Why my postpartum mental health is better this time around

Whenever I talk or write about something personal, I get a little nervous that I might be sharing too much.  But as many of you know, I’m very passionate about mental health advocacy and awareness.  So, if I have an important message to spread, I’m going to put that before anything else.  I’m excited to share this topic, knowing that many moms out there struggle with postpartum depression and anxiety — and don’t get help or get it extremely late.  If this post benefits just one person, it’s worth it!  Yes, this is targeted to new moms but anyone can take these tips and make them work in their own life.

 

I truly did not know just how vulnerable new moms are to postpartum depression and anxiety until I experienced it myself with the birth of my first son, Connor.  That was 3 years ago.  Luckily, I started to feel better a few months after Connor was born, but looking back I wasn’t fully myself for about a year or so.  Some would argue that new moms are never “back to normal”, yet find “their new normal”.  I could not agree more!

 

An old saying goes, “experience is everything”.  And so it is.  I did normal preparations for baby #2, such as thinking about a birth plan, finding a space in my house for the baby, and setting up childcare for Connor and baby #2.  However, this time around, I wanted to focus on a “plan” for postpartum.  I knew in my heart that this was the most important preparation I could make for myself and my family.

 

As I thought about my experience with my first son, Connor, I remembered my postpartum not being that great.  Of course, I was so in love with my baby, but I walked around like a zombie at times from lack of sleep, as well as having anxiety that I was doing something wrong.  My perfectionist personality was 100% back in my life after years of letting that go!  I truly felt horrible that I wasn’t being “perfect” at balancing my new identity as a mother, while also trying to focus on my husband, family, friends, and running my business.

 

This time around I knew something had to change!  My second son is almost 3 months old, and while I know I’m not fully “out of the woods” yet with possible postpartum depression (PPD) and anxiety (PPA), I have felt great this time around.  I know that a lot of PPD and PPA has to do with hormones and the baby’s personality and temperament.  So while I do think a lot of my good fortune of having an easier time this time is pure luck, I think there are certain environmental factors that have helped me.

 

Here are my top 5 tips for surviving postpartum:

 

  1. Let go of any expectations. It helped me so much to not put any crazy unrealistic expectations on how I would handle 2 kids at once.  I had no idea how my older son would be with a new sibling and I didn’t want to get my hopes up that everything would be smooth sailing.  I kept telling myself I would figure it out when I needed to.  That really helped me to stay present in the moment.

 

  1. Ask for help before you think you will need it. I learned this the hard way 3 years ago!  I didn’t ask for anything when I had my first son because I thought it was my job to take care of him.  This time around I knew I had to take care of myself first, and if that meant leaving him for a few hours to go do something for me, than that time was time well spent.

 

  1. When making decisions, just keep in mind that not everything is going to get done! At the beginning of my maternity leave, I started to delete commitments on my calendar and left blank spaces everywhere.  Even though my calendar is full again, I’ve learned how important it is to say “no” when you need to, allowing you to have time for yourself.  When you think about the most important values in your life, what comes to mind?  My top values are honoring the importance of self-care and devoting time to the relationships I have with the people I love.  I try to put that before anything else in my life (and on my calendar!)

 

  1. Communicate with your partner. It is so easy to take out all of your negative emotions onto your partner! After all, he or she is the person that loves you no matter what, even at “your worst”.  It really helped me to be open and honest with my family about how I was feeling.  It didn’t stay bottled up inside, only to explode one day.

 

  1. Self-care is priority #1. All of these tips have to do with you taking care of YOU so you can then take care of your family.  After all, moms are role models to their kids and we want to show them how self-care is vital in building self-esteem, self-confidence, and self-efficacy.

 

Top 3 Tips for Improving Body Image

What is Body Image?
Body image is how you see yourself when you look in the mirror or when you picture yourself in your mind. It encompasses:

  • What you believe about your own appearance (including your memories, assumptions, and generalizations).
  • How you feel about your body, including your height, shape, and weight.
  • How you sense and control your body as you move.  How you feel in your body, not just about your body.

Negative Body Image

  • A distorted perception of your shape–you perceive parts of your body unlike they really are.
  • You are convinced that only other people are attractive and that your body size or shape is a sign of personal failure.
  • You feel ashamed, self-conscious, and anxious about your body.
  • You feel uncomfortable and awkward in your body.

