How to preserve your health during and after pregnancy
Chinese Medicine says that there are three portals in a woman’s life where she can either improve her future health if she looks after herself, or risk to damage it if she doesn’t. This happens with each period, pregnancy/post-partum time and around the menopause.  As I specialise in maternity, I would like to look at the second portal and ask the question: what can we do on our journey to motherhood to benefit our future health?
According to Chinese Medicine, each time we bleed or bring a child into the world we lose some of our precious life force. But if during these times of depletion we take appropriate care of ourselves with adequate amount of rest and nutritious food we can replenish what we have lost, and pave the way for a helthier menopause.
When a woman is pregnant her body will always prioritise her baby’s health by drawing from the nutrients and resources present in her body and giving them to the baby. It is therefore a good idea to make sure we’re not too depleted in the first place so there’s enough left for OUR precious bodies! My grandmother lost a tooth per pregnancy (she had six children so I let you measure the impact on her dentistry!) and I believe that if she had had more information and resources at the time, things could have been different for her.
Let’s start from the beginning: between 3 and 4 months is about the time it takes for female and male gonads to mature  but also the minimum time for our bodies to replenish key nutrients. Therefore if you wish to conceive, give yourself at least four months before stopping contraception (or after having weaned your previous baby) to improve your diet, rest more and avoid depleting activities. This will enhance your fertility and improve your future health and that of your baby. In particular:
It is better if both partners avoid heavy drinking and recreational drugs as these reduce your life force and fertility .
Increase your good fat intake as they are the building blocs of hormones: add one tablespoon of good fat with each meal. Unheated good fats include butter, coconut oil, avocado and organic cold pressed oils (walnut, sunflower, hemp etc). To cook only use organic ghee, coconut oil or olive oil.
If you are not vegetarian, bone broth is fantastic to heal our guts (therefore improving nutrient assimilation and our immune system) and replenish key minerals. Freeze your home made organic bone broth in ice cube trays, pop out 2 or 3 cubes and add to a cup of boiled water with a teaspoon of bouillon: an instant delicious soup to have with your meals or savoury snacks at least once a day.
If you can get yourself a juicer, make yourself a nutrient rich fresh raw organic vegetable juice a few times a week to detoxify and revitalise your body. To save time you can make a juice one day, drink half, and put the other half in the fridge for the next day. A great recipe rich in folic acids is: a piece of fresh ginger, half an unpeeled lemon, apple, carrot, beetroot, and a handful of celery or dark green leafy vegetable.
Cut down on your daily intake of sugar, caffeine, dairy and refined white flours (cheap bread, biscuits etc) but do treat yourself when something is too good to say no to!
Carry on with your good diet, and do honour your appetite as you are eating for two people after all and creating necessary reserves for your breastfeeding days!
Another crucial thing you can do to actually improve your long-term health whilst being pregnant is to go and see a chiropractor or osteopath specialised in maternity… for two reasons…
Re-aligning your pelvis gives your baby less chances of getting stuck during labour, which in itself is an incredibly empowering thing you can do to give yourself more chances of giving birth vaginally and more efficiently.
As the relaxin hormone makes your body suppler and therefore more malleable during pregnancy, this is a unique opportunity to actually realign your spine and pelvis for the years to come.
This was a huge realisation for me. I was recommended the amazing Christine Andrew who worked as a midwife before practising as a maternity chiropractor in Bristol. Having had a chronic injury in my left sacral iliac joint giving me occasional hints of sciatica, I was worried that being pregnant and carrying a baby for months would make things worse, but just from having a handful of sessions with her my back is now stronger two years after giving birth to my baby than before being pregnant.
Rest as much as you can, avoid lifting heavy objects at all cost, and practise gentle exercising that include pelvic floor strengthening like yoga or pilates to prepare your body for labour.
