maternal instinct is telling you.

 

  • Lean into support groups, spiritual counsel, prayer, therapy and/or any other safe outlet for help during this complicated and uncertain time.

 

  • Engage in “flow” activities to help you maintain a semblance of balance and mental health while you’re waiting on uncertain answers from medical screenings/tests, etc. These daily activities have been scientifically proven to help people with the psychological challenges of uncertainty.

 

  • Spend time having heartfelt conversations with your partner. You two are a team and will come out of this together one way or another.

 

  • Whatever happens, you get to create your own meaning from this experience. You also don’t have to seek a “higher purpose” to understand your pain if that feels inappropriate. Do what feels authentic to you and no one else.

 

Late Pregnancy Loss

  • As with early loss (I’ve been through both early and late), this is a child you were expecting and who you need to – and are allowed to – grieve. Please refer to the book recommendations under early pregnancy loss and consider working with a supportive counselor.

 

  • You’re allowed to be upset, angry, confused, disappointed, etc. about losing your baby, coping with a postpartum body, the change of plans you had for your future and more. Take the time you need. There’s no rush or timeline for healing.

 

  • If you feel compelled, I encourage you to consider meaningful ways to honor your baby. Some communities offer free burial or ceremonial options, cremation, or the option to dedicate your baby’s body to science. Choosing something that offers you solace and closure can be helpful. I chose to bury my baby and find comfort in returning to his resting place. I know of other women who light candles for their babies and keep their ashes in their homes. For others, these reminders might feel too painful or not quite right. Whatever honors your needs is what will honor your baby.

 

  • Rituals can help women with healing through the seasons and years that follow loss. Lighting candles, donating to a cause, visiting somewhere sentimental, meditating or praying, etc. are all ways women can foster meaning and remembrance for their babies.

 

  • Some women find they prefer to create meaning through something tangible like symbolic jewelry, journaling or expressive art. I have a small canvas of an angel on my dresser alongside my other children’s framed photos.

 

  • Healing and expressive outlets are important and you might find one of the following useful: therapy, prayer, reiki, community worship, online or in-person support groups, etc. It can be intimidating to open yourself up to these but please remember that there isn’t any stigma to your loss and that you don’t have to carry it alone.

 

 

Third Trimester

  • Sleeping with a body pillow or multiple prop pillows is a must. Since side sleeping is your new BFF try sleeping with a support pillow between your legs and gently tucked under your bump. This will help your hips stay comfortable as muscles stretch and pull. Keeping your room cool at night is another must for better late pregnancy sleep.

 

  • Stabilizing your hips through a combination of exercises and stretching is crucial for comfort. An overwhelming 50-80% of pregnant women struggle with back pain. A lot of back pain originates from hips that aren’t stable and strong. If you have questions or specific needs, this is my area of specialty for prenatal clients. Contact me here or drop a question in the comments.

 

  • Neck tension is also quite common as pregnancies progress. Try to seek relief via massage and stretching. Here are some of my recommendations for alleviating neck tension: Remedies for Neck Pain and Stiffness.

 

  • I was fortunate that I didn’t need a belly band for my pregnancies with my two sons but since my complicated pregnancy loss and emergency c-section last year, my body isn’t quite the same. The scar tissue stretched out fast this time and my stomach doesn’t feel as supported. Instead of investing in an expensive belly band for the last uncomfortable month of pregnancy, I’ve found that using KT tape here and there has been effective and easy! Fellow fitness blogger Sia Cooper, owner of Diary of a Fit Mommy, has done such a comprehensive job covering 8 techniques for KT tape on a pregnant belly that I’m just gonna refer you to her post rather than try to cover the topic myself: Kinesio Taping During Pregnancy.

 

  • Many of my prenatal clients (and friends) accidentally engage their core in a precarious manner during the third trimester of pregnancy. As soon as bumps start to really round out and show, it becomes even more obvious (to me) who is not engaging their transverse abdominus. The TA is like a corset muscle that holds everything in, supports posture, works with the diaphragm, and is critical for preventing diastasis recti injuries during pregnancy. The next time you’re doing core exercises look down at your stomach and make sure you don’t see a “coning out” effect. Your stomach should pull in and “flat” near your belly button when you’re engaging it in a safe and effective manner.

 

  • During the third trimester your immune system is naturally overtaxed. Help your immune health with colorful fruits, vegetables, omega fatty acids (ex: salmon, shrimp, flaxseed, walnuts) and lean proteins.

 

  • Hydration is critical during the entire pregnancy but especially now. Some women need upwards of 100 ounces of water a day during the third trimester. I personally notice that my uterus gets “irritable” and more prone to Braxton hicks contractions when dehydrated – it’s my cue to drink up! Hydration can be made easier if you carry a 30-32 ounce tumbler or water bottle throughout the day and fill it up at least three times. This Yeti tumbler is a personal favorite.

 

  • The third trimester is full of “lovely” changes like extra mucous, nose bleeds and head congestion. I do a daily neti pot rinse while I’m showering to help move congestion and keep breathing clear. Give it a try!

 

  • It can be hard to reduce stress while expecting, especially amid a pandemic. But every so often, I manage to remind myself (and hope to remind you too) to take a few deep belly breaths. Inhale: I’m strong and capable. Exhale: This phase will be over soon. 

 

 

Every woman is worthy of care and support during preconception planning, TTC, pregnancy, pregnancy loss, medical complications, childbirth, postpartum, breastfeeding, childrearing and childcare. I’ll be here if you need me.

Yours in health and wellness,

Maggie

 

 

“Women Can Have It All” [the myth that hurts our wellness the most]

I was reading a news article recently and was caught off guard by how angry it made me. I get worried, stressed, fearful, and frustrated but seldom truly angry. Now, before going on, I *don’t* want to get political here. That’s never been what WellnessWinz is for or about. So please discard that idea as you read on. It’s not my agenda.

The article that made me angry was about a triggering topic that just doesn’t seem to stop making headlines lately: Abortion rights. I’ve heard allllll the arguments from both sides and from activists that are secular and faith-based. Trust me when I say I know a lot more about this topic than the average woman due to a medically complicated pregnancy just over a year ago that left me torn as to what I ought to do to protect my unborn child from suffering. It opened my eyes to the torment that so many women endure when considering ending a wanted pregnancy and the underrecognized struggles of many women considering ending unplanned pregnancies, not to mention the plight of women at large.

(If you want to read more about my experiences feel free to check out one of several articles I’ve written about pregnancy loss, grief, healing and being pregnant again after trauma: Glimmers of Joy Amid Grief, My Emergency C-section Recovery, Mental Health Support for Mothers, Pregnancy After Loss Is…)

 

 

So, what made me angry in the article that I read?

Answer: The idea that abortion, chosen or not, legal or illegal, is about empowerment.

 

The arguments go something like this:

Pro-choice: Women’s bodily autonomy = empowerment to choose timing of children, career, education, etc. (this is a long-standing stance).

&

Pro-life: “Women can have it all these days” (the exact words from the article) = empowerment to both raise children and hold down a job.

 

In my honest opinion, politics aside, empowerment has nothing to do with the difficult decision to end a pregnancy, wanted or unwanted. Empowerment is the farthest thing from explaining why many women feel so disadvantaged and under supported that they don’t have the choice to keep their unborn child. Empowerment also doesn’t begin to scrape at the struggles that lie ahead for women who keep their babies against the odds. Empowerment? No.

Allow me to explain the weak points of both sides here:

Bodily autonomy is an important thing, even as people on both sides of the abortion debate have varying definitions of what that ought to mean; however, the idea that it’s empowering to be forced to choose between a child and career, single and/or young motherhood or higher education, putting food on the table for older children or adding a starving mouth to a hungry household is in no way, shape or form accurate, in my humble opinion. It’s incredibly damaging to women’s wellness. No matter the choice, a woman must make a sacrifice.

On the flip side, the notion that “women can have it all” is a long-standing myth that actually means “women must find a way to DO it all.” This is the way our society continues to place heavy burdens squarely on the shoulders of women while disadvantaging and under supporting them along the way. This harms our collective wellness as women too. Big time. It’s entirely out of touch with reality and how much women’s health suffers in nearly every way from an unequal society.

My mom has told me for years that she felt frustrated by pro-choice claims decades ago that abortion “allows women to have it all” (she recognized the oppressive nature of this myth long before I came to terms with it) and now, quite ironically, we’re beginning to hear the exact same argument used against abortion from pro-lifers. What gives?!?!

Let’s move on from abortion debate “highlights” and talk about the most pressing thing:

The reality that women are vastly underserved by our society and are paying a steep price for it, monetarily, personally, and with their health. As a women’s wellness advocate, I can’t turn away from this disheartening data even as I confess that I don’t have many answers for solutions. But perhaps continuing to shine a spotlight on these things is a start…

 

 

The Proof That Women Are Far From “Having It All”

A major gender pay gap exists in many developed nations, not to mention third world countries. In the U.S., women earn 83 cents to every man’s dollar, and this trend of earning less is true across nearly every occupation. In the U.K., women earn a whopping 40% less than men. Unequal pay most certainly means fewer options and opportunities for women despite their hard work.

Earning an advanced degree doesn’t help advance women very much in their earning potential, not to mention the student debt it accrues. On average, most women with advanced degrees (master’s, Ph.d., etc.) earn less than white men with only a bachelor’s degree do, and this pay gap is especially disproportionate for black and Latina women. Again, these disparities persist across nearly every occupation with some small exceptions. Check it out for yourself with this interactive tool that allows you to compare wages (and gives you fuel to ask for a raise).

Not only are women earning less money but they’re shouldering the caregiving load in both married and single parent households. In the U.S. alone, most single parent homes are overseen by moms (8.5 million) compared to dads (2.6 million). According to an article on Parents.com, single mothers feel firsthand all the weight they’re carrying for their careers, families and society’s expectations of them: “Single mothers confirm they’re facing these pressures and high expectations every day and are even shamed when their abilities don’t match up to the ideal.”

