More Than Mommy Exhaustion: How I recovered my energy and health

by Carrie Saum

Mommy exhaustion.

I know you’ve felt it. Too many nights waking up with your tiny baby, fussy toddler, or insomniac older children. Feeding on demand, pumping around the clock, midnight and 2am boob snacks that stretch to 4am. School projects, sleep regressions, a few minutes of Me Time between 11:31-11:57 pm after all the dishes are done, lunches are made, and housework is sort of caught up.

You pour another cup of coffee at noon, after reheating your first cup approximately six times in the microwave. You try an energy drink mix that your friend is selling. And still. You are so worn out, you can barely string five words together to create a coherent thought.

You resolve to take walks, get outside, or try that pilates DVD you’ve had for ages. You feel good about your choice, but you are wiped out for the rest of the afternoon, trying to recover your shaking muscles and push through the exhaustion until you can climb into bed.

You resolve to eat better, cut out the junk and convenience foods, and maybe that will help you feel more energetic, too. After a few weeks, you see a marginal improvement, but it’s not enough of a pay-off for the sacrifice you are making.

And let’s not even talk about the weight gain.

You wonder if maybe you’re missing something but chalk it up to this season in life where sleep is scarce, demands are abundant, and time for self-care is at a high premium. Of course you’re depleted. Who wouldn’t be?

A few months ago, I brought up my debilitating exhaustion to my doctor. Being a mom herself, she’s familiar with all that goes along with it. She encouraged me to see if there might be an underlying problem in addition to this season of life. She told me about a blood panel called The Boston Heart. The Boston Heart tests multiple vitamins, nutrients, and hormones using a fast blood test. Many insurance plans cover it 100%, even if you have high deductibles. I checked into my insurance coverage, and sure enough, it was covered. No money out of my pocket to get some information about unidentified issues I might have which would paint a bigger picture of my health, instead of just chalking it up to parenthood.

When my results came back, I was shocked. Even though my thyroid was in surprisingly good shape, (which I thought was the culprit), my niacin levels were incredibly low. And you know what happens when your body doesn’t have enough niacin? Your muscles shake when you exert them. Daily tasks wear you out. Do you know what makes it worse? Not getting enough sleep, too much stress, and eating processed foods.

Magnesium, Omega 3, Vitamin D3, and my progesterone were also very low, all of which are easily depleted during pregnancy and breastfeeding. Hello, depression! So, no matter how much sleep, good food, or exercise I was getting, I still felt like crap because I was drawing from a dry well.

I began supplementing with food-grade vitamins immediately, on the recommendation from my doctor. My trusty pre-natal vitamins weren’t enough for my specific needs, and I sealed them up tight and put them in my refrigerator for future use. I strategized to get veggies in every meal, and keep seasonal fruit on hand for when the sugar cravings were too much. I added as many healthy, unadulterated fats as I could. I whipped up a salad dressing using hemp seed oil, which is full of Omega 3, and a little apple cider vinegar. Buttered coffee was always on hand. We stocked our refrigerator with grass-fed meats and veggies to lightly sauté or roast as the main course for all three meals.

OvereasyFriedEggSalad

My go-to meal for quick, easy nutrition: Two sunnyside up fried eggs over greens with hemp seed oil, ACV, and dried herbs. Perfection.

Oh, and I put a total moratorium on strenuous exercise, eating out, and plans with friends before noon and after 5pm on the days I wasn’t working. I also went to bed at 9:30. It meant less Me Time. It meant I often went to bed with dirty dishes in the sink, my floors unswept, and wore the same pair of jeans six times before washing. But it was only for a few weeks and it was vital for my recovery.

I found that watering and weeding my garden while my toddler played close by was enough exertion for me. I also found that I relaxed on a deeper level than I have in years because I gave myself permission to stop trying to do it all. I just did some, accepted what I was capable of in that time frame, and waited until I felt replenished to rejoin the world.

GardenPlay

We happily kept it low key in the community garden.

