At 9 months postpartum, I am now officially able to talk about my early postpartum experience.
The first week of having a new baby is the most magical time. Everything slows down so much. Every day is the same, sleeping, nursing, cuddling, watching movies, eating, and drinking. What isn’t constant is your emotions. They are wild. The immense amount of love I felt for Aspen made me cry with happiness at random times. My heart felt as if it could explode at any moment. It all felt so very right, like the last puzzle piece of my soul had been placed. I was in the most amazing time capsule of life, getting to know my little golden girl.
However, parts of the first week can also be very challenging. When you have a baby it is also really highlights who in your community is unselfishly there for YOU (the mother). Those that show up to support you in your most fragile state. Unfortunately, it is so common to overlook the mother and her needs, and focus all the attention on the new baby. Meanwhile the mother is in the background mending to her swollen breasts, her sore and bleeding perineal area, and feeling very overwhelmed. Next time you show up to someone’s home to visit their newborn, bring something for the mom too. Baby outfits are NOT gifts for the mother. Instead bring flowers, a gift card for a massage, or some nice soaps. Let her know she is seen. Luckily, I had a couple of people show up in this way, and I am very grateful for them.
The following three months (or fourth trimester) were completely different than my first experience with Toren. Firstly, I was bleeding more postpartum than I did with Toren. Unbeknown to me, this is very common after you have already had a baby. Unfortunately, I bled for almost 6 weeks postpartum! I think part of it was my fault. I felt so good mentally and physically (initially), I just wanted to do more than I should have. Slowing down is soooooooo hard for me. As soon as I feel good, I want to do all the things. For me, walking was so important for my own mental and physical health, but even short, easy walks would leave me bleeding more. So I really had to slow down, and take a break, which was such a struggle….
At about two months postpartum, I started to develop some insomnia, which led to a very sleep deprived mama. I became so dizzy, had vision problems, and felt extremely lightheaded from the lack of good quality sleep, that I was afraid to drive and even went to the doctor worried about more severe issues. Everything the doctor tested came back normal (and optimal in my book)– thyroid, iron panel, CBC, CMP etc. “You are just tired and stressed new mom dear”, she said. “Take some more time for self-care”. Annoyed by her answer I also ordered some additional labs on my own, including a 4 point salivary cortisol test, plasma zinc, vitamin A (retinol), vitamin D, RBC magnesium, copper, and ceruloplasmin. My cortisol levels came back functionally low indicating I was dealing with burnout. No surprise there based on the lack of quality sleep I was dealing with and increased stress from navigating my new life with two kiddos (including a very jealous preschooler). The most surprising result was how low my plasma zinc levels were. I was deficient in my book, and almost deficient based on standard lab testing. Yikes! That was the answer to my sleep issues. Not that a breastfeeding infant helps with that. BUT I was likely struggling to fall asleep, and fall back asleep after I nursed Aspen because of this deficiency. Did you know that a zinc deficiency can impact sleep quality because it plays a very important role in making melatonin? Plus, zinc helps regulate cortisol and we use up a lot of zinc under times of stress. It is also not uncommon for women to develop zinc deficiencies during pregnancy and postpartum due to the increased demand for zinc. Furthermore, zinc deficiencies are correlated to postpartum depression (PPD), and supplementation thereof has helped improve postpartum mood scores and reduces the risk of developing PPD.
Although my diet contains zinc rich foods, based on my symptoms and my lab results, I then made a decision to supplement with zinc picolinate at a dose and frequency ideal for my case. I also increased my vitamin A intake via liver/liver pate and added a little extra vitamin D to help boost my levels to more optimal ranges. In addition, I took some ashwagandha and lemon balm tinctures to help manage my stress. Within 30 minutes after taking the tinctures my brain fog cleared, my dizziness went away, my energy increased, and I felt like my normal self again. It was such a relief! After a week of taking the zinc I also noticed that my appetite improved and slowly my sleep patterns improved as well. I relied less and less on melatonin for support and now, unless I work at night, I can fall asleep easily and can fall back asleep quickly. Phew! Now, I just need to do some repeat blood work again, and a hair tissue mineral analysis, just to make sure all is balanced in its right place.