Indeed, women are expected to do SO much and with a smile on their worn out faces. Add these struggles to the high cost of childcare, inequitable healthcare coverage, and lack of paid maternity leave, and you have a society that is telling women they can have it all while denying them of all the support for fulfilling that dream.

One example of how women are intensely under supported is the steep decline in breastfeeding rates from infancy to one year of age (84% of women initiate breastfeeding their babies but only 57% still are at 6 months and 35% are at one year). Breastfeeding is arguably one of the most physically natural roles a mother has and yet in our society it’s nearly impossible for most women to stick with due to pressures to return to work, a lack of support for breastfeeding logistics, low help with childcare for older children, and only half of employers offering lactation support programs and on-site nursing/pumping rooms. Not only that, but depending on where you live geographically in the U.S. there are varying degrees of cultural support and importance placed on this healthy maternal-infant relationship: see here.

 

 

How else is our culture expecting too much and offering too little for women? Ohhh, let me count the ways…

I have seen within my own family the toll that caregiving can take. My mother was working full-time, raising three kids, helping support three aging relatives and her disabled younger brother, all while going through menopause. The weight of all these responsibilities is not unique to her. It’s a common, untold story of middle-aged women at large. Right when women’s self-care needs must be addressed to manage menopause in a healthy manner, life demands reach a crescendo and minimize a woman’s ability to focus on her own wellness.

Roughly 66% of caregivers for aging relatives are female, averaging 49 years old and working outside of the home while simultaneously providing 20 hours of unpaid elderly care per week. During this phase of life, the demands placed uniquely on women’s backs has the following repercussions:

    • “33% of working women decreased work hours
    • 29% passed up a job promotion, training or assignment
    • 22% took a leave of absence
    • 20% switched from full-time to part-time employment
    • 16% quit their jobs
    • 13% retired early
    • In total, the cost impact of caregiving on the individual female caregiver in terms of lost wages and Social Security benefits equals $324,044″…read more

This data only reflects the challenges of caregiving for elderly loved ones, let alone the percentage of women who quit work and/or struggle with demands to caretake for disabled or sick children. I think most of us can agree that these numbers do NOT match up to the mythical ideal of “women can have it all.” These struggles are seen generation after generation and unfortunately, the future for women looks somewhat bleak. According to the U.S. Department of Labor:

“The pandemic has set women’s labor force participation back more than 30 years.” 

 

By early 2021, women’s participation in the work force fell to less than 56%, matching rates as far back as 1987. Women of color and those working in low-wage occupations have been the most impacted.

I know, I know…this isn’t a feel good article. But it’s important that we get to the core of why the myth “women can have it all” just isn’t adding up to reality.

 

 

The Ripple Effects of Gender Inequality on the Average Woman’s Wellness

A Statement from the 2020 Global Gender Gap Report:

“In no country in the world is the amount of time spent by men on unpaid work (mainly domestic and volunteer work) equal to that of women; and in many countries, women still spend multiple-folds as much time than men on these activities. Even in countries where this ratio is lowest (i.e. Norway or the United States) women spend almost twice as much time as men on unpaid domestic work.”

This global gender gap contributes to higher mental health challenges for women versus men. The World Health Organization shows that women outpace men on rates of mental disorders such as depression, anxiety and somatic complaints, to name a few. Within the U.S. alone, one study demonstrates disheartening findings stating that “by many objective measures the lives of women in the United States have improved over the past 35 years, yet we show that measures of subjective well-being indicate that women’s happiness has declined both absolutely and relative to men.”

Women’s mental health suffers gravely because of how much we are tasked with. Mental health is further complicated by the following factors that contribute to social insecurity:

  • gender-based violence
  • socio-economic disadvantage
  • income inequality
  • low social status and rank
  • responsibility for the care of others

As long as so many women suffer from mental health challenges, the collective wellness of society suffers too. Our bodies suffer. Our families suffer. Our workplaces suffer. Our healthcare systems suffer. And so on.

 

 

Is There a Path Forward that is Better for Women’s Wellness?

I don’t have the answers for pay equity, changes in government policies and benefits,  and normalizing caregiving for men, but I can say without a shadow of a doubt that ALL of this information compels me to scream from the rooftops that we are hurting women’s wellness with the myth that “women can have it all.” We’re far from that reality becoming manifest. So for now, this myth continues to be synonymous with “women must do it all,” and I can’t think of anything more suffocating, oppressive, sexist, and damaging to women’s collective wellness than that.

I hate to end on such a negative statement. That’s seldom my style. But I find myself realizing that passive complacency or putting a positive spin on these complicated circumstances is no longer acceptable as it allows that myth to gain in momentum and harm.

Women deserve better.

Perhaps it’s time we should accept that having it all (ahem, doing it all) is an impossible standard for a person of any gender? Just a thought.

Yours in health and wellness,

Maggie

 

Pregnancy After Loss Is…

I’m approximately halfway through my 5th pregnancy and hope that it will be my 3rd healthy live birth. Having suffered two losses before, I’m quite familiar with pregnancy after loss and the many complicated emotions that accompany it.

I’ve become more entrenched in the pregnancy loss community since losing my 3rd son in the second trimester following a poor prenatal diagnosis a year ago. This community has shown me that I’m far from alone despite the often secretive nature of pregnancy loss. If you want to hear more about my losses and medical complications feel free to read one of my three articles:

Glimmers of Joy Amid Grief, Loss and Loneliness

My Emergency C-section Recovery

Trauma Recovery and Mental Health Support for Mothers

…or watch a more detailed video version of this post: 

My desire in sharing the many aspects of pregnancy after loss (below) is twofold: 1) Help women during pregnancy after loss to see that they aren’t alone in their feelings and experience, and 2) Educate people who have never walked this path or who are trying to understand what a friend or loved one might be going through in the face of loss or pregnancy following loss.

WARNING: The following content is triggering. If you find yourself in a vulnerable place and aren’t sure if you’re ready to dive into tough emotions and realities then please save this article or the video on Instagram to watch later. That said, if you need a good cry, to feel less alone, or to better understand this difficult road then please read on…

Pregnancy After Loss Is…

Pregnancy after loss is…feeling fear and joy at the same time

Pregnancy after loss is…numbing yourself to all emotions because they feel too big

Pregnancy after loss is…having a hard time letting yourself relax and be happy

Pregnancy after loss is…holding your breath every time you use the bathroom because you’re worried you will see blood in the toilet or when you wipe

Pregnancy after loss is…feeling like you will finally be at peace when you reach a certain milestone or scan only to find that the relief from good news is fleeting, and the fear rears its ugly head once again before you’ve even left the parking lot

Pregnancy after loss is…thinking about the baby you lost just as much if not more than the baby in your womb

Pregnancy after loss is…wondering if you’ll start telling people you are expecting only to have to tell them you’re not

Pregnancy after loss is…wondering if this time you will get to hold your child and plan for their future

Pregnancy after loss is…knowing all too well that a positive pregnancy test doesn’t guarantee a baby

Pregnancy after loss is…grieving the child you lost every step of the way

Pregnancy after loss is…feeling alone

Pregnancy after loss is…holding onto misplaced guilt, shame and self-doubt

Pregnancy after loss is…seeing other women who are pregnant too and feeling a stab of jealousy because you think their experience must be easier than yours

Pregnancy after loss is…seeing women with multiple children or closely spaced pregnancies and feeling overwhelming grief

Pregnancy after loss is…wondering if you will ever have a child of your own

Pregnancy after loss is…wondering if this will be your last pregnancy and it will end poorly

Pregnancy after loss is…wondering if you have the strength to go through it all again

Pregnancy after loss is…having the most incredible courage because you’re willingly going through something that feels terrifying and putting yourself back into a narrative familiar with trauma and loss

Pregnancy after loss is…knowing way more about what can go wrong than you ever wanted to

Pregnancy after loss is…being scared of a poor prenatal diagnosis

Pregnancy after loss is…feeling that others don’t understand you

Pregnancy after loss is…worrying that your next ultrasound will show that the baby’s heart has stopped beating or that they aren’t growing as expected

Pregnancy after loss is…fearing that you will be faced with an unthinkable choice to end your pregnancy in order to save your baby from suffering

Pregnancy after loss is…feeling judged for things that are out of your control

Pregnancy after loss is…connecting with women who have walked the same path and share their stories in secret, out of sight from a world that simply doesn’t understand

Pregnancy after loss is…former milestones, due dates and anniversaries that bring some measure of sadness and reflection both during the pregnancy and for years to come

Pregnancy after loss is…filled with hypervigilance, constantly scanning for what might go wrong

Pregnancy after loss is…nervously counting kicks and fearing stillbirth

Pregnancy after loss is…being told “at least you know the baby wasn’t going to be healthy”

Pregnancy after loss is…being told “at least you already have children”

Pregnancy after loss is…being told “at least it happened early in the pregnancy”

Pregnancy after loss is…being told “everything happens for a reason”

Pregnancy after loss is…being told “God just wanted another angel in heaven”

Pregnancy after loss is…being told “time will heal all pain”

Pregnancy after loss is…understanding the grim but powerful reality that women’s bodies are capable of delivering both life and death

Pregnancy after loss is…wanting to celebrate with loved ones while feeling guilty for times when it was hard being happy for friends who were expecting during or after your loss

Pregnancy after loss is…experiencing emotional, physical and spiritual exhaustion

Pregnancy after loss is…reliving flashbacks of traumatic moments from your loss

Pregnancy after loss is…wondering if you will get to the second trimester or even over halfway through your pregnancy only to experience loss, decisions on how to deliver your baby, and an empty womb that looks as though it should still be carrying life inside it

Pregnancy after loss is…realizing how little people understand how to care for others in grief

Pregnancy after loss is…worrying about a crash-landing during labor and delivery or a C-section

Pregnancy after loss is…feeling guilty when you stop thinking about the baby you lost

Pregnancy after loss is…feeling like you don’t deserve to feel the happiness that’s building for the child you’re expecting

Pregnancy after loss is…full of hope and love unlike you’ve ever experienced

Pregnancy after loss is…different for every woman

You’re not alone. Resources and people exist who can support you with your wellness during this pregnancy. Please don’t hesitate to reach out to me directly to ask questions, get referrals, or share your story in private. Sending you big hugs and compassion.