After the three week moratorium was over, (and believe me, it was hard saying no to things), I started slow. I worked hard to begin refilling my very limited well. Being gentle with my body and my psyche was my number one priority. This is how I came back to the world:

  • A walk in the park.
  • Running up and down the stairs to the basement doing laundry.
  • Vigorous weeding and replanting in my garden.
  • A pilates DVD, increasing by 5 minutes at time.
  • Doing something fun before doing work. On purpose.
  • Saying yes only if it felt 100% doable and okay.

These little things added up quickly. But I want to be clear: I stopped when I was tired. Not exhausted. Not beyond my limit. Not when I was shaking and close to dry heaving. Maybe that works for some people, but it doesn’t work in recovery mode.

Last week, I took a very long walk, pushing my two year old in a stroller the whole way up and down hills that would have had me shaking with exertion after 10 minutes a few months ago. I walked at a pace I felt comfortable with. I stopped and pushed my son on a swing and then stopped again a little later to get an iced decaf coffee at one of my favorite neighborhood places. As I pushed my son up the final, excruciatingly steep hill, I huffed and puffed but I did NOT slow down. My brain wanted to quit but my body was up for the challenge. I spent the rest of the afternoon working, cooking, and playing with my son. I’m not joking when I say that has never happened before on the days I worked out.

And later that week when we braved a trip to the beach, I chased my toddler all over the beach, splashed with him in the water, and played soccer on the hard packed sand without getting winded.

MommyandEHugPoint

Playing hard at the beach with my little boy, feeling super energetic, happy, and proudly rockin’ my bikini.

These bodies of ours are amazing. We are resilient. We are tough. But being exhausted all the time is not normal. Even for you, mama. Be gentle with that body. Be kind to your skin and your bones and your blood and your squishy places and your soul. And find what works for you to feel like yourself again.

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If you like this article, check out Peace In The Passing: Why My Early Miscarriage Was A Relief and her series on #TinyTriumphs over on Our Stable Table.


IMG_2895Carrie Saum brings a passion for wellness and over a decade of experience in health care to her clients. A certified Ayurvedic Wellness Counselor (AWC) from the Kerala Ayurveda Academy, she empowers individuals and families to achieve health and balance through time-honored practices and health knowledge. Carrie has extensive first-hand experience in vast array of medical and service fields.
With background in paramedic medicine, Carrie spent ten years serving in the non-profit sector managing organizations, programs, and orchestrating resources to meet health needs of people across the United States and abroad in countries such as Guatemala, Mexico, Kenya, and Zambia. As an AWC, Carrie currently coaches her clients and their families about topics including nutrition, weight loss, and stress management. In addition to her work as a wellness counselor, Carrie is a passionate “foodie” and the voice behind OurStableTable.com. She lives in Portland, Oregon with her husband and young son.

 

 

 

 

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What your uterus wants you to know about breastfeeding

by Jessica Martin-Weber

I’ve tried to have a positive perspective on having my period but try as I might, I really just find it annoying, uncomfortable, and inconvenient.  It’s not that I don’t celebrate being a woman, it’s just that particular time of the month doesn’t inspire me to celebrate it just then.  I hate having my period.  But that doesn’t mean I hate my uterus, in fact, I love it.  My uterus has lost 6 babies and ached with the loss.  My uterus has carried 6 beautiful babies, held them as they grew, held onto them when my body wasn’t sure about going through with it, and pushed them out when it was time.  I kind of admire my uterus and I’m grateful for it even though about once a month I’d like it to find a temporary residence.  Uteruses are strong.

I don’t think I’m alone in the love/hate uterus relationship.  Perhaps the idea of celebrating your moon-flow, AKA period, sounds like asking you to dance around with joy at the prospect of wearing diapers, your fat jeans, revisiting 10th grade acne, and trying to munch celery through insatiable chocolate cravings while huddled in the fetal position with a hot pad on your lower belly watching your trusty old “Friends” or “Buffy” DVDs.  Except for the DVDs you’d probably rather go wait for 8 hours in line at DPS for your next fantastically freakish driver license head shot.  Yours never turn out fantastically freakish?  Great, that’s just me.  Fine, you’d rather pull your eyelashes out one by one or the proverbial go see your dentist.

