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Self Care Tips

Seven Reasons You Need a Dietitian by Sheila Varshney, EdD, MPH, RD

Seven Reasons You Need a Dietitian by Sheila Varshney, EdD, MPH, RD

We all like to eat. But have you wondered whether you are eating the right foods? Registered dietitians are health professionals that are specially trained to ensure you are making the most of your food. Here are seven reasons why it’s worth your time to see a registered dietitian.

Q&A with Sara Lyon, Founder of Glow

Q&A with Sara Lyon, Founder of Glow

Tell us about your Wisdom in the Mama app?
I find myself trapped in a cycle of trying hard and then wondering if I’m trying hard enough. It’s stupid. I’m over it. It generates stress to no good end. I’m actively trying to retrain my brain for positivity: what am I succeeding at? It’s leaving more energy to enjoy my kids as well as my personal pursuits when I’m not working.

The S Word: A conversation about Prenatal Sex with Leopi Sanderson-Edmunds, LM

Pregnant Couple Embrace

As a midwife, Leopi, has a unique view into the sex lives of modern couples. Her approach to midwifery is holistic, incorporating the psychological and social transformations people experience when they are expecting a child, including their sexual realities. I interviewed Leopi on the topic of parental sex, expecting her to lay out the best sexual positions to work around the belly, and all sorts of other concrete details. Instead, she got to the core of the issue: change. Below, Leopi discusses how and why your sex will change, and what to do about it. Hallelujah!

-Sara Lyon

Sexuality in a pregnant relationship is totally the other side of the coin from being in love. This stuff is really important to talk about because many people who are newly pregnant are also newly in love. Sometimes they are already at a very evolved and mature relationship, but often it’s the beginning and a romantic sense of one another predominates. They’re making love all the time and exploring sexuality together and relating powerfully to one another this way. For some newer relationships, it’s the opposite, maybe they’re newly discovering each other and they’re shy and they’re not showing their bodies entirely yet. Either way, pregnancy will change the way sexuality is experienced for both partners. 

Be Prepared

Couples benefit from being prepared for the ebbs and flows in their pregnancy, and the shyness that the mother might start to feel with her changing body. I recently spoke with a couple entering this phase. They fell quickly in love, then suddenly she’s pregnant, and her body is changing very, very quickly. Almost immediately, she’s very shy even though their sexual connection is amazing, but now she wants the lights off, for instance. It’s very hard in our culture to not feel fat, but instead to embrace the curves and softness, so I’m trying to help her see the beauty of the softness and the changes of the body in this super ultra-feminine state that it is.

Often the partner is totally into the newness of her pregnant body, but women can actually project on themselves that it’s not beautiful. Don’t get me wrong, many women also feel quite sexy, even in their first trimester of ups and downs physically. In the second trimester, the body feels more feminine: breasts plump and a little round belly pops out. So, it’s an important place to be curious about rather then shy away from: going from being really in love and really confident in the relationship because the sex is good, to accepting the physical and emotional changes that have come. Those are often big shocks to a relationship and this is where intimacy really potentially begins.

I feel that one of the most important things I do for couples is prepare them for this surprise, because they can so easily feel estranged from one another if they aren’t warned. Suddenly, the pregnant woman’s like, “My god, I’m crying all the time!” or “I feel really insecure.” or “I don’t even know who I am anymore, and I don’t even want to look in the mirror, and does he still think I’m beautiful; am I sexy??”

The Murky Time

Up until 16 weeks, you don’t really look pregnant, you just look softer and a little pudgy, and no one really knows what to say to you because they’re not sure that you’re pregnant. That first trimester is the most sexually and emotionally challenging period for most couples.  After about 20 weeks, things can really improve sexually, because you get over the physiological hurdle of the first trimester. There are no certainties, but normally the first trimester’s emotional and physical symptoms last until about 12 - 18 weeks. Women can feel pretty funky until then.

Emotionally, a woman becomes much more internal. She slows way down due to the pregnancy hormones, she may be nauseas, and exhausted. All she can really think about is the reality that she is pregnant. She’s seeing her life changing, she’s becoming more vulnerable and more dependent on her partner, instead of this rich sexual experience they may have connected through previously.  Her body image is changing and it can really rapidly change.

A woman’s changing body image can be very difficult. If that’s not enough, her hormones cause physiological changes in those first weeks, and the things she used to find sexually arousing will often be a turn off: her nipples can be super tender, her vagina is swelling and in a constant arousal state which can be hyper-sensitive, actually making touch uncomfortable. She may also find that her vagina looks different and she may not feel comfortable with this.