Yours in health and wellness,

Maggie

Trauma Recovery & Mental Health Support for Mothers

The last year has taught me a lot about recovering from trauma and coping with grief. The healing journey is never linear and yet it remains a steady part of my daily life. As anyone who has endured trauma will tell you, it can flash in and out of your life with unpredictable speed and timing for days, weeks, months or even years. Trauma often involves layers. After one layer is peeled back another is revealed, and then another, until you reach the core of the crisis. I’m not a mental health professional but as a wellness writer I feel that it’s my responsibility to point fellow moms in the direction of people who can help them.

Traumatic experiences in motherhood are common and yet we seldom label them as such. We brush aside birth and labor-related trauma when it happens because it’s an assumed “rite of passage” for mothers. Personally, I haven’t met a single friend who has experienced unmedicated labor and said it was a breeze. Rather, these women shudder at the memory and sometimes have flashbacks to the birth in the first few weeks as a mom. I experienced this firsthand after the birth of my second son. Thinking about the pain evoked a physical trauma response throughout my entire body for over a month after he was born.

 

 

Similarly, some mothers who have gone through C-section births recollect their nerves and fears while being conscious and cut open on the operating table. One friend of mine asked for anxiety medicine while having her fallopian tubes removed after her last child’s C-section delivery while another became temporarily paralyzed from the C-section spinal tap. It was an experience that scared her so much that she doesn’t want to have any more children now.

I also know of friends who experienced fear when birthing their own babies because of what happened to me last fall; I had a pregnancy loss followed by a D&E and my uterine artery ruptured during the procedure resulting in an emergency C-section. If that doesn’t spell out trauma then I don’t know what does. Unfortunately, the concerns for mothers don’t stop at “a friend of a friend’s” anecdotal experience; the maternal mortality rates in the United States are trending upwards, not downwards, for the first time in over 30 years.

Women’s fears are not unfounded. Women’s trauma experiences from pregnancy, pregnancy loss, childbirth and infant complications are very real. And yet…where is the support?

 

 

If you’re a mother, let me ask you this:

Did anyone offer to help guide you towards professional resources after your own personal trauma (if you’ve had any)? Were you able to find accessible, affordable and meaningful help? Or, like so many women, did burying the trauma feel like the easiest option within reach?

Whether trauma is related to having babies or enduring a scary hospital stay with your child, it’s a part of mom life at some point for almost every mother. As caregivers, it strikes us deep. I experienced trauma when my oldest son was unexpectedly born a month early and I thought I was losing him. I experienced it again in the PICU when a nasty case of bronchiolitis nearly took his life, and again when we learned he had a small hole in his heart. Traumatic flashbacks haunted me during night nursing sessions after my second son’s unmedicated natural birth and in a bigger way than ever before in the wee night hours upon losing my third son during the second trimester. It was a loss that felt far greater and harder to bear than a first trimester miscarriage I had endured years earlier that also left me reeling.

Even before having children I experienced trauma – when biking to work and getting hit by a car – and yet this mom stuff?

Way harder.

 

 

Anything involving my children’s well-being in addition to my own carries extra weight. As much as I always want to protect my children, sometimes real life steps in the way. Even though my boys are still very young I know that this feeling will come back to me when my oldest goes to kindergarten next year and when he learns to drive a car. When my boys move out of the house and into the real world as young adults, these raw emotions will likely pay me a visit again. I hope these emotions will be healthy and normal, without past trauma hovering over them like a cloud, but if I don’t deal with my trauma experiences over time or with professional help then normal milestones and rites of passage can come at a heavy price.

Here’s the thing about trauma:

It sticks with you even when you don’t realize it.

According to Psychology Today, “trauma is the inability to deal with a certain stressful situation, which leads to feeling overwhelmed and powerless. In short, it’s not being able to process difficult emotions to completion and then enact the solution. This is when trauma is internalized and has a life of its own inside our brain and nervous systems.”

Signs of trauma may include:

  • Anxiety that manifests as edginess, irritability, sleep disturbances, poor concentration and/or mood swings
  • Emotions such as denial, anger and/or sadness, and experiencing emotional outbursts
  • Physical symptoms such as lethargy, fatigue, racing heartbeat, panic attacks, and fuzzy thinking
  • An inability to cope with certain circumstances
  • Withdrawal and detachment
  • Hypervigilance
  • Flashbacks
  • Nightmares
  • Feelings of intense helplessness and fear

This list is not exhaustive of the signs and symptoms of trauma, nor does it demonstrate how “invisible” trauma can be. Some people display it very openly while others experience it internally and out of sight. Either way, trauma begs to be resolved on mental, emotional and physical levels. As moms, dealing with trauma is especially important so that we can stay present as caregivers. It’s our responsibility to deal with it so that we don’t pass it to our children. This doesn’t imply that we have to be “perfect” parents, but it does mean that we must hold ourselves accountable for healing and tending to our mental health.

We deserve wellness and our littles ones count on it. 

 

 

A good friend of mine, Lauren Goldberg, who owns Secure Base Mental Health, LLC explained to me years ago that babies and children co-regulate their nervous systems with their parents’ nervous systems, especially their mother’s. I think most moms would say anecdotally that this is true (plus, it’s backed by science). For example, when I returned home from my emergency C-section, my oldest son had a peculiar stress response for a few weeks and I knew immediately that it was because of what had happened to me. Although he didn’t know all of the details, children are intuitive and their bodies’ feel the energy that we adults put out. With this in mind, it’s important to recognize that addressing and healing from trauma are important processes for the entire family unit’s wellness.

The word “trauma” can apply to a swath of trauma-inducing situations, some of which are acute and others chronic. Sometimes, healing from trauma happens without interventions or professional help. More often though, trauma necessitates some professional help along with plenty of self-care, balance and boundary setting. This is where personal time and boundaries are critical for moms. It’s back to the analogy of “put your oxygen mask on first before you help put someone else with theirs.”  We have to prioritize our needs so that we can self-regulate in a healthy way and positively influence our children with their own emotional regulatory needs.

Again, I’m not a mental health professional but I’m an exercise professional who passionately pursues wellness in all its forms. Thus, I think this topic deserves some pause and reflection for moms. If you find that you don’t have any trauma to heal from – that’s great! But what about anxiety that tears you apart inside? What about depression that makes you sluggish through each day? What about low self-esteem that gets in the way of your goals and happiness? Mental health support is a crucial element of wellness and it deserves center stage in this whole mom thing.

Being a parent isn’t easy nor is it supposed to be. Other humans depend on us! We deserve to get the help and support we need without fear of guilt, shame, rejection or judgement.

 

 

Below I’ve compiled a list of resources for moms who have experienced trauma and are seeking mental health counseling, support services, and resources:

 

Post-Traumatic Stress After Traumatic Childbirth:

Postpartum PTSD

Birth Trauma Association

 

Pregnancy & Infant Loss Support:

Pregnancy Loss Support Groups

Baby Loss Doulas

Bereavement Doulas

 

Poor Prenatal Diagnosis Support:

Perinatal Hospice & Palliative Care Programs & Support

The TFMR Doula

 

Abortion Healing:

The Healing Choice

Support After Abortion 

 

Grieving the Death of a Child:

Losing a Child

Grief Coach

Virtual Support Groups

 

Postpartum Depression (PPD) & Anxiety Support:

The Motherhood Center

PPD Counseling

What is Postpartum Anxiety?

 

Mental Health & Substance Abuse:

National Helpline for Mental Health & Substance Abuse Disorders

 

Suicide:

National Suicide Prevention Line

 

Yours in health and wellness,

Maggie

 

 

 

My Emergency C-Section Recovery

Some of you already know that I experienced an emergency back in October when we lost and said goodbye to our third son at roughly 4 months gestation. When I went in for a routine D&E I experienced extremely rare complications and one of my uterine arteries ruptured causing excessive blood loss, several blood transfusions and emergency surgery intervention. For more about that experience and what I discovered in the wake of loss and grief, you can read here.

My first two sons were born vaginally and I had relatively easy recoveries. Even though I was only 4 months pregnant this time, an emergency C-section (with a vertical incision) to save my life was both shocking and traumatic. I struggled for months to recover, both physically and mentally, and only now at 3 months “postpartum,” if you would even call it that, I’m feeling a little more like myself.

I have a long way still to go in the healing process but I’ve learned some things along the way that I’d like to share with you since I’m a health professional obsessed with all aspects of the wellness journey. Whether you’re simply curious about my experience or have had (or anticipate having) a C-section, this video is for you…

“Out of suffering have emerged the strongest souls; the most massive characters are seared with scars.” – Kahlil Gibran

Yours in health and wellness,

Maggie

Glimmers of Joy Amid Grief, Loss and Loneliness

I’ve been quiet on the blog and social media for the last month or so – and for good reason. Starting in mid-September, my husband and I started to get some bad news about the prognosis for our third son’s health and pregnancy outcome. We were devastated thinking about a child being born into a life of pain and suffering, and at the same time, we were mortified of losing him prematurely.

My body had been sending me signals that something was very “off” throughout this pregnancy and I feared for the worst. When I found out it was another boy (I have two sons already), my gut instinctively pulled hard: This little one is not okay. I could feel this truth deep down.

Sure, every pregnancy is different. I was told this countless times. “But this feels really different,” I kept repeating to friends and family, at a loss of what else to say.

As a health professional, who is very in tune with her body, I knew this time was wildly different from both of my other pregnancies. I couldn’t take a deep breath, my lungs struggling against some intangible resistance, and I couldn’t read bedtime stories without my heart racing. Every time I climbed the stairs in our home to retrieve a child from naptime or to help with brushing teeth, I would gasp for air.

