When my fourth baby was born, I struggled.
Postpartum didn’t exactly go the way I wanted. I didn’t lose much weight at birth…and after a couple of months I started to gain more (I stopped weighing myself when I hit 165). I was exhausted…heavy…and my hormones were all messed up. Read the whole story HERE.
After my fifth baby, I took what I had learned from my fourth baby, and tried to do some things differently. Truthfully, it went better. I didn’t lose a ton of weight right away, and almost started to gain…but got things balanced out and stayed where I was. I didn’t struggle with hormone imbalances nearly as much (my postpartum periods were regular and painless, unlike before). The only problem was…I never lost any weight.
This time…after my sixth baby…things are very different! And after all I’ve learned…I’m going to tell you the story.
After Baby Number 5
I wrote out my early experiences HERE. He was just a couple months old then…and he’s 2.5 years old now.
Everything went great, at first. I had more energy, my hormones were more balanced, and I felt pretty good. But, I never could lose the baby weight. I started going to the gym 3 – 4 times per week when he was 6 months old, and I was drinking plenty of water and not eating sugar or processed food. And my weight just didn’t drop (stayed around 150 – 155).
That makes no sense, right? Everyone knows that diet and exercise is the secret to weight loss! So if you eat less, don’t eat junk, and exercise regularly, then weight loss should be easy, right?
(Yeah, it doesn’t really work that way.)
I also still struggled with acne for awhile…and then rosacea/sensitivity once most of the acne cleared up. Eating clean didn’t help. No commercial skin care helped. (I ended up developing my own skin care line that does help…but it wasn’t all I did.)
Everything was certainly better…but not where I wanted it to be.
Then I got pregnant again.
The Sixth Pregnancy
I found out I was pregnant in April 2017.
I had morning sickness basically right away. It wasn’t bad, but it was annoying. I didn’t feel like eating much of anything, and I could go from feeling completely fine to feeling super nauseous in seconds if I saw/smelled/thought of anything that grossed me out! That was not fun.
Soon, I realized that what I was really dealing with (and what I believe is a major cause of morning sickness for many) was disturbed gut health and liver congestion. Most of the morning sickness was bloating and nausea, and I started to connect it to specific foods I was eating…and also discovered things that made it better.
The answer was obvious: start healing my gut!
It took several months, lots of research, and some experiments to figure out what I really needed to do…but once I did, the results were clear.
I didn’t really gain any weight while pregnant (and I wasn’t trying to limit it). I carried my baby to 41 weeks, even though I’d never gone over 40. My baby was born healthy, strong, and big (he was 8 lbs. 7 oz. and 22″ — and he was super peaceful and relaxed too).
I got the best possible outcome…even though I hadn’t realized it was something that could happen! I learned that ‘forcing’ health doesn’t work, but gently encouraging it, does.
This is how I did it….
How I Healed My Gut and Balanced My Hormones Naturally
In my first trimester, the goal was survival — I wasn’t ready yet to dive into the nitty-gritty details of what was happening and why. I just wanted to feel better and not plan my day around “can I eat this? can I be around that?”
The first things I did were:
- Figure out what I was reacting to…and eliminate it
- Add in probiotic foods (slowly)
- Exercise lightly
Everyday, I tried to take a 20-minute brisk walk. I noticed that I felt better during and after walks — I could eat and feel less bloated and less nauseous, which was nice in the early weeks!
I also found that both milk and water kefir made a big difference, too. When I had fruit smoothie for breakfast with milk kefir, I felt better during the day.
The only ‘weird’ part was that if I consistently took daily walks and had milk kefir, I felt so much better some days that my morning sickness disappeared…which made me worry that something was wrong and I might lose the baby! It’s odd how the brain works, isn’t it?
Later in pregnancy, around 20 weeks, I started to get serious about gut healing. It’s not a quick process…and it required several tweaks along the way. But it was so worth it.