Remember, the first 12 week period can be tough and quite shocking.  The depth of complex emotions, even when the pregnancy has been planned can be surprising! Life can be put at a standstill due to hormones and nausea. This uncomfortable experience usually lasts longer than the first trimester and it can be quite disappointing when you’re still sick and you’ve passed 12 weeks. So, of course this is all a shock on the relationship! You’re partner is like, “Well, I’ve never seen you like this!” and you’re exhausted or tired or crying; it’s really difficult for both partners. Some women don’t have these symptoms, and feel great all along, but that’s not typical.

I believe this is nature’s way of helping us to slow down in this modern and pretty crazy world that’s going very very very fast, especially with technology that makes everything even faster, and then there is Googling! Helpful, yes, but it can really put a lot of fear into pregnancy, too.

The first trimester requires you to put the brakes on, so you can feel yourself as just being, slow way down, appreciating everything moment to moment. Sometimes you aren’t able to deal with life as you did before: making schedules, being strong, or super social, and “having it all together”.  The state of pregnancy is a non-linear world!

It’s nature’s way of helping a woman to rest and go within, which is where the baby is, it helps her connect with the baby. The first trimester hormones reset the nervous system, and the way that we settle into the pregnancy.  So that’s a positive to all of those murky feelings.

These primordial feelings can feel dreamy, and sometimes a little scary and unknown. The partner usually doesn’t get it, because he or she isn’t pregnant and can’t possibly understand it; that’s really hard on a couple in those first weeks. Understanding that this is a normal and helpful process in securing the pregnancy can alleviate some of the confusion or judgment between partners.

The second trimester usually, not always, but usually starts a shift into a beautiful space. Around 18-20 weeks, a woman often starts to feel better, more like herself. It’s very important that mama has been taking great care of herself, so that she can come back into her body and move out of the murky, defeated place.

Health and wellbeing are extremely important for sexuality, for coming back into your body, and for getting a hold of the pregnancy and enjoying it. With good eating, resting, slowing down in the world, and having time for yourself, sexuality can be amazing, especially when the baby bump finally comes out. If your nausea is gone, this new evolution can be exciting, and sexy.

Pregnant Femininity

There are many ways of being pregnant. Many many women feel very sexy when they are pregnant, but there is absolutely no judgment if you do not. If you don’t feel well, it can be extremely difficult to enjoy your sexuality. For some, prenatal sexuality can feel really spicy and almost even tribal: here is a couple making a family, whether they’re married or not, they’re bonded and connected like never before. They’re bringing in this life; it’s very romantic and it’s hot, really. It’s a beautiful time to see your sexuality as a woman being ultra feminine. If you can notice it, embrace it, and savor it, there couldn’t be a more feminine time which empowers you forever.

The feminine potency of pregnancy is so seldom discussed, and that’s really unfortunate. It’s the crystallized power of feminine energy. We have this uterus that is finally doing what it was born to do, and the power of that feeling inside a woman, to hold a creative act of life-force inside her body that is coming from love… that’s very sexy. Wear beautiful clothes, feel it, enjoy the silhouette of your body. I love how many beautiful clothing lines exist today to show your shape. Indulge in it!

Sexual Satisfaction

This is a really important time for old love, new love, whatever love, to embrace the changes. There are a multitude of complex feelings, as we discussed, and physically there are many body changes: the breasts can be very sensitive, they plump up and press out, which can be a lovely feeling, or an uncomfortable one. You are really budding everywhere.

You may need to work around certain areas of the body, and give more attention to others; your partner really has to explore. Your blood plasma has doubled, so everything is fuller, fleshier, a little swollen. Even our lips plump up on our face and our vagina. This can be more sexually arousing, but it can also be uncomfortable. In order to accommodate the fleshier pregnant body, you may need more lubricant, or, none at all. Most women are really wet throughout pregnancy, really mucussy; don’t be alarmed. If sexual exploration is done with consciousness, it’s a fantastic time to reinvent everything, and relearn each other: “What do you like now? What does this feel like now?”

It’s an important time to take all of this newness and practice communication with curiosity and gentleness, especially if you’re a couple that tends to be shy. If you begin talking about these sensitive topics now, then you’ve begun something that’s going to be so important for the rest of your lives, for your whole relationship. It’s time to develop friendship, humor, affection, conversation and cuddling. Begin talking about things that are unknown, out of your control, and very raw. Don’t avoid being vulnerable and intimate, and learn to talk about it without judgment of self or other; it will always serve you.

Partners

Emotionally, partners are also shifting. They’re developing into caregivers and providers, even in a dual-income household. They tend to become more protective of the pregnant partner, wanting to spend more time with her. They want to get their lives together and often put a lot of pressure on themselves to do so.

Sexually, some men have difficulty having intercourse with a pregnant woman; mentally, some men can’t put their penis in a pregnant woman’s vagina. It’s like, “Woah! There’s a baby in there!?” They still want to be super affectionate and increasingly attached, but they simply cannot have sex with a pregnant woman, and that’s their truth. However, they can be affectionate and sensual without intercourse, like kissing and oral sex.

