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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Baby Weight Workout

I hear often from moms wanting to get back in shape after having a baby but concerned that exercise and dieting could harm their milk supply.  IBCLC Star Rodriguez helped clarify the questions we see frequently from moms on breastfeeding and fitness in this article here.  Be sure to check that out and don’t forget that it is always best to work with your health care provider in determining a healthy activity level and nutritional plan.  

Once you are certain that adding working out and increased physical activity is a healthy choice for you (and evidence supports that it’s healthy for most of us!) the challenge many parents face is when to find the time, space, and right activity.  Having children around it can be difficult to make some space for yourself and your health.  You are worth it though and your children deserve to have healthy parents, plus, when your children see you making physical activity and your own health a priority, you are modeling how important it is for them as well.  The best way for your children to develop healthy habits is for you to demonstrate healthy habits yourself.  Happy health to you and your family!  ~Jessica

 

Jennifer from Fit For Expecting has offered up a workout to help make it easier to find some time to take care of you.  Check out this Baby Weight Workout that you can enjoy WITH your baby.  I think it’s a great springboard for customizing and creating your own workout that fits your family’s unique makeup.  For more support, be sure to check out Jennifer’s website and like the Fit For Expecting Facebook page.  ~Jessica

Most moms know that exercise is good for them physically, mentally and emotionally. But, when life gets busy, exercise often gets put on the back burner. I designed a workout specifically for Leakies, that’s quick (5 minutes total) and incorporates baby into each exercise. I’m calling it the “Baby Weight Workout” because, that’s right, baby functions as the weight.
A few general exercise tips to keep in mind:
  • For your comfort and for a content baby, you might want to breastfeed before exercising.
  • Stay hydrated – drink water before, during and after exercising.
  • Eat a snack 1 1/2 – 2 hours before exercising.
Enjoy!
TLB Workout - Exercising with Baby
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Help them help you- new baby sign with ways for visitors to help

Sugarbaby, minutes old. Photo by Debra Parker

For my last 2 babies, my midwife had a piece of paper she taped to my front door before she left after the birth.  Announcing to visitors that there was a new baby in the house, it shared birth facts such as weight, length, name, date, etc.  That part was nice but what I really loved was the part about what visitors could do.  Informing them that a new baby means help is needed and that their visit should be brief, this little piece of paper taped to my front door encouraged those that loved us and wanted to celebrate with us to keep their voices low, limit their time, understand if we needed to be alone, and give them ideas of how to help such as offering to do the dishes, sweep a floor, run the vacuum, or take the bigger kids to the park.  In short, it helped our visitors figure out how to be the best kind of visitors and I discovered that I didn’t mind having people stop by as much as I did with my older kids simply because they helped more and were more understanding of our needs.  Knowing they already saw a notice of sorts on the front door before they came in made it easier for me to respect my own boundaries, excusing myself to rest or not feeling awkward about them asking if they could help with something around the house.

There are far too many expectations on families when they have a new baby.  Respecting the postpartum recovery and the important bonding that needs to happen with the new family member sets up families to continue on well for the long haul.  If you’re breastfeeding, this time is crucial to establishing your breastfeeding relationship and focusing on that will have a long term pay off.  Pushing for too much too soon, other people interfering with the bonding, can leave moms feeling burnt out and unwell months, maybe even years later.  Having true support and help to take the time to really heal leads to endurance in the parenting journey.  That, and knowing we’re not alone along the way.

So my gift to you is my version of this life-saving piece of paper.  Ask your care provider to sign it complete with the appropriate initials behind their name then stick it on your front door when your little one arrives and leave it there for at least 6 weeks (8 if you birth via c-section).  Be a good friend and print it off to give others that are expecting for them to put on their front door.  Don’t hesitate to point out the note, referring to it by asking if they saw how much baby weighed or how long she was and if they didn’t notice, encourage them to go check out the info posted on the front door.  It can be hard to ask for help yet not allowing others to help ends up creating isolation and robbing others of the joy of offering support and encouragement by helping. This little bit of guidance can help not only the new mom and family but the friends and family that want to offer quality support but just aren’t sure what is needed.  Take the guess work out of the picture and everyone wins.

new baby help sign for front door

 new baby sign and help list for front door

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