As women and mothers, we are all different. We have different constitutions, values, lifestyles and diets. A health journey is a unique and personal thing, but however different our eating habits may be, it is generally agreed that plants are some of the most nutrient-dense foods on the planet. Even if you do eat animal products, a diet rich in organic plant-based foods, containing an abundance of fruits and vegetables, is the healthiest way to eat. It's also the healthiest way to grow a baby!
I didn’t know anything about prenatal and postpartum nutrition before getting pregnant but I was hungry for knowledge. I was already eating a whole-food, plant-based diet but definitely had some cleaning up to do. As soon as I saw the + sign on the stick, I gave up caffeine, fried foods (chips and fries) and chocolate and began nourishing my cells and hers with the most nutrient-dense food possible. And rather than turning to the millions of books, blogs and online resources, I chose to read only two books on pregnancy and birth. “The Kind Mama” by Alicia Silverstone and “Ina May’s Guide to Childbirth” by the renowned American midwife, Ina May Gaskin.
When I was around twenty-one weeks pregnant, my legs were hurting a lot. After speaking with a friend, I learned that a calcium magnesium deficiency was potentially the reason for my pain. I was eating pounds and pounds of spinach each week, but it wasn’t enough. As soon as I started taking an algae-based supplement, my pain subsided.
When I was about six months pregnant, I received an email from a company called Loyal Hana, wondering if I wanted to work with them. I took a look at their website and immediately said yes.
Loyal Hana makes chic maternity and nursing clothes (#frombumptoboob) for the modern woman. Meaning, clothes that are stylish, that you can grow in and that you can comfortably nurse in without stretching out your top, pulling it up over your head, etc.
Below you'll find a few of my favourite pieces.
If you like what you see, head on over to loyalhana.com and enter ASHLEYWOOD at checkout to receive 10% off your order!
Christy - Long Sleeved Black Top
I’m just going to say it: I have postpartum anxiety and depression. I have postpartum anxiety and depression and am currently on medication.
“This is strictly chemical,” my doctor told me. “You had a baby, your body is recovering. This is very normal.”
It scares me to put this online. I’ve shared extremely personal details of my life before but I feel incredibly vulnerable discussing my mental health. But I am.
Because I want this to be a place where women feel supported, uplifted and loved—no matter what our personal health journey looks like.
The other reason I’m sharing this is because of a quote on the recipes page of my site. “Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food.” I’ve lived by this for some time and strongly believe that our diet can have a tremendous effect on our daily health. As I've written countless times, when it comes to my body and my health, a plant-based diet of mostly whole, unprocessed foods is what makes me feel the healthiest, strongest and happiest.
But what about those times when food is not enough? The online health and wellness community is a beautiful, vibrant and inspiring space and I’ve been so proud to be a part of it for the past three years. I’ve learned so much and connected with so many amazing people. And most importantly, I’ve learned how I can take my health into my own hands.
But last summer when I got pregnant, I realized that I had put enormous pressure on myself to get everything my body needs from food. When I was twenty weeks pregnant, my legs started to hurt. A lot. My shins felt like they were being stabbed by a thousand needles and my calves ached. I shared this with a friend at prenatal yoga and she suggested I take calcium magnesium supplements.
Pills?! I had already quit taking my prenatal vitamins after my first trimester (with my midwife’s approval) because I was convinced I could get all of the nutrients I needed for myself and my growing baby from my healthy, plant-based diet. I had read it was possible, so the thought of needing extra help from supplements made me feel ashamed. Like I wasn’t eating healthy enough.
Was I not eating the right foods? Was I not eating enough foods? What was I doing wrong?
Despite feeling down, I went directly to a health store after my yoga class and purchased an algae-based, calcium magnesium supplement. Days after taking it, I noticed a huge difference and my leg pain went away.
From that point on, I did a lot of research on suitable supplements and vitamins to take while pregnant, and with my midwife’s approval started taking an iron supplement, an omega DHA-EPA supplement, vitamin D and my usual B12 vitamin. I felt amazing, full of energy and, months later, Ivy was born perfectly healthy.
When Ivy was only a few weeks old, I started to feel different, off. I cried a lot. I felt anxious. I didn’t want to be around people, not even my family (aside from Ben and Ivy.) After her first growth spurt, when I nursed her every twenty minutes, around the clock, I collapsed from exhaustion, anxiety and sadness and had my first panic attack.
That night, I felt like dying would have been easier. I was terrified. I was paralyzed. I found strength to nurse Ivy when she needed it, but after that I would go back to bed and sob. Ben called our midwife at 5:00 am and told her that he was worried about me and that I needed help – serious help.