Sensuality should never go away, it’s probably way more important than sex. Not just affection, but sensuality; the eroticism of connecting to your partner that way, exploring in a surrendered space together. Just being turned on and having orgasms is so important for our nervous systems, for both the mother and the partner. It’s an irreplaceable space of wordlessness, connecting in hearts and bodies and breath. Its also really, really good for your body! The movements we make with sex are very hard to get anywhere else.

Make it Happen

So, let’s say the pregnant woman is growing and she doesn’t know what to wear, and she’s looking at herself, wondering what will make her feel good- and her partner comes up and gives her lots of kisses along her shoulders and neck and breasts, or playfully grabs her ass. She needs to feel that her partner is attracted to her, not like she’s just carrying their child. But, of course, this is only half of it; more than anything, she needs to feel attractive herself, not just to others.

How can you cultivate your own sexuality?

Take pictures. Really observe yourself and appreciate what’s changing instead of shying away from it. Wear beautiful clothes that make you feel like you’re showing your pregnancy instead of hiding it.

Take really really good care of yourself. Focus on your nutrition, your bathing rituals, the things you find pleasure in.

Surround yourself with the right support people. Talk about what’s going on with your body image, your hopes and your fears. 

Choose positive healthcare providers.  How do your healthcare providers look at you? Make sure they are reflecting back how healthy you are and how normal pregnancy is. This is especially emotionally important if you had IVF. Be sure your provider includes your partner in conversations around the pregnancy, if that’s what you would like. It’s very sexy to a woman and to her partner when the partner is included in her prenatal care, it’s bonding.

Seek meaning in your experience. There are many ways to access the spiritual and emotional side of the prenatal experience. In addition to your primary medical care, make sure you are getting complementary care that reflects the health and vitality of pregnancy. This can come in many forms like yoga, massage therapy or adjunct support like a doula or a prenatal guide. 

It’s really important to me, as a midwife, to help my families keep connecting and exploring in these unknown spaces, not just being functional, but enjoying, having pleasure with one another. We cannot let go of all of ourselves, just to become a mother and a father. We are sexual human beings, and we are brilliant human beings, we are creative human beings; we are so interesting. We need to keep reflecting the magic and the attraction back to one another.

MEET Leopi sanderson-edmunds 

Leopi has been a licensed home-birth midwife since 1985, supervising and caring for over 1300 families. In addition to her midwifery practice, she offers care for prenatal and non-natal clients through orthobionomy, a slow and beautiful form of bodywork focusing on bone and soft tissue alignment. Unique in her field, Leopi offers prenatal counseling for women and couples to reach a deeper experience of pregnancy, and birth, no matter where and with whom they are birthing. Leopi also has a BA in Art Therapy and creates phenomenal masterpieces of figure painting. Leopi can be reached via the web at Sanctuary Leopi.

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The Four Chambered Heart | Meditation or Journaling

This exercise can be done in pure meditation or as a journaling exercise in which you answer all of the questions and more.

Begin seated comfortably or resting on your back with one hand on your belly and one had on your heart. Feel your breath come and go until you find a gentle relaxed rhythm.

Picture your heart, four beating chambers, this muscles giving you life with every pulse. Now imagine the chambers more closely, figuratively dividing the heart into four equal parts:

  • The Full Heart
  • The Open Heart
  • The Clear Heart
  • The Strong Heart

The Full Heart, the left upper chamber, beats in abundance, giving freely and receiving freely, without limit. Let your heart swell, fill to the brim and overflow with compassion and appreciation for yourself, your children, your loved ones, your work, your world. Where do you find constriction? Where do you find ease? What can you share and what do you keep? Now ask your Full Heart what it needs from you and from the world. What does it need to create and receive? The Full Heart knows no limits; what would you do with boundless love?

Shift your focus now to the Open Heart, taking a deep, cleansing breath in and then out completely.

The Open Heart, the left lower chamber, pulses to learn, to see the world afresh. The Open Heart beats without judgment and anticipates only love. The trusting Open Heart is deeply wounded by rejection or disappointment. How much joy can you accept? What do you reject for fear of disappointment? The Open Heart can also be the Black Heart; what divisive tools do you use to protect yourself? What hurt have you suffered? Courageously, how open can your heart be? Can you forgive yourself to trusting too much? This is your vessel, let it be strong and let it be buoyant.

Let all of your air out with an audible exhalation, "Haaaaaaa", then breathe in deeply to your belly, expanding your chest until it feels as though it will burst and let your heart be as open as the dawn, then exhale entirely. On your next inhalation, shift your focus to the Clear Heart.