In all of my adult life, I’ve never been sidelined from exercise. Not after having either of my other sons and not after being hit by a car. At these crossroads, I carefully scaled back my fitness efforts, focused on reducing inflammation, and moved my body through gentle, therapeutic exercises. During this pregnancy though, I could barely do anything. I felt crippled and perpetually exhausted, like life itself was invisibly seeping out from my pores, escaping me.

I told myself it’s all worth it for a healthy baby.

But…what happens when we don’t get our happy ending? What happens when our plans become undone? Or worse yet, what becomes of us when loss and grief strike with the force of a wrecking ball to the jaw?

 

 

That’s where I landed this pregnancy: At the pit of loss. The valley of the shadow of death. The mysterious somewhere between here and there, the intersection of heaven and earth, the place of struggle between shattered dreams and hope. The great purgatory of life where, at our worst moments, we must find the strength to pull ourselves up and out, despite being exhausted to our bones and filled inside with the stuff of nightmares.

I had already experienced loss with a former pregnancy that took place before the conception and birth of my second son. That miscarriage filled me with sadness and dashed hope, but I managed to put myself back together rather quickly, all things considered, and was soon thereafter filled with a complicated mixture of excitement and anxiety when I became pregnant again.

The impending nature of this loss felt different given what we had learned. It felt anticipated, agonized over, feared, and maybe, if I’m being completely honest, like something that might be the safest thing to happen to our child. This impending loss held implications that our child might not have to suffer from complicated surgeries after being born with a slim chance of survival. It would mean that his big brothers would never shed tears and sob into their parents’ arms about something so traumatic that their little-big hearts would strain to understand while simultaneously feeling it deeply. No parent ever wishes to lose a child. When we found out that we had lost our sweet Jake, we broke apart.

 

 

We prayed over our son’s loss with a chaplain at the hospital before surgery. Funeral arrangements were already in place. We felt a sense of peace in the middle of this loss, strange peace, the variety of which only comes from a greater power in the universe. Leading with a spiritual mindset, I prayed and said one last goodbye to my son as my vision went black on the surgery table.

When I woke up, I saw that the clock on the wall was showing a time that was alarmingly late in the day. I expected to wake up nearly four hours earlier than those glaring, sharp red numbers indicated.

What happened? This isn’t right, I recall thinking.

And I assumed correct: Things were definitively not right. 

While still in an anesthesia fog, the surgeon explained to me that I had experienced rare and unexpected medical complications during what is otherwise a routine and short surgery. Although the medical team thought that everything had gone smoothly, I began to bleed excessively. The doctors tried to find the source of bleeding but faced the grim truth that the bleeding was internal and the only way to get it under control was through emergency abdominal surgery. 

My throat felt tight and dry from being intubated as I regained consciousness and blinked at those red clock numbers. I groggily repeated the same questions over and over again to the surgeon, trying to grasp the reality of what had just happened. The doctor kept explaining to me that an artery and one of my fallopian tubes had ruptured and that I now had stitches from my naval to pelvis, both internal and external. As I looked down at my body I noticed large needles secured into veins on both hands from blood transfusions.

Minutes away from a hysterectomy, they said, but thankfully it was averted at last minute. 

Almost a hysterectomy? Potentially life-threatening blood loss? Emergency open surgery? My mind was in a panic. I tried to sit up straight in the recovery room only to be pulled backwards onto the hospital bed with the unbelievable force of a thunderous headache. 

The complications were so much for me to mentally and emotionally process that I briefly forgot about the grief we had been feeling. When it finally resurfaced, I felt like I might not be able to breathe. It felt like my entire life was ending and beginning, all at once.

My recovery nurse at the hospital said, “We’re going to take it one hour at a time, sweetie. Today is your day one.” And somehow, that’s exactly what it felt like. I was no longer the same woman – not emotionally, physically or even spiritually. I had been stripped down and given the chance to rebuild myself from the deepest parts of grief and loss.   

The rebuilding part is all very fresh and new…and painful. But, as an eternal optimist, I know that I will find a way to rise up from this, bearing in mind what I have learned through the years about the intricate web of wellness and how it steers the healing process. Although it’s a long story, and one I’m not ready to share in detail, there was a period of time both right before and after the surgery when I felt so much connection with the universe; with God; with a higher power calling me to lean into faith and trust. 

I can’t say with any measure of confidence that every bad thing that happens in life has profound meaning or a silver lining. I don’t believe that rock solid faith equates to good outcomes for a person. Sometimes, bad things simply happen to good people and there’s no sense or reason to it. Lives can be derailed and sometimes tragically never get back on the tracks.

But when the busy and self-centered nature of our lives fades to the background, and when all the noise is just so…noisy…that suddenly it sounds far off in the distance…in that place of great tragedy, I have felt that there is a hidden presence. A great comforter. Something – or someone – that is there, despite all logic and denial. And it is enough.   

“How is it enough?” You might ask. 

I can’t claim to have the explanation. It’s something that is simply felt; a raw and honest truth that is born from deep within, whispering to us that we are beautiful. We are loved. We are safe.

Contrary to logic, my husband and I have also felt glimmers of joy in the middle of this season of suffering… Not because we wanted to lose a child or felt relieved of all grief because he would never experience pain. Joy doesn’t come from those horrors… 

 

 

True, unbridled, unexpected joy openly presented itself to us through the love and compassion that we received from those who walked through this tragedy with us.

Thanks to loved ones checking on us, we felt glimmers of hope on the other side of exhausting, anxiety-riddled nights spent tossing and turning in our beds, awaiting whatever the future might hold. Friends who sent thoughtful gifts and messages of support from far and near helped us feel a little less lonely and scared while we sat at the doorstep of loss in the midst of an already-very-lonely pandemic. Because of social distancing no one ever stepped into my kitchen to hug me tightly while I cried, but it felt like they did, just the same. The love was so palpable and tender. So near.

Genuine compassion is rare…and we recognized in the middle of our deepest hurt that what we were receiving from others was one of the truest gifts possible in this short life of ours. For this, we are eternally grateful. Not everyone experiencing grief and loss has a solid support system. I know there are many lonely, hurting people out there in the world. To all of these people, and in particular, to women walking through an unexpected season of child loss from any reason – miscarriage, stillbirth, ending a wanted pregnancy, infant loss, or the death of a child at any age, young or old, I hope you know that a hidden presence exists near your suffering. You’re never truly alone.  

 

 

I’m battling fatigue from all this trauma alongside feelings of anxiety and grief every time that I catch a glimpse of the newly-forming scar in the center of my stomach. I know that there is a lot of work to do; physically to recover, mentally to become whole again, and spiritually to persevere and allow my scar to slowly…somehow…become beautiful. Today, my healing incision serves as a reminder of one of the hardest times of my life. It’s easy to resent the sight of it. But, as one who has recovered from trauma before, I know that pain can become beautiful. It’s peculiar how life can happen like that. And I know that wellness of all kinds is necessary for facilitating the metamorphosis. 

So, off I crawl…

Off I fly.

 

“Wounds don’t heal the way you want them to, they heal the way they need to. It takes time for wounds to fade into scars. It takes time for the process of healing to take place. Give yourself that time. Give yourself that grace. Be gentle with your wounds. Be gentle with your heart. You deserve to heal.” -Dele Olanubi

 

Yours in health and wellness,

Maggie 

 

 

 

 

 

How I Managed to Breastfeed Two Difficult Babies

Breastfeeding…ugh. Even after three collective years of doing it, I’m still baffled by how difficult it can be. Breastfeeding is by far and large the most challenging thing I’ve done in my life. Period. And that’s saying a lot for someone who has rehabbed an injured back following getting hit by a car. I’ve run several grueling marathons too. Breastfeeding still takes the cake. Unmedicated labor (I shudder in memory) or breastfeeding? I can’t believe I’m about to say it but yes, breastfeeding. But here’s the thing, through all the self-sacrifice and uphill battles to exclusively breastfeed, I would do it again for the next baby, if possible. It’s one of the things in my life that I’m most proud of. 

 

 

I’m sharing my stories and struggles today to shed light on how hard breastfeeding can be. It’s not always hard for every mom, but it was for me and I know it is for many. If it weren’t so complicated and if moms felt better supported then I imagine that the 4 out of 5 moms who start out nursing their newborns, presumably with the goal of breastfeeding, wouldn’t drop in numbers so drastically and quickly. By 3 months old only 50% of babies are still exclusively breastfed and by 6 months old only 25% still are. If you’re asking yourself,

“Why does it feel so hard, unnatural, exhausting, painful, time-consuming, emotional, lonely, etc. to feed my baby?”

…then you’re not alone. Many moms think this but shame themselves into keeping silent about it because they feel it’s a sign they are “bad moms.”

If you struggle with breastfeeding please hear me when I say:

You are NOT a bad mom.

We are all doing our best. End of story. I hope sharing my personal breastfeeding journey will help some tearful or tired mom out there to feel less lonely. There are many tips and tricks for successful nursing that you can read about on other websites such as KellyMom and United States Lactation Consultant Association, but that’s not my objective today. For now, we’re talking simply about you, mama, and the emotional experience of the whole boob and baby thing.

 

Breastfeeding Baby #1: Carter

My first son was born a full month early. As a new mom I was completely bewildered. He was so tiny – his fingers, toes, nose, and mouth. Mouth…mouth…if you’ve ever had pain from a full-term baby’s latch just imagine that pain with a smaller, preemie mouth. According to the Loire Infant Follow-up Team (LIFT) study, only 16% of premature babies were breastfeeding at the time of hospital discharge, an indication of how difficult it is to nurse them. Having a premature baby is overwhelming and taxing in more ways than I can list, and every mom is dealing with unique health challenges and concerns for their child. I got lucky that my son, Carter, didn’t have to spend any time in the NICU but not so lucky for the fact that he had jaundice that required returning to the hospital for a bilirubin treatment amid a colossal blizzard.

