You have a new baby and you’re ecstatic! You’re also….. exhausted. Sure, you’re tired from waking up multiple times a night to nurse or bottle feed, but you can feel in your body that something more is going on. You feel depleted in a different and deeper way.
And that is perfectly normal. YOU are exactly where you should be. Don’t let the culture tell you otherwise.
I wanted to share my personal strategy and game plan for recovery with you for this special postpartum time – the first 9 months after you give birth is an important opportunity for you to heal short term and set yourself up for long term hormonal health. As self care can be confusing and overwhelming, I always like to project plan out what to do and what I should expect. It makes me feel centered and calm when big transitions are happening.
New moms are barraged with messages about getting their body back after baby. We’re fed advice on reclaiming our energetic, happy, and in-the-mood selves ASAP after delivery. But the truth is that being pregnant and nurturing another life for nine months is a full-time, energy-and-nutrient-consuming job for the body.
And the body’s work isn’t over after giving birth. You’re caring for a newborn around-the-clock and, if you’re breastfeeding, your body is very likely still losing essential micronutrients faster than you can replenish them.
So if you’re experiencing low energy, low mood, and low libido after pregnancy, there is absolutely nothing wrong with you, especially if you’ve given birth in the last three months.
In fact, I like to think about the nine months after giving birth as having its own trimesters—just like during the nine months of pregnancy—and each three-month period of time postpartum comes with its own experiences, expectations, and self-care rituals.
I’ve written before about self-care and nutrient support when you’re trying to optimize fertility, when you’re pregnant, and when you’re postpartum. Today I want to dig deeper into the specific steps you can take during each of the “postpartum trimesters” to support your body and take care of yourself during this unique time in your life.
Your Month-By-Month Guide to Postpartum Healing
In the West, we’ve been trained to think of delivering a baby as the end of the process. The hard work is done, we’re told, and now everything can return to normal. We’re encouraged to get back to our busy lives, running errands, hitting the gym, cleaning the house—in other words, overextending ourselves—while we’re simultaneously not getting enough sleep and, potentially, letting our nutrition needs slide.
In Chinese culture, the time period right after birth is considered special and unique. Women follow a traditional “cocoon” protocol, where they stay tucked inside with baby for 30 days and eat specific foods to keep their bodies balanced and healthy.
I think this Eastern perspective gets a few things right, namely the need to treat the period of time right after birth as special for both mom and baby—a time when it’s important to nourish your body, practice deep self-care, and connect with the new human in your life. I encourage new moms to continue tailoring their self care to their unique needs after the 30-day mark.
Here’s what I recommend for nourishing your body, balancing your hormones, and reclaiming your energy in each “postpartum trimester.”
The First Three Months Postpartum
Your goals during this three-month window are to use food and supplements to replenish the micronutrients your body used during pregnancy; keep pace with your increased micronutrient needs during breastfeeding (or if not breastfeeding, recovery in general); and guard your precious time and energy—saying yes only to the things that feel supportive and good for your body.
First Postpartum Trimester (Months 1 to 3 After Giving Birth)
Food: During pregnancy, your body’s primary task is to supply nutrients to your growing baby. In fact, your body’s nutrient demands are so great during this time that it can be hard for even the most conscientious eaters to get optimal nutrients during pregnancy.
This can leave you with a low-level nutrient deficiency when the baby is born. Then, if you opt to breastfeed, you will continue to share nutrients with your newborn—and further deplete your own nutrient stores. The worst culprit however is the pressure to “get your body back” after baby. Dieting and overexercising are hormonally disruptive during this time and can make you feel worse.
If you’ve just had a baby, you need to heal and recover and food can help you do that. I advise women who have just given birth to set have three primary nutrition goals:
- To use food to keep blood sugar balanced. Blood sugar balance is essential for steady, consistent energy and for restoring your body’s delicate hormone balance. You’ll want to prioritize healthy, whole foods that keep your blood sugar steady during this time. These include healthy sources of fat, like olive oil and avocados; nourishing sources of protein, like pastured meats (if you eat meat), and beans and lentils; and whole-food sources of complex carbohydrates, like brown rice and sweet potatoes.
