Reposted from Breastfeeding Journeys.
I had a dismal experience nursing my first child. Much of the stuff you’re warned about that “doesn’t really happen,” happened. Raging mastitis, surgery, depression, check, check check. For my second baby, I went on the hunt for a more understanding coach and found Zeny — who has since coached dozens of other happy families and asked me to contribute a post on her blog about taking care of oneself as a new mom. This is it. I felt a lot of the tips applied to skin and health, period, and, with Zeny’s permission, decided to share them with VMV’s readers, too.
Taking Care Of Baby Is Taking Care Of Yourself
I’m a panicky mom with newborns. It wasn’t until my babies passed the 2-year-old mark that I realized I’d been holding my breath the entire time. At two, I could exhale. Then I looked in the mirror and stopped breathing again: I looked a royal mess. Not cute-sleepy, not charmingly unkempt; sharp-intake-of-breath frightful.
Here’s the thing: as a new mom with a newborn, I only had eyes for this tiny, vulnerable bundle of squeezable joy. I didn’t care about me, except in terms of whether or not I was being a good mother. Adding to this neurosis was my debilitating mastitis. This led to visions of my incapacity to mother. It started with my first child. “What if I don’t have enough milk?!” quickly became “Why am I so engorged? Why can’t I get the latch right?!” and then “Is this infection normal? Mastitis shouldn’t be so severe, should it? Am I supposed to have fevers?” and finally, “I’m told I need surgery, I need to stop nursing, I’m a failure as a new mom, my child will forever be deprived because I couldn’t give her more breastmilk.”
It took me a year and a half to get over the depression, and a doctor to say to me, “Look, you can choose to beat yourself up about this or you can choose to focus on your child and love her. She only cares about the latter. And she’ll feel your fear and sorrow if you’re not careful.” The same major mastitis problems recurred with my second child and my son turned out to be a cluster feeder (7 hours was his record). No longer a new, new mom, I’d learned my lesson: I found a lactation coach, Zeny, who was more forgiving, less rigid, and who gently, patiently coached me through pumping enough to give my baby 5 months of breastmilk.
Back to the frightful mess in the mirror. It wasn’t, I realized, just a reflection of what I excused away as a lack of vanity and selfless mothering. Facing me that day was a reflection of my head’s insides — the panic, worry and fear that owned me for two years. I heard those words again: “Your child will feel your fear and sorrow if you’re not careful.” I needed to take care of myself, both for me and for baby.
As you nurse your wee one, your brain is latching onto that baby as much as she is to you. She’s your universe. But don’t forget, you are hers. You want her universe to be calm, healthy, loving and self-caring; not a jingling, jangling stress-mess of no-shower nerves and exhaustion.
In my opinion, “I no longer matter, only my baby does” is passé. What’s in? “I need to be my best self — for me and for my baby.”
How? These 5 tips might help get you started.
1. YOUR HEALTH IS YOUR BABY’S HEALTH.
Watch what you’re eating. Veggies, healthy oils (hello, virgin coconut oil!), great, lean protein.
If you’ve had a c-section you may not be able to exercise yet but (depending on your physician’s instructions, of course), do get up and walking soon after the surgery. Do baby your incision. And do take note of when your doctor says you can get more active again.
Otherwise, get moving. Don’t walk in your mumu and slippers and call it exercise. Get that stroller, strap on some sneakers, and dress for exercise. Baby will get some air and visual stimulation. You’ll get started on exercise — besides getting back in shape, exercise can help you sleep better and release endorphins to keep you happier (not easy during sleep-deprived nursing days).
On that note: when baby sleeps, you sleep. Sleep is SO important for your mind, body, skin and overall health. Prioritize it.
De-stress. Yoga, meditation, prayer…whatever works for you, do it.
Avoid junk food and cut down on processed foods. Again, pro-inflammatory.
Stress, lack of sleep, no exercise, and a poor/junky diet are all pro-inflammatory, and inflammation is linked to everything bad. Too many to list…everything bad.
2. THINK GENTLE.
Pregnant or nursing women have a symphonic range of hormonal changes going on. If you’re lucky (as I was with my second baby), this leads to great, glowing skin. If not (as I was with my first baby), you could be revisiting teen acne nightmares. Skin can also get more sensitive, itchier, drier. And a baby’s skin is quite sensitive — plus, it absorbs anything topically applied more than adult skin. For both you and your newborn, think allergen- and irritant-free.