In retrospect, I am so glad I KNOW all this stuff and have access to lab testing as a functional dietitian. If I didn't know all this, then gosh, I would have been miserable for so much longer. So please, please, please, advocate for yourself! If you are a postpartum mama out there, don't let miserable symptoms be chalked up to “you're just a new mom and stressed”. With that said, please do not go out and supplement with zinc on your own without knowing your levels. Too much zinc can also cause issues of its own. Work with a qualified practitioner to help match your symptoms with your lab results, and put together a protocol to fit YOUR needs.
Around 5 months postpartum after a bout of significant stress (transitioned to solo parenting for the season and decided to take the kids camping), I broke out in a huge cold sore on my chin. Interestingly this happened with Toren as well around the same time when I returned to work. Unfortunately, my cold sore this time around is taking a lot longer to heal. It even reactivated after a second episode of intense stress a month later and still hasnt cleared up completely. This was a blatant reminder for me that breastfeeding and caring for a new baby is a HUGE stressor on my body, and that tipping the scale just a tad too much can result in a wide variety of symptoms. For me it was initially insomnia and then the cold sore. For others it may be postpartum depression or anxiety, developing an autoimmune thyroid disease, etc. It is such a vulnerable time for new moms and unfortunately, the support still lacks greatly...especially in the later postpartum phase.
Unexpectantly, my period came back much earlier than with Toren. I started at around 5 months, instead of 9 months. I swear taking the zinc picolinate triggered an earlier start. When I am not as consistent with it, I skip, and when I am more consistent, I get another period. I have a theory that zinc status may reflect when a mama starts her period again postpartum. Makes sense to me based on all the roles zinc plays in hormone production. Anyways...
Otherwise, the rest of my postpartum experience with Aspen has been good. She nursed exclusively for the first 6 months. I did get fitted for my breast pump very early on with a lactation consultant to help make pumping more enjoyable and efficient. Did you know that standard breast shields/phalanges are much too big for the average female? And they make pumping more uncomfortable and less efficient? Yep. Get fitted ladies. Forunately, I never had an event where I was forced to be away from Aspen for a long period of time that required more than one feed from frozen milk. Therefore, I never pumped extra for a "freezer stash" because I didnt want to spend extra energy and nutrition to make it. My body was already needing so much support that I wanted to give my baby and myself all that energy and nutrition and not have it go to waste in the freezer. I personally only have about 2-4 extra bags in the freezer at any given time that I first started when my milk came in early postpartum. I pumped for relief until supply eased up. Since then I replace what is used keeping my frozen milk pretty fresh and up-to-date with my infants needs. I did the same with Toren.
At 6 months I started to introduce solids to Aspen, using a combination of baby led weaning and purees. Solid Starts is a great app you can download for guidance on baby led weaning. When I have the time, I also prefer to make my own protein and fat rich purees to give Aspen. For more information about baby food, check out my article here.
Now, at 9 months postpartum, I am feeling great despite still having very interrupted sleep. Unfortunately, Aspen wakes up at least two times a night to feed, unlike Toren who slept through the night at 6 weeks postpartum (such a dream). With two kiddos in tow, there is never a quiet moment, until the evening when both are asleep and I can finally catch an hour or two to knit or just relax. Also, now I get to rejoice in the regrowth of baby hair. For a minute there I was getting worried I was going bald! But alas, now I just have 2 inch hairs sticking up around the top and sides of my face...haha! Oh what a ride motherhood is! It keeps you humble thats for sure.
Note: if you haven’t read my second pregnancy recap, deficiently check out that article here.
Outline of Things I did to Support my Postpartum Period
IMPORTANT DISCLAIMER: This is not medical advice. This is what I did based on my unique needs. Please talk to your health care professional and/or dietitian to see what is right for you.
Like to read? Then get your evidence based nutrition information here! All posts written by Selva Wohlgemuth, MS, RDN Functional Nutritionist & Clinical Dietitian