Healthy Baby, Healthy World

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?

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More Veggies Please

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.

7 Quick Tips for Postpartum Exercise

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.

A NOT so obvious exercise motivator for new moms

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!

Baby in the Kitchen

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.