A guest post for the Chris Dudley Foundation
Lots of things change when you have a baby. I’d lived a healthy lifestyle for most of my adult life, but once a baby was on board living a healthy lifestyle became more than just exercising and eating right. I started to think about the ways in which my lifestyle would impact my son both now and in the future. My dedication to living sustainably grew because I wanted my baby to have access to many of the same things I’d enjoyed throughout my life: a connection to the natural world, access to clean air to breathe, and enough healthy food and clean water to help his body thrive.
At the onset of pregnancy, I knew I didn’t want to expose a fetus to potentially harmful chemicals so I made the decision to eliminate as much of these as possible from my life. I started with the fruits and vegetables I had always eaten. I made the upgrade to eating organically and locally. Not only was I then eliminating potentially harmful toxins from our bodies, but local foods didn’t have to travel as far to my plate. This meant that I was helping to eliminate many harmful chemicals from the environment that were a result of transporting food.
Once my son was born I also switched back to a plant based diet. Ironically, I had been vegetarian for years before I became pregnant, but during pregnancy I went back to eating meat solely because it was sometimes the only thing that didn’t make me throw up or want to throw up. I’d known for a long time that much of the way meat is produced in America is unhealthy. I didn’t want my baby to be exposed via breast milk to antibiotics, hormones, and other chemicals so I cut it out altogether after his birth. Now that the nausea and vomiting of pregnancy has passed I can easily eat a plant based diet and make a positive impact on my health, my baby’s health and the health of the environment.
The other way I have decreased my exposure and my baby’s exposure to harmful chemicals is by eliminating the use of chemicals around the house. Through a little bit of research and then some trial and error I’ve found that most things around the house can be cleaned with a combination of water, white vinegar, and baking soda. The benefits here are many, but what I love most of all is that I no longer have to hold my breath while scouring the bath tub in an effort to keep from inhaling the chemicals I used to use. Chemical fertilizers have been banned from my garden too. A baby rolling around on green grass is no longer cute if I think of all the chemicals his skin absorbs while he’s hanging out there. My new favorite tactic for eliminating weeds is using boiled water from cooking a pot of pasta and pouring it on the weeds. It works like magic to rid my garden quickly of weeds and I don’t have to expose our family or the natural world to harmful chemicals. I have to believe my dogs appreciate it too.
For me, living a healthy lifestyle has become synonymous with living sustainably. I have come to the realization that having a healthy body isn’t very useful in a toxic world and not only that, but it’s hard to create that healthy body in a world that’s not thriving. As I live some of these new habits not only do I hope to make a difference in my baby’s future world, but I am hopeful he will learn to live some of this as well. Numerous other ways exist to live healthily and sustainably too. It’s not just about reducing chemical exposure. Some people I know choose to bike commute to work or others have traded in their plastic water bottles for a reusable container. I’ve found that oftentimes these things don’t require extra money, energy, or time, but rather a reconsideration of routines and habits. With just a little consideration, individuals, families, and communities benefit.
What are the ways in which you’ve started to live a more sustainable lifestyle as a result of becoming a mom?
Wow, I just found out I have some work to do. The Yale Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity states that on average, American children, depending on the age, see between 4,500 and 6,000 food commercials a year! Most of these commercials are for sugary, salty, processed foods. Healthy fruits, vegetables, and whole grains, the things I want my kid to eat, don’t even get a fraction of the screen time. I don’t watch television, but I know deciding to limit screen time at home only helps so much when it comes to promoting the kinds of things I want Elias to eat. I can’t hold him hostage at home. He’ll be bombarded by loud marketing elsewhere from food marketers desperate for us to buy their product. The industry is currently spending $1.6 billion dollars a year trying to convince children to eat their garbage. I better start making some moves now if I’m going to have any chance of competing with that. Here are some of my ideas for bringing veggies into my kid’s world now and in the future:
- Along with stuffed animals include some stuffed vegetable and fruit toys in play.
- Plant a garden. Even without yard space you can use containers to plant vegetables. Radishes grow quickly so they are a great one to start with.
- Present vegetables in a fun creative way on the dinner plate. Make a vegetable bouquet with broccoli, cauliflower, carrots and bell peppers. Make a smiley face with vegetables on a homemade pizza. Use peanut butter, raisins and celery for an ants on a log snack.
- Make the plate colorful. Kids gravitate toward color and the more the better. Try beets, red peppers, and yams.
- Visit summer farmer’s markets.
What ideas do you have to add to the list? I need all the help I can get when it comes to helping Elias to eat healthy.