Positive Body Image

  • A clear, true perception of your shape–you see the various parts of your body as they really are.
  • You celebrate and appreciate your natural body shape and you understand that a person’s physical appearance says very little about their character and value as a person.
  • You feel proud and accepting of your unique body and refuse to spend an unreasonable amount of time worrying about food, weight, and calories.
  • You feel comfortable and confident in your body.

(Taken from NEDA: https://www.nationaleatingdisorders.org/what-body-image)

Top 3 Tips to Improve Body Image
 

1. Focus on Body Neutrality First
It’s impossible to go from hating a body to loving a body right away.  Practice the thought of body neutrality, meaning that you can see your body for what it is (a body!!).

2. Respect Your Body
Appreciate what your body can do for you: walk, stand, sit, stretch! Treat your body with respect by giving it fuel, movement, sleep, and relaxation time.

3. Practice Body Self-Care
Wear clothes that fit you well and make you feel comfortable.  Do something everyday that makes you feel good.

Favorite body image resources: 

1. NEDA’s 10 Steps to a Positive Body Image:  http://bit.ly/1hDqGjC
2. The book “Body Respect” by Linda Bacon and Lucy Aphramor, On Amazon here: http://amzn.to/29iCjRQ
3. The Body Image Workbook by Thomas Cash, on Amazon here: http://amzn.to/29fQuXg
4. CSAB Body Image webinar by Marissa Sappho: http://icpnyc.org/csab/2015-2016-webinar-series/ (#13 for the recording)

5.  Rebecca Scritchfield’s Body Kindness Podcast: http://www.rebeccascritchfield.com/podcast/

Body Shaming

Over the past years, “body-shaming” has become a hot topic, not just online but in everyday life. Unfortunately, body-shaming can happen to almost anyone — regardless of gender, ethnicity, social class, or age. Celebrities, pregnant women, thin people, curvy people, fit people, athletic people, young people, old people — the list of who’s become a target for body-shaming is endless. We also have a tendency to talk negatively about our own bodies, not only to one another, but to ourselves.  As a culture, we’ve become obsessed about body size, shape, and weight.

What is body-shaming?

  • Inappropriate negative statements and attitudes about another person’s or your own weight or size.
  • Criticizing yourself or others because of physical appearance

Body-shaming can manifest itself in a variety of ways, but usually it will usually appear as:

    • Self-criticism of yourself and your appearance through comparison to another person.
    • Criticizing another person in front of them.
    • Criticizing others behind their back.

Examples of body-shaming:

    • Look at my ____ (body part).
    • I can’t wear that… because ____ (reason)!
    • I am such a “insert negative feeling” for eating that.
    • You shouldn’t wear that because of the way you look.
    • You’re so thin that you look like a skeleton.
    • You’re the kind of person who needs to exercise.
    • Did you see what she’s wearing today? (said in a negative tone)

Regardless of how or why body-shaming happens, it most often will lead to comparison and shame, reinforcing the idea that outward appearances are essential for human worth and love. The result — an unhealthy relationship with food, exercise, and especially an unhealthy relationship with yourself.  This just continues the cycle of shame, comparison, and never feeling like you’re “good enough”.

This month, I challenge you to become more aware of your relationship with body-shaming. Is this something you do on a regular basis? Is this a way you cope with being uncomfortable in new situations? Do you surround yourself with people who are body-shamers? What can you do to reduce and eliminate body-shaming?

 

Remove the Body Shame

 

Stop commenting on other people’s body shape and size. Find something else to talk about. End of story.

Enough with the negative thoughts and words. Instead of criticizing yourself, come up with ideas on how you’re going to move forward on your journey. For example, when you’re buying a dress and have tried it on, only to find it’s too tight, say to yourself, ‘I’ll get the larger size so it hangs better” rather than saying “My legs are so big and I’m so fat.” Acknowledge not being comfortable and embrace your body and self for who you are and where you are on your journey. All bodies fit.

Fuel your body with foods that empower you to live mindfully. Choose foods that make you feel good, energizing you to live the way you want. Keeping a food and symptom journal and working with a dietitian can help you identify what foods work well for your body, helping you achieve your goals.

