Gut health struggles Part 2: Solutions for postpartum mommas
So you read Part 1 and all about WHY we may struggle with gut health and digestion after baby, but now let’s talk about solutions!
These suggestions are for educational purposes only and should NOT be considered a substitution for advice or diagnoses from a practicing health care professional!
Nutrition. Prioritize fiber, healthy fats , vegetables and protein in your diet as best you can! These are going to help regulate hormones, nourish the gut microbiome and improve regularity and stool formation.
Believe me, I KNOW that when we are overwhelmed it ain’t easy to make “nutritious meals” happen daily.
So pick what you CAN make happen!
Maybe a daily smoothie that gets you a bolus of good nutrition?
I’m a big fan of the #bigasssalad movement and like to throw as much veggie, fat, and protein goodness I can find in a bowl mid day to make sure I get at least ONE nutritious meal.
Or maybe you’re struggling to digest raw veggies (like salads) right now, in which case, roasted veggies (literally throwing whatever veggies you like or have in the fridge in a pyrex dish, pouring salt and olive oil over top and roasting at 400 degrees until they look ready) is the better option for you!
In Ayurvedic medicine food after birth is reintroduced SLOWLY for the mother, beginning with the least complex/most easily digestible foods like broth and gradually moving towards more complex ones like dairy, green vegetables and eventually meat.
The mother’s Agni and ama is routinely checked to see if she is digesting the food fully or if the body is holding onto anything undigested and therefore toxic. If there is a white coating on the tongue, any bloating or cramping, and or if the baby shows any of these symptoms, then the diet is NOT progressed.
***Side note: BROTHS!
Historically in the US and still all over the world we nourished new mommas with broths.
Broth is filled with easily digestible nutrition
It’s devoid of allergens (unless you are histamine sensitive)
Broth contains collagen, gelatin and amino acids to help seal your gut, and restore and rebuild your tissues.
Check out my post on how to make bone broth, the way I do it is SUPER simple).
In Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) broths are used HEAVILY for the first 40 days after birth. The Chinese believe that birth makes us more “yin” or cold and the warmth of the broth helps to balance that. Giving broth as a source of nutrition, requires little digestive work for the body and therefore allows our immune and digestive systems to rest while we recover.
Even in non-pregnant women, often in China people will start a meal with a cup of both to stimulate digestive enzymes and help the body better break down our food and extract nutrition.
If you can’t already tell, I’m a fan and if you read my post on broth you’ll learn how it brought me back from the edge of sickness that was induced by a poorly healed postpartum and over-taxed body.
When should follow these nutrition recommendations?
Anytime! If you’re 1 day, 6 weeks, 6 months, 9 months postpartum, doesn’t matter, these recommendations still stand.
It’s important to remember that the process of digestion does take WORK and in the early days of postpartum, your body is still recovering from all it’s hard work!
Eating simply and eating a low-inflammatory diet of easily digested foods is a preventative measure that serves most women that observe it well!
**There is a chance that you could have developed some food sensitivities during your pregnancy and postpartum experience (there are multiple explanations for why that could be to be addressed at a later time!). If you suspect that’s the issue, I would HIGHLY recommend getting with a licensed practitioner (like Laura, here) that can help you sort through that.
I’m partial to a registered dietitian and nutritionist OR an ND or MD with functional medicine training.
Probiotic foods or supplements. Remember when we talked about the effect of antibiotics and stress on the gut and its community of microbes living in it? If you did receive antibiotics or are struggling with digestion, probiotics are a GREAT solution! There are different strains for different problems and different bodies/guts prefer different types. If you think about tit, there is already a community of bugs living in your gut and probiotics are additional bugs that you are now adding.
Unfortunately they sort of have to “duke it out” in the beginning and you can experience some die-off, worsening of symptoms or other discomfort in the first week, but it’s usually short lived, ESPECIALLY if you SLOWLY introduce small dosages.
Consult with your health practitioner about what probotics would be best for you!
I like the Gut Institute’s Bifido-Max-it’s allergen free and contains the keystone species/gut gatekeepers that we were supposed to get from our mommas. They help decide what goes out and what stays in the intestines and improve digestions AND elimination.
It comes in powder form, so it’s easy to SLOWLY ramp up the dose over time. It’s also kid-friendly!
My second favorite right now is MegaSpore probiotic-which has been toted to fight inflammation and seal the gut.
I am not affiliated with these companies in any way, they are just what I use personally.
If you’re not ready to try a probiotic supplement, how about some foods?