I’ve run for almost as long as I can remember. Most teenagers I knew back in the day turned to drugs and alcohol to cope with teenage challenges. I turned to exercise. For years it’s been my go-to coping mechanism of choice, so I had my heart set on running a half marathon when Elias turned six months old. Much of my pregnancy was infused with well, sleep, so I knew I’d be ready to get back into the swing of things once Elias made his debut. I told people while I was pregnant that I’d take 3 months to recover from the physical demands of giving birth, adjust to my new life as a mom, and then spend three months training for a 13.1 mile endurance run across the middle of Oregon. This seemed realistic in my mind especially considering that while I was still pregnant I read about a woman who delivered her baby the same day she completed a marathon. Fast forward 8 months. Elias has been around since October of last year and I’ve spent roughly 17 minutes, total, running. I missed that half marathon back in April. Whoops! It turns out I should’ve been a bit more conservative in my postpartum ambitions.
Although my mind is ready, my body keeps saying STOP. Like many of the physical effects of pregnancy that I wasn’t expecting, 9 months of puking my guts out for example, I wasn’t expecting the postpartum months to physically kick my butt. Even though I’m lifting weights three times a week and incorporating core strength into my routine, my body still isn’t ready for the impact of running. I’ve learned that the hormone relaxin, which loosens ligaments and prepares the body for birth, stays present in a woman’s body until she stops breastfeeding. Some reading I’ve done would indicate that relaxin is present for up to six months after breastfeeding ceases. Much of the fitness information for postpartum women doesn’t take this into account. In fact the general recommendations now state that if you were active during your pregnancy you can begin a postpartum exercise routine right away if you feel ready. The six to eight week wait window has been retired. The problem with this recommendation however is that without the awkwardness of carrying the baby bump a woman may be tempted to jump into things more quickly than she should. Breastfeeding women in particular should be cautious about the types of physical activity they incorporate. Pay attention to the following tips when beginning an exercise program postpartum:
1) Remember your mind may be ready before your body. Evaluate how you feel each step of the way when you’re exercising and refrain from any activities that cause you pain or discomfort.
2) Start with low-impact activities such as walking, biking, and swimming. It may be months or even years before high impact activities feel good again.
3) Yoga is an excellent activity if you are doing a postpartum specific class. Your main focus should be on increasing joint stability and increasing muscle strength, not on flexibility.
4) Incorporate strength training as this too will help to increase stability in the joints.
5) Use a foam roller to gently massage the glutes, hamstrings, IT band, etc after workouts.
6) Incorporate a stability ball into your workouts for the purpose of rebuilding core strength.
7) Exercise with your baby and other new moms to build or retain social connections in this transitional time.
I’ve never met a woman postpartum who wasn’t ready to have her pre-pregnancy body back, but patience will insure that you avoid injury and frustration on the way back to your vibrant physical self.
Exercise is one of the most important predictors for good health and well-being yet so many women find exercise about as enticing as a trip to the gynecologist. This is particularly true for new moms, because of the laundry list of responsibilities that taking care of a baby entails. Some big motivators for encouraging exercise are new music, a strong community, and updated goals but another less tangible motivator exists as well.
Let me ask you a question. How many things do you take care of that you don’t like? I like my husband so despite a long day on the job I do a little healthy cooking for him now and then. I like my dogs so despite the comfort of a warm bed on a rainy Portland Saturday I am up and walking them. I like my child too! That’s why I feed him, change him, dress him, bathe him, etc. We take care of the things we like in innumerable ways. I can think of only one thing women perpetually don’t like, berate incessantly, and spend countless hours trying to get the motivation to take care of — their bodies.
There’s a lot of self-loathing out there. We live in a culture that blasts us with image after image of youthful, svelte physiques and the message is loud and clear that happiness equals looking like an airbrushed toothpick with female parts. However, most females over the age of twelve and most females with beautiful new babies at home have dimples, fat rolls, and stretch marks. If we reframe how we think about our bodies and talk to them though, the taking care of part, flows more naturally. How about trying to shift the self-loathing to self-love?
Instead of “is that seriously another stretch mark on my hip” wouldn’t it be nice if it was “stretch mark? Cool! a reminder of the baby my body made and birthed”. This isn’t an easy shift to make though. It’s only me, myself, and I inside my head and I’ve been having many of the same thoughts since I was oh I don’t know, two? It’s hard to shift them. When I reach for the ice cream container more than once my husband witnesses the account and reminds me that I bitterly complain about a stomachache every time I eat two bowls of the stuff. I often have accountability with the actions I take in the world, but with my thoughts it’s different.
What to do about it? I like the exercise of wearing a rubber band for a week. Each time you notice the rubber band find something about your body you can be grateful for. Each time you catch yourself criticizing your body, pop the rubber band gently. You’re not trying to hurt yourself with this exercise, but merely give yourself a gentle reminder that the body you’re in may not look like the cover of Sports Illustrated, but it created a life and birthed it. You’re beautiful and capable and you want to take care of it because you like it!