However you feel about your uterus, breastfeeding does a uterus good.  Seriously, the way the whole thing works isn’t just good for baby, it’s usually good for mom too and right off the bat it starts with being good for your uterus.

newborn breastfeeding

 

If your uterus could talk (it can grow babies, why not talk?), here’s would your uterus would want you to know about breastfeeding:

 

It can save your life.

Potentially in more ways than one. But what really makes your uterus happy is that putting your brand new baby to suckle at your breast stimulates the release of oxytocin in your brain which helps your uterus to clamp down.  That initial latch of your wee babe strengthens the natural contractions and if you haven’t already, helps you expel the placenta and make sure you don’t bleed to death.  It can help prevent a postpartum hemorrhage.  But don’t worry if your baby doesn’t want to breastfeed right after birth (give them a break, it was an eventful occasion, being born), this continues to work for as long as it takes for your uterus to reduce to it’s normal non gestating size.  Every time you put your brand new baby to your breast and endure a wave of contractions you may curse, swear, stomp your foot, breathe through clenched teeth hissing at your partner that next time HE’S having the baby but those painful afterbirth contractions that your nursing babe brings on are important.  And yes, it does get more painful with subsequent babies but it still does the job.  Hate it all you want but it is way better than hemorrhaging and it’s the body’s perfect way to make sure you’re safe and around for a long time.

 

 It helps you heal.

Along with signaling to the uterus it’s time to shrink back down, breastfeeding can help mom rest.  For many women, life just doesn’t let them have the time they need to really heal and that open wound in their uterus doesn’t get the rest it needs which can lead to mom becoming anemic, fatigued, sore, and taking longer to heal.  While there’s always a lot to do, breastfeeding can help busy moms take a load off in those early weeks with a hungry baby forcing them to sit and be still long enough to work on a good latch and fill up that little tummy.  Taking time to have skin to skin and foster the breastfeeding relationship, moms can reduce their healing time.  And because it can help reduce postpartum bleeding and menstrual bleeding, some women will experience a natural rise in iron levels which will be a real energy boost.

 

It can delay fertility.

With my last baby, my 6th full term pregnancy, I got a break from my monthly flow until 20 months postpartum.  Including pregnancy, that was almost 30 months off.  I’m not going to lie, I didn’t miss it one single bit.  This isn’t a guarantee but the majority of women experience a delay in the return of their fertility if they exclusively breastfeed (meaning no supplementation).  When baby is fed only at the mother’s breast the maternal body suppresses fertility to focus on continuing to grow this little person.  This would mean no period sometimes until full weaning happens though any time solid foods, supplementation, or artificial nipples are introduced it’s possible a woman’s cycle will return.  Sometimes that can be thrown off, usually if artificial nipples are used (yeah, even with bottles of the mother’s own pumped milk) but sometimes even if the mother only ever breastfeeds directly from the tap her cycle may return in the postpartum period.  But for those that experience suppressed fertility due to breastfeeding, it can be a nice break from their regular menstrual cycle.  Because there are no guarantees though, unless you are hoping to get pregnant again shortly after having your baby, some kind of birth control measures would be wise.

 

It can help with endometriosis and may help reduce cancer risks.

Because it is common for a woman’s menstrual cycle to be delayed while breastfeeding, women that have endometriosis may experience a stabilizing of the progression of their condition.  Causation or correlation, studies show that women that breastfeed have lower incidence of developing uterine, endometrial or ovarian cancer. 

 

Breastfeeding is no magic bullet that will save you, you may breastfeed and still get cancer, you may breastfeed and still experience a retained placenta or postpartum hemorrhage, you may breastfeed and struggle with endometriosis or have your fertility return right away.  But hey, a chance that you could get a break and make your uterus happy?  If you can, it could be a chance worth taking!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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