How I Managed Hashimoto’s During Pregnancy

hashimoto's pregnancy

This was the last picture taken of me before I gave birth to my daughter May 2016.

 

One of the most frequent questions I receive these days is, “How did you manage your thyroid while pregnant?” This is a poignant question because pregnancy and post-partum is infamous for sending the thyroid awry whether or not you have Hashimoto’s disease.

 

my back story…

I was diagnosed with Hashimoto’s at age 19 (10 years ago) and have been on some form of thyroid hormone replacement since then. In our community, we tend towards anti-medication but in the case of many autoimmune diseases, supporting the body through medication AND dietary and lifestyle changes is a true holistic approach.

 

My body requires supplemental hormone because the disease has significantly destroyed my thyroid prior to diagnosis and dietary changes. Once thyroid tissue is destroyed through autoimmunity or radiation, it will not produce the necessary thyroid hormone required for optimal metabolic function. This requires supplement through medication and it is incredibly important to adhere to your doctor’s advice regarding medication while pregnant.

 


A quick note on which thyroid medication I take:

I am one of the rare people who has a severe autoimmune attack to porcine thyroid hormone (Armour, Naturethroid, for example). In fact, the last time I took it, I launched into a 12-month long flare that ended during pregnancy. You will also likely find autoimmune disease remission during pregnancy as the immune system down regulates to protect the body from seeing your baby as an invader.

Instead, I do best on a synthetic combination of T4 (Tirosint) and T3 (liothyronine). Yes, I’ve tried compounded medication with a functional practitioner and my numbers do not stabilize well. No, I have not tried and will not try to go off my medication. Tirosint is a great option for those of you looking for additive-free synthetic thyroid medication. Ask your insurance if they will cover it.


 

My story with infertility is long, and I won’t be talking about it here. Instead, let’s start with conception to keep this focused. 

 

I went into pregnancy in the middle of that autoimmune flare mentioned above. Women with Hashimoto’s do have an increased risk of pregnancies not being carried to term (I don’t like the word “miscarriage”). As a woman with Hashimoto’s, I knew I needed to be an educated self-advocate during pregnancy and beyond.

 

I did not let these statistics scare me though. Sure I had my moments of worry like most moms, but I trusted and supported and loved my body extra during this time. When I needed to calm my mind, I used prayer, meditation and journaling to comfort me.

 

I am sharing with you the process I put into place the moment I found out I was pregnant in August 2015 to best ensure a healthy mom and a healthy baby.

 

GET TESTED AS SOON AS YOU TEST POSITIVE

 

I found out I was pregnant in Hawaii on our way from moving from Chicago to Austin. I didn’t have an OBGYN in Austin let alone a general practitioner.

 

The day I found out I was pregnant, I called my health insurance company from our Kauai Airbnb to get the number of a gynecology group in Austin under our plan. I knew they may not be the perfect fit, but I needed to establish care as soon as possible so I could get my thyroid tested immediately.


But what if I don’t have diagnosed Hashimoto’s? Should I still get my thyroid tested?

My answer as a thyroid patient is YES. If you have suspected Hashimoto’s or hypothyroidism or have a family history, get your thyroid tested early in the first trimester. There is absolutely no risk to you to get this done but it can be risky to NOT know what your thyroid is doing in those formative weeks.

In fact, some thyroid experts advocate thyroid testing for every pregnant woman.


 

The office requested I only schedule my first appointment between 8 to 10 weeks pregnant, but I had done enough research on early pregnancy and Hashimoto’s to know I needed to get in sooner.

 

I was able to schedule my first appointment for 6 weeks. I would have preferred 5 weeks but they did not have availability. I requested a blood thyroid panel including TSH, free T4, free T3. I even got to see my baby as a little dot on a quick ultrasound (and hear her heart beat) during that appointment.

 

Backing up, I had a full panel done around the time of conception and knew my TSH, T3, and T4 were normal even though my antibodies were high from the flare. Just four weeks later at 6 weeks pregnant, my TSH increased from 1.0 to 9.0 and my T3 and T4 dropped.

 

The increased demand on your thyroid during the first trimester is no joke. If you have a damaged thyroid due to Hashimoto’s, your thyroid may not be able to keep up with this increase demand. Test early, test often, and test fully.

 


Test early, test often, and test fully.


 

We increased my thyroid dosage by about 50% to stabilize my numbers. At this time, I was only on T4 and not T3. In fact, during pregnancy, I could not find a practitioner to prescribe me T3 since it has not been studied in pregnant women. You may have a different experience with that depending on your practitioner. I got on T3 within a few weeks of giving birth. Even without supplemental T3, I was able to keep my T3 in the 50% range and had bounds of energy throughout pregnancy.

 

 

FIND THE RIGHT PRACTITIONER

 

Many thyroid patients will agree that finding the right practitioner, one knowledgeable in full thyroid panels and optimal levels (not just “in range” levels) is a necessity. Pregnant women especially must feel they are in good care with their medical team. Your OBGYN, midwife or general practitioner will likely be the one in charge of monitoring your thyroid while pregnant. 

 

You’ll likely encounter a physician who doesn’t believe in testing T3. I did several times (endocrinologists are notoriously the worst about this ironically). I essentially “fired” those physicians but not before providing information on why testing T3 is so important for their thyroid patients. This topic is worthy of more than just a quick paragraph here.

 

Rather than having an endocrinologist follow my thyroid throughout pregnancy, I trusted my gynecologist. We worked together to establish a plan of care that included frequent testing, monitoring of symptoms, and extra care to ensure that Grace was growing adequately. Since mothers with unmanaged Hashimoto’s can have babies with low weight as well as an increased risk of pre-term labor, we wanted to monitor closely.

 


How I Self-Advocate with Physicians

Whenever I move to a new city or visit a new doctor, I am very clear about a few things. I tell them I am a seasoned thyroid patient, I know how to read my lab numbers, and I know when I need a change in medication. I have lived this and researched it for a decade, and I would like to be treated that way.

 

The only physicians who have responded negatively to this are endocrinologists so I refuse to see them anymore. Am I being harsh about endocrinologists? It may seem that way. But over ten years, I’ve had the exact (it’s eery) same experience with over a dozen of them. It angers me to see so many thyroid patients often poorly managed by these specialists.

 

Being this upfront may not be easy, especially in a world where we believe medical practitioners are above us. Remember, no one knows you better. Trust yourself, your experiences and your intuition. Your doctor is your teammate not your boss.

 


 

MONITOR & ADJUST FREQUENTLY

 

My doctor felt most comfortable testing my thyroid every 4 to 6 weeks throughout pregnancy to ensure stabilization. I informed her at my first appointment at 6 weeks that I tend to have a volatile thyroid that struggles with stress and hormonal changes (so prevalent in pregnancy and post-partum!)

 

This is another instance of self-advocacy in the hierarchical medical model. Speak up for yourself. Don’t be complacent with your physician. You know your body way better than they do. They know textbooks, they know previous patients. They do not know you. Help them get to know you.

 

Thankfully, I only had to adjust my medicine once during pregnancy in the first trimester and was able to maintain that dosage throughout. Your doctor needs to be well-informed on the thyroid ranges for pregnant women as they do differ from non-pregnant women. For example, the TSH range is quite a bit tighter than for non-pregnant women, and it also changes slightly the first to the second trimester.

 

Most providers will want your TSH below 2.5 for the first trimester and below 3.0 for the second and third trimester. My TSH stayed around 2.0 throughout my pregnancy, about twice as high as when non-pregnant. I was not concerned with this number after researching the increased demand on the thyroid. It makes sense my pituitary was sending out a “produce more thyroid hormone” signal to my thyroid.

 

That being said, be aware of your hypothyroid symptoms even if your numbers are in range, especially if they are at the higher end of the range. For example, I could barely walk up the stairs my first trimester. This symptom (what I call “stair fatigue”) is a classic hypothyroid symptom for me. I knew I needed to give the increased dosage a couple weeks to kick in before my symptoms would reside though. Once the meds kicked in, my fatigue quickly dissipated.

 

It’s important to know your body in this way. Get a sense of what it feels like to be hypothyroid and to feel well. Note those hypothyroid symptoms so that if and when they appear, you can get yourself to your doctor for testing.

 

 

SUPPORT YOUR THYROID WITH DIET & LIFESTYLE

I started the autoimmune protocol in 2014, about 18 months before getting pregnant. In fact, it was key in helping me reverse my infertility diagnosis. I didn’t use pregnancy as an excuse to go wild on cravings though. If there’s ever a time in your life to treat your body with respect, it’s during pregnancy and post-partum.

 

The nutritional and energy demands of a woman’s body during this time are astounding. I made a pact with myself to stick as closely to the principles of the autoimmune protocol as possible during pregnancy and post-partum. Note that I said the principles of the protocol and not the elimination phase of the protocol.

 

For me, this meant including foods I knew I tolerated well such as soaked organic white rice cooked in broth, dark chocolate, seed spices and treats like store-bought coconut milk ice cream. This allowed me to focus on nutrient density while still having fun with food and listening to my body.

 

I would be lying if I said I ate “perfectly healthy” my entire pregnancy. I am not a diet perfectionist by any means. My food choices stem from my intuition, my mood, the social setting and frankly what’s in my fridge. While I ate dark chocolate most days, I also never skipped a meal. I had three balanced meals each day that included protein (a must!), leafy greens (folate!), starchy veggies (glucose!) and fats like avocado or coconut. I wish I still ate like that post-partum!

 

I personally do not believe in attempting low carb and ketogenic diets during pregnancy. I only mention this because they are trending hard right now. I am so happy for all the people these diets heal and bring happiness. If you naturally eat low carb (and you’re being honest with yourself about it being natural), then continue to listen to your body.

 

But if you are truly craving sweet potatoes, dried mango or a bowl of freakin’ cereal, then YOU get to decide if you eat that or not. Not a diet guru. In fact, I had gluten-free cereal several times during pregnancy. I also distinctly recall eating a bowl of rice with coconut aminos at 3 am because I woke up craving it and was starving (2nd trimester hungry, if you know what I mean).

 

My pregnant body craved SPECIFIC foods like citrus, mango, berries and sweet potatoes. And I don’t blame this on being a “sugar-burner” (so many opinions on that terminology, by the way). These are common food cravings for pregnant women for good reason – our bodies demand all of that folate, vitamin C and glucose they’re asking for. WE’RE BUILDING A HUMAN. Be easy on yourself but also treat your body with respect and let that be reflected on your plate, with your sleep, your stress management, your movement and your relationships.

 

 

It is my goal one day to provide a more inclusive guide of managing autoimmune disease during pregnancy. Until then, I hope this article provided you with some helpful, actionable information to protect your thyroid health during pregnancy. 

 

 

ADDITIONAL RESOURCES

Hypothyroid Mom is an excellent resource for additional information on fertility and pregnancy. Dana Trentini is also the author of Your Healthy Pregnancy with Thyroid Disease. You can also order your own full thyroid panel with a coupon code on her website.

 

Looking for post-partum support? I found Dr. Jolene Brighten’s book Healing the Body Naturally After Childbirth helpful.

 

I also have written an article on Balancing Hormones for Fertility. You can read more about my story of reversing infertility here.