She came over and assessed me. I told her that I felt like I had postpartum depression. I said that I didn’t feel right, that I felt like I had lost myself entirely and that I needed help. She assured me that I was fine, that I did not have postpartum depression and that this was just an adjustment period to my new life. She told me I was doing an amazing job and to be patient with myself for things to smooth out. So that’s what I did.
I continued to feel anxious and nervous, but I thought this was normal for new mothers. On the outside, I looked completely cool and collected. I was exercising every day, flowing through a routine seamlessly, getting some freelance work done and falling more and more in love with my baby as the seconds went by.
I had good days and bad days. Sometimes I would sob and sob for hours and could hardly get off the floor. Other days I felt like the best version of myself. I meditated, ate extremely healthy, continued to exercise and did everything that I thought I needed to do to take care of myself. But it wasn’t enough. One night, lying in bed with Ben, doing my absolute best to not succumb to another panic attack, I whispered to him, “I feel like I’m suffering.”
The next day he took me to the doctor.
I’ve been on medication now for a few months and I feel incredible. I feel like myself. There are times when I have anxiety (as my doctor says, it is a normal human emotion, after all) but the difference is that I’m now able to work through it. I have control over these feelings in a way I did before giving birth.
Postpartum depression and postpartum anxiety are SO common but it took me MONTHS to accept the right help, the help I needed, the help I couldn’t get from food.
To be honest, I never thought I would take medication. Not that I didn’t believe in it for others, but because I didn’t think I would ever need it. I held myself to such a high standard of health that what I expected of myself wasn’t even possible; it was superhuman. I told myself I wasn’t allowed to get sick, I wasn’t allowed to take medication.
According to the California Institute of Technology, 90% of serotonin is made in our gut, in the digestive tract. A healthy lifestyle and diet can play a part in one’s mental health but it’s not always enough. If you’re feeling like you have low energy, for instance, an adjustment to your diet or increased exercise may help you feel better. But, depending on the severity, it might not make any noticeable change at all. Sometimes, we need the kind of help that diet and lifestyle can’t provide.
If you’re a new mother and think you might have postpartum anxiety and/or depression, tell your health care provider. You don’t deserve to feel this way.
Since posting this article, I've received so many messages from mothers sharing their struggles with PPD/PPA and wondering if they should take medication, too. "I don't feel like hurting myself or my baby. Do I still need meds?" they say. I never felt like that, either.
I'm not in any place to tell someone if they need medication or not. I'm not a doctor (obviously). All I know is my experience.
What I will say is that the narrative around postpartum depression and anxiety is problematic. Why do we (as mothers) believe we only need help once we reach the EXTREME low point of wanting to hurt ourselves or our children? When I reached out for help (midwife, postpartum crisis lines), I was asked if I felt like hurting myself or my baby. When I said "No" I was told I was fine and probably just exhausted and overwhelmed with being a new mother. To them, I was for the most part ok, or going to be. But I didn't feel ok.
I was once told that my postpartum anxiety was a sign that I'm a good mother, because good mothers worry about their children. At the time, I took this as a compliment but it didn't sit right with me. Why should I be ridden with anxiety to be a good mother? I hated feeling the way I felt and did everything I could to feel better - healthy, plant-based food, daily exercise, meditation, gratitude journaling, working, walking, loving, laughing. All of these things helped but medication was the final piece of the puzzle. I feel incredible now. I care for Ivy in the same way, but now I feel calm. I feel peaceful, strong, healthy and happy. I feel like the best version of myself.
If you're feeling off, anxious, stressed, depressed or unlike yourself, if you know deep down that something isn't right, please speak to your healthcare provider. You deserve so much more.
I want to preface this article by saying that it is not intended to guilt or make anyone feel badly about themselves. Some women cannot breastfeed due to medical conditions, medications they are taking or past surgeries they've had. This is not something to be ashamed of and not something we should be shaming other women for.
A fed baby is best.
"Breastfeeding is an instinctual and natural act, but it is also an art that is learned day by day. The reality is that almost all women can breastfeed, have enough milk for their babies and learn how to overcome problems both large and small. It is almost always simply a matter of practical knowledge and not a question of good luck."
- La Leche League
Human breast milk is the best food for babies. It is perfectly designed to nourish them with all of the nutrients they need to grow while also providing warmth, comfort, security and forming a beautiful bond between mother and child. Breastmilk is said to reduce ear infections, obesity, eczema, respiratory tract infections, digestive disorders and SIDS (sudden infant death syndrome.) It's also suggested that it decreases the risk of diabetes, breast cancer and ovarian cancer in women.
Moments after my darling Ivy was born, she ate from me for a solid forty-five minutes. We were blessed with the foundations of a great latch from the beginning and breastfeeding has been one of the most natural, euphoric, absolutely beautiful experiences of my life.
That doesn't mean we haven't had to work for it, though.
