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!


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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.

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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!





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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.



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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.


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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!

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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.

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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!

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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.

Gut health struggles for postpartum mommas Part 1; No matter how far postpartum, this could still be you!

 photo credit: Dr. Lia Andrews

photo credit: Dr. Lia Andrews

I hear it all of the time.

”My digestion was just never the same after I had the baby.”


Many a woman is struggling with digestive distress after birth and their lives are so full that they don’t always have the time to acknowledge it to themselves, never mind address it.

But it’s not uncommon and unfortunately, it probably isn’t going to resolve on it’s own, UNLESS it’s strictly due to hormonal changes, which is possible, but even then the recommendations in this article will help you survive digestion and elimination experiences in the meantime!

Let’s talk briefly about the reason why our digestion and elimination experiences can be different after birth.


Antibiotic treatment
Many hospital births require the administration of antibiotics during labor. When warranted, this intervention can prevent systemic infection, but unfortunately it can significantly alter your gut microbiome by obliterating many of the beneficial organisms that live there, leaving space for the flourishment of some not-so-beneficial organisms like Candida (yeast). You can read more here from Dr. Amy Myers!


Hormonal changes
Your digestion processes as well as elimination (pooping) is effected by various levels of hormones (progesterone and estrogen) in the body and as you probably know your hormones are still in flux for a little while after baby.


Possible increase of inflammation and intestinal permeability
There is preliminary evidence that pregnancy alters the barrier integrity of the intestines and increases low levels of inflammation in some individuals, depending on their microbiome and weight pre-pregnancy (Kerr et al. 2015) . And there is loads of evidence that individuals engaged in long endurance exercise events (ahem-birth) temporarily experience increased intestinal permeability that leads to diarrhea, cramping and digestive distress (Cronin, 2017). While labor fits this description, research being conducted on how labor and delivery impacts the mom’s intestinal lumen is NOT readily accessible or visible in the peer-reviewed literature-and so I looked to Traditional Chinese and Ayurvedic Medicine to see what those vastly under-used resrouces thinkMore later!

Unintentional shifts in diet
If you’re breastfeeding and or recovering from birth, then you need to consume more calories than you are probably doing so. Additionally if you’re tired and don’t have time or energy to prepare meals or are just looking for easy snacks, then you most likely consuming a higher amount of starchy carbs (they are the convenientist!). This which will in turn change the landscape of your microbiome (in high quantities, it can cause bad bugs to proliferate) and can make digestion/elimination move a little bit more slowly.
Forgetting to chew your food, or eating faster
Digestion begins with the teeth and enzymes in the saliva! A habitually fast eater pre-baby, I was SHOCKED to see how much faster at eating I became after having kiddos. When we get a moment to eat, we are often famished and or pressed for time and so we tend to eat FAST! But there is a communication that must happen between the mouth, brain and gut in order to ready our body for digestion. The parasympathetic nervous system slows heart rate, increases intestinal activity and opens gastric sphincter in order to facilitate the NOT uncomplicated process of digestion.
Precision Nutrition has a great synopsis on this topic:

“Think of digestion as a chain reaction. As soon as we see, smell, or think about food (step 1), we start salivating to prepare for putting that food in our mouth (step 2). Saliva contains enzymes that break the food down, and moistens the mouth for easier swallowing.

Meanwhile, digestive steps 3, 4, 5 etc. have to get ready to go to work. Our stomachs start to secrete more acid. Our small intestine starts to get ready for some peristalsis. And so forth.

If we rush this process, we force our GI tract to deal with stuff before it’s fully prepared. Surprises are great on birthdays, not so great during digestion.”

Trying to digest food that has NOT been properly broken down by the stomach acid and enzymes can be really hard on the gut AND it can cause us to OVER-eat. While over-consuming calories is NOT something I want you to stress about, eating too much, too fast can be uncomfortable and cause bloating, cramping and other forms of digestive distress, ESPECIALLY if it’s foods that are difficult to digest like protein and fibrous veggies.