- To use food to replenish lost nutrients. Micronutrient deficiencies—like being low in B vitamins, magnesium, vitamin D, and omega 3 fatty acids—deprive the endocrine system of the essential support it needs to stay balanced and healthy. When your body is in a micronutrient deficit, you can experience low energy, low mood, low libido, and the symptoms of hormone imbalances, including bloating, skin issues, irritability, and brain fog.
- To eat enough food. Finally, women who are postpartum and breastfeeding need to eat enough food. This is what I ate after the birth of my daughter, and it might seem like a lot, but you cannot shy away from food during this time. Your body needs the calories because your baby needs the calories. When I adopted this protocol during breastfeeding, I lost all my baby weight (50 lbs. of it) within six months. Within just three months, I’d already lost 30 lbs. So you don’t need to deprive yourself after baby is born. In fact, if you do, you’ll only suffer more.
There’s a great cookbook for new moms. It’s called The First Forty Days: The Essential Art of Nurturing the New Mother and I strongly recommend it for the first month postpartum.
If you are breastfeeding, eat this way until you stop breastfeeding. If you aren’t breastfeeding, eat this way for the first month postpartum and then transition back to your regular hormone-supportive diet. You may also need fewer snacks during this time period than new moms who breastfeed.
Supplements: I recommend taking key supplements during this window of time—no matter how well you are eating and how much you are eating. If you are breastfeeding, continue taking your prenatal vitamins, and add (or continue with) a fish oil supplement and a probiotic. Taking supplements is key to help rebalance your hormones and replenish key micronutrients.
Your exercise goals in the first postpartum trimester: None. In the first month, sleep when the baby sleeps. In months two and three, listen to your body. Very short walks with baby are okay, but enlist the support of a postpartum physical therapist to help you work out your abs, lower back, and hips. This will help stabilize your body for the long term.
When it comes to mood, energy, and sex drive in these first three months, know that this is a period of major hormonal downshifting from all the estrogen and progesterone that was coursing through your body during pregnancy—and your mood, energy, and sex drive are along for that (downshifted) ride. If your mood, energy, and libido are lower than normal, that’s perfectly normal.
During this time you’re also going through a process called matrescence, a profound rewiring in the brain that happens during the transition to motherhood. It is a lot like adolescence, only experts believe the chemical shifts during matrescence are even more profound than the changes during puberty.
So, in many ways, you are becoming a new person—and you are getting to know yourself as a new person. This is a process, so don’t judge. Just observe yourself with a loving eye. And make sure you have a trusted health practitioner to call on if you experience any postpartum anxiety or depression.
It is also normal for vaginal births to lead to some vaginal trauma, which can make penetration less appealing during this time. If you’ve had a C-section, you will need even more time for recovery. If you or your partner are interested in sex during this time, it is absolutely okay for your vagina not to be involved. You and your partner can find other ways to be intimate. Be clear and direct with your partner about what will work for you during this time, and what is off the table for now.
Second Postpartum Trimester (Months 3 to 6 After Giving Birth)
Food: If you are breastfeeding, I recommend keeping up with your first trimester eating routine. If you’re not breastfeeding, you can eat more normally. And if your period has come back, you can begin to eat cyclically again, making sure you don’t skip meals (or you will dig yourself into an energy deficit).
Supplements: If you’re still breastfeeding, it’s critical to continue with your prenatal supplements, including probiotics, fish oil, and prenatal vitamins, if you’re not breastfeeding continue with the Balance Supplements, (or to start them if you didn’t take them during the first three months after giving birth!). Your body is still working hard to provide for you and your baby and you can use all the extra support you can get.
Exercise: Now is the time to think about adding more movement back into your daily life. More walking, more yoga, some strength training. Your body should be able to handle a bit more now, and during this time exercise should feel more energizing than depleting.
Mood/Energy/Sex drive: As I mentioned, giving birth can sidetrack your sex drive for a while. Even if your baby is sleeping through the night during this phase, you probably still have a sleep deficit from the first postpartum trimester.
Or you’re in the unlucky (albeit temporary) position of having a baby who is experiencing sleep regression. This is when baby starts waking up multiple times a night or refuses to fall asleep after previously sleeping well… and there is nothing like this special torture to raise your cortisol, throw a wrench in your melatonin production, and make you feel edgy, irritable, tired, and, oh yeah, not in the mood for sex.