 

Disclaimer: I am not a medical practitioner, and I will not be able to answer specific questions regarding your health state. I am here for emotional support and to provide hope. The information in this article is based on my personal experience and research. 

 

Paleo Baby Birthday Cake (Paleo, AIP, Nut-free, Sugar-free, Egg-free)

A

paleo smash cake

 

How cute is this Paleo Baby Birthday Cake made from sweet potato, beef tallow, carob, avocado and coconut flour!? It’s free of all grains, dairy, nuts and sweeteners which means it fits the bill for any real food baby, toddler or adults big day!

 

I cannot comprehend how my baby girl is going to be a one-year-old next month. My pre-baby life seems like an eternity away but only 365 days will have passed. They have been filled with emotions at every extreme and not a ton in the middle. Lots of laughing, smiling, heart-bursting joy but also my fair share of tears, frustration, anger and fatigue.

 

Motherhood is by far the hardest journey I’ve ever been on inclusive of my journey with Hashimoto’s and infertility. I spent many nights of my pregnancy up with anxiety about how I would be able to be the 24/7 guide for another life form. It’s just as hard as I thought it would be, but you take the good with the bad and you let the good keep you going.

 

 

paleo first birthday cake

 

I wanted to take some time today to reflect on what I’ve learned in the last year. You can skip ahead to the recipe if you’d like; this will just be my form of self-therapy.

 

 

Having your heart beat outside of your chest and inside the body of another human being is the scariest, most gut-wrenching feeling I can imagine. Every time I hear her cry my cortisol shoots up and I get a pit in my stomach. I know I can’t protect her from everything but I sure wish I could. Watching the news is near impossible for me now, traveling by airplane is a feat, and I’ve had to unpack a lot of post-partum anxiety lately. I know it’s normal, especially for someone who defaults on the anxious side, but it still needs to be addressed lovingly.

 

She makes me smile so wide and for so long, my lips are actually chapped by the end of the day. I thought high school and college were fun, but parenthood has me smiling and laughing more than ever before. She has taught me that my heart is a bottomless basket of love, care and pride. I wish I had more videos of the two of us interacting, but we are home alone so much that I’d have to set up a hidden camera to catch it all. Actually that’s not a bad idea

 

Part of me wishes that being a mother was my 1 and only purpose here on earth, but it’s not. It will always be my #1 purpose but I also am realizing I need to expand some of my love and attention to other areas of my life like my marriage, my career and my friendships. None of those things will ever give me the same type of joy and pride that she does, but they all make me a happier and more complete human

 

I am intrinsically terrible at asking for help. I really need to work on that (but I’ve come a long way since she was a newborn). Even though I’m a stay-at-home mom right now, I have a nanny who comes 6 hours a week so I can go work at a coffee shop, go to the dentist or get a pedicure. This has been extremely beneficial for my mental health. I’ve also started asking my husband for more help around the house. In fact, he vacuumed and steam-cleaned all the floors yesterday (amen, thank you to my incredible hub).

 

I’m not afraid to tell people no anymore. I used to say “yes” to everything that was asked of me, whether or not it benefited me or not. I am a giver and a helper by nature, and I also have an easily ignited guilty conscience (hello, kindling for autoimmunity and flares). Now if my gut tells me that a particular commitment is going to add stress to my life in an unproductive way, I say no and don’t feel bad about it. The book “Non-Violent Communication” has REALLY helped me with this. If someone is offended, disappointed or pissed off, oh well. Life is too short and modern life is too stressful already to constantly cater to others’ needs before your own.

 

There are no words for the love you have for your child. I cannot even attempt to describe the immensity of my love for my daughter. The fact that Hallmark tries to capture a mother’s love in a 100-word card baffles me. NO WORDS.

 

 

 

 

 

Okay let’s talk PALEO AIP BABY SMASH CAKE!

 

Now that all my sappy emotions have escaped my fingertips, here’s a little valuable information on this adorable 4-layer Baby Smash Cake! I was actually going to forgo birthday cake all together for her first birthday because

1) I didn’t think I could come up with a suitable cake that doesn’t have any grains, dairy, eggs, nuts or sweeteners (even natural ones like maple).

2) I wasn’t sure how I felt about getting her started on treats this early. What changed my mind: I didn’t want to regret not having an adorable, messy photo shoot of my daughter going ham on some cake. It’s an iconic photo!!

 

My first attempt included a similar birthday cake that was made with sweet potato, avocado and banana but the banana constipated her severely, so that was a big no-go! I landed on this version made from sweet potato (which adds sweetness, moistness, density & acts as a binder), beef tallow (healthy fat and it gives the cake its “donut” taste!), coconut flour (to help hold it together), cinnamon (adds a little sweetness without sugar), baking soda (for fluffiness) and an egg replacer (your choice: chia “egg” or gelatin “egg”). The frosting has the consistency of pudding and is made from a whole avocado, carob powder (a ‘chocolate’ flavor without the caffeine), coconut milk and a touch of coconut oil. The coconut oil helps thicken the frosting once it is refrigerated so that is goes on smoothly.

 

The texture of this cake is great for babies because it is soft, squishy and sort of melts in your mouth. I can only closely describe it to a pudding cake, if you’ve ever had one of those! The frosting in between each layer adds moisture too. I was concerned about making a cake that was too dry, her grabbing a giant bite and choking on it on her birthday. Again, still working on that new mom anxiety (eek).

 

 

This Paleo birthday cake is mom-approved in taste, ingredients & cute factor!

 

 

paleo baby cake

 

 

Please tag me in your messy baby birthday cake photos on Instagram or Facebook!

A NOTE ON SUBSTITUTIONS

I don’t recommend many substitutions here! All ingredients have a purpose. For example, the beef tallow is what gives the cake it’s fried donut taste (pre-cheap industrial oils, donuts and french fries were fried in delicious tallow!) If you replaced it with another solid fat like lard, it would definitely change the taste. For a baby, they won’t notice, but if you want to pick at the leftovers you may not enjoy it as much! I don’t recommend adding sweetener, it’s not necessary. If your baby does well with eggs, you can definitely use an egg in place of the gelatin or chia “egg”. No other grain-free flour will work here. Coconut flour has unique binding and moisture-absorbing properties. I would not use tapioca or arrowroot in its place of you’ll get a very gummy cake. You may leave out the cinnamon if your baby has an intolerance to it; the flavor will be slightly altered and it won’t be as sweet or donut tasting. You can replace the avocado in the frosting with coconut cream most likely in a 1:1 ratio. I prefer avocado because of the fiber and other nutritional properties that make it easier to digest than something as high in fat as coconut cream.

 

 

 

aip birthday cake

 

 

Happy Birthday, Baby! Get as messy as you want with this allergy-friendly sweet potato & “chocolate” cake!

 

 

 

3 reviews

Paleo Baby Birthday Cake

Preparation 00:15 2017-10-17T00:15:00+00:00 Cook Time 00:15 2017-10-17T00:15:00+00:00 Serves 1-4     adjust servings
paleo smash cake

Ingredients

For the cake

  • 1 large baked sweet potato (1 cup mashed), cooled
  • 1/4 cup Bob's Red Mill coconut flour
  • 2 tablespoons beef tallow, melted (measure before melting)
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1 chia egg or 1 gelatin egg (recipes in notes)
  • 1 teaspoon lemon juice

For the frosting

  • 1 ripe medium avocado, pitted
  • 1/4 cup coconut milk or cream, room temp
  • 1/4 cup carob powder
  • 2 teaspoons coconut oil

Instructions

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Have a 3-inch biscuit cutter handy for easy preparation of cake layers.
  2. Prepare the cake. In a food processor, combine the 1 cup mashed and cooled sweet potato with the coconut flour, beef tallow, baking soda and cinnamon until smooth.
  3. Prepare the gelatin or chia "egg" according to directions in notes below. With the machine running, drizzle in the "egg" along with the lemon juice and combine for 30 seconds until smooth.
  4. Place biscuit cutter on baking sheet. Scoop 1/4 cup batter in the cutter and use wet hands to smooth batter into an even circle. Remove biscuit cutter carefully. Repeat this step 3 more times for a total of 4 3-inch mini cakes.
  5. Bake cake layers for 15 minutes. They will rise slightly and be fairly soft when you remove them from the oven. They will firm up as they cool. Cool cake layers completely on the countertop (don't skip or rush this step or the warmth will melt your frosting!)
  6. Meanwhile, while the cakes are baking prepare the frosting by combining all ingredients in a clean food processor until very smooth. Transfer frosting to a glass bowl and keep in fridge while the cakes cool.
  7. To frost the cake: Transfer 1 layer to serving plate. Apply generous layer of frosting on top using a butter knife or mini spatula. Repeat with remaining 3 layers, ensuring you save enough frosting to frost outside of cake too!
  8. Store cake in fridge until ready to serve! Leftovers can be stored for up to 5 days! I ate her leftovers cold for breakfast and they seriously filled my donut void!

Recipe Notes

Each recipe below makes 1 "egg" which is what this recipe calls for:

Chia Egg: Grind 3 tablespoons of whole chia seeds in a clean coffee or spice grinder. Measure out 1 tablespoon of ground chia and mix with 3 tablespoons of cool water. Let sit in the fridge for 10 to 15 minutes to thicken.

AIP OPTION Gelatin Egg: Whisk 1 tablespoon gelatin with 1 tablespoon cool water until frothy. Whisk in 2 tablespoons of hot water until thickened. Immediately use your gelatin egg where call for in the recipe.

 

Real Food Baby: How We Introduced Solids

 

 

One of the parts of new motherhood I most looked forward to was introducing solids to my daughter. Passing on my love for food, nutrition and awareness of sustainability and the environment is one of the many pieces of parenthood that I view as a gift I can give to Grace.

 

Many of you have asked how I went about introducing solids to Grace: which foods we started with, how we did it, why I chose the way I did. My decisions were based on a mix of research and intuition. Grace has eaten a mostly AIP diet so far – not for restriction purposes but for nutrient density. She has eaten some non-AIP foods like seed spices (most days) and egg yolk (a few times), but we haven’t introduced butter, ghee, nightshades (I never buy them), nuts, seeds, any packaged baby food, other dairy or grains yet.

 

This is what I feel is right for our family, and my only goal in writing this article is not to tell you what I think you should feed baby, but to give a detailed example about how this first time mom went about it!

 

 

My top recommended resource for learning about the most nutritious foods to feed your baby is Super Nutrition for Babies.

 

 

Super Nutrition for Babies closely aligns with the Weston A. Price Foundation focus on high-quality pastured animal foods, vegetables, probiotic rich foods and gut and immune-supporting quality fats. It outlines the best foods for baby at each stage of development from 6 to 18 months, which makes planning so much easier. I followed it fairly closely but deviated with my focus on wild seafood and decision to not include whey (dairy-based) ferments as the book suggests because of my history with cow’s milk intolerance that started at a fairly young age.

 

My baby feeding bible!

 

I also signed up for Megan Garcia’s First Foods online course, which was very helpful about timing of food introduction. It includes some pretty neat charts on the exact nutrient density of certain foods (i.e. which foods are high in iron, zinc, B vitamins, magnesium, etc) that I definitely geeked out on.