Appreciate your body with a neutral approach. Instead of focusing energy on what your body is not, try to think of your body as a vehicle for your life– and that’s it! This simple shift into “neutrality” can make a big difference in the way you perceive yourself and your capabilities. In time, self-love and appreciation will in return result in a healthier body and mind.

Recognize that negative self-talk and body-shaming are not productive. Negative self-talk and body-bashing only sinks you into a deeper depression, leading to a cycle of self-loathing, emotional eating, and more body-bashing.

Practice self-love. Practicing self love means practicing self care. Nourish yourself with good food, movement, hydration, and rest. Remember to lift yourself and others up with positive words, thoughts, and actions.

Raising a Child to Love Their Body

I was recently out with a group of “mom friends”, having one of those conversations talking about anything and everything related to our kids, all under 1 year old.  Our conversation turned into an honest discussion about raising our children to be anti-dieting, body image-loving, positive self-esteemed individuals.  My friends were worried about being a good example to their daughters, teaching self-esteem, and hoping that their girls will learn to love their bodies.  These moms were especially worried about raising girls, but this is a topic for every mom- mothers of sons included!  I claim to be an expert in this area but it’s honestly something I’m concerned about too.  I had just talked about losing the last few pounds of my post-pregnancy weight 10 minutes before this part of the conversation came up à  My point is that my advice for moms and dads is something I am going to be working on as well.  I think moms can all learn from one another and support each other to raise confident children.  Here are my favorite tips:

  1. Eliminate negative talk:  Take a good look at yourself and your environment.  Do you criticize yourself in the mirror?  Do you complain about being in a larger body?  Kids will learn from you.  Eliminate this kind of dialogue in your life to other people and especially to yourself.
  2. Feel good about your body:  Replace the negative talk with positive talk.  Do something each day to make you feel good about your body.  One of my favorite tricks is something I heard from a therapist:  Take a tube of red lipstick and write on your mirror “I am beautiful because…” and everytime you look in your mirror, you have to answer the question.
  3. Model healthy behaviors with food:  Show your child a healthy relationship with food by eating balanced meals and snacks.  Don’t restrict and binge.  Have a wide variety of food in your diet, including food from all food groups, healthy food, and unhealthy food.  Have desserts and chips and cake in your life, and teach your child how to enjoy these foods in a healthy way.
  4. Make time to move with your family:  Exercise as a way to feel good, not just burn calories.  Pick an activity you love and make time for it.  Treat this as part of your self-care routine.
  5. Introduce the concepts of “hungry” and “full” as early as possible:  Children are born with the skill to stop eating when they are full but gradually lose this with environmental influence.  In order to prevent the dieting “restriction” mindset, it’s important to teach children it’s natural to eat when they are hungry.  Therefore, it will be natural to stop eating when full and satisfied.
  6. Do not label food (or yourself) as “good” and “bad”:  Every food is included in a healthy lifestyle, no matter what.  Restriction of “bad foods” almost always equals bingeing.  Never say “oh I had a good/bad day” because nutrition is not all-or-nothing!
  7. Never make your child clean his/her plate:  This will alter kid’s perception of how much they should eat.  If they don’t eat at this particular meal, there is always the next meal or snack to make up for missed food.
  8. Talk about how bodies come in all different shapes and sizes:  Respect other body types and talk about how people look different because everyone is unique and special.
  9. Find an outlet to vent out your body image stuff (not in front of your kids):  Sometimes we don’t feel good in our bodies and that’s okay.  But it’s important to find a way to vent this and not talk about it all the time in front of kids.
  10. Spread the word:  I love movements like “Operation Beautiful”, which spread the message of positive self-esteem and self-worth.  Teach children to participate and have fun doing so!

One Size Does Not Fit All

Last week I attended an iaedp event on “One Size Does Not Fit All: Understanding the Complex Interplay of Body and Mind when working with Overweight (or Fat) Patients”.   I went into the meeting thinking I had a good understanding and insight into what it feels like to be overweight (I used to be heavier than what I am today not counting pregnancy).  However, I left the meeting with even better insight and lessons learned. How we word feelings is very important.  Not only with the way that we talk to ourselves, but the way that we talk to patients/clients and other providers.