Despite everything, I was feeling very empowered about breastfeeding in the first few days of my son’s life…that is, until returning to the hospital and having to place Carter’s wet diapers in a plastic bin to be weighed throughout a sleepless night while snow stacked up over 10 feet high outside. Carter’s scrawny limbs flailed under the bilirubin lights and he wore nothing but a diaper. The urge to snuggle and swaddle him tore me apart. Carter was crying all night and trying to claw the protective eye wear off, despite multiple nurses’ attempts to change the fit and even tape it to his delicate skin. I was confused about how I was only supposed to take him out of the lights once every 2 hrs for 20 minutes when it took him about 40 minutes total to nurse at that point.

 

 

I started trying to pump for the first time (not recommended in the heat of stress and without proper support) so that I could bottle or syringe feed him under the lights. I proudly showed a nurse what I got from pumping for a few minutes and she shook her head and told me that it wasn’t much of anything and that “some moms will pump several ounces from each breast.” I will never forget how deflated I felt in that moment. I was trying my best in challenging circumstances and needed emotional support that was completely absent. In retrospect, I think I actually pumped a normal amount of milk for only a few days postpartum and a premature baby. That nurse should have boosted me up and encouraged me to keep honing my new craft. Instead, as can so often be the case, new moms are made to feel that their bodies are insufficient and can’t be trusted. This is so far from the truth that it brings me to tears.

That night, as my baby flailed under the bilirubin lights, I made a decision based solely on my maternal instinct, and which defied doctors’ orders. I let Carter nurse on/off all night long, with none of the called-for time restrictions, and I swaddled his arms to help him sleep, letting the light shine on his face and legs. I changed diapers under the lights too. Otherwise, and mostly, he was pulled to my breast as I fought off sleep with every weary muscle in my body. In the morning, Carter’s jaundice had improved enough to be discharged. In my most sincere opinion, it was because of the power of breastmilk, not the lights.

Did I mention that Carter was born with a tongue tie? Yes, well…this explains some of the difficulty nursing too, doesn’t it? A tongue tie makes it nearly impossible for a baby to latch and nurse properly, almost always causing severe pain and nipple bleeding for the mom. I can still recall how he would pull on and off, trying to find an effective latch. I had severe letdown pain each time that felt like someone stabbing a knife in my chest. I would practice deep breathing and wiggle my toes until he finally settled and the letdown pain subsided. I burned through so many tubes of nipple cream that first month while we waited for the procedure to resolve his tongue tie.

Those initial challenges were substantial and it was *very* tempting to quit. After the first month, my sore nipples healed and things settled a bit, but Carter being born early meant I needed to keep nursing him frequently through the night instead of letting him dictate the pace. By the time Carter weighed enough to go to on demand at night, he was so habituated to waking frequently that he never slept longer than a few hours until 6 months old when we did some sleep training. Sleep deprivation was and will continue to be the one thing that physically, mentally and emotionally wrecks me.

 

 

All the early struggles were followed by normal breastfeeding hurdles like teething, biting, feeding frenzies, pumping, etc. When I reached my 12-month goal for breastfeeding I was shocked that I wasn’t ready to wean. I kept counting down to Carter’s first birthday but then suddenly, weaning didn’t feel right. Nursing was finally snuggly, “easy,” and something I came to enjoy. Sitting down to rest after chasing a young toddler around and enjoying the sweet stillness together was absolutely lovely, even with toes dancing across my face and hands tangling my necklaces. I couldn’t believe how I had transformed: I turned into a mom who liked nursing and shed tears when the bond reached its conclusion when Carter was around 1.5 years old.

 

Breastfeeding Baby #2: Colby

When my second son arrived right on time at 40 weeks with a great latch from the start (unlike his older brother), I thought to myself: “I’ve got this. I’m a pro by now.” I really tried to boost my ego and relished in staying more laid back than the first time. We took our full-term baby home with no known health complications and celebrated that this time would be “easy.” Oh how wrong we were!

My second baby, Colby, was a content little guy. Except for 15-20 minutes of crying each night at 10 pm that first month, he was happy, slept well and nursed like a champ. Well, so I thought. Colby was gaining weight but not as quickly as the doctor wanted. He slipped a little from his growth curve but there was nothing of major concern. This confused me because I was very engorged at the time and felt I had an oversupply with a strong letdown. The pediatrician anticipated that the stress of traveling with my baby a month after his birth (I was matron of honor for my cousin’s wedding) had taken a toll on his feeding schedule and my milk supply. I worked hard to add nursing sessions when we got back home, even though my baby didn’t seem to demand them. In retrospect, this is when I needed to get with a private lactation consultant. The hospital-led lactation support group I attended was warm and fuzzy but not helpful enough.

 

 

Around the second month of Colby’s life we were told that he needed to be put in a rhino brace for clicking hips. This is protocol for hip dysplasia and although Colby didn’t have full-blown hip dysplasia he was at risk for it, ironically the result of his tight positioning in the womb (which hadn’t been fully stretched in my prior pregnancy due to pre-term labor). I could always tell that Colby’s latch majorly suffered once in the rhino brace, especially on one side due to torticolis that would be soon diagnosed, but I was so sleep deprived and the hip brace was such an ordeal to take on and off all day for diaper and outfit changes that the latch issue slipped to the back of my mind. To this day, I wish that it hadn’t.

By the time Colby’s hip brace was no longer needed he had dropped precipitously in weight and had reached the 3rd percentile, perhaps in part due to increasing reflux that was made worse by the brace. Even still, I couldn’t understand – I know what I’m doing, right? I successfully breastfed another child for 1.5 years already! My dilemma just goes to show how every baby is wildly different, even for veteran moms, and that breastfeeding must be flexible and responsive. I was very grateful that the pediatrician never guilt-tripped or shamed me for Colby’s weight struggles, and she never threw out that ugly term “failure to thrive.” Except for his weight, Colby was thriving beyond my expectations. The feisty little guy was rolling BOTH directions by 8 weeks old and started social smiling at a month old when he first heard “Canon in D” by Pachelbel. His curiosity and energy felt unsurpassed for such a little man.

At the 3 month postpartum mark a talented LC finally came to my home and gave me the rundown of what it would take to get my milk supply and Colby’s weight back up. Let me tell you this: It was NOT easy. Her plan was for me to breastfeed 10x/day, supplementing with donor breastmilk after 6 of the feedings. I was to pump to empty any time my breasts didn’t feel drained and I had to pump after nighttime feedings. Basically, I had zero time for anything except breastfeeding, bottle feeding and pumping. In addition, I took fenugreek and did breast compressions for every feeding. There were times I wasn’t convinced I could do it. It was insanely hard, especially at that point when most moms have the luxury of longer nights of sleep and less rigorous nursing schedules. I felt exhausted and guilty that it was difficult to tend to my older son.

Gradually, I was able to drop the bottle feedings and my son still gained weight (.75-1 oz/day) on my milk alone, even though he didn’t drop from 10 to 8 feedings/day until 7 months old, probably thanks to the introduction of solids. Right as I finally took a big sigh of relief, Colby began teething like crazy, waging nursing strikes, and pulling off the breast any time his big brother was around, eager to play instead of eat. I felt like I might go mad! All my hard work was in jeopardy. We pulled through the rough patch but the exhaustion and emotional toll finally set in. I began seeing a therapist for postpartum anxiety and I’m so glad that I got support. Frankly, I wish I had gotten it sooner.

 

 

Colby is now 17 months old and still nursing twice a day, morning and night. It’s mostly comfort nursing, not nutritional, but it’s a snuggly time that we both enjoy. I’m proud that we weathered the storm and can’t believe that I actually went from under supply to over supply around the 1-year mark. Small pumping sessions, getting just a few ounces each time, added up to roughly 150 ounces of breastmilk for my freezer stash. I could scarcely believe it! I have never been one of those moms who pumps a ton so for me, this was a true accomplishment and the result of my tireless efforts.

It was such an honor to be able to donate 100 ounces of *my breastmilk* this summer to a mom who had to leave her 6-month old to go serve our country. I couldn’t think of a more important thing to do with it than pay it forward. Once upon a time, a mom donated to me and now, I get to return that kindness to another mom who needs support. How amazing is that? (Not to mention, free!)

 

 

Takeaways

Breastfeeding is a two-way relationship between mom and baby. Sometimes you do everything “right” and it’s still hard. Some moms have milk that is very fatty and caloric while other moms have milk more like skim milk, packing fewer calories per ounce. Some moms have difficult babies with violent reflux like Colby developed and others have babies that are ravenous eaters like my Carter was, making even congenital obstacles less insurmountable.

Every mom’s set of circumstances is completely different. We have different birth stories, goals, careers, emotional needs, spouses, levels of support, babies of various temperaments, and more. I can’t argue that breastfeeding is going to work out for every mom’s life circumstances, but I can say with some measure of oomph that breastfeeding is a great way to set a child up for wellness which is why, despite every obstacle and setback, I committed to breastfeeding/breastmilk, even when that took another mom helping me out.

I think most women would be surprised to find that casual milk sharing and donations are relatively common. Support does exist but it seldom walks through our front door. Moms and their loved ones must collectively bond and work to support the breastfeeding relationship and the mom’s breastfeeding goals, whatever they may be. Without this support, many women will only know the experience of nursing a newborn and not the complex bond that forms from nursing an older baby throughout its first year (or more) of life.

Even with ample support, there is no one secret answer for making breastfeeding work. It takes grit, perseverance and a lot of self sacrifice. 

Y’all…breastfeeding is hard. End of story. Anyone who commits to it, even for a very short while, deserves a damn medal.

Yours in health & wellness,

Maggie

 

 

Encouragement for Moms Struggling to Lose Weight

As if we needed any reminders that mothering is hard, we now have a pandemic that’s hammering that message into our sleep-deprived mom brains. Caring for babies is an around-the-clock job, toddlers have excessive energy-expending needs and curious little brains (“Why do the scientists say the parks have to be closed?”), and I hear from moms with teenagers that “the moods” are quite real. Our plates are full and our cups overflowing, but often with chores and responsibilities for others instead of ourselves. Of all times in our lives, it’s now officially more difficult to exercise than ever before. Case in point: Me, a fitness professional.