Shiatsu is also a wonderful therapy to receive during pregnancy. It is extremely relaxing and nourishing and can help you with morning sickness, tiredness, stress, anxiety, aches and pains etc. It can also be really helpful in the post-natal time to process your labour, heal left over discomfort and replenish your energy.
POSTPARTUM CARE IS KEY
Postpartum care is probably the most crucial time in our lives when self-care will make a huge difference to our recovery and future health. Many traditional societies were very aware of this and kept a special convalescence time for women who had just given birth. Chinese Medicine recommends four weeks of total rest, extended to five weeks if you are above 35, where mothers should stay at home and mainly concentrate on breastfeeding, eating well and sleeping as much as possible. Ideally they should not have to cook, clean, shop or look after other existing children: someone else should be doing it for them.
If your partner needs to go back to work, ask someone you love to come and look after you, such as your mum, sister or best friend. You can also ask people to bring cooked meals to your door (have a pre-birth gathering with all your special female friends and ask someone to organise a cooking rota for the first few weeks after your baby’s arrival) or to come and help you with cleaning and child care. You can also prepare meals in the time leading up to the birth and freeze them. If no one is around, consider hiring someone, you won’t regret it.
Reduce visits to the minimum as they are exhausting. Breastfeeding works best when we are in a quiet, private and peaceful environment. Make sure that who ever comes to see you doesn’t expect to be hosted, but is happy to bring you a cup of tea and do your washing up.
Wrap your belly and lower back in a scarf or use a postpartum girdle that is adjustable and covers your whole abdomen. This is practised in many cultures to help “return the waist to its former state, both for cosmetic reasons and to prevent organ prolapse.”
Keep warm at all times and avoid cold: wear plenty of clothes, dry your hair immediately if you wash it, avoid drafts, air conditioning, ice cream and iced drinks, drink warm water and hot tea, cook with ginger, red wine…
Have plenty of proteins (organic meat, eggs, fish / cheese, pulses, nuts and seeds) and vegetables (dark green leafy, root veg such as carrots or beetroots) with each meal. During the first 2 weeks when your system is at its weakest, eat things that are easy to digest such as soups, stews, rice, fish, liver…
Chinese Medicine recommends eating organic liver daily for at least a week as it is one of the most powerful food we can use to replenish our blood loss and vitality. But the most potent postpartum medicine of all is definitively your placenta. Using it fresh in the form of a smoothie in the 1st few days and then carrying on taking it in the form of capsules for the following few weeks can make a huge difference to your recovery, helping you replenish key hormones and nutrients, heal faster, reduce bleeding time, increase milk production and support your mood and energy levels.
You may be worried about still carrying left over weight from your pregnancy. Well, if you are able to breastfeed, do not worry. You are still eating for two, so carry on honouring your appetite and as long as you limit your daily intake of sugar, caffeine, dairy and refined white flour, and focus on good fats as described above, breastfeeding will gradually use up all these necessary reserves and your figure will return.
This is the bulk of the information I give to women who come and see me. There is so much more to say but I believe that following these basic guidelines will definitively help you feel so much stronger and happier. In the next article I will look at menstruation and self-care practises we can do each time we bleed to conserve our life force and pave the way for a later and healthier menopause.
Wishing you well on your journey to motherhood.
Julie F. Decarroux, BA (Hons), MRSS(T)
Well Mother Shiatsu Practitioner.
Birth Preparation Workshops.
Placenta Specialist trained with IPEN and registered with PRN.
Building Resilience facilitator.
For more info visit www.fullyresourced.com
Or call 07 845 804015.
 The “Three Golden Opportunities”: Key Times Women Can Improve or Damage their Health, by Lia Andrews, Journal of Chinese Medicine, Number 103, October 2013, page 14-21.
 4 months for ova (https://www.britannica.com/science/ovum), and 2 and a half to 3 months for sperm (https://www.shadygrovefertility.com/blog/fertility-health/fertility-facts-sperm-regeneration).
 Daverick Legett, Recipes for Self-Healing, Meridian Press, p. 94-95.
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