 

The main part of the meeting was three professionals presenting cases and case studies to our group.  All three talked about feelings associated with treating overweight clients and reactions in themselves as well as what they learned treating the clients.  We discussed wording used when talking about overweight (using the word “fat” vs. not using it), as well as what came up for providers.  We also talked about how genetics and biology play a huge role in determining someone’s weight and size and that we also shouldn’t always assume clients want to lose weight.  We always want to ask the client how they feel and what they want to get out of sessions when talking about weight.

 

The meeting ended with a great discussion on words we use in everyday life.  What do these words really mean?

Obesity: what does it really mean to be obese?  Now that the USDA has declared obesity a disease, how does it feel to be diseased?

Overweight: over “what weight” does overweight really mean?

Plus Size:  Are you calling yourself a clothing size?

Fat:  What does it mean when you call yourself fat? Are you describing a feeling or describing your weight?

 

I came away from the meeting realizing I need to use these sensitive words in a sensitive way, as well as how I choose to use the words “fat”, “overweight”, “obesity” in my everyday life.  I really do believe in a “health at every size approach” for so many reasons.  So why would I use the word “overweight” when working with someone- what does that word really mean?  On the flip side, some people commented that we should all use the word “fat” in everyday life- as it really doesn’t mean anything other than an adjective to describe someone that is bigger.  It’s just like when we use that word more often, the less “shameful” it becomes.  The beautiful thing was that so many health professionals had a great discussion about these issues and respected all opinions.

Postpartum Body Image

I had a very easy pregnancy and felt great almost the entire time.  What I didn’t expect was the shock and roller coaster ride of emotions and body image after giving birth.  Not a lot of people tell you about the intense ups and downs during the postpartum period, especially when it comes to your body.  Everyone says “Enjoy every minute!!” and “They are only this small once!!”  I remember feeling guilty thinking I wasn’t a fan of the newborn stage and felt so uncomfortable in this new body post-baby.  I would ask myself “Why do I feel so “blah”?  All I’m supposed to be doing is sitting on the couch and breastfeeding.  The only expectation is to bond with baby Connor, how hard can that be?”

Throughout my pregnancy I told myself I would get back to my normal self as soon as possible.  I didn’t care much about my weight but just wanted to feel good about my body.  I’m a very active person who loves yoga and exercise and felt amazing that I could participate in those activities while I was pregnant.  I also enjoying gaining weight, knowing that the baby was growing and I was eating to support a healthy pregnancy.  I went back to the doctor a week after giving birth and had lost “X” pounds right away.  5 more weeks pass by and I walk in for my 6 week postpartum checkup.  Those 5 weeks were probably the hardest weeks of my life as the initial “high” of giving birth wore off and life with a newborn started to actually sink in: no sleep, no activity, and increased anxiety.  I get on the scale at my 6 week checkup and the nurse weighs me and says “Well we don’t see that too often!  You actually went up!”  I kept on telling myself that weight wasn’t important to me but in that moment all I could think about was the annoying negative body image voice winning over my healthy self.

Life went on but something shifted in me around the 3-4 month mark. I went back to work and felt fulfilled in my career, Connor started sleeping more, and I started to introduce formula and wasn’t exclusively breastfeeding (which honestly took away a lot of stress).  I also asked for help with babysitting so I could get out of the house more often.  I started to not care as much about my postpartum weight loss and started to focus more on doing something each day for myself and self-care for a healthy body.  I felt myself change both mentally and physically as more self-care happened.  I am now feeling so blessed and happy and my anxiety has decreased.  I am walking more with my mom friends and babies, going to weekly “Mommy and me” yoga classes, and am training for a 5 mile race on Thanksgiving day.  I am also slowing down each day, cutting back on my “to-do lists”, and just taking it one day at a time with my son with no expectations.  My body feels strong as it has now fully recovered from childbirth and I feel almost “back to normal”.  But guess what?  I weighed myself the other day out of pure curiosity and wouldn’t you know—my weight was the exact same number it was at my 6 week postpartum checkup.  Thanks to a healthier attitude and lots of self-care, I feel incredible both physically and mentally.  I also feel blessed that I can teach my son what it means to love your body no matter what the scale says.