 

 

At the start of this whole thing, my 1-year old was taking an hour nap each morning, allowing me to exercise in the driveway with my 4-year old or plop him in front of an activity or show while my husband worked on his computer and I hit the neighborhoods sidewalks to release all my pint-up energy on a good run. But then my 1-year old entered that dreaded nap purgatory where nothing seemed to work because he wasn’t quite ready for one nap but two naps felt like too much. Plus, hello molars. Enough said.

My morning workouts now start earlier than I’m used to, often before breakfast is fully digested, or they’re shoved into 20 minutes mid-morning while my 1-yr old does “quiet time” in his crib with some books and music. On the occasion that I try to workout with my youngest around, he usually climbs on me during planks, snuggles my face during mat work, and throws balls at my legs during squats. He routinely pulls at my yoga mat and makes it impossible to complete a single set of anything because he is climbing between my legs and onto my stomach as though trying to crawl back into my womb. No thanks, buddy. This whole exercise without childcare thing is really hard. It takes patience and consistency, but also flexibility.

Not only are our exercise schedules and access to fitness equipment different right now, but also our ADLs have changed. ADL stands for activities of daily living. Mine often include running a bunch of errands, shuttling my children to activities and parks (and then chasing after them), house chores, yard work/gardening, and general at-home childcare. With stay-at-home restrictions in place, the first few items on that list have evaporated and in truth, that’s where I burn just as much energy as in the gym.

 

 

Less energy expenditure on a daily basis and low-grade anxiety over the whole covid crisis have caused me to gain back three pounds that I had been recently really proud of myself for losing since they dropped me lower than my pre-pregnancy weight. Three pounds doesn’t sound like much and in the big picture, it isn’t. But if a fitness professional (me) can easily gain weight during times of stress and change, it stands to reason that another woman might possibly gain even more. Full transparency: Those three pounds were gained in the first month of quarantine, so that’s almost a pound a week. You can see how this becomes problematic if it continues, easily turning into 10 lbs, 15 lbs, 20 lbs…etc.

I’m here to tell you a little secret: It’s okay.

I don’t care if you’ve gained 5 lbs or 50 lbs, my message to you is the same: Really, I promise, it’s okay.

We often shame ourselves into thinking we’re terrible people when we gain weight but the shame-and-blame game is tired and unfair. Sometimes, the best thing we can do is address the reality of our weight gain:

I’m having a hard time. Something is emotionally difficult for me right now.

It might be grief, shame, anxiety, sadness, loneliness, jealousy, fear, anger, self-pity, boredom, social rejection or something else. What is on your list of tough emotions?

I’m not trained in Psychology so I’m not here to explicitly tell you how to sort through your emotions but I am here to say that your emotions can be identified and talked about. And they can be separated from your body’s experience, to an extent.

The pounds on the scale tell a story. Once you identify what that story is then you can take the steps towards making amends with your body. Addressing and working through your emotions and life obstacles with a qualified mental health professional might be the ultimate difference maker in your weight loss journey. Self care measures including leaning into your faith, family and friends might free you up emotionally to focus on your health at last.

 

 

It doesn’t matter how much weight you’ve gained, you have control over whether or not it comes off. I know this truth is hard to internalize so let me say it again:

You have control. And if it doesn’t feel like it then take it back for yourself! You deserve it! 

As you work through your emotions and establish self care practices, you will free up your energy to focus on your body’s health without fear or shame – and perhaps you will even start to feel pride and joy!

I’ve seen countless women lose weight only to regain it back. It’s not really because they started eating donuts at the office again or slackened their workout regimen, it’s because feelings of worth weren’t cemented as the foundation of their health. Self worth, love and respect usually need to be in place in order for us to maintain a healthy weight. Losing weight isn’t all that complicated, we just tell ourselves it is because deep down we’re scared of failing or we don’t feel worthy.

But you are. Worthy.

Here are a few of my professional recommendations for losing weight to help you get started. Guess what? None have anything to do with exercise.

 

 

These are measures which set the stage for effective weight loss before lifting even a single hand weight or stepping on the treadmill:

1. Identify emotions that keep you in a weight gain cycle or prevent you from losing weight – this takes courage and being honest with yourself

2. Write a list of 3 daily self care routines you can lean into to help you counter these negative emotions and experiences

3. Consider talking to a professional or counselor, or perhaps confide in a friend or spiritual mentor

4. Increase your ADLS – activities of daily living, or anything you do throughout your daily, weekly and monthly routines that involves movement but isn’t considered “formal” exercise. 

    • Ex: walking the dog, cleaning the house, yard work/gardening, childcare and playing outdoors with children, errands that involve walking/lifting/carrying, caring for a loved one who is physically dependent on you, lovemaking (yup! it burns energy!), cooking dinner instead of ordering, chores, etc.

5. Get enough sleep to reduce inflammation, balance hormones and enable nervous system recovery

6. Start taking steps towards healthy nutrition;

    • Shop the periphery of the grocery store for fresh meats and produce
    • Choose meals you can cook or make at home that are easy and healthy (ex: I do some kind of fish, a roasted veggie and a rice/quinoa/cous cous or sweet potato 3x/week to free up my energy to be more creative for a few other meals)
    • Have healthy snacks on hand (ex: hard boiled eggs, fruit, nuts, yogurt, protein powder)
    • Choose a style of eating you enjoy for your lifestyle. Ex: Schedule snack times if you enjoy eating often or set your “feeding window” if you prefer large, infrequent meals in keeping with intermittent fasting.  No one way is the best way to eat. The “best” approach to nutrition is what will work for YOU.

7. Find a spiritual outlet. I’m a big believer that all people have a spiritual need to connect to each other and something bigger than ourselves in a heartfelt, intangible way. This might be enjoying a traditional religious service, prayer or custom, or it might be selecting a mantra or meditation routine that speaks to you. Omkar chanting, burning sage, placing crystals in your home, striking a Tibetan singing bowl – anything is better than nothing. Honor that place and space within yourself that is already above this world and connected to more.

 

 

Courageously jump-starting a weight loss journey must start from a place of wellness in order to last. We won’t always be able to enjoy our “perfect” workout routine so relying on exercise alone for weight management entails a high level of risk. I hope you can stay encouraged by all the other ways you can kickoff the weight loss process before setting foot in the gym again (because let’s be real…we are stuck in a pandemic that could last a while).

Cheers to your health and its priority during this moment in history! Moms, you deserve the best.

Yours in health and wellness,

Maggie

 

 

How I Lost the Baby Weight (Again)

It’s important to start off by saying that my ability to lose the baby weight within the first six months postpartum has very little to do with the fact that I’m a fitness professional. I haven’t used any voodoo magic for my body or resorted to any intensive training programs to lose weight. I also haven’t done any formal diets or eating plans to lose weight. You might be wondering how this is possible then…how does a woman lose the extra pounds after baby is born? Here are my three main guiding principles when coaching postpartum women back to pre-baby health (I use them for myself too):

  1. Be gentle and give yourself LOTS of grace
  2. Stay consistent (when possible) and remember that there is no perfect day for exercise, only the determination to make time for it
  3. Find eating and exercise habits that jive with your lifestyle and that are enjoyable to you 

There are many approaches to losing the baby weight and the only one that is “right” is the one that speaks to you. This is why I customize every single workout plan and session according to each mother’s individual needs (PS – if you need any prenatal or postpartum support feel free to check out my Services).

 

 

Some women enjoy structured eating and exercise plans, and that’s fine too! Many of my clients desire a well laid-out program so they know what they’re working towards. The only caveat is that the first 6-12 months of motherhood are anything but predictable. Each month brings unique health and schedule challenges/milestones so it’s important to stay flexible and pivot when necessary. For this reason, I don’t personally put the pressure of any structured weight loss plans on my own postpartum agenda but I still aim to drop weight.

The following lays out my approach for postpartum weight loss after baby #2. As you will see, it’s very gradual, progressive and flexible, adapting month to month as my postpartum needs and energy changed. Perhaps this will help you remove a little bit of stress from your own postpartum weight loss journey or will inspire you to realize that it doesn’t have to be very formal or complicated.

 

Background: My Postpartum Life

I want to briefly share about my first six months postpartum as a mother of two. It has been unspeakably hard at times but not impossible. I know lots of moms have things way harder. That said, my baby has had multiple health complications including subluxating hips. He had to wear a rhino hip brace 24/7 during his second month of life. It affected his latch and caused my milk supply to tank so I had to get a LC and milk donor’s help for a while. At month three, right when life started to feel a little normal again, I had to return to a newborn nursing schedule. So, I’ve basically been on a newborn feeding schedule of every 1.5-2 hours for half a year. Thank heavens he finally dropped down to 7-8 feedings/day! #momwin

My baby also [still] has torticolis which has affected his neck positioning for nursing and sleep. I take him to a chiropractor every week and monthly physical therapy along with daily home exercises. In addition, this poor child has reflux that coats everything within a close radius. It’s a rare hour of the day that I’m not wearing something covered in colorful spit ups (yaaayyyy solid foods…ugh) All of this is the big stuff, to say nothing of the little challenges or oh yea, continuing to parent a strong-willed three-year old. Side Note: The threes are when things get painfully real. Anyone else?

Why do I mention this?

To show you that my life isn’t perfect. I don’t have tons of time on my hands and there are many days that I would rather just throw my hands up in the air and surrender. But I’ve continued to commit to my health and bite off small workouts and healthy meals/snacks where and when I can. That’s all. That’s the secret: Commitment. That one simple commitment to myself, even on the hectic and sleep-deprived days, is why I’ve been able to lose the baby weight. And you can too!

I’m at my goal weight now. It’s not my skinniest size but it’s my pre-pregnancy weight that is easy to sustain and which keeps healthy stores of fat and nutrients for my body as it continues to provide fuel (aka mama’s milk) for another life. If I gain or lose a couple pounds then I’m still in a happy place. Stressing about getting to my “smallest” would be too much pressure right now and would likely compromise my immune system and milk supply – neither of which is ideal or necessary during the first year.