Elias spends a lot of time with me in the kitchen. Even as a baby he loves peering into the skillet and watching me stir an array of colorful veggies. I’m hoping his early exposure to the preparation of fresh whole foods will instill in him some lifelong healthy habits. Exposing kids to where their food comes from and how it’s prepared helps them to build a positive relationship with food. I already know that as he gets older I’ll be fighting an uphill battle when it comes to helping him choose healthy whole foods over sweet and salty processed crap. It’s because of this that I’m very deliberately trying to make cooking and meal time fun and enticing from the get go.
Of course, cooking takes a lot longer this way! I do a lot of carting him around while I cook one-handed and I also spend a lot of time on the floor at his level, chopping veggies while I talk to him about the colors and shapes and nutritive value of a particular food on the cutting board.
Last night I threw together a stir fry and listed out to him each thing as it went into the pan. “This is sesame seed oil. This is garlic. Here’s a little onion, and now some carrots, celery, and bok choy.” Of course he’s too young now, but it won’t be long before he can take a more active role at meal time. Listed below are some of the ways your kids can get involved in meal time too:
Infants- 2 year olds will mostly be observing or grabbing for anything and everything you’re trying to prepare! Talk to them about the things you’re doing and let them learn about textures by allowing them to grab and hold onto things that are safe. Elias loves cucumbers and leaf lettuce this week.
2-3 year olds can rinse vegetables with your help and tear lettuce leaves for salads. At this age continue to talk to them about the colors and shapes of the foods you’re preparing to make meal time more interesting for everyone.
3-4 year olds will love mixing dry ingredients that you’ve measured out. Try using cookbooks with lots of vibrant pictures and talk about the photos of food as you go.
4-5 year olds will enjoy cracking eggs open and picking out the shell bits that may end up in the bowl as well! They can open packages of nuts, seeds, and dried fruit and add them to the dishes you’re preparing.
6-10 year olds will enjoy measuring out ingredients and filling the measuring cups themselves. They’ll also want to mix ingredients together. The older kids in this group can practice reading and math skills by preparing an easy and healthy meal from a recipe.
I feel bad. My 8 month old has been drinking wine and I haven’t stopped him. I mean I’m not filling his sippy cup with it, but because I’ve been drinking wine in the evenings and I’m still breastfeeding he’s drinking nonetheless. I’m not a huge drinker normally. In fact, I spent the better part of my twenties never partaking in the stuff. For a year and a half during college, I lived in France, a country known for its exquisite wines, and never even tasted a Bordeaux. Having grown up with a strong family history of alcoholism I wanted to do as much as I possibly could when I was younger to prevent myself from going down that same path. My shot at prevention seems to have worked so far because for the most part I can’t drink more than two glasses of wine at a time. I like being relaxed. I like being tipsy. I don’t like being drunk. I don’t like the headachy feeling I get the morning after the nights I go too far and drink, heaven forbid, a third glass. Beer disgusts me and liquor does the same. A glass of red wine though while I slice, simmer, and serve up dinner is divine. I didn’t think I’d drink much wine during the breastfeeding months, but after a pregnancy permeated with an aversion for almost all things food related I was ready for sipping and savoring almost as soon as Elias popped out. As I’ve entered back into the working world I’m even more excited for a glass of wine at the end of a day. I don’t partake every evening, but partaking at all usually means Elias partakes too.
I’ve done the reading and research. I know I could wait 90 minutes after the last sip of wine to feed my baby and he’d be safe from the very low possibility of ill effects. I always aim to make that happen, but the timing never seems to work out. Last night I waited to start drinking until he went to sleep and then as I swallowed the last sip of my second glass he woke up. I was able to distract him for fifteen minutes before he would wait no more. I figured a tipsy baby was better than a hungry one?
When I was pregnant I complained a lot about the lack of coping mechanisms I could turn to in my state. I couldn’t meditate because I fell asleep. I couldn’t exercise (at least the way I wanted to) because it hurt and I couldn’t drink wine, because well we all know the risks inherent in that. I am reminded all too often that some things aren’t all that different now that the baby is on the outside. I wanted so much to change after pregnancy and yet I still can’t meditate without falling asleep or exercise without pain. The wine brings with it a healthy dose of guilt some nights, but for now it’s what I got.
I’m sure I’m not the only breastfeeding mom out there who drinks a glass of wine on occasion. Do you also feel guilty? Do you sometimes feel fed up with how much of what you do to your own body continues to affect your little one?