I am thankful that I've been able to exclusively breastfeed my daughter, but I will be the first to admit that breastfeeding is so much harder than it looks.
Psychologically, it has been incredibly demanding for me at times. I've had anxiety over not being able to produce enough milk, my letdown being too fast or too slow, and about not feeding her enough. These thoughts are so common and most, if not all, new mothers face some kind of breastfeeding challenge at some point throughout their journey.
After learning from several midwives, nurses and doing plenty of my own research, this post is designed to inspire and guide new breastfeeding mothers.
HOW DOES BREASTFEEDING ACTUALLY WORK?
During the last few weeks of pregnancy, the body produces colostrum. This is the nutrient-dense, liquid gold that your baby will be receiving from suckling your breast for the first few days after birth.
Colostrum is rich in antibodies and helps protect your baby from diseases. It also acts as a laxative, which helps your baby remove the meconium from their body. This is a very good thing and often the cause for the baby to lose up to 7% (or sometimes more) of their birth weight within the first few days of life. This is completely normal and as long as you are healthy and your baby is healthy, your body will respond and produce enough colostrum and then milk for your baby to gain her weight back (and more.) Your body is designed to do this!
Immediately after the marathon of giving birth, feeding your newborn may feel demanding and taxing on your body. However, this is such an important time to breastfeed as much as possible.
Sometimes, nurses and doctors will encourage mothers to give their babies a little bit of formula instead of breastfeeding right after labour so that the mother gets to rest and to help the baby gain her weight back faster. If longterm breastfeeding is your goal though, this is not good advice to follow.
Breastfeeding is a supply and demand relationship.
When your baby suckles on your breast, your body receives a message that your baby is hungry and that it needs to produce colostrum and then after a few days, milk. Your baby's stomach is very tiny at the beginning. A healthy baby's intake of colostrum may increase 2-10 mL per feeding in the first twenty-four hours to 30-60 mL (1-2 oz) per meal by the end of day three. This is a lot of growing and A LOT of breastfeeding.
If your baby receives a bottle of expressed milk or formula, your body isn't being told to make colostrum or milk. In order to build up a sufficient supply of breastmilk to meet your baby's nutritional needs, it's important to put them on your breast every time they display signs of hunger.
ARE THEY REALLY STILL HUNGRY?!
Newborns are not machines. Many doctors, nurses and even midwives believe that babies have to eat every two hours and tell new mothers to feed them on this schedule all day and all night. There are even apps now that set alarms to remind mothers to feed their babies. To me (and to my midwife) this isn't at all necessary and adds an extra level of stress to the mother. Rather than focus on the time or your phone to know when to feed your baby, watch your baby, learn his/her cues and signs of hunger.
Your newborn baby is on survival mode and a healthy baby will not starve herself. By breastfeeding on demand, your body will learn (from your baby) when she's hungry and when to produce milk.
Your baby will tell you when she's hungry. He or she will display hunger cues by sticking his or her tongue out (rooting), opening his or her mouth widely (searching for a breast), putting their hands in his or her mouth, and if the baby is being held, he or she might start to bob their head around searching for your breast. A baby will cry after displaying one or more of these signs. Tune into your baby, pay close attention to them and put them on your breast before they cry. Crying is their last resort.
This may mean that you're sometimes breastfeeding every twenty minutes. You may ask yourself, "How can this baby STILL be hungry? I just breastfed for the past hour!" In the first few days, weeks, even months of breastfeeding, it's so important to follow your baby's lead and feed her when she asks for it.
Babies go through growth during the first few days after they're born, and then again around 7-10 days, 2-3 weeks, 4-6 weeks, 3 months, 4 months, 6 months and 9 months (more or less). This is just an approximate timeline — when your baby is going through a growth spurt, you'll know! They can be quite exhausting for the mother as the baby is eating constantly, all day and all night. Growth spurts may last for a few days, up to one week. Do your best to continue breastfeeding during these times and not rely on a bottle. Your baby will be happier, your bond will grow closer and this is the healthiest and most natural way to build up your milk supply.
Side note: I went against my mother intuition and gave Ivy a pacifier for the first few weeks of her life. My midwife strongly discouraged this as it could cause me to miss her hunger cues and therefore have her go hungry. I listened to others in my life instead who told me that babies need pacifiers. In the end, my midwife was right. I confused her hunger cues for fussiness, gave her the pacifier and in turn, she missed some of her meals. She was NOT a happy baby. As soon as I realized what was going on, I took the pacifier away and she's been without one ever since. For this reason, I don't believe in them. I know that they work for some babies, but for us, whenever Ivy was starting to display signs of fussiness, I put her on my breast. After all, the pacifier was invented to replicate the comfort the breast provides.