 

 

The First Month Postpartum – Recovery Mode

The first month of motherhood is filled with almost as many trips to the bathroom as the third trimester, except that the process takes way longer (moms, you feel me). The graveyard shift with baby is exhausting following labor or a C-section delivery and life is forever altered for couples who were formerly childless and big siblings who have to learn what it means to have a new family member hogging all of Mom’s attention. The first month is such a roller coaster of sleep deprivation and emotions that it’s remarkable when women make it past their home’s front step. There should be zero pressure to get back into shape or to resume exercise so soon after baby. But…

If you exercised during pregnancy or even if you didn’t but feel stir-crazy or the baby blues, some light walking and exercising is generally fine if the mother isn’t suffering from complications. Taking things at a very slow pace is critical though. Your body will tell you in more ways than one when you overdo it that first 4-6 weeks. A simple stroll around the neighborhood or gentle stretches and exercises on your bedroom floor are the way to go.

Exercise:

I enjoyed getting outside for a few walks with my three-year old during our unseasonably warm end of winter. It gave my legs a chance to stretch and it was a great opportunity to show my oldest that I was still able to spend quality time with just him. On days I didn’t go on a walk I usually did anywhere between 5-20 minutes of gentle movement before hopping in the shower. That movement plus the shower became my “me time” and helped me feel rejuvenated each day. I kept things very simple and focused on stretching, gentle flow-based yoga, deep breathing, modified core exercises and planks, and hip stability exercises such as bridges and clamshells. The goal was to support my loose ligaments and open up my posture following the stress of labor and breastfeeding.

Diet:

During the first month there were zero food restrictions – nor should there be, in my opinion! You just had a freaking baby!! I allowed myself to eat to my personal delight and satisfaction. I enjoyed each and every home-cooked meal and baked good that friends and neighbors dropped by and ate a several-hundred calorie snack in the middle of the night each night to satiate my ravenous appetite! It was glorious even though I knew it wouldn’t, couldn’t and shouldn’t last that way for long.

 

 

Postpartum Months 2-6

Exercise:

As I regained stamina and strength, I gradually increased the intensity of my workouts. During months two and three I began to incorporate low-impact exercise on cardio equipment at the gym for short periods of time and low-resistance strength training. Once I felt I had the hip, core and pelvic floor strength necessary was when I finally let myself go out for a brief and very slow jog. I refrained from running during my second pregnancy so that first postpartum jog marked the end to the longest period of time in my entire adolescent and adult life combined without running. And ohhhh my goodness….everything hurt. The next day I was so sore that – *confession time* – I popped one of my postpartum pain pills to go to sleep that night. Yikes! Thankfully it didn’t take long to feel better but I did limit myself to just one run a week until month four, for the sake of my pelvic floor health (and I would encourage a lot of women to consider doing the same).

Around month four I allowed myself to run a little more and I began to increase the intensity of my workouts across all fronts. I let my heart rate go higher when I had the energy for it and I let the weights get heavier. I will admit that I had a few setbacks due to low back pain but most of it was due to a lack of spinal rejuvenation during sleepless nights and poor breastfeeding posture around month three. I continued to refrain from HIIT workouts and anything too strenuous that could compromise my immune system. My goal was to exercise four times a week, sometimes five, for anywhere between 30-45 minutes at the most. At least two days were dedicated to full recovery every week. We’re talking extra sleep (thanks to my husband) and lounging on the couch for a breath or two before one of my small humans made demands of me.

As you can see, this exercise approach was gentle and progressive. It allowed me to pick which days I had energy to go for a run and when I just needed 15 minutes of yoga and a hot shower. It was simple and low pressure, and I believe those are the reasons it worked. Being a mom is pressure enough without an overly prescriptive weight loss plan on top!

Diet: 

I stayed as flexible as possible about my postpartum diet, pivoting my approach to eating month to month. As mentioned, I ate like a happy cow during the first month but eventually I could tell my appetite wasn’t that strong anymore and I was only eating larger portions out of habit. I decided to cut back portion sizes and tossed a few leftover baked goods in the trash. I found that I was comfortable cutting my middle of the night snack in half and it was rarely necessary by the end of the second month.

I got a little bit discouraged when month three rolled around. The weight wasn’t dropping off as much as I would have liked and certainly not as fast as it did after my first baby. I had 12 lbs left to lose compared to only a few pounds at that point after my first baby. I decided to watch my macronutrients. I was honest with myself about my carb intake being too high so I focused on having protein-based snacks in the morning and afternoon to fill me up and keep me from mindless snacking. I also ramped up healthy fats in my diet.

Watching my macros helped me drop about half a pound a week. By month four I was feeling a little impatient so I turned to the tried-and-true method of calorie counting. I never had under 2000 calories/day because of breastfeeding and exercising but I made sure I wasn’t eating say 2500-3000+ calories (except maybe one day of the week because we went out to dinner and I let myself eat a big meal and have a couple glasses of wine). The weight started to come off at a faster rate of about a pound a week. By month 6 I was back at my pre-pregnancy weight and feeling happy with my figure again. That said, my belly button still looks stretched out and I’m carrying a little fat around my middle that I know from experience won’t fall off until I’m better rested and my baby has weaned. But I’m happy!

I never did anything too drastic or cut out any food groups or treats. I basically eat dessert every day, enjoy carbs and relish in my weekly allotment of a couple glasses of wine. I’m a normal person! And that’s all there is to it. If you accept being normal (flaws, cravings and all) and let the process be organic then you may be surprised at how much weight you can lose and effectively keep off. You win a million times over again when you tweak your exercise and diet plan according to your own needs and lifestyle.

 

My little critters deserve a mom who prioritizes her own needs too!

 

These Are a Few of My Favorite Foods

When I take a step back to look at my diet I guess you could say it’s mostly a Mediterranean style of eating. I enjoy a lot of fish, fruits and vegetables (and olives!). I’m not sharing these lists to say that you should eat these foods too. I’m just trying to help spark foodspiration! In my opinion, eating should be pleasurable! Find what foods and style of eating work for you.

 

Carbs I Eat & Love Every Day:

Rolled or Steel-Cut Oats, Banana, Apple, Raspberries, Blueberries, Salad Greens, Sweet Potatoes, Fresh Raw/Steamed/Baked Vegetables (Favs; brussel sprouts, green beans, bell peppers, kale, carrots, arugula, broccoli)

 

Proteins I Eat & Love Every Day:

From Land (chicken, turkey, pork or beef) – OR – From Sea (usually salmon, cod, tuna or shrimp), Also; Hardboiled eggs or egg whites, Whey protein isolate or Pea protein powder once a day

 

Fats I Eat & Love Every Day:

Rotation of Almonds/cashews/peanuts/pistachios, Avocado, Olives and/or olive oil, Ground flaxseed

 

Daily Indulgences for My Sweet Tooth:

A.M. – Mug of coffee with coconut creamer and organic stevia, P.M – Mug of unsweetened chocolate almond milk with a square of 95% dark chocolate

 

I hope you can see that I’m not doing anything dramatic or challenging. I’ve simply found healthy foods I enjoy in a variety of food groups and portion control them in my diet. I enjoy exercise on the majority of the days of the week but I play things by ear according to my energy and sleep needs too. There’s nothing wrong with following a weight loss program (heck, I’m even happy to be the one to design it for ya!) but there’s also nothing wrong with living mom life and accepting imperfect plans while loving on your perfect and new little person.

 

Yours in health and wellness,
Maggie

What I Did Differently in My 2nd Pregnancy (and why)

As a fitness professional, I’m hyper-vigilant about documenting little details regarding my wellness and changing body. I have charts and notes recording mileage and training plans from various marathons, bulking/cutting programs, my bridal workout plan, and both pregnancies, to name a few. I’ve come to appreciate these notes, even while admitting they’re a bit over the top. Referring to them has led to some helpful insights, especially in regards to my first pregnancy.

I kept detailed notes on every week’s symptoms throughout my first pregnancy (with my son Carter, now a true “threenager” whose favorite angsty response to questions is “nothin”). That pregnancy ended abruptly when I experienced PROMS at 36 weeks 2 days (Premature Rupture of Membranes – aka my water breaking before full term). My mom had my oldest brother at 6 weeks early, for no apparent reason and without any strong risk factors, so I suppose I had filed away the possibility of an early baby in some remote corner of my mind, but it still shook my world. I didn’t have any risk factors for preterm labor outside of my mom’s single experience (the rest of us kids were full term). So, when approaching the preconception planning of a second child I was torn on whether or not to accept the advice that OB after OB gave me; to receive weekly progesterone shots throughout the pregnancy to reduce the risk of preterm labor.

 

 

If I had given birth a few weeks earlier than 36 weeks (which is considered “late preterm”), then I think I would have accepted the progesterone shots without question. But I felt like I was so close to full term that maybe…just maybe…if I looked back over my pregnancy notes and did copious amounts of evidence-based research, I could consider alternatives. As it turned out, my notes were very revealing and made me realize a couple of things; 1) my cervix is very sensitive when pregnant so internal checks and even sex can trigger changes more rapidly for my body than other women’s, and 2) my signs of preterm labor began around weeks 34-35, a time when progesterone temporarily dips down in pregnancy before jumping back to new highs in the last month.

I had to ask myself a difficult question:

Could I risk going against doctors’ advice and try natural approaches for preventing preterm labor and increasing progesterone throughout all 40 weeks of gestation? Could I live with myself if my actions didn’t work out? Could I live with myself if I didn’t try to let my body self-regulate with a little extra TLC from a healthy lifestyle? 

I decided to give Mother Nature one more shot… and I delivered my second baby at exactly 40 weeks. I can’t be sure that my actions deserve credit for a full term birth – it might just be happenstance or luck. And I can’t recommend that women at risk for preterm labor do the same. But I can share my story a bit and help women consider all the ways we can help our bodies along, regardless of whether we’re also using additional medical interventions, like progesterone treatments, to prevent preterm labor.