 

 

I suggest identifying your main purpose/why with food introduction. My purpose was to introduce the most nutrient dense, least allergenic foods that my baby at her developmental stage would physically be able to masticate, swallow and digest.

 

 

I’m first going to discuss why we started with Baby-Led Weaning and transitioned away from it by the time she hit 7 months old. I’ve had that question come up a lot from readers! This is not a case for or against BLW – I just followed Grace’s cues and without influencing her one way or another she let me know which foods she desired at each stage!

 

 

 

Did we do Baby-Led Weaning?

Whether or not a real food mama chooses to do Baby-Led Weaning (BLW) or begins food introduction with purees is typically the first decision in this process. I assumed I would do BLW through and through with Grace because I learned about it in multiple Facebook real food parenthood groups. There were several posts a week advocating for BLW with adorable pictures of little ones sucking on strips of steak, big pieces of broccoli florets, and roasted carrot wedges. The stated benefits include less picky eaters later in childhood, increased ability to handle variety of food textures without choking, and baby developing fine motor skills more quickly through repetitive self-feeding. Honestly, my baby has demonstrated all of those benefits without doing BLW exclusively, and it is definitely not a requirement if you’re a real food mama. Not a jab at BLW – I am in full support of all mamas educating themselves and making the best decision for their family! Go with your gut on whether or not you want to try BLW, and if you don’t have a strong gut instinct either way, give it a shot after doing some reading. 

 

I have learned for myself it’s best to not label my parenthood choices, as our children have different needs each day. Whether that’s our decision to vaccinate or not vaccinate, go back to work or stay at home, or how we choose to discipline our children… staying open-minded and flexible helps us ride the wave of child development. What we choose one day may be the exact opposite what we choose the next day. This perfectly mimics my experience with solid introductions. Grace let me know each day what she was capable of handling, and I wanted to support her needs first. 

 

 

Why we transitioned from BLW to purees & then back to self-feeding

Food waste

I am passionate about food waste, and so much food was making its way everywhere but her mouth and tray table. I know it wouldn’t be that way forever as she developed her feeding skills, but for a short time purees both fed by myself or self-fed were better on our budget and less waste occurred.

 

Nutritional Optimization

For our family, for the best way to ensure Grace was receiving the micronutrients she needs for optimal immune system and gut health, a more controlled puree feeding was ideal. This lasted maybe 6 weeks, which is a drop in the bucket in her entire life. I’m going to bargain that those 6 weeks won’t have a drastic impact on her “pickiness” as she ages.

 

Mom-Tuition

Most important, my mom intuition told me introducing large pieces of food and focusing my efforts on the process of BLW rather than spending my time and energy focusing on optimal nutrition just wasn’t right for us. There’s moms who can do both, but I could only manage preparing the food, and the anxiety of giving my little baby large chunks of food was too much for me. I have had bouts of post-partum anxiety so this was a decision influenced by that. If we have another child, I may feel more comfortable with the process!

 

Developmentally Unready

Grace had a power grasp (a full-fisted grasp) at 6 months but her pincer grasp didn’t emerge until closer to the start of her 8th. This made it difficult for her to self feed certain foods that we were focusing on like liver pate and slippery foods like salmon. I’ve read from multiple high-quality sources that around 6 months of age many breastfed babies need micronutrient supplementation through solids… particularly iron and vitamin D. If a breastfed mother’s diet isn’t also optimal, that baby may be at an increased risk for micronutrient deficiencies. I wanted to make sure Grace was able to consume the foods that would support her immune system and for a short stint, spoon feeding was a helpful vehicle for this.

For me it was more intuitive to focus on just one thing: highly nourishing, anti-inflammatory and non-allergenic foods.

 

 

Solid Food Introduction

 

6 to 7 months (no teeth)

During this time, I focused on pastured and grass fed animal organs, meats, and fats as well as non-shellfish seafood and root vegetables. Honestly, this is still my focus at 10 months because these are some of the most nutrient dense foods one can eat! They supply her with heme iron, vitamin D, omega 3s like DHA and EPA, zinc, B-vitamins, glucose, fiber and selenium, to name a few.

 

Some studies show that exclusively breastfed babies require a diet focused on iron and vitamin D by 6 to 8 months of age due to decreased stores since birth while other studies state some babies are fine without supplementation until 12 months of age. I suspect it’s on a very individual basis dependent on sunlight exposure, mom’s gestational diet, mom’s current diet, and genetics.

 

Other than supporting Grace’s vitamin D stores with food (and getting mine tested to make sure they were adequate), I also expose her skin to sunlight for about 15 to 20 minutes 3x a week. This occurs on our beach walks or when we play in our backyard. If we’re outside any longer, we wear protective clothing and a hat (and Beautycounter Face Sunscreen Stick which is an easy application for baby rolls!)

 

Spoon-Fed Purees (both self-fed and fed by parents)

  • Mashed or pureed grass-fed beef and pastured chicken liver (gently cooked in lard or bone broth)
  • Root vegetables like rutabaga, sweet potato and parsnips (gently cooked in bone broth in the Instant Pot or on the stovetop)

 

Finger-Fed Mashes + Small Pieces

  • US Wellness Meats Liverwurst and Braunschweiger
  • Vital Choice Sardines (flaked) and plain wild salmon
  • Egg Yolk (from local farm, soy-free, soft-boiled and mashed with lard)
  • Vital Choice Wild Alaskan Salmon Eggs (see my article Caviar for Babies)
  • Wild Salmon (baked with dill and lemon, flaked)

 

Fats/Cooking Ingredients

 

 

I ate salmon 5x a week when I was pregnant so I’m not surprised she loves it so much!

 

 

Discussion Point: Food Quantity & Quality

As you can see, she tried maybe 15 foods total by the end of her 7th month, which is fairly average. We minimized the risk of food reactions and it allowed me to more easily determine reactions by only introducing a new food every 3 to 4 days for 60 days. To determine food quantity, I offer small amounts (about 1 tablespoon at a time currently at 10 months) and continue to refill her tray until she signals she is full.

 

Average Meal Size (this varies based on teething)

6 months: 1 to 2 tablespoons food per day (1 to 2 meals per day)

7 months: 2 tablespoons of food per meal (2 meals per day)

8 months: 2 to 3 tablespoons of food per meal (2 meals per day)

9 months: 2 to 4 tablespoons of food per meal (3 meals per day)

10 months: 4 to 6 tablespoons of food per meal (3 meals per day + 1 snack)

 

Meal Timing 6 to 8 months

I always breastfed her before each meal and waited at least 30 minutes before feeding solids. I wanted to protect my milk supply and ensure she was hungry enough to breastfeed during solid introduction.

 

Meal Timing at 9-10 months

Morning Meal: I breastfeed her 1 to 1 1/2 hours prior to her morning meal so she has adequate breastmilk nutrition but still has an appetite for solids. This is her smallest meal of the day. She breastfeeds again before her morning nap.

Afternoon Meal: I breastfeed her 2 hours prior to her afternoon meal, allow her to digest for 30 minutes, and then breastfeed her after for hydration and nutrition. She also breastfeeds 1 to 2 more times before the next meal.

Evening Meal: I breastfeed her 2 hours prior to her evening meal and then breastfeed her two times before she goes to bed after that.

 

Food Quality: She eats better than we do!

You’ll also notice that food quality is important to me. I have been sourcing all of our protein and veggies from 3 trusted places: US Wellness Meats, Vital Choice + my local farmer’s market. If I lived closer to a Whole Foods, I would also source some grassfed ground beef or lamb from them.

 

My grocery budget has shifted a bit. I spend more money on the highest quality animal foods I can find and shop at my local farmer’s market for cheaper organic produce. I source all my fats from Thrive Market – I got a membership for Christmas from my mom and I LOVE IT! I order from them at least once a month and it saves me SO much time from scouring local health food stores for all my grocery staples!

 

 

In 4 months, I have saved over $360 by ordering from Thrive!

 

 

Discussion Point: Early Introduction of Food Allergens

Whether or not early introduction of a food prevents or causes food allergies has been tossed back and forth in the pediatric medical community for years. I based my decision to wait on introducing potentially allergenic foods like nuts, dairy, shellfish, and peanuts on their digestive and nutritional status rather than one scientific study. I see no need to introduce nuts to an infant which is a personal choice not a blanket recommendation for my readers. They can be difficult to digest and can present a choking hazard. I also have not introduced any Paleo flours like almond, coconut or arrowroot which can be difficult to digest and alter the gut microbiome due to their high starch and fiber content (differs between flours).

 

If I weren’t breastfeeding, we would have first sourced donor milk and if that was unsustainable, I would have introduced either the WAPF homemade formula or a purchased goat’s milk formula. I plan to introduce some high-quality grass fed ghee before she is 1 year old since it is casein free. Babies have the lactase enzyme to be able to digest lactose in dairy products, so I wouldn’t be concerned about lactose intolerance at this stage and it tends to be the least allergenic of the dairy products (cow’s milk being one of the most allergenic). Shellfish are super nutrient dense but Grace does very well with salmon, sardines and mackerel, and I see no need to add shellfish which tend to be more allergenic than omega-3 rich fatty fish. Peanuts have a whole host of gut irritating properties, so I will not be introducing those for some time because their ability to damage her gut outweighs their potential prevention of an allergy for me.

 

Egg white protein can be very difficult for an immature gut to digest and is also a top 8 allergen. There’s a reason why it’s a big no-no on the AIP! It breaks down the tight junctions between gut cells and leads to leaky gut, according to The Paleo Approach by Dr. Sarah Ballantyne. Egg yolk is where all the nutrition is at so we continue to try those every 6 weeks but I can’t tell if she has a reaction yet. One time they seemed to constipate her and another time they seemed to give her acne around her mouth.

 

Basically, the question I ask myself when introducing a new food to her: “Is this going to provide her easily digestible nutrient-dense material for her immune system and gut health?” Egg whites, nuts/seeds, grains and pasteurized dairy got the “No” from my research and Mom-tuition. They may be the right choice for your family but with my strong familial history of autoimmune disease (it runs rampant on both sides of my family), I’m choosing to go a more conservative route.

Loving on her lard!

8 to 9 months

(4 teeth came in at 9 months)

 

No more purees needed! Grace graduated from purees by the time she hit 8 months. I still offer them on a spoon to her that she picks up and feeds herself on occasion.

 

NEW Finger-Fed Mashes + Small Pieces

*She continues to eat foods from 6 to 7 month introduction

  • US Wellness Meats Head Cheese (this beef heart and tongue sausage is much firmer than the Liverwurst and Braunschweiger so I cut it into small pieces. It tastes like salami!)
  • Vital Choice Mackarel, Smoked Salmon (flaked)
  • Pieces of broth-cooked acorn squash, butternut squash, zucchini, onion, summer squash, fennel
  • Grass fed ground beef crumbles (seasoned with dried herbs)
  • Kalamata olives (ingredients: olives, red wine vinegar, sea salt)
  • Steamed and mashed organic dried prunes (helpful for a 3-day constipation)
  • Tropical fruits – raw and ripe diced kiwi, pineapple, and mango
  • Carrot & Ginger Kraut made from carrot, cabbage, and ginger puree

 

NEW Foods for fun

 

sweet potato baby

Easy to pick up sweet potato fat balls!