ESTABLISHING A STRONG BREASTFEEDING FOUNDATION
As I've mentioned, breastfeeding on demand helps establish a healthy milk supply for your baby because every time your baby suckles on your breast, your body receives a message to make milk. There are many other factors that play into developing and growing a successful breastfeeding relationship between you and your baby.
+ Have a support team in place
Becoming a mother is beautiful, exhilarating and total roller coaster of hormones, emotions and exhaustion. Having a group of people or even just one person that you know you can trust to support you, encourage you and take care of you during the beginning is extremely helpful. My husband was and still is my rock. After Ivy was first born, he brought breakfast to me in bed (a smoothie and oatmeal) so I could focus on nursing her. He was also there to support me and encourage me when I felt like giving up, which happened more than once.
+ Empty Your Breasts
Before putting your baby on your other breast, make sure she has fully emptied the breast she began nursing on. This helps your body know how much milk to make for each one of your baby's meals. Also, the first milk that your baby will drink is the foremilk, a light, thinner milk. Then, she'll get the 'hindmilk', which is the fatty, good stuff. Try not to get too hung up this though. I know I stressed about it far too much, worrying if Ivy was getting enough hindmilk or not. If your baby is happy and gaining weight, she's well fed.
+ Eat an ABUNDANCE of plant-based food
Your body is working SO hard to produce milk for your baby so make sure to eat until you're 100% satisfied. This may mean having a meal at 3:00 am. Listen to your body and feed yourself when you're hungry.
Check out my article on nutrition tips for breastfeeding mothers for more information on what to eat.
+ Drink LOTS of water!
In the beginning days of breastfeeding, you'll notice that as you're feeding your baby you'll feel SO thirsty. Make sure you're staying hydrated during this time and throughout your entire breastfeeding journey. I still drink at least 2-3 litres of water every day.
+ Take herbs
Fennel and fenugreek are galactagogues herbs, which mean they help promote breastmilk production. My midwife shared this simple recipe with me that dramatically increased my supply overnight.
½ cup water
1 tbsp fenugreek seeds
Soak the seeds in the water overnight in the fridge. In the morning, drink the water and eat the seeds. Repeat daily until milk supply has increased.
Earth Mama's Milkmaid Tea is also helpful!
“Contrary to popular belief, attaching the baby on the breast is not an ability with which a mother is [born…]; rather it is a learned skill which she must acquire by observation and experience.” – Woolridge M.
+ Perfect the latch
Ivy and I were blessed with the foundations of a perfect latch from the beginning, but we still had to work to perfect it. Just hours after having Ivy, my midwife told me that teaching her how to latch was going to be my first job as a mother. She instructed me to not allow Ivy to eat unless she was latched on my breast correctly. If the latch was not correct, I would be in pain, breastfeeding would be difficult and my nipples could have become very sore.
I took her advice and every time I went to feed Ivy, I expressed a small amount of colostrum/milk with my hand so my nipple was dripping. This gave her a little reward to latch properly. Then, I smashed my breast into her mouth. I could feel it right away if her mouth wasn't open wide enough and wouldn't let her continue. I'd put my finger in her mouth and carefully take her off of my breast. At times it took over five minutes to begin feeding her and she did get frustrated, but after two days of dedicated 'latch training', we perfected it and to this day, I haven't had sore nipples.
If you do suffer from sore nipples, try a nipple shield. I also love Earth Mama's Nipple Butter and used it every day as self-care (and still, but as a facial moisturizer).
This can be the hardest part. When you sit down to nurse your baby, before beginning, take DEEP breaths. Imagine yourself as a breastfeeding goddess with milk flowing from your breasts. Imagine your baby chugging your healthy milk that's flowing freely and quickly from your breasts. Then, begin to breastfeed. Continue to inhale and exhale slowly with these thoughts in your mind. Look down at your baby, feel the love and pride you have for him or her and allow your milk to flow out of your body. If it helps, close your eyes and do your best to relax and truly enjoy the experience.
Whenever my anxiety is troubling me, Ivy and I have a bath together. I turn out all the lights, light some candles and lay in the warm water with her. Skin to skin, she suckles from my breast. It always helps me relax and she loves it, too!
+ Believe in yourself
Just as your body conceived, grew and birthed your baby, your body is DESIGNED to provide food for your baby. You were meant to do this!
Pumping can also help bring up your milk supply. When Ivy was a few days old, I started pumping every night to build up a stash to keep in the freezer just in case anything ever were to happen to me that would prevent me from breastfeeding her when she needed it, which came in handy down the road.
If you have to go back to work, it's a good idea to establish a pumping routine from the start to build up that supply. Do your best to pump at the same time every single day so your body gets used to producing extra milk at that time. Take a deep breath before beginning to pump and drink a BIG glass of water. While you're pumping, envision your baby if you're not with her. Look at photos of her, day dream about her suckling your breast and feel proud about the milk you're saving to feed her. If you are with your baby, gaze into her eyes and enjoy the bonding moment.