Tips for Eating Well with a Newborn

Going into pregnancy, labor, and delivery I read everything I could get my hands on about “life with a newborn”.  However there really is no way to describe the emotional roller coaster you go through until you experience it yourself.  With that being said, self-care is so important during this time and having a healthy relationship with food and body image is one of the most important self-care aspects.  Whether a mom had a vaginal birth or C-section her body just went through a MARATHON and now needs to recover.  Calories, carbs, protein, fat, and all the vitamins and minerals that food provide help your body heal from labor and delivery.  Here are my top 6 tips for getting in proper nutrition with a newborn.

  1. Understand your body just did an amazing thing:  Thank your body for what it just did, it’s perfect in every way right now. It’s easy to get caught up in the idea of “get your body back” but remember it’s just not realistic after giving birth to expect everything to go back to what is used to be like.
  2. Try to listen to hunger and satiety:  Are you eating now just because you have 5 minutes or are you truly hungry?  Or are you absolutely starving because you haven’t eaten anything in 6 hours?  Try not to let yourself get too hungry or too full to avoid feeling uncomfortable.
  3. Have snacks and easy to grab foods:  I personally ate with one hand the first few weeks of my son’s life.  My favorite grab and go healthy foods are sandwiches (turkey and cheese or peanut butter and banana and honey), protein bars, trail mix, hard boiled eggs, roasted chicpeas, yogurt, cottage cheese and fruit.  Also packing some of these staples in your diaper bag is a good idea.
  4. Go for EASY meals.  No need to be a gourmet chef in the first few months.  I stocked up on frozen Steamfresh veggies and rice to throw in the microwave as sides for a quick dinner.  Coupled with grilled meat (thanks to my husband) dinner was ready in under 15 minutes.  I also tried to make double recipes anytime I actually did cook to have lots of leftovers and even froze some meals.
  5. Get enough sleep:  This really isn’t realistic because your sleep will be interrupted for months but sleep has a lot to do with our hunger and satiety cues and metabolism (and sanity!).  Just know the more you can get the better even if it’s not your usual 8 hours.
  6. Don’t stress about nutrition:  Ironically this is probably the most important tip.  Babies can feel our stress and react to it even if they don’t understand everything that’s going on.  Don’t stress about body image, getting in all the nutrients you need- just try to do your best and that’s “good enough” which is mentally better than trying to be “perfect”.

 

20 Ways to Love Your Body

Taken from the NEDA website:

20 Ways to Love Your Body

Compiled By: Margo Maine, PhD

  1. Think of your body as the vehicle to your dreams.  Honor it.  Respect it.  Fuel it.
  2. Create a list of all the things your body lets you do.  Read it and add to it often.
  3. Become aware of what your body can do each day.  Remember it is the instrument of your life, not just an ornament.
  4. Create a list of people you admire:  people who have contributed to your life, your community, or the world.  Consider whether their appearance was important to their success and accomplishments.
  5. Walk with your head held high, supported by pride and confidence in yourself as a person.
  6. Don’t let your weight or shape keep you from activities that you enjoy.
  7. Wear comfortable clothes that you like, that express your personal style, and that feel good to your body.
  8. Count your blessings, not your blemishes.
  9. Think about all the things you could accomplish with the time and energy you currently spend worrying about your body and appearance.  Try one!
  10. Be your body’s friend and supporter, not its enemy.
  11. Consider this:  your skin replaces itself once a month, your stomach lining every five days, your liver every six weeks, and your skeleton every three months.  Your body is extraordinary—begin to respect and appreciate it.
  12. Every morning when you wake up, thank your body for resting and rejuvenating itself so you can enjoy the day.
  13. Every evening when you go to bed, tell your body how much you appreciate what it has allowed you to do throughout the day.
  14. Find a method of exercise that you enjoy and do it regularly. Don’t exercise to lose weight or to fight your body. Do it to make your body healthy and strong and because it makes you feel good.  Exercise for the Three F’s: Fun, Fitness, and Friendship.
  15. Think back to a time in your life when you felt good about your body.  Loving your body means you get to feel like that again, even in this body, at this age.
  16. Keep a list of 10 positive things about yourself—without mentioning your appearance.  Add to it daily!
  17. Put a sign on each of your mirrors saying, “I’m beautiful inside and out.”
  18. Search for the beauty in the world and in yourself.
  19. Consider that, “Life is too short to waste my time hating my body this way.”
  20. Eat when you are hungry.  Rest when you are tired.  Surround yourself with people that remind you of your inner strength and beauty.