Discussion Point: Feeding Skills

 

Very quickly I realized that simply introducing a wide variety of hand-held foods was not going to make her more or less of a ‘picky’ eater. Grace would receive tons of variety over the first year of her life even if part of those foods were pureed or spoon-fed. And her ability to self-feed would naturally develop over the next couple months in a progressive manner. She would tell me when she was ready for larger pieces of intact food. I just had to watch for the signs. And she did. Over the next 2 months, we naturally progressed from pureed liver pate and root vegetables, to mashes, to mashes with soft chunks, to soft chunks which is where we are now with most of her food at 10 months (i.e. pieces of ground beef, fish eggs, pieces of broth-cooked vegetables and ripe fruit).

 

She isn’t picky – she has loved everything she has tried (it took her a few trials of avocado to enjoy it). I have learned to prefers her vegetables to be lightly coated with olive tapenade and I can’t expect her to want vegetables at every meal but she sure wants animal protein every chance she gets! Interestingly, she highly prefers the most nutrient dense foods I put on her table like liverwurst, fish eggs, salmon, bone marrow, sardines and mackarel. She’s also done with mashes and purees on spoons and has no interest in them anymore. This non-preference developed naturally. I love that she communicated her feeding needs with me, and that I observed closely enough to accommodate them.

 

She still signaled need and satiety with purees and spoon-feeding.

As a pediatric therapist, I also fully believe in providing our children with experiences that support their current skill levels rather than challenging them too far outside of their comfort zone. Grace showed me that she much preferred eating pureed and mashed foods between months 6 ½ and 8. And I saw how much she enjoyed grabbing her spoon of liver pate from me and feeding herself. She also showed me signs of wanting me to feed her like making eye contact and opening her mouth once I loaded a spoon. She turned her head away and closed her mouth when she was done. Her body told her brain when she was done and knew when she wanted more. She didn’t need to self-feed 100% of the time to utilize this natural skill. Grace communicates her needs very clearly to me.

 

 

10 months

(6 teeth – 2 bottom and 4 top)

 

NEW Foods

I have been introducing a new food every 2 to 3 days and sometimes more than 1 new food each day if they are unlikely to be allergenic. She has been eating more foods from my plate than in previous months but the majority of her meals are all “Grace foods” like fish eggs, organ meats, chunks of fruits and vegetables.

 

  • Grilled US Wellness Meats skirt steak, marinated in Garlic Sauce from my cookbook and diced
  • Grilled zucchini, onions, asparagus
  • Smoked wild salmon that I cured in apple juice and salt and smoke on our Traeger Grill
  • Coconut oil mixed with carob (sampling to see if she likes the flavor of carob for her 1st birthday “cake” I’m recipe testing)
  • Spices like ground cinnamon, turmeric, onion powder, garlic and a bunch of the Primal Palate AIP spice mixes
  • Sauteed chunks of plantain with cinnamon
  • Small pieces of peeled citrus with the membrane removed
  • Broth-boiled celery and carrot chunks
  • Kale Cucumber & Apple Juice Pops that contain no added sweetener from Hyppo Pops here in St. Pete
  • Servings of “riced” vegetables like my Butternut Rice with Beef and Basil Pesto or my Lamb with Olive Tapenade Rice. These small pieces of vegetables are not digested in her stool, so I don’t offer them often, sticking to more well-cooked veggies. I NEVER give her raw vegetables since she cannot digest them yet.
  • Diced raw strawberries
  • Large wedges of ripe avocado

 

 

Juice pop made from kale juice, apple juice & cucumber juice. She can eat about 1/4 of it and really loves it when teething!

 

Discussion Point: Feeding Equipment & Accessories

We use the Stokke Baby Tripp Trapp High Chair with the attached baby seat and tray for meals. I decided to go with this higher price point chair because it grows with the child and can be adjusted at several heights. I keep her positioned at a 90 degree flexion at the hips, knees, and ankles which ensures optimal posture for chewing and swallowing food.

 

 

I do not use any plates or utensils at this point rather I place a small amount of food on her tray and allow her to finish it, wait for her to signal for more, then place more as desired. I easily remove the tray from the seat and wash it with warm, soapy water after every feed and let it dry.

 

To wipe down the chair, I use a warm cloth spritzed with this non-toxic Aunt Fanny’s Cleaning Vinegar which I get on Thrive. I removed the cushioned seats at 9 months of age because they were prone to staining and the extra laundering was becoming a nuisance. She is comfortable without the cushion!

 

We use these IKEA Kids Smocks from Amazon to protect her clothes. They are amazing and my friend Alex from Don’t Eat the Spatula told me about them. There’s a pocket at the bottom to catch any dropped food and they are easy to put on, remove and clean. I wash them in warm, soapy water after every feeding and leave outside to dry between meals. I machine wash them in warm water with vinegar one to two times a week and hang dry.

 

Please, more fish eggs!

 

For water, we use this Thermos Stainless Steel Straw Cup. I tested the 360 cup as well as an open cup, but neither of those worked for Grace. She enjoys sipping out of her straw cup when we’re out in the Florida heat and I don’t have any pumped breastmilk available. Sometimes I add frozen pieces of strawberries and mango to her cup to flavor the water.

 

This keeps her water cool for 12 hours! I fill it up all the way and we both sip on it during our walks or jogs.

 

How did you introduce solids? Is there anything you would do differently next time? What are your baby’s favorite foods? Let me know in the comments section!

 

 

Baby Equipment: Helpful or Hazard?

Baby Equipment

 

The early stages of child development can be related to the stock market. It changes every day yet it’s fairly predictable, and the better you understand the why’s and how’s of it, the more likely you will make choices that support its successful growth.If there’s one thing that is certain about parenthood and child-rearing, it’s that we all want what’s best for our children. We may go about it different ways and to the best of our abilities, but our end goal is to raise capable, independent, creative, socially-adjusted, loving, and empathetic humans. At least that should be the goal of parenthood.

 

As a new parent, traversing the early years of your child’s life can seem like an endless question and answer session. We are full of questions and rely on others we view as more experienced for the answers: pediatricians, family members, neighbors, teachers, parenting book authors, bloggers, and GOOGLE. Mostly, Google. Some parts of parenting don’t come naturally – like how we should discipline or feed our children. These choices are marred by our past childhood experiences, TV shows and movies, or a narrow understanding of the complex brain and body of a newly-made human.Another area of parenting that we may be unfamiliar with is what we purchase for our children.

 

Visit any baby store or online baby retailer and you will be inundated with category after category of  “must-have” baby items. As a new parent, you may assume you need one of each! Why else would they make a diaper wipe warmer or $350 baby monitors if we didn’t need them? Let’s ask ourselves, why do manufacturers produce products? To make money. Sometimes to solve problems… but mostly to make money. Look at your own credit card bill for proof.

 

And what problem are many baby equipment manufacturers trying to solve? Babysitting. Parents naturally want babies to entertain themselves for part of the day, so they can get stuff done. I get it… right now I have piles of laundry that need to be folded, a full dishwasher, and a stack of mail yet to be opened. But I use nap times to get that stuff done and am fully present during wake times, keeping close observation on my baby and interacting with presence.  I make this analogy to begin my discussion about infant equipment and toys because we can all relate. We’ve all been sold “must-have” products that proved to be “must-give-away” burdens after just a couple months.

 

As a pediatric occupational therapist, I have strongly formed opinions on the types of equipment and toys we expose our developing babies to… they aren’t all harmless and in good fun. These opinions are guided both by my education as well as professional experience and research. Below I take a look at the most common baby equipment items that parents may want to reconsider using with their children. Don’t feel bad or scared or nervous if you have been using this equipment. Just make an informed decision about whether or not you are going to continue using it – that’s my only goal of writing this article!

 

MAJOR TAKEAWAYS IF YOU’RE SHORT ON TIME

  • Baby equipment steals valuable time from your baby that could be spent exploring their exciting new environment in developmentally-appropriate ways. 
  • Baby equipment may place your baby’s joints in undesirable and unsafe positions that can hinder healthy physical, sensory and proprioceptive development.
  • Baby equipment should not be used as a babysitter. Instead, place your baby in a safe gated and/or baby-proofed area on their back with developmentally-appropriate toys nearby. This teaches self-directed, independent, and creative play and allows for freedom of movement.
  • Baby equipment is a waste of money as your baby will quickly grow out of or tire of a swing, bouncer, seat, or walker. What costs much less and is more appropriate? A blanket, a silk cloth to play with, a ball, blocks and a stuffed animal.
  • Baby equipment is dangerous and can lead to injurious falls resulting in head injuries and broken bones, especially if manufacturer’s instructions are ignored or use is unsupervised. 
  • Baby equipment places babies in positions they are not developmentally ready for which may result in insecurity, fear and “skipping” developmental milestones such as crawling. 
  • If you’ve been using baby equipment, don’t fret. You can make an informed decision on whether or not you want to continue using it. I suggest coming up with safer alternatives for the equipment’s purpose such as baby-proofing an area of the home for free play.

Floor time allows for developmentally-appropriate play that naturally progresses gross and fine motor skills following the baby’s internal lead and motivation. Sensory balls, wooden blocks, and wooden teethers can be manipulated, thrown, passed from hand to hand and help develop healthy coordination, strength, and control. 

 

BUMBO SEATS

Bumbo seats are one of the most common pieces of baby equipment I see parents purchase. Bumbo seats are foam booster-type seats you place on the floor to keep your baby in an upright position before they can get into that position themselves. Bumbo seats now come with harnesses that strap the child into the seat to prevent past safety hazards such as a baby falling out of the seat. Parents have told me they use Bumbo seats so their baby can look around or so they have a “safe place” to put the baby while the parents do chores around the home.

I actually have a solution to that problem that is free.So what’s wrong with this harmless-looking baby seat? First and foremost, it restricts movement like most baby equipment. Babies of all ages have a deep internal desire to explore their environments in a way that only freedom of movement can provide. When a child is strapped into a piece of baby equipment for hours and hours a week, that is quality time that should have been spent on the floor wiggling around in whatever way the baby pleases.

When an infant is placed on the floor in a safe space, they have the ability to engage developmentally appropriate muscles that will eventually result in better control of their bodies….and this leads to the self-esteem required to participate in creative and independent play.Not only that, but the Bumbo Seat stabilizes the postural muscles and hip joints in a dependent position with the hips placed lower than the knees and the feet floating above the floor. This awkward position both shortens muscles and ligaments and deactivates joint proprioceptors, disallowing for natural weight-bearing positions like tummy time or laying on the back or side.

On top of that, it places the baby’s pelvis in a posterior tilt (bum slightly tucked under their hips) which is the least ideal pelvic tilt for any human, at any stage of development. This results in shortening of hip flexors, oppositional muscle imbalances, and disengagement of the abdominal muscles.

VERDICT: DITCH IT!

Where can you place your baby so they can look around, play with toys, and experience this new enthralling world? On their back. Simple. Set aside a safe play area in your home where you can lay your baby on his or her back while you do chores nearby. If your baby is able to roll over and crawl, it’s best to use a gated play area to keep them in a contained, baby-proofed space. Floor time has been shown in research to support the successful development and progression of gross and fine motor mastery, so before you add a Bumbo seat to your registry or use that hand-me-down from your neighbor, don’t discount the natural progression of development which starts ON THE FLOOR.