Elias at seven and a half months is eating solid foods. He has been for several weeks and while I was in the kitchen washing, peeling, and pureeing veggies for him the other night I started to think about my own diet over the last year and a half. I have been re-inspired to stop using breastfeeding as an excuse to eat a little more and stay a little heavier and move back toward the eating habits that serve my health. Traditionally I have eaten a fairly diverse array of fruits, veggies, legumes, whole grains and healthy fats but when morning sickness/all day sickness set in during pregnancy my diet went to hell in a hand basket and I can’t say that I’ve been super proactive in getting my old habits back. During my first trimester all I could stomach was frozen pizza and thankfully I’ve at least given that up, but I have used breastfeeding as an excuse for far too many months to eat cake and lots of it! I mean don’t breastfeeding women need extra calories to produce all that milk? A breastfeeding mamma and a linebacker are similar in the sense that both need extra calories and lots of them. Cake calories though are mostly empty in that they supply very little solid nutrition to either me or my growing baby. I’ve known this and yet I’ve continued to splurge.
In looking down at the orange flesh of a sweet potato about to be fed to my baby I got to thinking that this is how my entire family should be eating. We should all be partaking in lots of whole unprocessed, salt-free, sugar-free foods just like Elias and just like that the switch flipped and the cake was purged from my life. Some of the things both myself and bebe are enjoying this week include a savory lentil stew made with creamy coconut milk, a beet and apple puree, and an herbed rice stuffed butternut squash. I am eating lots of legumes, nuts and seeds as an add on to what Eli can eat as a seven month old, but we’re both enjoying our new menu immensely. I have hardly missed the cake.
How about you? Has it been a challenge to eat healthily as a new working mom? What have you done to inspire yourself and your family to eat well?
I don’t think of myself as much of a girly girl. I mean I wear make-up on dates with my husband. I like to put on a dress for special occasions and I do love sitting in one of those vibrating chairs at the nail salon and having someone paint my toes. I do not however get excited about weddings, showers, or babies. I desperately tried to avoid going to my own wedding, but was unsuccessful in finding a stand in my husband approved of. I was able to avoid a wedding shower by agreeing to go wine tasting with a few friends instead, but the baby shower I couldn’t seem to shake. It’s actually amazing I made it through that dreaded affair without puking. All of this points to the fact that I never ever thought in a million years I’d be blogging about babies and mommyhood and yet here I am seven months in and not only needing an outlet for my thoughts, ideas, and experiences as a new working mom, but also hoping I might help at least one new mom out there by recounting some of what I am learning. Before I launch into the practical I’d like to introduce you to some of my pregnancy highlights.
I should explain that I was one of those women that when thinking of pregnancy, had visions of sugar plum fairies dance in my head. I mean when you think of a sugar plum fairy do you not envision her rosy cheeks and a far off peaceful look in her eye? I may not daydream about babies, but I did my fair share of daydreaming about what I imagined to be the joys of pregnancy. I am fascinated by the complexities of the human body and therefore very much anticipated this time when my body would grow another human being. Also, I’ve always led a fairly healthy lifestyle so I thought pregnancy complaints like morning sickness and back pain were things I would be immune to. Man was I wrong. Lifestyle may impact much when it comes to the physical, but it seemed to do nothing for my experience of pregnancy. Not only was I slammed with 9 months of almost constant nausea and frequent puking, I suffered from every joint pain imaginable and looking back some depression as well. You hear about postpartum depression, but depression during pregnancy isn’t something I had been schooled on. Aren’t most women ecstatic upon seeing the positive sign on the pregnancy stick? Doesn’t that feeling of ecstasy only increase as the baby grows and motherhood becomes more imminent?
Hormones are powerful and although I knew that from previous mood altering experiences with the birth control pill I had no idea what I was in for here. This was a baby I thought I desperately wanted yet as the progesterone levels rose I became more and more unsure that I could go the distance. I tried everything imaginable to combat the nausea and vomiting in the first trimester: vitamins, no vitamins, acupuncture, more food, no food, apple cider vinegar, the list goes on. Women told me the end of this phase was near as I came upon week 11, but when weeks 13 and 14 and 15 came and went with no relief I began to accept that I might very well be pregnant and puking for the rest of this pregnancy. I was. Luckily the puking came much less frequently after month 7, but let’s be honest puking for that many months in a row puts a damper on things!
When I stopped trying to change this and accepted it for what it was I did start to feel a little better. All in all though, pregnancy for me sucked. Throughout pregnancy I envied the women who had sugar plum fairy experiences. Now that I’m on the other side though I can say that although challenging my struggles gave me a much easier transition into mommyhood than I think someone with a blissful pregnancy might have. I had nine months of doing not much else than dragging myself to work to sit next to their trashcan and then going home for a bath and bed. I pulled back from extra projects and hobbies. My social calendar stayed empty as well. When baby came along I wasn’t jolted as strongly into a different life. I had already changed so many of my habits. I told people in the early weeks after birth that postpartum was a breeze compared to pregnancy and I felt that way through and through. As the memories of pregnancy have become blurry though, I find myself struggling more with mommy world. Again, this blog is an outlet for some of what has already been and for some of the things that are yet to come. My desire is to live well so that my son can live well too. Welcome to our story. Welcome to our world.