The Leading Cause of the Postpartum Depression Epidemic and the Rise of Autoimmune Diseases
Our modern world has failed to understand how radically unique the postpartum body is that we are on the verge of destroying the very mothers this time transforms.
In our busy life, we take great pride in being able to return to the normalcy of life before baby as if having a child didn’t change a thing.
In reality, growing a life within changes us mothers so deeply, that even the very cells in our body are forever altered.
If you are in the first 3 years postpartum, stick around. Because this is blog series is going to be just as valuable to you as it will be to the mama who’s pregnant or in the first few weeks post-birth.
In pregnancy, much has been done to understand nutrition and the best way to support our growing baby. The science and wisdom for postpartum however, has been practically dismissed.
Worse is that it’s assumed that one should simply continue eating as they had done before pregnancy, or better yet, as they had done during pregnancy.
Nothing is further from the truth.
In fact, eating in postpartum is counter-intuitive to everything you are being told right now.
When you look at the symptoms of postpartum moms and the significant amount of discomforts they experience, one has to ask the question “is this supposed to be difficult or is there a far better way?”
In looking deeper into what postpartum mothers often experience, we see over 30% of moms go through depression. That doesn’t include the women who keep silent or don’t know they are in the fog until it lifts.
This statistic doesn’t account for postpartum anxiety, postpartum bi-polar, psychosis, OCD, or any other mental health challenges that develops post birth.
These mental health disruptions effect how we raise our baby, interact with our partner and the world around us, how we handle stress, and so much more.
The effects of postpartum mental health challenges are serious and they leave lasting impression. With rates soaring so high, it’s a wonder why it hasn’t been called an epidemic, or better yet, a global crisis.
Of further concern, and one of the more serious postpartum epidemics, is that of autoimmune diseases. Women are at a significant risk for getting a serious life-altering disease, where her own body attacks itself, after having given birth.
One study connected having a cesarean to a 30% increased risk for developing an autoimmune disease within the first few years after having a child.
Not only are these life altering, they are downright difficult, expensive, and life-threatening (autoimmune disease means a much greater risk of developing cancer as well).
Surprisingly, much of this is can be tied directly to the way we nourish (or don’t nourish) our body in postpartum.
To understand why this is happening, it’s critical that you fully understand the seven key misconceptions of postpartum nutrition.
When you fully comprehend these ideas as the false information they are, you can begin the process of healing your postpartum deeply, while helping protect the body from disease and mental health challenges.
These 7 misconceptions are so big and life-altering that I’m going to be breaking them down into bit size pieces for you to better digest (yes, I just made a funny!).
Without further ado, let’s get to the first two misconceptions!
1. It’s okay to eat “cold” foods, especially nutrient rich smoothies and some good ol’ ice water
At first, it sounds absolutely crazy but I’m not the only person to tell you ice water and smoothies, and anything cold in general, should be minimized or eliminated in postpartum completely.
Many cultures practice this today, as it’s believed that letting in cold will bring upon illness and is detrimental for the postpartum body. And here are exactly why those ancient culture’s views are correct.
First and foremost, the postpartum body isn’t one that is just healing from birth, whether vaginally or from a cesarean, it’s also healing from carrying a baby within womb for nine months. For a significant amount of time, your body has literally grown another human being. All by its lonesome.
Healing in postpartum is a culmination of pregnancy and birth, all rolled into one. Essentially, the body is very weak and contains a gaping wound within it. Not to mention mamas who may have torn, had a traumatic birth, or experienced a cesarean (all of which add another layer of necessary healing).
When we go to the doctor for a massive wound and are put in recovery, the protocol is NOT to put ice or cold on it but the complete opposite.
Let the healing wound be warm and dry, which stimulates proper blood flow that brings vital nutrients and clotting to the wound for healing.
In postpartum, the “wound” is practically your entire body, especially within your center which contains the uterus. Whatever you eat and drink will immediately effect this area of the body.
Cold also prevents proper oxygenation, a necessary tool in combating harmful bacteria, and even prevents regeneration of tissue within the uterus and perineum.
But that isn’t everything.
Cold foods and drinks also contract blood vessels and makes it harder for the body to digest nutrients, especially fats (which are essential in postpartum for healing and your milk supply for baby).
Even when a body isn’t in postpartum, it will expend a great deal of energy warming up the consumed contents to an acceptable temperature within your body. And energy isn’t something a postpartum body has a great deal of, and it’s certainly not something you want to give away to warming whatever you ingested.
The moral of this misconception is to stay far away from cold foods and drinks. Make sure what you ingest is at least room temperature.
2. You should return to eating like you were in pregnancy. Or even before.
Eating during this time is radically different than eating in pregnancy or pre-pregnancy.
And here’s why: your postpartum body lacks digestive enzymes, which are necessary for breaking up foods and supplying your body with nutrients needed for hormone balance and regulation, milk supply, and overall healing and health.
This happens because the body enters a state of survival after the birth. This is the same for when you experience any type of physical, mental, or emotional trauma. When a body undergoes surgery, experiences a car accident, suffers from a major loss of a loved one, and goes through the process of birth, the body enters this sympathetic state to allow for the initial healing to begin.
And part of this survival state is the inability to digest easily.
Due to the amount of energy necessary to break down foods, it’s simply easier for the body to receive foods that are easy to digest.
Foods that are easy to digest also tend to be heavily nutrient dense. By requiring the body to eat these foods, it’s able to get what it needs faster and without exerting any extra energy to get there.
Often, this is the very reason why most women experience intense gas and bloating in postpartum.
Many times, that extends to indigestion, hemorrhoids post-birth, and a host of other gut issues. When you cannot break down the foods you’re ingesting, the food just… sits there. It essentially starts “rotting” in your belly. Which then causes the gas, bloating and so on.
If it continues without correction, you develop a “leaky gut”, meaning you become the proud owner of food sensitivities and allergies. This is also the main cause for the rise in autoimmune diseases.
Many women usually ask “well I can just take digestive enzymes then, right?” The answer is sure, but I don’t recommend it.
By taking digestive enzymes, it signals to the body that it no longer needs to create its own. This means that your body will become dependent on the enzymes you are giving it and therefore create a bigger problem that’s far more challenging to wean yourself from.
Also, it’s hard on the body to digest many foods, let alone pills and supplements. There is a big chance that what you are providing your body in terms of these supplements aren’t being used to their full advantage anyway.
Often, adding herbs, essential oils, or gut stimulating supplements such as enzymes, will cause a mis-balance to occur. Until it becomes a problem that needs correcting, allow the body to naturally regulate its digestive enzyme levels.
Until then, eat warm foods that are very easy to digest and nutrient dense.
In part 2 of this blog series, I’ll be covering the importance of an appetite in postpartum, why breastfeeding doesn’t really cause weight loss, and the truth about supplements after birth.