 

WALKERS

Walkers have made the news for the last couple decades after thousands of children a year were being injured in falls and accidents. They were flat out outlawed in Canada in the early 2000s, and American manufacturers altered their design so that babies couldn’t move quite so fast and far on wheels, limiting chances of falling down stairs or using the walker to gain access to dangerous items in the home like cleaners and stovetops. I won’t go into the scary details of some of these accidents, but they are enough to make a parent’s stomach turn and hyperventilate.

Walkers, even those harmless looking activity center walkers (see photo), need to be reserved for a baby who can independently walk and must be supervised in a baby-proofed environment at all times. My biggest peeve with walkers is that we’re essentially asking our children to participate in a major gross motor skill they are neither physically or mentally ready for. If a baby cannot walk unassisted, they should not be pushing a walker around the home. If you couldn’t physically run at a 15 mph pace, would you want to be placed on a treadmill set at 15 mph?

Why do we try to rush our children’s development with baby equipment like walkers then? Humans have their entire lives to walk and run, so why do we so want our 10-month-old to be walking already? I truly believe that as parents we tend to subconsciously project our expectations on our children. We feel a sense of pride every time our child hits a milestone, so we competitively hyper-focus on milestones and how we can achieve them as quickly as possible.

VERDICT: DITCH IT!

Babies learn to walk anywhere between 9 months and 15 months of age. And anywhere in between is completely typical. If you truly are concerned about your child’s lack of mobility, please get a free evaluation through your state’s early intervention program with a licensed occupational or physical therapist. They will be able to tell you if your baby truly has developmental delays preventing them from reaching particular gross or fine motor milestones.Ideally, your baby will teach themselves to sit, scoot, rock, crawl, pull to stand, cruise along furniture and then once confident with their stability and strength… take their first steps. There is absolutely NO NEED for baby equipment – humans have been learning these skills for thousands of years without the “help” of plastic wheeled toys.

 

BOUNCERS and EXERSAUCERS

A lot of the same reasoning behind limiting the use of Bumbos and walkers for infants is the same for bouncers. Strapping a child into a position they cannot get into themselves limits their ability to explore their environment, weightbear (which sends messages to their central nervous system via their joints and is extremely important for motor control and sensory development), and have adequate time in preparatory positions (i.e. back, tummy and side) that develop the skills for more advanced gross motor skills like crawling and sitting.

VERDICT: DITCH IT!

Again, placing your baby on his or her back in a safe space with you nearby and a few developmentally appropriate toys within reach is all your baby needs. Not only will this reduce unsightly equipment in your home, but you will save money on a useless and potentially harmful plastic product. If you use bouncers for naps, instead I suggest using a vibrating rocker like the Graco Lounger which is also an excellent choice if your baby has reflux. It places baby in a slightly inclined, safe position on their back suitable for short naps. It’s low calming vibration is less likely to overstimulate their sensory system unlike a bouncer. 

 

BONUS: BABY SLINGS (A CASE FOR MODERATION)

Babywearing is a term that has created a whole new industry and coalition of like-minded mamas. It allows mamas to comfort their baby while still being able to use their hands for personal tasks, or for caregiving tasks for older siblings. Slings and carriers are pretty fantastic if you’re the outdoorsy type – we take Grace for hikes in ours all the time! I also baby-wear for times of convenience such as grocery shopping, going on a beach walk, or running errands, but the amount of time I use a sling or baby carrier a week amounts to no more than 5 hours.

Baby-wearing is very popular in the Paleo and natural motherhood communities, and I totally get why. Mothers have a primal desire to be close to their children, and wearing them against our bodies has been shown to help regulate their body temperature and heart rate in premature babies, improve bonding, and make breastfeeding more convenient. Who doesn’t want to have their baby snuggled up to them all day? While that may be what we want, when babies reach about 3 months of age, they really deserve to have freedom of movement. And that just can’t happen if they’re strapped to their mamas all day.I met a woman at the grocery store this week who commented on my Ergo Baby 360 Carrier (which I recommend over the Baby Bjorn carrier). She said she wore her baby for 3 years straight and “never put her down on a playmat once”. She said it with pride. I smiled but internally I cringed.

While this is an extreme case, I added baby slings to this list to provide a different perspective on baby-wearing and to make a case against this extreme or even baby-wearing all day at home so you can “get stuff done”.Imagine having your baby strapped to you for most of the day while you do tasks around the house or run errands. He’s with you while you clean toilets, wash dishes, walk your dog, and make dinner. While this closeness is lovely, that is a lot of waking time that your baby is unable to move and wiggle and weightbear as he may please.And that doesn’t even consider positioning faux-pas that may occur with a mal-fitted sling. If baby’s spine and hips aren’t aligned well in a sling or baby carrier, and they maintain this position for many hours a week, musculoskeletal issues could result. Babywearing International is a non-profit organization that holds meet-ups around the country so mamas can try out different options and get fitted properly. I highly suggest finding one of these meet-ups through their website if you choose to babywear.

I also want to point out the musculoskeletal and postural deficiencies that can result for the babywearing mother. Babywearing front-loads your body with additional weight it is not used to carrying (remember pregnancy?). This can bring your pelvis into a posterior tilt, shortening hip flexors, tightening hamstrings, and pulling on your hip and knee joints (which may already be more lax than usual from pregnancy and breastfeeding hormones).  I also find it’s easy to disengage my abdominals when I’m baby-wearing which further exacerbates this non-ideal pelvic positioning. This is of particular importance for new mothers with weak pelvic floor function (me, me). Motherhood and caregiving tasks are already a repetitive strain on the body, and excess babywearing may increase chances of injury. Pregnancy may have already altered your gait, pelvic stability, and core strength, so our post-partum bodies need extra TLC from proficient healthcare professionals such a pelvic floor therapists, personal trainers, chiropractors and acupuncturists.

VERDICT: MODERATE IT

Babywearing is amazing and I 100% support it. But if you find that you’re defaulting to placing your baby in a sling to calm them down or help you “get stuff done” (especially after the age of 3 months) for many hours a day or week, I suggest transitioning some of that time towards independent floor play. This will both help your body AND your baby’s body. Your baby will learn to feel secure playing independently on the floor. You can help facilitate this security by observing nearby on the floor with them while allowing them to manipulate toys on their own, or simply wiggle around on the floor to their own rhythm. We do not need to entertain children; this big, beautiful world provides adequate stimulation and experimental learning opportunities.

Remember, mamas, just because one of the above pieces of equipment didn’t affect your child, it may exacerbate developmental issues in another child. We must agree that our babies are unique individuals with unique needs, and a piece of equipment that seemingly didn’t cause issue with our friend’s baby or our first-born, may be a negative environmental stimuli for another child. Like with all parenting choices, approach them using both your intuition and self-guided information gathering with careful observation of your individual child’s needs, capabilities and pursuits. 

Our Tongue Tie Revision Story

 

I had a reader ask me to discuss tongue and lip ties on the blog. Because I’m not a pediatric dentist or lactation consultant, I would rather share our story with tongue tie and how we got it revised. It’s highly important to educate yourself about the signs of tongue and lip tie prior to birth, so that you can better detect them early on. This will prevent breastfeeding, feeding, and speech complications that can lead to negative impacts on development. I knew Grace had tongue tie even though 3 doctors and 1 lactation consultant told me she didn’t. My instincts were right. Tongue and lip ties have been noted in pediatric medical literature for decades, but awareness is just starting to ramp up now on timely diagnosis and revision. Most pediatricians are not trained on their diagnosis so I highly, highly, highly suggest visiting a reputable pediatric dentist with experience in laser treatment for proper diagnosis. Ask around local mom groups – you’ll find one in your area!

Okay, If you’re a new mom or mom-to-be, you may be wondering what in the world are tongue and lip ties!? Let’s start by discussing the anatomy of our mouths. Our tongues don’t move freely within our mouth like we may think – they are actually adhered and anchored to our bottom palate by a frenulum (a folded mucous membrane). This also goes with our lips which are adhered to our top and bottom gingival ridges with their own frenulums.This is normal. We need these structures in our mouths to be anchored by these frenulums so we can better control them. They help us annunciate our words, latch on a nipple, and roll our “R”s in Spanish class. But when the attachment impedes mobility, problems can occur. I’ve worked in pediatric clinics where the speech therapists have discovered many children referred to them for speech issues actually have tongue tie. Once they have the revision at a pediatric dentist, their speech improves drastically over night and within a few weeks are discharged from therapy. 

Tongue ties and lips ties are fairly easy to diagnose at birth if you have the right team of healthcare providers. A baby may have difficulty opening lifting their tongue, latching on a nipple or bottle, or using the propulsion of the tongue to bring milk or formula to the esophagus for nutrition. This was our case. Grace was born at only 5 1/2 pounds. She had very low blood glucose levels at birth and was monitored for 72 hours in the hospital. This may have been due to my 4 day labor when I could barely keep any water in my system let alone food. We weren’t able to bring her glucose levels up within the first 12 hours outside the womb because she was feeding inefficiently (which we now know was due to posterior tongue tie).

DAY 1

On the first day of her life, her glucose levels were so low they whisked her away for lots of testing for a couple hours. I counted the minutes until they brought her back to me. Everything came back normal but she wasn’t receiving adequate nutrition via breastfeeding (keeping her glucose low) even though she looked like she was latching. The nurse told me she needed formula and she needed it fast since she wasn’t waking up (low glucose results in sleepiness). I felt incredibly hopeless, sad, angry, and frustrated when she told me that. I told her to go away, I wasn’t feeding my baby soy formula, and I’ll figure it out. But I couldn’t. Nothing I was trying was working and the lactation consultant was too busy to come see me. Side note: I had told a female friend who has 2 kids I wanted to bring homemade formula to the hospital just in case something happened and Grace couldn’t receive breastmilk. She looked at me with such disgust for even suggesting that, I felt ashamed. My instincts told me I should have had a back up, and I didn’t listen to them.

 

I’m not saying everyone needs a breastfeeding back-up plan, but not introducing formula to my baby was so important to me, that my gut instinct told me it was better to be safe than sorry. (This is not a discussion on formula v breastmilk, by the way. I understand some babies require formula, but there are better formula options than the crap gmo soy formula they have in the hospital. We also required a round of antibiotics so I was extremely upset at how we were “starting out” with her gut microbiome.) ALWAYS listen to your instincts. The most frustrating part was I had loads of colostrum – the nurses were all coming in to see all the colostrum I had been pumping! They were fascinated! But I had barely seen my baby’s eyes in the 20 hours since she was born because she was so low on blood sugar and didn’t have enough energy to open them. The nurse made me feel guilty for not being able to feed her. For the second time, I let someone else tell me how I should feel and what I should do, even though it was against my maternal instinct. Since that day, I’ve never let someone else determine the choices I make as a mother, even if it means hurting someone’s feelings or disappointing them. 

