Having a baby can be both wonderful and complicated. Meeting your child for the first time and feeling that all-consuming love is magical…but then the hard part comes, and not just because you’re now responsible for keeping alive a crying baby. The postpartum period is also difficult because your body is dealing with a dramatic shift in its hormones.
When you’re pregnant, your estrogen and progesterone spike. According to Healthline, “A woman will produce more estrogen during one pregnancy than throughout her entire life when not pregnant.” For nine months, your body enjoys the highs of estrogen and progesterone, and then the moment you’ve been waiting for comes. You go into labor, push out your little miracle…and then everything in your body changes yet again.
The postpartum hormone changes can be difficult to weather, but a few lifestyle tweaks can help you support your body and get back into balance as soon as possible. Here is a guide to some things you can do to bolster the health and wellness of your body, skin, and mind throughout your postpartum experience.
The first 48 hours after you have a baby are riotous for your hormones. Prolactin steadily rises during pregnancy, but it spikes after you give birth, facilitating the production of milk. Oxytocin also increases, while estrogen and progesterone plummet in the first two days. This is the start of the postpartum rollercoaster.
Every person is different, but it generally takes 3-6 months to return to balance and to feeling like yourself again after having a baby. But there are a few things you can do in the meantime:
Eat 300 extra calories a day if you’re breastfeeding: You will burn these calories off and more, but your body needs the extra support to keep producing milk.
When it comes to exercise, think core, pelvic floor, and light cardio: While you shouldn’t go all out after giving birth — and you should always consult with your doctor about when you can start working out again — giving your endorphins an exercise boost can help keep cortisol in check in those early days. Focus on light cardio (think long walks) and exercises that will strengthen your core and pelvic floor, which both suffer during pregnancy. Bottom line: kegels are your new best friend.
Optimize your sleeping habits to keep cool at night: Excessive sweating, especially during sleep is a common experience thanks to depleted estrogen and progesterone. Invest in new PJs and sheets that will keep you cool or sleep on a towel so you don’t feel the need to give up even a moment of precious sleep to change the sheets in the middle of the night.
Minimize sugar and bad fats: Sugar cravings are real, especially when you’re not sleeping enough and your cortisol is all over the place. But focusing on eating protein, good fats, and other healthy foods will help restore your body’s ability to produce hormones and get back into balance.
And do eat phytoestrogens and vitamin-C-rich foods: Phytoestrogens like flaxseeds, sesame seeds, soy (edamame, tofu, and tempeh), peaches, and cruciferous vegetables can help your body with it’s estrogen production. Foods rich in vitamin C, on the other hand, support progesterone. This includes citrus fruits, bell peppers (everything but green), kiwis, and kale.
Pregnancy can be hard on your skin. Acne, hyperpigmentation, and stretch marks often accompany the more longed for benefits like the pregnancy glow and thick, luscious hair. Some of these issues spill over into the postpartum period, which is also the perfect time to begin treating any skin side effects you’ve experienced.
Reduce endocrine disrupting chemicals (EDCs): There are so many things in our modern lives that are filled with EDCs, chemicals that can disrupt our hormones. Plastic, certain types of cookware, and non-organic food can all contain these baddies. But one of the main places they exist are in skincare. Look for skincare that is both EDC-free and safe for pregnancy and postpartum use.
Use a pregnancy-safe retinol alternative: Both hyperpigmentation, also known as the “pregnancy mask,” and stretch marks can be treated with retinol. But traditional retinol is not safe for use during pregnancy and breastfeeding. An alternative is benthi plant peptides, a natural ingredient that has the same effect and can be found in Veracity’s Regenerating Infusion Vital Concentrate.
Be gentle with your acne-prone skin: Acne is not unusual during pregnancy (elevated progesterone equals elevated oil production which can result in clogged pores and pimples). Sometimes these breakouts extend a little past birth, while postpartum acne can also result from increased stress and cortisol. Either way, skincare products like Veracity’s Blemish Calming Cleanser, which contains acne-busting sulfur, and Inflammation Response Vital Concentrate, which soothes skin and clears pores, can help.
Treat your hair like a queen: Pregnancy hormones are good to your hair — very good. But then they disappear and your hair can go into a period of mourning. The best thing you can do is reduce your use of heat (nix straighteners, the hottest setting on the hair dryer, and your curling iron), let your hair flow free rather then keeping it in tight updos (no high ponytails, please), and eat healthy foods to make sure you’re getting plenty of nutrients.
Immediately after giving birth, an oxytocin boost helps you bond with your baby and smooth out the transition that happens when the flood of estrogen and progesterone turns into a fertility hormone desert. Despite these feel-good hormones, baby blues are normal for up to a week or two after giving birth.
If those feelings last past then, you might be experiencing postpartum depression. While researchers still don’t fully know the cause of this mental health condition, it is theorized that the drop in fertility hormones combined with sleep deprivation and exhaustion may contribute to the disorder. A recent study also theorized that DHEA and testosterone may play a part.
During this time, support your hormones and mental health by:
Identifying a support network: It can be family, friends, or paid professionals like a night nurse and a nanny. Whatever you choose, make sure you have a support system around you who will respond to your SOS calls when you need an uninterrupted nap or are feeling down. And don’t be afraid to actually ask for help.
Eating your omega-3s: Studies have shown that upping your omega-3 consumption during pregnancy can help prevent postpartum depression and also that eating it after you give birth can help curb symptoms of the condition. The best dietary sources of omega-3’s are chia seeds, flax seeds, fatty fish, and walnuts.
Sleep may be scarce, but take every bit of it you can: It may be a little trite at this point, but there’s something to the saying that you should sleep when your baby does. Being exhausted can contribute to any post-baby depression, so take your cat naps whenever you can. The dishes and laundry and all the other contributors to post-baby chaos can wait.
Get some sunshine: 10-15 minutes of sunshine a day sans sunscreen can boost your mood and your body’s vitamin D production, not to mention it's a good idea to make getting out of the house part of your routine when you're on maternity leave.
The most important thing to remember is, whatever you are feeling or experiencing during the postpartum period, it’s not all in your head. Hormones rule nearly every aspect of health and wellness and they run wild during the entire pregnancy journey. So be kind to yourself and to your body and know that eventually things will get back into pre-pregnancy balance.