AVOIDING POTENTIAL (PAINFUL) PROBLEMS
There are a few painful problems that can happen along the way — from engorgement to clogged milk ducts, infections, mastitis and more.
The two best ways to avoid these problems is to nurse OFTEN (empty those breasts!) and to massage your breasts, preferably under hot water in the shower. If you feel any lumps or warm spots in your breasts, jump in the shower and massage down, towards the nipple, to encourage the milk to flow. Then, put your baby on your boob and encourage her to suckle, suckle, suckle. The more she nurses, the less FULL you'll feel.
You may also want to hire a lactation consultant or join a breastfeeding support group. La Leche League is a great resource for this.
Please visit www.kellymom.com for more information on troubleshooting breastfeeding problems. She's a genius and my most trusted resource.
MILK FROM COWS IS NOT OURS TO TAKE
I'm very passionate about breastfeeding because human milk is the healthiest food for human babies. It's designed with them in mind, no one else. Human milk is for human babies. Likewise, cow's milk is for calves.
We are the only species on the planet that drinks milk from another species. Cow's milk is designed to make a baby cow grow from a small calf to a 500-pound animal in a short amount of time; it's not designed for human consumption. The way humans obtain milk from cows isn't natural either.
"Here's what happens: cows don't produce any milk until they've been impregnated and give birth. And the farmer's not going wait for nature for take it's course - 'hi, have some chocolate and roses and maybe make love and maybe somewhere out in the field you'll get pregnant' - no, the farmer's impregnate the cows every single year. And this is not done with grace. What they do is they take a glove that's really long, it goes all the way up from their fingers to their shoulders, and they stick their left hand right up the cow's rectum so they can feel the uterus through the rectal wall. They grab ahold of the uterus and they stabilize it and then with their right hand, they take what looks like a knitting needle and they push it through the cow's cervix and they inject semen into it. And the cow is not going to object because she is chained by the neck. And then they write on her flank, the date. And then nine months later, she gives birth. The gestation is about the same in a cow as it is in a human. And when she gives birth, she looks down at her baby who is in the hay and the baby looks up at her and is blinking his eyes and this mother and infant bond is extremely strong. And the farmer thinks "isn't that beautiful." Except the farmer knows that 'wait wait wait, if this calf stays with the mother and takes the milk, then what am I going to have?" So the farmer has an implement that solves this problem - it's called a wheelbarrow. And the farmer picks up the calf, puts the calf in the wheelbarrow and takes the calf away from the mother. And this bond is the strongest bond we have in nature and so the mother fights back. "Excuse me, that is my baby!" And she will fight how she can, she will push and she will follow and the farmer slams the gate in her face. This is every day, in every dairy and the calf goes away. And she will stand there and she will cry out all night long. If you live near a dairy farm, you will hear this. And the baby will cry for her mother and she will be impregnated again three months later. And every year she will be impregnated and this is where the hormones then get into the milk but from her standpoint, it's not pleasant to get artificially inseminated and then have your baby taken away. And this goes on about four times. When she's about four years of age the farmer does the math and says "I'm not getting enough milk out of you for the amount of feed that I'm feeding you so how about I hang you up by the leg and I slit your throat and we then sell your meat for low-grade hamburger and I'm going to replace you with your daughter who I've been keeping here in a hutch" and the offspring go in and they are artificially inseminated and separated from their offspring and then their offspring and that's what the whole dairy industry is. It's a meat industry that just forces the animals to get impregnated and separated and impregnated and separated before they're finally killed at about four years of age."
- Dr. Neal Barnard M.D., F.A.C.C., is an adjunct associate professor of medicine at the George Washington University School of Medicine and Health Sciences in Washington, D.C., president of the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine, and founder of Barnard Medical Centre.
Dr. Jay Gordon is a renowned, highly educated and respected pediatrician in the United States. In his article, "Milk: Does It Really Do the Body Good?" he states that when the mother consumes dairy and breastfeeds or gives her child dairy formula, it may result in the following health problems for the baby:
Green, runny stool
Blood tinged stool
Chronic nasal stuffiness
Excessive abdominal discomfort
Mimic of GER (gastroesophageal reflux) symptoms
It's also been suggested that the indigestion from dairy consumption is one of the causes of colic in babies. In any case, dairy is not designed for human consumption.
If you're unable to breastfeed, plant-based formulas are available. You can also receive donated breastmilk from another nursing mother through HumanMilk4HumanBabies. This is an amazing organization that has Facebook pages set up for many regions around the world. I've donated milk through the Winnipeg page before! If you're unable to find a page for your region, contact your local health authorities to learn about a milk bank in your location.