To start, let’s talk a bit about what preterm labor is and how to identify it…

Disclaimer: The contents of this article are not medical advice. If you have concerns about preterm labor you should contact your medical provider to discuss your risk factors. If you believe you are currently experiencing symptoms of preterm labor contact your medical provider or call 911 immediately.  

 

36 weeks 2 days…aka day one of my oldest son’s life

 

Preterm labor

*All information in this section is quoted directly from the March of Dimes.

Definition: Babies born before 37 weeks.

According to the March of Dimes, signs of preterm labor in a pregnant woman may include:

  • Change in your vaginal discharge (watery, mucus or bloody) or more vaginal discharge than usual
  • Pressure in your pelvis or lower belly, like your baby is pushing down
  • Constant low, dull backache
  • Belly cramps with or without diarrhea
  • Regular or frequent contractions that make your belly tighten like a fist. The contractions may or may not be painful.
  • Your water breaks

 

 A few of the top risk factors for preterm labor include:

  1. You’ve had a premature baby in the past.
  2. You’re pregnant with multiples (twins, triplets or more).
  3. You have problems with your uterus or cervix now or you’ve had them in the past.

 

Medical risk factors before pregnancy for preterm labor and premature birth:

  • Being underweight or overweight before pregnancy. This can include having an eating disorder, like anorexia or bulimia.
  • Having a family history of premature birth. This means someone in your family (like your mother, grandmother or sister) has had a premature baby. If you were born prematurely, you’re more likely than others to give birth early.
  • Getting pregnant again too soon after having a baby. For most women it’s best to wait at least 18 months before getting pregnant again. Talk to your provider about the right amount of time for you.

 

Coming home from the hospital with baby #1 (my son Carter)

 

Things I Did Differently in My Pregnancies

Although I did a lot of things differently in my second pregnancy, there are a few things I did the same that I feel are worth mentioning first. In both of my pregnancies I avoided smoking and alcohol. Some moms feel like by the third trimester the baby is “fully baked” and an occasional glass of wine or beer won’t do any harm. I can see the logic, and to each their own, but I feel that the evidence regarding baby brain growth accelerating in the third trimester (the brain triples in weight!) is enough to confirm that I don’t want to flirt with any toxins beyond an occasional “taste sip” of someone else’s beverage.

In both pregnancies I followed a healthy diet, eating plenty of fruits, veggies, lean proteins and healthy fats (plus a daily sweet indulgence after dinner!), and maintained an exercise regimen focusing on lots of hip and core stabilization. Lastly, as is my nature, I nested like a crazy person both times. My husband may be experiencing PTSD from my latest “honey do” list that had him scrambling up ladders, re-caulking our kitchen, and car shopping for a new vehicle. 

The things I did differently the second time I was pregnant were primarily actions driven by the desire to avoid another preterm labor. As mentioned, it’s impossible to say whether these actions influenced my body’s ability to get to full-term this time around or if I was always going to have a second baby at full term. Either way, these natural approaches to preventing preterm labor are ones any woman can incorporate into her prenatal care after talking to her OB about her personal risks for preterm labor and whether or not progesterone shots are strongly encouraged for her…

C-Reactive Protein

This protein can be high in a mother’s bloodstream because of acute or chronic infections, and may be the reason why women with urinary tract infections during pregnancy are more susceptible to preterm labor. C-reactive protein is a marker of inflammation but it can be lowered and controlled by a Mediterranean diet, adequate vitamin C, and probiotics. Hence, I tried to eat fruits higher in vitamin C during my pregnancy (kiwi, strawberries and citrus), started a new, higher CFU probiotic designed for prenatal health, and made sure that I ate the maximum allowance of low-mercury fish for pregnant women alongside other healthy fats like nuts, flax, avocados and olive oil.

Omega 3s

There is some evidence that an increase in Omega 3 fatty acids can help reduce the risk of preterm labor primarily thanks to their effect on balancing prostaglandins (which help the cervix ripen in preparation for labor and help the uterus contract – hence a better balance of this hormone would do the reverse and slow down physical preparations for labor). Thanks to this research, I made sure to bump up my Omega 3s, starting with adding a serving of ground flaxseed to my morning oatmeal.

 

Mega-Hydration

Uterine irritability can be triggered by dehydration. I was informed of this when I went in to the labor and delivery unit at 24 weeks with pregnancy #2. I was throwing up uncontrollably thanks to a virus that my toddler and husband had been ill with just a couple days prior. They only suffered a fever and lack of appetite whereas my body went into full-blown chaos; fever, chills, violent vomiting, etc. While I was getting treatment for an anti-nausea medication at the hospital the nurses hooked my belly up to monitors to assess potential contractions. Extreme dehydration can throw some women into preterm labor or labor because uterus begins to experience contractions. My belly wasn’t contracting in full but it was “irritable” – aka experiencing an abnormal amount of tightening that could potentially progress to contractions. The nurse who was caring for me sent me home with one of those giant hospital cups that has a handle and straw, and that holds up to 32 ounces when full. She told me to drink 3-4 of them a day in addition to my other beverages. I was a bit shocked by the volume but took it to heart and can say with certainty that I stayed better hydrated in my second pregnancy than my first.  (Summary:  To prevent uterine irritability and contractions drink at least 10-12 cups water/day.)

 

Coming home from the hospital with baby #2 (my son Colby)

 

Dental Health

Believe it or not, it’s true; challenges in dental health (ex: gingivitis) can contribute to preterm labor. Say whaaaa? Yup, bacteria from the mouth actually migrates to the placenta and can cause inflammation that can trigger preterm labor. Most women who experience a direct correlation between poor dental health and experiencing preterm labor are women who haven’t had proper dental care, but that being said, it never hurts to cross your T’s and dot your I’s. This is why, despite not having any former dental problems, I became extra diligent about brushing my teeth for a long time and flossing each day during pregnancy. Admittedly, my flossing habits were in need of some improvement.

 

No High-Intensity Interval Training

We’ve known for a while that exercise can impact hormones. It helps women who are estrogen dominant become more balanced and it releases feel-good hormones like endorphins. Men and women benefit from a boost in testosterone during exercise too. Changes in body composition in response to exercise bring additional benefits for the endocrine system. As it turns out, progesterone is yet another hormone that can be impacted by exercise…more specifically, it can be lowered by high-intensity interval training (HIIT).

During my first pregnancy I did a couple HIIT workouts each week – it was my jam. I always kept my heart rate within safe ranges and I knew how to modify high-impact and intense exercises for safety. It felt like I was doing no harm. In retrospect, maybe that kind of exercise wasn’t the best. If nothing else, it didn’t kill me to put it on the back burner during my second pregnancy, plus I think my pelvic floor enjoyed a rest from high-impact moves – and for that, my body is already saying thanks (and I’m only 2.5 weeks postpartum!).

 

Lowered Physical Stress

Studies show that women who spend 5+ hours on their feet each day are at a higher risk for preterm labor. This is a tough pill to swallow for a busy body like myself who works in fitness. With this knowledge in my back pocket, I worked to lower physical stress during my second pregnancy. I took more naps and got off my feet when I was fatigued instead of powering onward in my stubborn determination to get stuff done. It was difficult to discipline myself at first but with a toddler to care for, this may have ended up becoming my saving grace.

 

Delayed TTC

Women who wait 18 months from giving birth to one child to conceiving another are at less risk for preterm labor. In other words, any woman who gives birth to or gets pregnant with subsequent children in under 1.5 years is at a higher risk for a preterm baby. Hence, I took my time gradually weaning my son around a year and a half old and let my hormones stabilize for a few months before jumping into the TTC roller coaster for the second time.

 

Right to Refuse Internal Prenatal Checks

It’s hard to feel like we have a right to deny basic prenatal routines like internal cervical checks in the third trimester – but as mothers, we totally can reserve that right! You have full control over the process and no one can force you to do something you’re not comfortable with. I was thrilled when I told my OB that I was concerned internal checks might cause my water to break early again (it broke a handful of hours after an internal check in my first pregnancy). Thankfully, my OB understood my concerns and said that internal checks don’t do a lot for most of the third trimester except satisfy curiosity. I was blissfully in the dark until 39.5 weeks when I got my first check and discovered I was already 4 cm dilated! (So *that’s* what the random back pain and cramps were at 38 weeks – early labor contractions!).

 

 

Visualization

I’m not sure if there’s any science to pointing to visualization helping you get to full-term in pregnancy but I will hang my hat on how a difference in my mindset facilitated a healthier and longer pregnancy the second time around. I was so anxious and ready to be “at the end” in my first pregnancy. Perhaps that caused me to have higher inflammation, push harder, ask for more internal checks and more. There are a number of ways this could have caused me to treat my pregnancy differently. I’m so glad that I wanted nothing but to be extremely (even painfully) pregnant instead of having a preterm baby in my arms. This mindset drove small daily actions that I believe added up and helped me achieve a healthy pregnancy.

 

I did a few other things differently in my second pregnancy too, like avoiding most decaf coffee brands due to how the beans are decaffeinated using chemical solvents and requesting that I be allowed to drink an organic fruit juice drink for my prenatal glucose screening instead of that nasty, unhealthy orange drink they offer in the office. I also stood my ground in labor and delivery, electing to avoid pitocin and an epidural and marveling in shock (and pain) when my natural labor efforts jumped me from 6 cm dilated to 10 cm in one contraction (in a warm bathtub!).

It wasn’t always comfortable trying to do things differently for my second pregnancy but it was well worth it (just check out the sweet, healthy glow of my full-term baby boy Colby!).

 

Worth the wait for this little sweetie

 

(Please forgive any typos…still only a couple weeks postpartum over here! See y’all in a few months for some fresh content…okay…maybe even longer…we’ll see how mothering two headstrong boys shakes out.)

 

Yours in health and wellness,

Maggie