But if you’re feeling ready to support your libido during this phase, I recommend a couple strategies:
- First, be aware that sex drive is complex and can be affected by many physical, emotional, and relationship factors. Be gentle with yourself if you’re not feeling as libidinous as you did before giving birth. This remains a unique time, and it is normal for it to take time to feel interested in sex again.
- Second, feel empowered to ask your partner for more foreplay and more direct clitorial stimulation. You may need more time to get in the mood; that’s normal. And if your vagina is still healing after giving birth, stick to clitoral stimulation and save penetration for a later time. And due to the shift in your hormones, especially if you’re breastfeeding, ALWAYS assume you need to add lubricant before you start any activity.
- Third, be realistic about your expectations. You’re likely to get interrupted by your baby at some point, so count any sexy-time activities you engage in—whether a quick cuddle or a full-blown roll in the hay—as a win. Don’t have an all-or-nothing approach during this time. The more little bits you get in the habit of doing, the more it will continue to prime your desire and physical response for more activity.
Third Postpartum ‘Trimester’ (Months 6 to 9 After Giving Birth)
Food: It’s likely that your period has returned by this point. If so, you can begin to eat cyclically again. If you’re breastfeeding, continue to make sure you are getting enough calories each day to nourish yourself and baby.
Supplement: If you’re no longer breastfeeding, stay on the Balance Supplements. If you’re breastfeeding, it’s imperative that you continue the prenatal trifecta – prenatal, probiotic, fish oil, regime, both for yourself and your breast milk quality. Taking herbs that help with breast milk supply is great as well.
Exercise: Exercise cyclically and focus on getting strong and flexible. Any extra weight you are carrying will take care of itself.
Mood/Energy/Sex Drive: This is a great time to check in and evaluate how you’re doing with your health overall. Schedule a session with a FLO coach or take stock of energy, mood, libido, and other concerns with your OB/GYN to see if anything clinical is needed.
If you’ve taken good care of yourself with nutrition, supplements, and targeted exercise in the first two postpartum trimesters, you’re apt to feel more like your sexy self again. In fact, you should feel your sex drive roaring around ovulation. Continue to ask for the type of physical intimacy that suits your needs, and if a penis is involved make sure you use condoms. You can absolutely get pregnant even if your period hasn’t returned.
If your sex drive hasn’t returned, there is no reason to think that anything is wrong with you. Instead, use this time to evaluate any physical, emotional, or relationship factors might be cropping up for you and continue to be gentle with yourself. Consult a doctor, therapist, or physical therapist if you feel you need more support.
I also recommend prioritizing self pleasure. I recommend one session per week of self pleasuring (no vibrators!). Give yourself 20 minutes of pleasurable touch. This will boost oxytocin and nitric oxide levels, both which can help you recover your libido. Try my 5Cs of self-pleasure to get yourself there.
Your mood and energy should feel more cyclical as you return to your non-pregnancy hormonal patterns.
One final note: synthetic hormones, like the birth control pill or Depo shot, are often prescribed postpartum to prevent pregnancy and “cure” symptoms of hormone imbalance, like low energy and low libido. But these drugs don’t cure anything, they just mask symptoms and prevent your body from doing the underlying repair and healing that needs to happen to ultimately feel your best. So if you’re on the pill or other hormonal birth control and you’re not feeling great, consider alternative birth control methods and remember to return to food as a first-line strategy for reclaiming your energy and sex drive postpartum.
Always remember, that once you have the right information about how your body really works, you can start making health choices that finally start to work for you! You can do this – the science of your body is on your side!
BALANCE by FLO Living Hormone Supplement Kit
Because you’ve asked for hormone-friendly supplement recommendations, I created a solution that I am so thrilled to be able to offer to you on your hormonal balancing journey: Balance by FLO Living Supplements are a complete package that work together to keep your hormone levels healthy. They include a 2 month(2 cycle) supply of the following formulations so you’re never caught short in any phase of your cycle.When you take these 5 supplements daily, you’ll be giving your body excellent micronutrients to support healthier hormone levels. Which means that you’ll start to see your worst period symptoms get better… and even disappear after a while.