This is easier said than done. Most baby products out there have yummy scents (natural or not, fragrance is a top allergen) or masking fragrances (they don’t smell “good” but they mask the inherent smells of a formulation), as well as preservatives (many preservative-free products use fragrances for preservation…and, like cinnamic alcohol, they’re not instantly recognizable as fragrance), dyes or other allergens, or phthalates which have been linked to quite a few health concerns. This is so true that the only reason we created a Mom & Baby line is because I couldn’t find any allergen-free options when I was pregnant (cut to scene here of me haranguing my mother on the phone in the middle of a baby store, begging her to formulate products for my belly, my baby and me!)
And remember, natural doesn’t necessarily mean hypoallergenic — in fact, frequently, the opposite is true. Peanuts, bee stings, strawberries, shellfish, mangoes, dander, pollen, lavender, tea tree oil…many natural substances are highly allergenic. The same applies in skin and body care, too.
Even if you and baby don’t have sensitive skin, either of you could develop it simply with repeated exposure to irritants and allergens. It’s best to use allergen and irritant-free washes, lotions, etc. as much as you can to prevent problems.
IMPORTANT: Treating skin care problems can be difficult enough. This is exacerbated when the patient is a newborn, pregnant mom or nursing mom. Prevention is your friend.
TOP TIP: Virgin coconut oil. This non-allergenic oil can be used in your salad and when frying (it’s one of the healthiest oils out there) as well as on your/baby’s skin (its fatty acids are native to skin making it an excellent barrier repairing/moisturizing option) and hair (there’s a reason it’s in most conditioners!) It’s also a great natural option for constipation (a tablespoon a day for adults; start with a teaspoon a day for toddlers — again, with your pediatrician’s ok). It’s so safe, it’s a common ingredient in baby formulas for infants with nutritional deficiencies.
The best news? You can SHARE several products with baby! Hair and body washes, conditioners, lotions, oils, sunscreen…the same gentleness you need during this period is perfect for baby.
3. SUNSCREEN 365 DAYS A YEAR, INDOORS AND OUT.
Daily sunscreen is a must, period. Besides preventing skin cancer (which is on the rise and affects ALL people, light-skinned, dark-skinned, of all races), a recent study out of Australia showed more definitively than ever before that sun exposure is linked to photo-aging. Dangerous UVA gets through windshields and windows, too. And, Visible Light from indoor lights (halogens. fluorescents, even computer screens) is linked to melasma (dark spots), which contributes to the aged look of skin.
4. DO STUFF THAT MAKES YOU FEEL GOOD!
Makeup isn’t out…just choose more wisely. Dye, paraben, fragrance-free, for example. A little lipstick can lift one’s mood instantly. So can a makeover with gal pals! Or a salon day. Or (and this hits several birds with one stone as you’ll see below), get a facial!
If you really need a sloppy day of sweats and your shows, go for it. But don’t make it a habit. Hours of TV watching and Facebooking can worsen depression, as can staying in bed and not caring for yourself. If you find it’s been a few hours of vegging, get up, take a shower, take a walk, read a book, play with baby, have tea with a friend. Do not let yourself wallow.
5. TAKE CARE OF YOUR SKIN.
It isn’t just your body that’s going to need to get back in shape after pregnancy. Your skin’s had quite the ride, too.
First, those hormones. Acne, dryness, melasma are common problems.
Second, there was all that stretching as you gained weight. Even if you stayed well within your weight goals, your skin has stretched. If you also got very dry, you may have lost some elasticity or had some barrier damage.
Third, sleepless nights. Sleep deprivation is linked to inflammation, and inflammation is more and more linked to several health concerns (from depression to cancer and obesity) as well as many skin problems, from acne to eczema, psoriasis and aging.
Fourth, absence of actives. During pregnancy you probably dropped your active treatments. Meaning that at best, your skin probably had basic maintenance or moisturization for nine months.
How to get back in shape?
a – Get back to a cleanse, tone & treat, nourish & treat, and protection regimen. Daily or twice a day.
b – For the treatment products, choose proven actives like retinoic acid (NOT for when you’re pregnant), glycolic acid, kinetin, salicylic acid, mandelic acid, and the like.
c – Not yet ready for actives? Virgin coconut oil is an excellent alternative. Or try monolaurin which is a non-allergenic, coconut-derived antifungal, antiviral, antibacterial…all around antimicrobial. It works for face and body acne AND can help keep baby safe from infection, too. How safe is it? It’s found naturally in breast milk. Huzzah!
d – Get a facial. Not only is this a stress-relieving vacation in 60 minutes, but it’s an AWESOME way to get your skin back into shape
Laura is the CEO of VMV Hypoallergenics and eldest daughter of our founding dermatologist-dermatopathologist. She has two children, Madison and Gavin, and works at VMV with her sister and husband (Madison and Gavin frequently volunteer their “usage testing” services). In addition to saving the world’s skin, Laura is passionate about learning, literature, art, health, science, inclusion, cultural theory, human rights, happiness and goodness.