What do you love most about your body?  Mine (right now) is that I am growing a baby!! 🙂

NEDA Week 2013: 10 steps for positive body image

10 Steps to Positive Body Image, from NEDA: www.nationaleatingdisorders.org

One list cannot automatically tell you how to turn negative body thoughts into positive body image, but it can introduce you to healthier ways of looking at yourself and your body.  The more you practice these new thought patterns, the better you will feel about who you are and the body you naturally have.

  1. Appreciate all that your body can do.  Every day your body carries you closer to your dreams.  Celebrate all of the amazing things your body does for you—running, dancing, breathing, laughing, dreaming, etc.
  2. Keep a top-ten list of things you like about yourself—things that aren’t related to how much you weigh or what you look like.  Read your list often.  Add to it as you become aware of more things to like about yourself.
  3. Remind yourself that “true beauty” is not simply skin deep.  When you feel good about yourself and who you are, you carry yourself with a sense of confidence, self-acceptance, and openness that makes you beautiful regardless of whether you physically look like a supermodel.  Beauty is a state of mind, not a state of your body.
  4. Look at yourself as a whole person.  When you see yourself in a mirror or in your mind, choose not to focus on specific body parts.  See yourself as you want others to see you–as a whole person.
  5. Surround yourself with positive people.  It is easier to feel good about yourself and your body when you are around others who are supportive and who recognize the importance of liking yourself just as you naturally are.
  6. Shut down those voices in your head that tell you your body is not “right” or that you are a “bad” person.  You can overpower those negative thoughts with positive ones.  The next time you start to tear yourself down, build yourself back up with a few quick affirmations that work for you.
  7. Wear clothes that are comfortable and that make you feel good about your body.  Work with your body, not against it.
  8. Become a critical viewer of social and media messages.  Pay attention to images, slogans, or attitudes that make you feel bad about yourself or your body.  Protest these messages:  write a letter to the advertiser or talk back to the image or message
  9. Do something nice for yourself–something that lets your body know you appreciate it.  Take a bubble bath, make time for a nap, find a peaceful place outside to relax.
  10. Use the time and energy that you might have spent worrying about food, calories, and your weight to do something to help others.  Sometimes reaching out to other people can help you feel better about yourself and can make a positive change in our world.

 

NEDA Week 2013: Body Image

From National Eating Disorder Association, http://www.nationaleatingdisorders.org/

What is Body Image?

Body image is how you see yourself when you look in the mirror or when you picture yourself in your mind. It encompasses:

  • What you believe about your own appearance (including your memories, assumptions, and generalizations).
  • How you feel about your body, including your height, shape, and weight.
  • How you sense and control your body as you move.  How you feel in your body, not just about your body.

 

Negative Body Image

  • A distorted perception of your shape–you perceive parts of your body unlike they really are.
  • You are convinced that only other people are attractive and that your body size or shape is a sign of personal failure.
  • You feel ashamed, self-conscious, and anxious about your body.
  • You feel uncomfortable and awkward in your body.

 

Positive Body Image

  • A clear, true perception of your shape–you see the various parts of your body as they really are.
  • You celebrate and appreciate your natural body shape and you understand that a person’s physical appearance says very little about their character and value as a person.
  • You feel proud and accepting of your unique body and refuse to spend an unreasonable amount of time worrying about food, weight, and calories.
  • You feel comfortable and confident in your body.

 

Body Image and Eating Disorders
People with negative body image have a greater likelihood of developing an eating disorder and are more likely to suffer from feelings of depression, isolation, low self-esteem, and obsessions with weight loss.

We all may have our days when we feel awkward or uncomfortable in our bodies, but the key to developing positive body image is to recognize and respect our natural shape and learn to overpower those negative thoughts and feelings with positive, affirming, and accepting ones.