Discovering Food Sensitivities
I started closely tracking foods to see what I was reacting to. I noted if I had any of the following symptoms during/after eating:
If I did, then I started avoiding the offending food(s). I ultimately figured out that I was reacting to any form of processed food (including pro-inflammatory oils of safflower and sunflower), carrots, lemons, corn, eggs, any type of sugar (except raw honey in small amounts) and a handful of other foods. I completely eliminated these from my diet. Also, I eliminated anything that contained synthetic vitamins of any type.
Most people easily hand out the advice “cut out junk food,” or even “cut out gluten and dairy,” but it’s not always that simple. People can and do react to whole, real foods…. And if you are eating things that you think are healthy, but are causing a problem for *you,* then you cannot heal your gut. Who would think of carrots or lemons as an issue? Yet every time I ate homemade soup that contained carrots, I felt awful…so I cut them out. Most people are probably reacting to a food or two like this and don’t even realize it.
Not to mention, a lot of people look at certain ‘organic’ foods and think “these are clean enough.” But if they contain certain vegetable oils, sugars, synthetic vitamins, etc. they truly are not clean enough. Not if you are trying to really heal.
Bottom line: you can’t heal your gut if you are still exposing yourself to foods that are a problem for *you.* (and, you may be able to add some of those foods back in after you heal — I can eat lemons and corn now without issue).
I added a probiotic supplement a few months after my fifth was born, and definitely felt better. Morning sickness-like symptoms hung on even after he was born…until I added that. So it was useful. But it basically took the edge off…and never led to any long-term healing. Both research and personal experience over several years has convinced me that probiotic supplements are not enough to actually produce any true gut healing. (See more on that.)
I could not drink kombucha (which I love) because it made my anxiety worse…instantly. And that was no good. It was too strong and the types of bacteria and yeasts in it were not what I needed then.
Instead, I added small amounts of milk and water kefir and fermented pickles (Bubbies) to my diet. I really had to start with only about 4 – 6 oz. per day of the kefirs, or risk feeling worse, both physically and emotionally. After a few weeks, I was able to step it up, and now drink 16 oz. per day. I can also drink kombucha again without any issues.
These fermented foods made a big difference in how I felt. When I eliminated the ‘problem’ foods and consumed fermented foods daily, I felt basically normal and did not have any issues with bloating or nausea.
Probiotic foods include:
- Water kefir
- Milk kefir
- Pickles (Bubbies or brined; not vinegar/canned)
- Homemade fruit/veggie ferments
I would recommend buying the cleanest options possible, or making them yourself. I simply bought KeVita water kefir and either KeVita or G.T. Dave’s kombucha while pregnant because I was too busy and too tired to make it myself. (I was working 50 – 60 hours a week.) I am now brewing myself again — which is way cheaper!
This is not optional for gut healing. It was absolutely key. I don’t think that we understand the symbiotic relationship of all the bacteria, yeasts, and other ‘stuff’ in true ferments (not found in supplements). I don’t think most supplements can survive stomach acid, but I think true ferments do, to a greater extent. Taking 100 billion CFU of a supplement was not nearly as helpful as drinking a 2 billion CFU bottle of kombucha…because it’s far more about all naturally-occurring ‘stuff’ than a simple bacteria colony count!
Early in my pregnancy, I focused on exercise. I took a 20-minute brisk walk daily and that helped a lot. If I hadn’t been pregnant, I would have made use of our trampoline at least a few times a week, because rebounding is awesome too.
Later in pregnancy, my body was reshaping and I had much less fat on my hips/thighs/butt, yet a large amount of weight due to the baby. It was much harder to exercise at this time, because it caused cramping and soreness, so I did not walk as much. I got bi-weekly massages and weekly chiropractic adjustments. These made a big difference in the soreness that I felt.
Motion is so important. Our lymphatic systems have fluid that helps to take ‘junk’ from different parts of the body and help to eliminate it. But this doesn’t happen automatically. Lymph can get ‘stuck’ easily because it only moves if our muscles are moving…i.e. if we exercise! Stuck lymph means stuck ‘junk’ that can cause muscle soreness (among other things!).
I noticed if I wasn’t active for a few days, I would have soreness that was around my hips and along my thighs. It was sort of a non-specific soreness, not tied to any particular muscle. It was caused by lymphatic congestion!