I hope these tips are helpful for you as you begin your breastfeeding journey. Since breastfeeding changes as the baby grows (let down sensations, milk production, etc.) these tips are meant for new nursing mothers. I have been nursing Ivy now for nine months and it's been the most incredible experience of my life.
The biggest and most important piece of advice I have for you is this — at the end of the day, believe in yourself. Your body was MEANT to do this. You DO have enough milk and you ARE doing the right thing! Listen to your heart and your mama intution, it will never lead you astray!
Kelly Mom - this is the ONLY website I read for breastfeeding advice. It's amazing and I recommend it to everyone!
My favourite breastfeeding resources and products:
I also recommend using NATURAL, organic, plant-based deodorant, soaps and laundry soaps. Our skin is our biggest organ and when breastfeeding, our babies are eating from our bodies. We also have milk ducts as far back as our armpits. Wearing natural deodorant ensures that toxins aren't getting into your milk.
I like Routine deodorant and have been using it since 2012, the year the company was born. It's the most effective natural deodorant on the market, I promise!
For centuries, kale has been one of the most nutritious and versatile greens around. Part of the cabbage family, it has gained it's "superfood" title for a reason. One cup of kale...
* is rich in vitamin A, C and K
* is packed with fibre, iron and antioxidants
* contains zero fat and is very low in calories
* is loaded with folate, a B vitamin that aids in brain development
* is high in calcium (per calorie, it contains more calcium than cow milk!)
* contains at least three grams of protein
* protects our bodies from muscular degeneration, cataracts, cancer, asthma and arthritis
* is great for vision, healthy skin, strong bones and can even help people suffering from Alzheimer's disease.
...and the list goes on.
Kale can be enjoyed cooked, blended, baked and steamed, but I'll be the first to admit that in a salad it can be tough to chew and bitter to taste — unless, of course, it's massaged!
Massaging kale is super simple and by doing so, the leaves become tender and soft and the taste turns sweet and delicious. Here's how you do it:
1. Remove the stems from the kale leaves and discard.
2. Chop the kale leaves into small pieces and wash in a salad spinner.
3. Transfer the kale leaves to a bowl and add 1 tsp of sesame oil.
4. With your hands, massage (literally massage) the kale leaves for at least five minutes. The longer you massage the leaves the more the toughness of them will break down. They will shrink in size, become softer and brighten in colour.
5. Add your favourite vegetables, nuts and dressing to the kale leaves and voila!
"Diastasis What?" That was my reaction when, at 25 ½ weeks pregnant, I first came across the term Diastasis Recti.
What is it?
In every human body, the centre line fascia that runs from the breastbone to the pelvic bone is called the Linea Alba. Diastasis Recti means that the right and left halves of the Rectus Abdominals, the abdominal muscles that run vertically along this line (up and down the stomach), have spread apart, leaving a gap in between the abdominals.
This most commonly happens to women during pregnancy, as the baby grows and needs more room in the belly, but can also happen in non-pregnant women and in men with extreme yo-yo dieting and exercising.
Throughout my entire pregnancy, I focused on doing everything “right.” I ate cleaner than I ever had in my entire life, I exercised regularly to build strength and prevent unnecessary weight gain, I avoided processed food entirely, steering clear of sugar and caffeine, and I got plenty of rest.
Aside from a bit of dizziness at the beginning, pregnancy was a breeze for me, and I credit a lot of this to how well I took care of myself. So when I went into my 23-week appointment with my midwife, took out my list of questions, and confidently asked, “Can you please check to see if I have Diastasis Recti?” I was convinced that after assessing my belly she’d say, “Nope!”
Lesson number one in pregnancy: it’s good to be confident, but no one, even the healthiest woman, can predict what’s going to happen.
That afternoon, while assessing my belly, she said, “Yes, you’ve developed a mild case of Diastasis Recti. Stop doing any exercises that put strain on your core and take extra care of your belly going forward to prevent it from getting worse.”
Hearing that news was like taking a bullet. “But I’m doing everything right!” I told her, fighting back tears. “I’m following second trimester workout guides, I’m taking SUCH good care of myself, how did this happen?!”
The moment the appointment ended, I obsessively researched Diastasis Recti — what causes it, how to fix it. After some browsing, I thought maybe the planks I was doing caused it. But other websites said I was doomed no matter what because all pregnant women get develop it. I also read that women with a weak core and little to no abdominal strength are prone to developing it.
Flustered, upset and defeated, I booked an appointment with my physiotherapist and went to yoga to decompress.
I had been seeing a local a pelvic floor physiotherapist, Jaime Wheaton, since the early stages of my pregnancy. Since she works mainly with pregnant women, I knew she’d be able to help me with this.