DAY 2

Before the hospital lactation consultant could get to me, the nurse fed Grace a bottle of soy formula. I wanted to crumble. I cried, I screamed, my stomach had a pit in it like I’ve never experienced. Because this woman took my baby from me and did something to her that was so against my newly maternal instinct, I could have ripped her head off her body. I had PLENTY of milk… enough for triplets, and my new baby was receiving GMO, corn-syrup soy formula as her first food. But the ILLC hadn’t had TIME to bring me a pump so I could pump colostrum and feed her through a bottle.It was 100% the most defeating moment of my life.

 

To this day, I am still very bothered and think there should have been another way. This wouldn’t have happened if I hadn’t delivered in a hospital and had been at a birth center. I just know it. But you can’t change the past. Thankfully, I put up such a fuss about that one bottle, they knew we had to find an alternative or they were going to have a real problem on their hands (me + my hormones).FINALLY, the lactation consultant came to see me. While she felt guilty she came too late to save Grace from soy formula, she checked on me pretty non-stop for the next 24 hours. I was hooked up to a hospital-grade pump every hour for the next 18 hours to pump as much colostrum as I could to make sure my body got the signal, “Yes there’s a baby here who needs milk, she just doesn’t know how to get it yet!” Thankfully, my milk did come in on day 4. With a vengeance. A story for later.

 

DAY 2 TO 3

I was also feeding Grace every hour with a Supplemental Nursing System (SNS) – we taped the little tube to my boob so Grace could simulate sucking on my nipple while really receiving my pumped colostrum from a bottle through the tube. There’s a photo of me naked in the hospital – one boob hooked up to the breast pump, Grace in football hold on my other side trying to latch, while the SNS is taped to my body and dangling over my shoulder. I was still smiling at least. During this time, Grace had to receive a glucose heel prick test every 8 hours for 48 hours. It was pure torture watching her scream, her foot bleed and have to be bandaged up 6 times in the first 2 days of her life. The doctors wouldn’t send us home until her glucose levels were normal for a full 24 hours (3 prick tests in a row).Imagine waiting to hear some really exciting or devastating news 6 times in the first 2 days of your child’s life. If she failed the test, we had to start over. That happened 3 times. Devastating. I just wanted to be home with my little girl and enjoy her, not subject her to pain and testing. We were in the hospital for 2 extra days because of this in addition to 2 days of labor (and 2 days of labor at home previous to that). We were beyond exhausted. I had accumulated a total of 10 hours of sleep in 7 days. I didn’t know that was humanly possible.

 

DAY 4

Finally on Monday night (I delivered Friday night), we got the okay to go home after she passed 3 tests in a row. All our hard work paid off and my little girl only had to receive one bottle of formula. I was nervous to go home because she still wasn’t latching super well but the lactation consultant at the hospital gave me her number and a list of other LCs that could do home visits. That night at 8pm my milk came in hard and fast. My engorgement was so painful, I vowed to never have another child. You would think a 4-day long back labor with a herniated lumbar disc would have turned me off from another pregnancy, but in that moment engorgement was unbearable. The worst part was Grace wasn’t eating well so she was unable to relieve any of the pressure. My husband and I thought my boobs were going to explode. They’re usually a B cup and were a G CUP that day – I’m not kidding! I looked like Pamela Anderson. You may be chuckling if you’re also a new mom – I was NOT expecting to have such an oversupply!  

 

DAY 5

tried cabbage leaves, warm shower and hand compression, pumping for relief, nothing was working. I called one of the ILLCs that the hospital LC gave me and left a voicemail that said, “Hi Dawn. I need you to come over to my house ASAP. It’s an emergency. My boobs are going to explode.” She arrived within 30 minutes. After showing me some tricks to relieve “the worst engorgement she has ever seen in 16 years” (an award I hope I never receive again), she also told me she thought Grace has a tongue tie. She couldn’t tell because Grace at that point could barely open her mouth because her tongue was pretty much stuck to her bottom palate. It just kind of laid flat, slightly protruding from her mouth, but with a lack of mobility.

 

She referred me to a pediatric dentist who was able to see me the next day at 1 pm for imaging and consultation. If they found a tongue tie, they could revise it with a laser procedure in 5 minutes on the spot. It would be $400 for the procedure. It could have cost $4,000 and I would have written them a check immediately. I so desperately wanted my girl to eat. At this point, she had been pulling on and off my breast for at least 12 hours a day and not getting much milk. 

 

DAY 6

At the appointment, our very kind dentist took photos of Grace’s mouth using a small laser camera. Sure enough she had a major posterior tongue tie that was hard to see without the camera. My husband started crying when he realized she would have to get the semi-painful procedure. I didn’t cry. My instincts told me it was for the best, and I was actually excited for her to be able to use her tongue properly. My sweet little girl went into the procedure room alone while we waited in a separate room by ourselves. Even with both doors closed, we could hear her scream when they used the laser to snip her frenulum. She cried for a few minutes and they brought her straight to me and she started breastfeeding immediately. It was different already. She was gulping down milk with the tell-tale nutritional sucking movement of the jaw that my LC had showed me to look for. 

 

DAY 6 TO 16

We were instructed to massage the area 3 times a day for 30 seconds with a clean finger for 10 days. This never bothered Grace and she didn’t cry when I did the massage. The area turned white as it healed and then eventually the whiteness went away. At the follow-up appointment, she was given the okay. Everything had healed well. She also had been breastfeeding like a champion since the procedure and finally gaining weight instead of losing!SINCE THENGrace has been an AMAZING eater since she had her tongue tie revised. She is now eating solids without issue, babbling and saying “Momma” and trying to say “Milk” (her two favorite things, let’s be real). I am very appreciative of our LC Dawn for sending us to a proficient and experienced pediatric dentist who made us feel comfortable. We submitted the bill to insurance and are waiting to hear back on whether or not they will cover it. I don’t care either way – I would have had to spend way more than $400 on formula by now if we hadn’t been successful breastfeeding.

  Feeding anywhere and everywhere, including in the Whole Foods parking lot on multiple occasions those first few months!

 

Breastfeeding is my #1 priority in life currently. I even decided to stay at home and not go back to work until she weans because I want to protect my milk supply and our breastfeeding relationship. The benefits of breastmilk on her longterm health and immune system far outweigh any other choice I could make in this life for me or for her. This is why I’m sharing our story. I don’t want another mom to have to go through what we went through with Grace in the first week of her life. Tongue ties and lip ties are incredibly common, and not all of them are going to affect a baby’s ability to nurse or latch on a bottle, but that same tongue or lip tie may affect their ability to speak in a few years. Or it won’t. You just never know. I suggest doing your research on Tongue and Lip Ties before birth so you can look for the signs. Also have more than 1 Lactation Consultants’ contact information on hand for an emergency visit and research a local pediatric dentist that does laser tie reversal (they heal faster and are less invasive than the conventional snipping method).

 

My biggest advice if breastfeeding is important to you: BE PREPARED. It doesn’t come easy for all of us for a variety of reasons, but the more you know from the start, the quicker you will be able to solve any issues like ties that may come up! And always, always, always follow YOUR instincts. Mama truly does know best. 

KELLYMOM IS MY FAVORITE RESOURCE FOR ALL BREASTFEEDING RELATED QUESTIONS.

HERE’S A PAGE OF ALL HER TONGUE TIE RESOURCES!

Caviar for Babies!? (O)mega Nutrition + Pincer Grasp Practice Using Fish Eggs

 

caviar for babies

 

Fish eggs for babies?! “Is that a joke?” you may be asking. I don’t blame you. It does not sound a little odd, a little outlandish. They may sound like a delicacy reserved for the British elite and fancy sushi rolls, but caviar is actually a very accessible and incredibly nutritious baby food option. 

 

Now, I’m not talking black caviar that costs $200 an ounce. That’s a particularly posh kind of sturgeon caviar imported from Russia, most often. Heck no. Please do NOT go buy that before finishing this blog post. I’m referring to the much more accessible and affordable Vital Choice Wild Salmon Caviar.

 

This is the caviar we use. It does not cost $32/serving. The jar is 6 ounces. I serve 1/10th of an ounce at each serving, so I get 60 servings out of the jar. Therefore each serving is about 50 cents. Paired with some broth-braised root vegetables, it’s actually a really budget-friendly, easy to masticate and digest, nutrient dense option for first foods. 1/10th of an ounce gives your child about 150mg of omega-3s.

 

Comparably, 1 ounce of wild salmon gives your baby about 3x that amount of omega-3s (about 450mg), so fish eggs are not the only way to get omega-3s into your baby’s diet, but ounce for ounce they are MUCH higher in omega-3s than salmon. And a fun, no cook way to get more variety onto their plates! 

 

Why Salmon Eggs are Baby Food

▪️ They are already pea-sized. Wild salmon roe (aka fish eggs or caviar) can easily be smashed in between gums if baby doesn’t have teeth yet, and if they do have teeth they will be even easier to masticate.They “pop” with slight pressure and release the omega-3-rich liquid easily.

 

▪️ They are one of the highest food sources of omega-3’s which promote healthy brain and nervous system development, immune system regulation and inflammation management. Wild Salmon Caviar contain two types of omega 3 fats called EPA and DHA. These are the omega-3s that have the greatest positive impact on health and have been linked to heart disease and cancer prevention (source: Harvard.edu)

 

▪️Your baby’s body doesn’t have to convert EPA and DHA into the most useful forms of omega-3s because they’re already it! You get EPA + DHA straight from the eggs unlike “superfood seeds” (sarcasm) like flax and chia seeds. Flax and chia seeds are marketed as high in omega-3s but they are predominantly an omega-3 called ALA (alphalinolenic acid) which does not have near the health benefits as EPA + DHA according to current literature, and was even linked Further more, the body inefficiently converts ALA into EPA + DHA with some studies suggesting a conversion rate of only 1%! (source: University of Maryland Medicine)
▪️It’s lower in salt content than most traditional caviars which is important because you still need to keep sodium to a minimum for babies. You won’t be coming close to even feeding your baby an ounce of caviar. In fact, we only give her maybe 1/10th of an ounce per serving which is only 30mg sodium. 
▪️Fish roe is one of the rare real food sources of vitamin D (other food-based vitamin D sources include mackerel, salmon, beef liver, raw grassfed dairy and egg yolks). The modern human population is by and large chronically vitamin-D deficient. If you and your baby live in a northern climate, you likely need to focus even more on food sources of vitamin D compared to someone living in a tropical environment who has ample sun exposure year-round.

 

 ▪️They have a stronger “fishy” taste and a unique fatty liquid texture, so if you focus on expanding your baby’s preferences, there are not many other foods quite like caviar!

 

How to Practice Pincer Grasp with Fish Eggs

I started wild salmon eggs with my daughter when she was 7 months and 3 weeks old. She had been demonstrating increased preference for grasping food with a pincer grasp rather than a raking, full-fisted grasp. A pincer grasp is a dexterous fine motor grasp that involves picking up a small item with the thumb and forefinger.

 

Imagine how you would pick up a marble off the table. You are using your pincer grasp.Pincer grasp is an important fine motor development because it is required for many independent self-care and play activities your baby and toddler will be practicing such as untying laces, buttoning large buttons, picking up small items that don’t belong in their mouths like small leaves and coins. Pincer grasp emerges around 7 to 10 months but can certainly appear later than that. All babies are on their own developmental timeline, but that doesn’t mean we can’t alter their environment to encourage practice and exploration. 