There are LOADS of them out there! I love Farmhouse Culture brand and I don’t love spicy varieties for nearly postpartum moms or anyone struggling with digestive struggles!
**Some probiotic strains or probiotic foods MIGHT be better tolerated by a nursing baby than others, so introduce them SLOWLY and pay attention to how you and your baby’s body respond!
Spend time moving, especially outdoors! This will get you your daily requirement of Vitamin D, help you inoculate your gut with microbes, and lower your cortisol (stress response) to improve digestion. Movement ALONE has been shown to increase the robustness and diversity of the gut microbiome and let’s face it, the more sedentary we are, the longer it takes for us to excrete waste.
Movement makes you poop more regularly!
I’m not a big fan of new mommas jumping right back into a challenging fitness routine.
I think traditional exercise (like group fitness and CrossFit!) is a reserved for rested, recovered bodies.
But MOVEMENT and movement training can be immensely helpful for re-building strength, core and pelvic floor responsiveness and coordination! I have a movement protocol that isn’t specifically for mommas, but can be a great way to get started with movement! I also recommend working with a postnatal fitness specialist AND doing Original Strength resets.
Prioritize sleep over screen time-just lay down, close your eyes.
I started wearing headbands over my eyes so I could fall asleep more easily.
Believe me, I get it.
You’re tired, you’re stressed. Your body and life have just been hijacked by this cute little baby that needs you all of the time.
Escaping with some screen time after a long day can feel SOOOO good.
And I’m not saying that you should never do it.
But take it from someone that learned the hard way, your body can NOT afford to lose any more sleep than it is already.
Sleep deprivation is an issue for a health gut microbiome.
Remember in Part 1 when we talked about “rest and digest”?
The gut does a LOT of digestion and repair work at night while you sleep.
Additionally the microbial “rhythm” of your gut impacts your circadian rhythm and vice versa.
One study showed that just two nights of only 4 hours of sleep dramatically altered the subjects’ microbiome-in favor of reduced insulin sensitivity. Other research show that consistent lack of sleep creates stress in the body that will over time eliminate your good gut bugs.
Lack of sleep also causes us to reach for quick forms of energy, often sugary carbs which ALSO select for negative changes in the gut microbial landscape.
Naps can help mitigate the unavoidable challenge of diminished sleep in lives of new parents, but so can grabbing it as often as you can and NOT allowing the blue light of screens or story line of your favorite show to keep you up when you could be grabbing some Zzzzzz’s.
Sleep deprivation is part of our new reality and it’s worse for some people than others.
I personally had RUBBISH sleepers for babies and I know how it feels to just give up even trying to grab sleep whenever possible, but here’s the thing, the laundry, the on-demand TV, the dirty dishes-they ain’t going anywhere and even if you make it through, there will always be more.
During this season of your life and ESPECIALLY if you struggle with gut distress, you need to prioritize sleep WHEN you can. You don’t have to stress about it or be perfectionist, but you do have to persistently pursue it and make the most of what you goT!
Squat to poop. Constipation is NOT an uncommon occurrence after baby. Our hormones, pelvic floors and alignment are all VERY different from what they once were before baby.
NOT routinely eliminating waste causes the toxins and expired hormones in the stool to be resorbed into the blood stream.
This can be taxing on our immune system and gut health and can also cause imbalances in our hormones-which will negatively impact sleep and gut health too!
Eliminating waste once a day is ideal and getting in a squat position to do so is VERY helpful for ease of doing so!
You can buy a squatty potty or fashion some other foot rests that work best for you!
To be totally frank, the squatty potty isn’t a deep enough squat for everyone, so if it doesn’t exactly work for you, that doesn’t mean that squatting isn’t best.
Play around with positions! I talk more about all this in another article here.
It’s so very trying to be taking care of a new baby, trying to meet their needs and meet the expectations you and your life could be putting on you, but I can tell you from my own experience, IF your body is sending you signs that something isn’t right, DON’T IGNORE IT!
Do what you can to address it.
Don’t be afraid to invest resources, time and energy in a practitioner to help you, if necessary! Just be frank with them about your financial situation and time limitations and ask them for guidance in helping you choose the MOST impactful changes for you, your life and your body!
Sarah Smith is a personal trainer, level two Russian Kettlebell Instructor, postnatal fitness specialist and pelvic floor and gut health advocate with a Masters in Agricultural Science.
She works online and in Raleigh, North Carolina.
Sarah specializes in helping women online and in-person feel strong, confident and capable in their bodies!
She is a mom to three boys and one English Bulldog. She loves soil, coffee and not folding laundry. Come follow her on Instagram or Facebook.