In the extensive research I had done prior to my appointment, I read that with the proper exercises and treatment, Diastasis Recti can be corrected before the baby is even born! I went in hopeful, excited for the news I was going to get and feeling confident about fixing this ‘problem.’
Once again, I was disappointed. And this time I couldn’t hold back the tears.
Jaime told me that every single woman she sees has Diastasis Recti and that it’s just "one of those things" that happens during pregnancy. She told me that there’s a million different things one can read online, but in the research she’s done, both scholarly and throughout her daily practice, 100% of women get it and it’s easiest to spot in petite, fit women.
“It makes sense,” she said, “the belly needs to open up to make space for the baby so the abdominals push apart as the uterus grows. There’s no way around it.”
Of course, this makes sense. But I was still upset by it. I had read that the abdominal gap creates the ‘mama pooch’ after the baby has been born and that it can be almost impossible to get rid of. She didn’t deny or confirm this, but rather told me that every woman is different.
She then provided me with some exercises to strengthen my Transverse Abdominal muscles (the ones on the side that pull the abdominals together) and re-assured me that together, her and I will do everything we can to heal my belly, post-baby.
You may read this article and think, “Oh, the vanity! Your body made a baby, it’s a miracle!” And that’s right — it is a miracle!
One of the biggest challenges for me, though, and for many women, is parting with our pre-baby body and accepting that how the post-baby body will look remains a mystery.
Some women bounce back immediately after birth, some take longer and others will never look the same.
For me, pregnancy was a constant reminder to practice self-love, grace and acceptance — even when it’s incredibly difficult to do so. Especially then.
For more information on Diastasis Recti, check out the comprehensive and informative YouTube video that my physiotherapist made. It’s meant for fitness instructors but can be useful for anyone interested in the subject.
New moms are busy, and finding time to fit in nourishing meals can be a challenge. There are so many reasons to not eat or to not eat well: I'm too tired to prepare a healthy meal, my to-do list is huge and more important, or because sometimes I'd rather fall into an IG hole.
In times like this, I rely on one simple analogy. You know the pre-flight instructions that you hear when you’re on the plane waiting for take-off? When the attendants get to the part about the oxygen mask, they always warn parents that if the oxygen masks drop, you must apply yours before attending to your child.
It’s that simple – the mother needs to have oxygen to help the child. It's the same with food. If a mother isn’t feeding herself energizing, healthy foods then her body may struggle to produce milk for her baby. While this may not be a problem at first, it might catch up on mom sooner than she thinks, and her milk supply could decrease as a result.
As a general rule, I try to take advantage of every single second of nap-time by prioritizing and nourishing my body with a healthy meal. But as every mother knows, naps aren’t always as long as we like them to be, so preparing my meal needs to be fast and easy.
Over the past six months, I’ve developed a few time-saving tricks to make sure that even on the craziest days I’m able to stay fuelled and energized.
I find that one of the easiest ways to make sure I eat healthy, nutritious meals every day is to make a meal plan and post it on the fridge. I draft out what we’re eating for breakfast, lunch, dinner and snacks so I know what to cook when I have limited time to prepare a meal.
It doesn't have to be complicated or elaborate, either. Like oatmeal for breakfast? Have it everyday like me! Making soup for dinner? Make enough so it can be lunch the next day.
Keep the fridge and pantry full of healthy, lactogenic foods. Lactogenic foods are foods that help increase breast milk production. This way, when you feel the urge to munch, what you're reaching for is healthy and nourishing and increases breast milk production.
My favourite foods to keep on hand? Bananas, yams, avocados, strawberries, spinach and kale, sunflower seeds, dates, tahini, oats, rice, raw almonds and cashew butter.
At the beginning of the week, I like to pre-roast a bunch of vegetables (Brussels sprouts, sweet potatoes, zucchini, squash), make a large pot of whole grains (rice or quinoa) and prepare a few sauces to store in the fridge. The vegetables and grains act as a base for a really delicious and easy-to-prepare lunch that I can throw together in a few minutes.
One of my favourite sauces to make is my Easy Tahini Sauce. I mix this in with a variety of different veggies and grains, without having to overthink the meal.
Let’s face it – breastfeeding and pumping is tough work! Breastfeeding alone burns about 300-500 calories per day, which can leave any mama feeling famished. As a new mother to an exclusively breastfed baby girl, I know this to be true, and I've never been hungrier!
I begin the day with two breakfasts, followed by a snack, then lunch, another snack, dinner, and another snack before bed. And sometimes I eat more snacks throughout the day, especially if my daughter is nursing more than usual.
To ensure that I’m eating foods that help increase breast milk production, it’s my top priority to not only keep my body well-fed but properly nourished, too. To do this, I keep two big food groups fully-stocked in my kitchen for easy access to healthy choices.