Exercise helps to relieve this congestion, as does different types of bodywork. Getting moving is also not optional when healing!
I believe that the best forms of exercise are the ones that move multiple muscle groups at once. This is usually accomplished through “natural motion,” like playing sports, dancing, etc. It’s not really well accomplished by using exercise equipment, taking a jog, etc. Anything that is the same repetitive motion is less valuable than something more creative.
Try doing yoga, or zumba — there are good videos on YouTube. Play with kids, or call some friends to play basketball or tennis. These are all free ways to exercise…and worth way more than a gym membership. (Save your money, if you can afford it, for chiro appointments, massages, or craniosacral!)
Diet — What to Eat
What to eat is just as important as what not to eat.
I listened to my body and shifted my diet to the foods I craved. What I discovered is that I felt like, for me, eating meat was usually not a good thing. I ate it rarely, or stuck to bone broth or organ meats instead of muscle meats. (As a culture, we get way too many of the amino acids found in muscle meats, and not nearly enough of the ones found in organ meats and bone broth. We actually need all of these amino acids in balance. They are not exclusively found in meat, either. Out-of-balance amino acids can promote inflammation.)
I also craved fresh foods a lot, as well as milk, so I switched to eating tons of salads, smoothies, fresh fruit, etc. Additionally, I made veggie soups or pasta dishes with tons of veggies, baked potatoes with lots of cheese and broccoli, and more. I noticed that I had kind of a weird feeling, like a heaviness or like I had eaten too much salt (it’s hard to describe) that happened if I didn’t eat enough fruits and veggies.
Of course, I am not suggesting that a largely vegetarian diet, like I adopted, is the ‘best’ diet to have.
I am suggesting that most people could benefit from more fresh foods, and that it’s important to listen to your body and eat what you truly need. If you are craving whole foods, eat them! Your body must need them. (This doesn’t apply to junk food cravings, which are often a sign of disturbed gut flora.)
Pay close attention to which foods make you feel the strongest, and eat more of those. Forget about diet ‘labels’ and really explore what works best for you.
I do not like most commercial supplements and do not use them.
Instead, I focus on whole foods. I used magnesium chloride, cod liver oil, an herbal blend, and my probiotic foods everyday. All were important to my health, in the right amounts.
This is what I took:
I stayed with 1/2 tsp. magnesium when not pregnant, but used increasing amounts while pregnant, up to 1 tbsp. per day at times. Needs are very high especially in the last trimester!
With the herbal blend, I took what felt right each day, which I know is imprecise. Most will do well with around 1 tsp. Sometimes, I skipped this in favor of raspberry leaf tea, especially in the final weeks of pregnancy.
Postpartum, I took this herbal blend instead. It’s intended to help with hormone balance and promote healthy recovery, which it has seemed to do for me. I’ve had rather minimal bleeding (unless I’m overly physically active too soon) and have experienced no hot flashes, basically no pain, and have felt surprisingly “normal” very quickly.
What I’ve Learned
Basically, a (very) clean diet, probiotics, and exercise are really important! But in a gentle way, to slowly help the body improve…and along with herbal support.
I can’t say for sure how my postpartum recovery will end up — I’m only 2 weeks in. I’ve been maintaining my lower weight, now around 140. Yes, that’s 15 lbs. below pre-pregnancy!
Once I am able to exercise — in a few weeks — we’ll see what happens. I’m maintaining a very clean diet (no processed foods at all — which is also to prevent any reactions in my breastfed baby) and continuing my probiotics and supplements. I think this will lead to better sleep, too, because I discovered that when I got lax on these supplements with my fifth, he went through a phase of not sleeping very well. (Here’s how we fixed it.)
I’ll update in a few months, once I know how it all shakes out! But…it’s already so much better. I was able to maintain energy and mental clarity right through my entire pregnancy (I even felt mentally clear during the birth!) and into postpartum too. My skin is much clearer now and the red scars are fading. I’m excited to see what happens next!
In case I need them, I do have more tricks up my sleeve. I’ll share some of those in my next post. 🙂
Have you healed your gut or balanced your hormones…or do you need to?
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