 

Make sure your baby is secured in their high chair or sitting with support in your lap facing a flat surface that you can place the eggs on. I know everyone feeds their baby differently. Having solid postural and trunk support can make using their hands for fine motor activities much easier. If our trunk is not strong, our hands cannot function optimally.

 

Place 1 fish egg in front of them on a solid surface. Watch how your baby or toddler manipulates the fish egg. Maybe they’ll smash it with their hand, try to pick it up with their fist, smear it across the table, or possibly use their thumb and first finger to secure it and bring it to their mouth.I usually place 5 fish eggs in front of my daughter at a time. If she signals that she would like more, I will place 5 more. We usually max out at 10. They make for an awesome no-cook portable baby food option too. Try them for yourself! They’re nature’s Pop Rocks! 

 

 

Disclaimer: Please note that I am not a certified nutritionist, but simply a mom who wants to get her baby off to the best start using the most nutritious foods I can source! My articles are for informational purposes only and not intended to diagnose, treat or prevent any disease. I request that my readers assume full responsibility for how they choose to use this information. This information is not a substitution for medical or nutritional advice. 

5 Safer Baby Body Products

5 Safer Baby Body Products

How often have you heard “the skin is our largest organ” and “everything you put on your skin enters your body”?

And yet we still purchase body products at drugstores, department store or baby stores without really looking into the ingredients. Maybe a loosely-regulated or not-regulated-at-all marketing claim like “all-natural” or “natural ingredients” were convincing enough to toss the product into your shopping cart. Or the label has a pretty little leaf or the color green on it?

 

Did you know marketers use the color green because we associate it with nature and health? Even if what’s inside the bottle didn’t come from nature + certainly doesn’t promote health. Ugh.  I’ve fallen for it before too. Until I informed myself about just how dangerous these ingredients are for our bodies.

 

We put so much effort into the sourcing of our food, yet we forget that what touches the skin often times enters the bloodstream. Why else would nicotine patches, birth control patches, or muscle cream exist if it didn’t penetrate the skin?And our babies are not protected from this mechanism. 

 

More than 10 years ago, the Environmental Working Group published a study called “Body Burden: The Pollution in Newborns“. The EWF confirmed that…

  • More than 275 (287 to be exact) toxic chemicals were detected in the blood of newborn’s umbilical cords
  • 180 of those toxins are known carcinogens
  • 208 of those toxins cause birth defects and abnormal development
  • 217 of those toxins damage the brain + nervous system

 

What a dichotomy. We look at our gorgeous little newborns who look pristine… pure perfection. Yet before they even have taken their first breath of air outside the womb, their cells have encountered almost 300 known toxins. It’s incredibly saddening, but the first step in reconciling this hurdle is changing their environment.

 

Our job as parents is to protect our children and allow them to develop naturally + to their greatest potential. We can only do our best work if we are informed. 

 

An easy way to decrease the toxic burden of the modern world on our children is to change our bath + skin products to products by brands who do their research too. I don’t want this blog post to be about all the toxic chemicals found in brands with the cute + charming TV commercials.

 

This post is about supporting the companies that are dedicating their mission to protecting our children, advancing the public’s knowledge of safer products +/or advocating for legislative change to laws governing consumer product safety. Beautycounter is in partnership with the Environmental Working Group to ensure the safety of their products (their company mission after all). Eco Chic Movement is based out of Canada and run by a naturopath and toxicologist named Dr. Alexis Reid. She is a member of the Paleo community. Badger is a family-run company that has created some of the safest plant-derived skin products on the market. All 3 companies are all about environmental responsibility + consumer advocacy. 

 

 

Beautycounter Baby Gentle All-Over Wash is appropriate for infant and toddler bathing. It’s gentle formula is tear-free, lightly lathers, and effectively cleans. It leaves my baby’s skin with a yummy light baby-fresh scent, soft, and doesn’t dry it out at all thanks to coconut-derived fatty acids. BIG plus is Beautycounter was one of the first skincare companies to be EWG Verified, which means they have passed the most rigorous test for skincare safety out there. This body wash also doesn’t contain any formaldehyde-releasing chemicals unlike America’s most popular baby bath brand. 

 

Eco Chic Movement Diaper Cream

 

Eco Chic Movement Diaper Cream is a super-nourishing emollient made out of a variety of oils and plant extracts that work synergistically to heal your baby’s luscious bottom. This cream protects from diaper rash beautifully + I also apply it to my chunk monkey’s fabulous and endless rolls and under her chin(s). 

 

Beautycounter Baby Soothing Oil

Beautycounter Baby Soothing Oil

It doesn’t get more clean + simple than this… 4 ingredients make for the silkiest healing oil for all newborn and older skin concerns. This yummy oil is gluten-free, soy-free, non-gmo, vegan, and made with certified organic oils. Which means it’s the perfect baby shower gift for the new mom in your life (even if that’s you!) I use this after bath as a massage oil for a heavenly + relaxing baby massage that’s good for her insides + outsides too. Best of all? It’s fragrance-free which means you won’t have to worry about hormone-disrupting chemicals interfering with your nighttime routine. 

 

Badger Baby Sunscreen

 

Badger Baby Sunscreen SPF 30This is the only baby sunscreen I will put on my daughter this summer. It’s made with non-nano uncoated zinc oxide, EWG’s top choice for the safest active ingredient in a consumer sunscreen product. While sun exposure is incredibly healthy for babies, living in Florida means the strong UV rays have the potential to be damaging if we spend more than 30 minutes at the beach. After your baby hits 6 months of age, you can start applying baby sunscreen to their delicate skin. Make sure to do a patch test first (such as the inside of their leg) and wait 48 hours to watch for a reaction before using all over. Other ways to protect? A cotton hat, staying inside between 10 am and 4pm, and wearing a light cotton long-sleeve shirt and pants.

Dr. Bronner's Coconut Oil

 Dr. Bronner’s Unrefined Virgin Coconut Oil

Coconut oil isn’t what you’d traditionally consider a baby body product, but it certainly has it’s place in your caregiving routine. My preferred use for coconut oil is for cradle cap.

 

Cradle cap is a ubiquitous (most babies have it) scalp condition that causes yellow flakes and scales of dry skin. It is a common condition beginning around 3 months and sometimes lasting longer than 12 months. (It may extend to the ears and eyebrows in more severe cases, but if you find dry scaly skin elsewhere on your baby, please have them evaluated by a doctor for eczema.) 

 

We have used coconut oil lightly massaged on Grace’s scalp to remove any dry skin. Let the coconut oil sit on the scalp from 15 to 30 minutes then using a soft organic wash cloth rinsed in warm water, gently exfoliate the dead skin away. Follow up with a lovely hair wash using the Gentle All-Over Wash

 

Balancing Hormones for Fertility

 

 

Hormonal Balance Enemy No. 1: Estrogen Dominance

 

When discussing the basics of hormonal balance, it’s important to explain the purpose of our two main sex hormones: estrogen and progesterone. These two girls are responsible for maintaining a healthy menstrual cycle and pregnancy, yet they are frequently imbalanced with each other causing those annoying and painful PMS symptoms, infertility, and miscarriage.

 

Many of us walk around with imbalanced estrogen and progesterone. This imbalanced ratio can come in many forms. You may be in the normal range for both progesterone and estrogen but low-normal for progesterone and high-normal for estrogen, leading to estrogen dominant symptoms. Or you may be low in progesterone and normal or high in estrogen which is very common in a stressed autoimmune-diseased body, if you have low body weight, or if you suffer from adrenal fatigue. Heck, you can even be low in both progesterone and estrogen and STILL be estrogen-dominant! As you can see, it’s a tight rope to walk when balancing these two uber-important hormones, which is why working with your doctor or a functional medicine doctor can be incredibly helpful in tracking your progress towards hormonal balance.

 

Estrogen dominance is on the rise in both pre-menopausal and menopausal women. We pick up estrogen from our modern day environments quite easily, especially in our food choices (i.e. non-organic meats and produce sprayed with herbicides and pesticides, soy products, and conventional dairy to name a few) and the over-use of the birth control pill which can both cause estrogen-dominance symptoms and cover up existing dominance. For menopausal women, it’s even more difficult to fight estrogen dominance because as we age progesterone naturally decreases by up to 75% while estrogen may only decrease by half that amount or less! This is why hormone replacement therapy (HRT) has become incredibly popular as a treatment for menopausal symptoms such as mood swings and hot flashes.

 

To help combat estrogen dominance, make some environmental and lifestyle changes such as switching from plastic containers and water bottles to glass ones, buying only organic meat and produce (and peeling any non-organic produce if that’s all you can afford), and avoiding conventional cosmetics that contain xenoestrogens (toxins that mimic estrogen in the body) such as parabens. You may also need to work with a practitioner who can prescribe the proper amount of progesterone to raise progesterone levels, decreasing estrogen dominance symptoms.

 

Progesterone can be a very protective and health-promoting hormone for women. It is also incredibly vital for a healthy pregnancy and increased levels have to be maintained to promote the growth of the fetus. Low progesterone in pre-menopausal women can be caused by several factors including stress, poor diet, history of birth control pill usage, anovulatory cycles (where a period can exist without ovulation leading up to it), and defects in the corpus luteum (which releases progesterone during your menstrual cycle and helps prevent miscarriage in early pregnancy).

 

Estrogen can get a bad rap especially when talking about its dominant nature. It is after all responsible for growth. Growth of our uterine lining, growth of our hips and breasts, and even growth of healthy, thick hair. There are 3 main estrogen components commonly tested in salivary and serum blood tests on hormone panels: estrone (E1), estradiol (E2), and estriol (E3). When in healthy balance, estriol comprises about 70% of estrogen, while the remaining 30% is divided somewat equally between E1 and E2. Not only is it important for these 3 estrogen components to be in balance with each other, but they also must balance with our progesterone levels. Want to learn a lot more about estrogen dominance? I love this article for its comprehensiveness. 

 

 

What about all those other glands?

 

Thyroid

While researchers don’t understand exactly how overactive or underactive thyroid affects fertility, they do know that both conditions can affect ovulation, healthy growth and development of a fetus, ability carry a full-term pregnancy, and has  been associated with an increased risk of stillbirths. Thyroid function is especially important to monitor before conception for women with a history of thyroid disorder or those with a family history. Make sure that your thyroid is in tip-top shape prior to conception and advocate to have it monitored consistently throughout pregnancy to ensure the health of your baby. If you are trying to conceive but have abnormal menstrual cycles or suspect you aren’t ovulating, make sure to get a full thyroid panel done to check for underlying disorder. 

 

Adrenals

If you’ve been in the health and wellness sphere for longer than 3 seconds, you know all about the dreaded adrenal fatigue. It’s the real deal and certainly not a fabricated disorder made up so that supplement companies have something tangible to target. Many, many, many (x 100, if we’re talking numbers) people in our modern day world suffer from some level of adrenal fatigue due to chronic stress. This stress can be either mental or physical (or worse, both) in nature and leads to a pretty nasty cycle of hormonal imbalance.