FRESH FRUITS & VEGETABLES
Keeping the fridge and pantry full of healthy, lactogenic foods (food that helps increase breast milk supply) make it a lot easier to grab a healthy bite when you have a moment to munch, while also increasing your breast milk production!
Fresh fruits and vegetables (preferably organic) fit the bill for this and are excellent options to stock up on. They’re loaded with vitamins, minerals, healthy fibres and antioxidants to nourish your hard-working body, as well as your baby’s growing body.
Carrots, yams, and beets are high in beta-carotene (vitamin A), a vitamin that’s needed in greater amounts to promote lactation.
Dark leafy greens, like kale, spinach, arugula, Swiss chard, spinach and collard greens contain minerals, vitamins, enzymes and phytoestrogen which also helps the body produce more breast milk.
It’s also important to incorporate foods that are high in monounsaturated fats (healthy fats, found in foods such as avocados) that help mom absorb vitamins A, D, E and K— these are crucial vitamins to help the baby develop healthy vision, bones, skin and blood clotting!
WHOLE GRAINS AND LEGUMES
Galactagogues, such as oats, millet, rice, barley, lentils, chickpeas, and beans, are foods that increase the flow of a mother’s breast milk.
Oats are especially high in iron, and since anemia and low iron levels can result in decreased milk supply, porridge makes for a perfect breakfast or snack!
Almonds, cashews and macadamia nuts also support breast milk production and make for great grab-and-munch snacks. Walnuts contain two types of omega-3 fatty acids that help baby’s growth, brain and vision development and immunity.
Looking for a delicious, quick and easy breakfast that incorporates some of these staples? I rely on my Morning Maple Porridge as my go-to breakfast.
“What are you doing?” my mother-in-law asked Ben as he ran through our kitchen with a cooler in his hand at 6:45 am.
“Just putting Ashley’s placenta on the porch,” he said, like he was checking his email or washing the dishes.
She sat on the couch, stunned and confused. Did I hear that right?, she thought.
My mother-in-law was staying with us for a couple of nights after I gave birth to Ivy. It's a crazy time for all new parents and she was prepared to help with whatever we needed. But she wasn't prepared for this.
To this day, she says that the placenta story still makes her laugh.
So, why was Ben doing this? Our doula was on her way to pick up my placenta so she could encapsulate it for me.
Yes, you read that correctly.
I had my placenta dried, ground up, and encapsulated into pills, which I then took for over a month after giving birth. Doing this was the best postpartum recovery decision I made.
￼When I got pregnant, I started reading about natural ways to heal my body and mind ￼after giving birth and came across the possibility of eating my placenta. I was as ￼intrigued as I was horrified by the idea of eating my own organ. Still, I decided to look into it further.
WHAT IS A PLACENTA?
After conception, the placenta begins to grow in the mother’s body, attaching to the wall of her uterus. The baby’s umbilical cord then attaches to the placenta, which serves as the source of life for the growing baby.
The placenta provides nutrients and oxygen to the baby, protects the baby from internal infections, produces hormones to support a healthy pregnancy and eliminates waste from the baby’s blood.
After the mother gives birth, she delivers the placenta. Without the baby, the mother no longer needs this extra organ.
Since the placenta contains excess hormones and nutrients that were passed from mom to babe, many women around the world believe that an important part of postpartum recovery is to consume it after birth.
Some women incorporate it into a special meal, some freeze it into small chunks and then blend it into a smoothie, and some encapsulate it and ingest their placenta in pill form.
Consuming it is said to help regulate postpartum hormones, increase milk supply and improve the mother’s overall mood. Since I had a very difficult first trimester of pregnancy with pre-baby blues, I decided to do whatever I could to prevent postpartum sadness.
I had no idea how difficult it is becoming a mom, and the first month was such a foggy haze that I don’t remember much of it at all.
Two weeks after I had Ivy, I got my placenta pills. From the moment I took the first one, I called them my “happy pills.”
I felt instantly different. They gave me confidence and made me feel like getting through the day was possible. They gave me tons of energy after having a sleepless night. My milk supply was overabundant and my overall mood was elevated.
Although there were many struggles while I was adjusting to being a mother, I can’t imagine going through the initial weeks without my happy pills. The placenta is a beautiful, miracle of an organ and consuming it, giving the nutrients to my body and Ivy's a second time was my way of honouring that. I am so grateful I did it.
“Remember this, for it is as true and true gets: Your body is not a lemon. You are not a machine. The Creator is not a careless mechanic. Human female bodies have the same potential to give birth well as aardvarks, lions, rhinoceros, elephants, moose, and water buffalo. Even if it has not been your habit throughout your life so far, I recommend that you learn to think positively about your body.” - Ina May Gaskin