Stress and lack of sleep
Motherhood is stressful. New babies are a lot of work, I don’t care if this is your first or your fourth, a new person in the mix always changes the dynamics and routine of the household. That coupled with lack of sleep can TOTALLY lead to stress mental, emotional and mechanical stress on the body. Stress slows things down. It kills your good bugs. It diverts blood away from our gut so that we can’t digest and absorb nutrition efficiently and over the longterm the gut becomes MORE permeable to toxins and food particles. When these guys get in our blood stream they can make us food intolerant and cause all sorts of negative responses to foods, including rashes, bloating, cramping, diarrhea…
Stress is also part of life!
It’s fine, don’t stress about it, but keep reading about ways to help MANAGE these changes.Ok, well this is the situation we find ourselves.
ONE or possibly ALL of these variables are messing with our digestion and causing bloating, indigestion, diarrhea, constipation or a little bit of EVERYTHING.


So what can we do about it?

Head on over here to read Part 2

References

Armstrong LE, Lee EC, Armstrong EM. Interactions of Gut Microbiota, Endotoxemia, Immune Function, and Diet in Exertional Heatstroke. Journal of Sports Medicine. 2018;2018:5724575. doi:10.1155/2018/5724575.

Benedict, C., Vogel, H., Jonas, W., Woting, A., Blaut, M., Schürmann, A., & Cedernaes, J. (2016). Gut microbiota and glucometabolic alterations in response to recurrent partial sleep deprivation in normal-weight young individuals. Molecular Metabolism, 5(12), 1175-1186. doi:10.1016/j.molmet.2016.10.003

Cronin O, O'Sullivan O, Barton W. Gut microbiota: implications for sports and exercise medicine Br J Sports Med Published Online First: 11 January 2017. doi: 10.1136/bjsports-2016-097225

Kerr, C.A., Grice, D.M., Tran, C.D., Bauer, D.C., Li, D., Hendry, P., and Hannan, G.N. (2015). Early life events influence whole-of-life metabolic health via gut microflora and gut permeability. Crit Rev Microbiol. 41(3):326- 40.

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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. 

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I have clients in their 50’s just NOW healing their diastasis recti and pelvic floor problems sustained 20, 30 years ago.
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They’ve been to a lot of gyms and no one told them that leaking, and persistent back pain, chronic shoulder injuries and hip problems were related to their diastasis recti and pelvic floor dysfunction.

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Why you don't want to use another person as the standard for what YOU should be

"After all that, I'm just ready to be me." -Lauryn Hill

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I'm work fitness. 
I help women stretch beyond their comfort zones and grow. 
I help them find time in their days and space in their lives to care for their bodies with movement and training. 
I help them crush goals, change how they feel in their bodies and even change aspects of their physique. 

I do NOT tell them that they have to be like me. 
I do NOT encourage them to look to Pinterest boards and fitness models as inspiration for whom they should become. 

I have an online presence that features me working out, sharing my accomplishments, challenging others to do more in their lives. 
I follow other women that are crushing online. 
I look to them and their accomplishments with admiration. 
I use them to challenge me. 

I work HARD to make sure that I refrain from EMULATING them or believing that I have to do exactly what they are doing to be successful, to be happy. 
 



You see, I am 100% in opposition of is the idea that we should EVER make another individual human being the standard for what WE SHOULD BE. 



I spent from age 13 to 19 suffering chronic whiplash from always looking around at what EVERYONE else was doing and using that as a measure of what I needed to be. 

Consequently I had NO direction. 
I felt like a failure and a fraud. 
I pretty much hated my life. 


At 19 years old I had two amazing faculty members at the University of New Hampshire, that changed my life. 
They saw me. 
They saw my talents and my potential for the successful achievement of goals. 
They believed in me. 
They weren't confused about who I was. 
They weren't comparing me to anyone else. 
They weren't telling me to become something else. 
They simply let me know that I was capable and that I could cultivate a life for myself beyond what I was doing now. 
I could do better. 

And never in a "you don't measure up" sort of manner, but in a, "I see you. You got this," sort of way. 

And suddenly I wanted to change EVERYTHING. 
I wanted to invest in myself. 
I wanted to expand my comfort zone and pursue all the things that I wanted out of life. 

I saw fellow students buckling down and succeeding in school and I went after MY OWN version of that. 