In short, a common way the adrenals affect our estrogen and progesterone balance is like this: our adrenals are responsible for producing a hormone called cortisol. Cortisol helps our body respond to stress by adjusting vital body functions such as metabolism, blood sugar, and immune activity. It is also is on the same “pathway” as progesterone, which is one of the precursors of cortisol in addition to pregnenolone and cholesterol. Progesterone also is at the fork of another pathway that results in estrogen, which is also made by DHEA. If our body is in a constant stress response, it prioritizes balancing life-or-death functions such as metabolism and insulin response rather than fertility and menstruation. That means our body shuttles progesterone to the production of cortisol leading to low progesterone levels, estrogen dominance and potentially anovulatory cycles or amenorrhea.

 

HPA axis

The HPA axis is too complex of a subject for this article. If using a top-down approach, one could really start with the hypothalamus-pitutary-adrenals trifecta of feedback cycles and hormonal production. Here’s a short article explaining how HPA axis dysfunction can negatively impact fertility and ovulation. To quickly sum it up, low body weight, over-exercising, and emotional stress can wreak havoc on hormones for years until properly addressed.

 

 

 

Natural Ways to Restore Hormonal Balance

Note that the majority of supplements are poorly studied in well-controlled research. Many of these compounds have been used in Traditional Chinese Medicine for hundreds, possibly thousands of years. They may or may not work for you, but either way it is important to work with a qualified practitioner such as a naturopath, TCM doctor, or functional medicine practitioner to ensure accurate dosage and safety. Supplements tend to be more gentle and work more slowly than prescription-based hormonal therapy. 

 

DIM for lowering “bad estrogen” and increasing “good estrogen” also balancing testosterone levels

– Used in weight lifting community as a fat loss supplement successfully because of its effect on estrogen activity

– May help restore fertility caused by estrogen dominance

-Verdict: anecdotal and case study evidence suggests DIM can have a powerful and quick effect on estrogen and testosterone levels in the body. Be sure to source a soy-free product such as 

 

Vitex (chasteberry) for increasing low progesterone

-In studies, Vitex seems to relieve PMS and PMDD symptoms, but studies have not consistently proven its efficiency as a fertility treatment.

-It is often recommended to women with low progesterone levels to ease menopausal symptoms, prevent miscarriage, and increase fertility by naturopaths and Chinese medicine doctors

-Verdict: Unknown. Some studies have shown effects only after taking Vitex for at least 7 months.

 

White Peony, Shatavari, and Schisandra (FemCo by Standard Process)

– White Peony is often used in Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) to stimulate circulation in the pelvic region, reduce the size of painful uterine fibroids, and reduce symptoms of PCOS by decreasing testosterone levels.

– Schisandra is an adaptogenic herb also often used in TCM to treat fertility issues by decreasing the stress response of the body and improving liver function. 

– Shatavari is recommended by ayurverdic, TCM, and  naturopathic doctors to increase overall fertility by boosting libido and acting as a “cleanser” for the reproductive system in both women and men.

– Verdict: this may be a helpful combination as it addresses common estrogen-dominant issues such as poor stress response and liver function (which is responsible for clearing excess estrogen out of our system).

 

Seed Cycling to balance hormones throughout the cycle

– It can’t get much more “granola” than literally eating different seeds during different times of the month to help balance your hormones so that the follicular phase and luteal phase have the correct balance of estrogen and progesterone. Supplementation of fish oil and evening primrose oil is also recommended.

– Verdict: Unknown. I have not found any “good science” on seed cycling and whether or not it truly makes a significant difference in hormonal levels. At worst, you’re getting in some healthy seeds high in minerals, vitamins, and omega-3s!

 

 

Common Western Medicine Ideas

Hormone creams

Many believe hormone creams to be more fast-acting and effective than compounded hormones, but it’s also harder to regulate exactly how much hormone you are receiving through the skin barrier.

Compounded hormones

Medical and functional medicine doctors may prescribe compounded hormones to increase deficient hormones such as in the case of menopause or peri-menopause women with estrogen or progesterone deficiency.

You will need to get lab values tested or record any new symptoms of too much or too little hormone such as changes in breast tenderness, weight, mood, water retention, skin health, and energy, so your doctor can adjust accordingly.

Tend to take several months to regulate hormones enough that glands can pick up where they left off.

Birth control pills

Highly unlikely to be prescribed by a functional medicine doctor for hormonal imbalances, but a common go-to by western medicine docs. The pill overrides your body’s need to produce its own estrogen and progesterone and can mask deficiencies in either hormone.

Some doctors believe amenorrhea must be treated this way. Give them the pill and they will be sure to get a period. This is probably true but it’s what I call an artificial period; rather it is not your body’s own natural hormone production creating your monthly cycle.

Birth control pills are becoming more and more recognized for their poor effects on post-pill hormonal health.

Ignore it – they say there is “no medical need for a period” and well… health effects usually aren’t deathly unless that hormonal imbalance leads to hormonally-driven cancers such as breast and ovarian.

Some doctors (and even some ill-informed patients) will proclaim that it’s no biggie if you don’t get your period. There’s no medical need for one! Well, they’re right in a sense. You aren’t going to die in 3 weeks if you don’t get your period like if you didn’t have access to food. It’s not required for respiration, kidney and liver function, or to keep your heart from stopping. But what these doctors and patients fail to recognize is the chronic and long-term effects hormonal imbalances and deficiencies can wreak on a woman’s sensitive body.

The risk of osteoporosis increases especially for white women under the age of 30.

Mental health can be affected by hormonal imbalances. I think our mental health IS a medical necessity. Hormonal issues commonly caused anxiety and depression in women that can continue for years before treated by balancing hormones.

 

 

Listen Up! Your body is trying to tell you something. 

Women tend to me the more intuitive of the genders. We must use this intuition to make accurate and evidence-based observations about our hormonal health. That may mean charting your cycles in a variety of ways.

  • Write down the first day of your period every month.
  • Chart your morning basal body temperature before you get out of bed in the morning using a mercury thermometer. As little as .1 degree increase in body temperature can indicated ovulation is occurring,  notifying you of your most fertile days.
  • Chart your symptoms. Is your luteal phase getting shorter and shorter (i.e. are there less and less days in between periods?) Are symptoms such as breast  tenderness, bloating, and cramping worsening? This may indicate rising estrogen levels and are often signs of estrogen dominance.
  • Advocate for your body. Do you having a feeling that you’re not ovulating or that you are experiencing estrogen dominance? Make an appointment with your physician and ask to receive the proper testing!

 

Getting Ready to Conceive?

Aim to get omega-3’s in your diet as often as possible. My favorite way to do this is with wild salmon, oysters, shrimp, mackerel, and anchovies. If you tolerate flax and chia seeds, they are also good sources of omega-3’s, but not autoimmune-protocol friendly nor do they have as good of an amino acid profile as seafood. Omega-3s

Get your thyroid tested. Ensure your thyroid hormones free T3, free T4, reverse T3 and your pituitary hormone TSH are well within normal range. If you have Hashimoto’s, it is now conventionally accepted (albeit not by all conventional doctors) that many people feel best with a TSH in the bottom 25% of the range and T3 and T4 in the top 25% of the range.

Take prenatal supplements full of methylfolate (NOT FOLIC ACID), B vitamins, zinc, magnesium, calcium, vitamin C, DHA, and vitamin D. You may also want to be on a probiotic and cease any supplements after conception that may affect hormonal levels like DIM or Vitex until you can talk to your doctor about their safety. 

Relax. I have a theory that the more you try to get pregnant, the less likely it will happen. While there’s no scientific evidence behind that, give it a thought in relation to your perspective about your own fertility. Just as we can self-sabotage a job interview if overly-anxious, we can also affect our body’s ability to conceive. Sex should not be a chore, but a loving activity between two committed partners who both have parenthood goals. It’s easy to feel under pressure once you hit a certain age, but remember you have 12 times a year to try and most women DO get pregnant eventually.

Don’t fear fat. Take this point from two angles: the fear of eating fat and the fear of having fat on your body. I’m sure you have heard many times over that being underweight can negatively impact fertility. It’s the truth, ladies, no matter how much you don’t want to hear it. I’ve experienced it and so have thousands and thousands of other women. We like to think we are the exception to this loose rule (i.e. “I can exercise 7 days a week, eat 1,200 calories a day, fit into size 00 pants and still have a baby!”  but for many women our bodies prefer having a little extra cushion for the labor pushin’. Some estimates suggest women have at least 18% body fat when trying to conceive (although there are athletically lean women who conceive with less body fat, it is inherently less common). Are you stuck in gym rat mode, suffer from irregular menstrual cycles and just can’t seem to get pregnant no matter what you try? Are you way too focused on your bikini bod and gym goals to the detriment of your sex hormones? Then I suggest finding a way to back off the fitness regimen. This is going to require you to re-work your mind and recognize that your body will try its hardest to work with you on your pregnancy goals as soon as you give it some loving too. If having a six-pack or cellulite-free legs is more important than having a child, well then you have just stated your priorities without even realizing it. Harsh words but they’re coming from a gal with a lot of experience in this area. You’ll have plenty of time (once the kids are in college?) to get back to your 90-minute gym sessions!

 

 

Coping with Infertility & Loss 

This subject is worth a series of blog posts on its own, but I think it’s important to address in the real-world context of chronic disease and infertility. For some women, health conditions prevent you from conceiving which can be a world-crushing realization. Or those health conditions may even prevent you from carrying to full-term. The inability to conceive your own blood-born children is a deep, deep wound that may takes years to heal. If this applies to you, you must go as easy on yourself as possible. What if it were happening to your best friend? What would you say to her to make her feel better?

Children are a gift to this world, but there are other ways to reap the benefits of this gift if you cannot conceive. Adoption is always an option. I also am particularly fond of mentorship programs such as Big Brothers Big Sisters or finding a career where you can make a valuable difference in a child’s life such as becoming a child and family psychologist, occupational therapist, speech therapist, teacher, or sports coach. These can all be rewarding and different ways to affect a child’s future in the absence of fertility.

Find hope. For nearly a decade when I didn’t think pregnancy was a possibility, I went through many emotional ups and downs about how I would feel if I were unable to have my own children. Initially, I put the thought on the back burner and focused on other things going on in my life since I was in my early twenties and not nearly mature enough to mother a child. Once I met my husband and realized I wanted to spend my life with him, the idea reared its head in a very ugly way when I felt like I would be doing him a disservice if I couldn’t have children. My obsession with infertility caused such an immense amount of stress on my body that I truly believe it prevented me from healing my adrenal fatigue and autoimmune disease faster than I did. Once I had started the autoimmune protocol and my hormonal health began to rebound, I had a renewed sense of hope that children could be in our future. I also reminded myself about what countless doctors had told me despite 7 years of amenorrhea: you will be able to have children but right now your body doesn’t want them. A harsh truth but the fact that it was in the realm of possibility really fueled every decision I took to continue healing my body. So take the advice of a girl who has been through the same thing, do not give up on your fertility. Right now may not be the best time to produce a healthy child, but focus your energy on healing, remain open-minded to a life with or without children, and remind yourself of all the women who have had “miracle” children and have walked in the same shoes as yourself.