I saw my friends enjoying their hobbies and academic pursuits and I wanted to figure out how to do that for myself too!

I took a hard look at the habits, relationships and activities in my life that WERE NOT working and I changed them. 

I took another job. 
I moved. 
I studied like I had NEVER studied before. 
I set goals. 
I wrote them down. 
I changed who I spent time with. 
I found new tasks and activities that actually nourished me. 

My life suddenly looked like no one else's around me and you know what. 
It was good. 

 

And so now, you know, I understand that it was because I was measuring myself or trying to compare myself to a standard that wasn’t reality. It wasn’t the standard at all, you know. There’s a scripture in the Bible that we, what does it say, it says ‘We compare ourselves amongst ourselves’ you know. That’s not the standard. You already are the standard. What are you trying to fit into a standard for? We were each created to be individual standards, you know. And we’re trying to fit into a standard? It doesn’t make any sense, you know....After all that, I’m just ready to be me.
— Lauryn Hill, Unplugged
  Click the image to listen to and read these lyrics about why we shouldn't compare ourselves to others!!

Click the image to listen to and read these lyrics about why we shouldn't compare ourselves to others!!



Of course this took place over a couple of years and while I learned this incredibly important lesson early in life, I have had to re-learn it and grow it and build upon it time and time again. 
BUT the foundation that nineteen year old Sarah Smith laid has FOREVER impacted my life and helped me to stop chasing everyone else and invest in my own life. 


And this is why I feel so passionately about speaking out against the MANY messages in fitness, social media and popular culture that tell you, 
"Be this_______[insert snapshot of popular, fit, successful person]."

Especially for pre and postnatal women, women struggling with their body image, confidence, self respect and a sense of place in this world. 
Because when we are in theses states we are vulnerable. 
We can be more susceptible to harmful messaging. 
We can do ourselves harm chasing standards set for us by the culture EVEN when we don't know that we are doing it. 


That nineteen year old young woman that was affected by what everyone else around her was doing, she came out again during my third pregnancy and postpartum period. 


I found myself being affected by what fitness culture was telling me pregnant and early postpartum women should be doing, looking like, be capable of. 

I didn't even know that I was doing it!

I was working my ass off. 
Training, lifting, chasing kiddos, not always eating enough, exhausted, a little fried...

Why?
Because I thought that's what you did. 

And then I injured my body. 


The good thing about my injury is that it taught me that I could no longer copy what anyone else was doing. 

NO one readily accessible to me rehabbing pelvic floor dysfunction, diastasis recti, pelvic organ prolapse AND training with kettlebells. 

I had to look to my own body. 
I had to pay attention to my own life. 
I had to work around my own restrictions and capitalize on my own strength.  
Once again I had to stop using what others were doing as my meter stick for success and fitness. 

And it was good!
I now am SUPER outspoken about the fact that pelvic floor dysfunction, pelvic organ prolapse and other injuries shouldn't stop you from living your life and crushing your goals. 

But I the way that I train and the messages that I share are always based on the idea that we need to learn what works for us as individuals. 
We need to challenge ourselves to grow. 
But trying to keep up with other people and do exactly what they are doing is both an empty, dangerous and unsatisfying pursuit. 

At the end of the day, we are 100% responsible for shifting our focus and our mindset from looking to other people to learn "What we should be."

But I also know how impactful it was to have two very successful intelligent people in my life say, "I see you. You can do more. Dig in and grow. "

And so that's what I do with my coaching and my online community. 

I see you. 
You can do it!
It doesn't have to look like what anyone else is doing to be good, valuable...to be a success. 


 

You asked questions about the pelvic floor and pelvic organ prolapse and I answered!

I 100% DO NOT believe in rules and formulas when it comes to working with the pelvic floor. 
There are some very helpful guidelines and effective strategies for dealing with pelvic floor dysfunction and related injuries, but I will tell you that EVERY CLIENT I SEE IN-PERSON OR ONLINE presents with pelvic floor issues slightly differently and therefore we tailor their programming to their unique problems. 

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Why pre and postnatal mamas want to be vigilant about digestion and elimination challenges

One FREQUENT complaint in pregnancy and early postpartum is digestion
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