The Clear Heart, the right upper chamber of your heart, the heart that knows all before thoughts arrive. If you’re able to let the water of your thoughts still, the Clear Heart is your spiritual compass. The Clear Heart says, “Trust me, I know. Trust me, I’m always here. Even when hell has arrived, I am here. Even when the most difficult decision must be made, I am here.” The Clear Heart only speaks truth, without fear. When you are connected to your Clear Heart, you fearlessly speak your truth. Quiet your mind. What do you feel? Can you forgive yourself for the times when you’ve been too loud to hear your heart? When your heart has turned cloudy, what has circled in your head: fear or greed or need? You can take time to get clear, to return to this pure center where you know your truth, and you’re taking that step right now.

Take a deep breath in and blow it out powerfully, as if you are blowing away insecurity, and then breathe in grounded courage as you turn your focus to the Strong Heart. Breathe in until your chest is puffed out, and you are the lion, letting that breathe go with a roar.

Finally, the right lower chamber, The Strong Heart, houses your dreams, your power and your abilities. You are able to face the world, no matter the resistance, to pursue your truth. You can bring love in for fuel and give love out without pain. You can stand down a thousand armies and pursue your rightful place. You can risk your career for a vision. You can laugh about your shortcomings without self-consciousness, because you know your strength. What do you want? What can’t you abide? Draw your line in the sand- what’s on your side and what’s on the other? What does your Strong Heart need from you now?

Place both hands on your heart and take a final, full-body breath in, as if from the soles of your feet, all the way to the top of your crown, and then let it go with sigh. As you breathe in again, feel yourself at the center of these four chambers: The Full Heart, abundantly beating; The Open Heart, fresh to the world; The Clear Heart, wise as the Universe and The Strong Heart, driven with clarity. You are all four of these elements and it’s your right to know every aspect of your heart. Spend some time with your heart regularly to reconnect and remind yourself that your heart is both supple and strong, even through upset, your heart beats again.

Move Your Body with Yoga

Yoga is a tried and true conduit to mental clarity. Bend your body into the following positions to loosen your joints, invite fresh blood to your limbs and physically open your constricted chest and shoulders.

And BREATHE.

If these look too cray, click on each pose and find variations to suit your comfort level.

Dancer or Natarajasana

This pose lifts you up and forward through your heart and your head. Nataraja is another term for Shiva, The Auspicious One, whose cosmic dance clears the weary and makes way for creation. Bring it on.

Camel Pose or Ustrasana

The mother of all heart openers- my typical crying pose: Camel Pose pulls your heart open, bares your sensitive throat and leaves you as vulnerable as any human can be. Let your heart be free and see what comes in.

For more: Yoga Journal's awesome interactive piece on Heart Openers

Mark the Moment | Smudge with Palo Santo

In an effort to bring yourself back to your heart, to soften what may have hardened over the years of surviving here on earth, why don’t you take 30 minutes or an afternoon to address the issue. Set aside time to try some or all of the following elements of a heart opening ritual to bring in light and let go of some weight.

When was the last time you had a good smudging? Some of us are probably saying “a couple days ago” and others haven’t smudged for a long, long time, if ever. It only sounds dirty; in truth, it’s an ancient cleansing ritual practiced by various cultures worldwide. It’s a classic and wonderful way to commence any chosen moment, ceremony or ritual. It creates a sensory threshold that will queue you: “BE PRESENT, THIS IS SPECIAL”.

You may have experienced the smudging practice with sage but Palo Santo has a sweeter, woodier smell that I much prefer. It evokes a deep rootedness and brings you to your center. Use a lit candle flame or a lighter to ignite the end of the wood stick until it’s smoldering, an ember is all you need. If you do light the wood on fire, blow it out quickly so the ember remains. Then let the ember smoke; sometimes you need to blow on it gently.

Use the stick like a wand to encircle yourself: around the body, around your head, in all four directions- North, South, East and West, and then towards the sky and down towards the earth. If you’re feeling really frisky, you can smudge your doorways and the rooms of your home to clear stale, old energy and invite fresh vibes in. Then let the smoking stick burn itself out on a specially chosen plate or other non-flammable surface.

Buy Palo Santo on Amazon.

Sleep: It's No Joke!

Sleep depravation is not a laughing matter, nothing to be casually bandied about like it’s a cheeky right of passage. It’s not a badge of honor. It’s torture. And it sucks. Bad.

What are we living on if we haven’t slept for days on end? If we’re postpartum, we get a healthy super-mama dose of oxytocin to help us through those zombie days, so we can drive a car and be trusted with another human’s life. But that’s not enough. 

Our wise, desperate bodies release adrenaline to carry the tired load. And then we drink caffeine, which only increases the amount of adrenaline our adrenal glands pump into the blood stream. So, now you’re flitting about the new-mama world of mothers groups, work and grocery runs fueled by adrenaline and caffeine. Oops. This can’t be physiologically health, never mind psychologically. 

So, let’s review what happens when your body is operating like this. Adrenaline is designed to trigger your fight or flight response (thank you, evolution). There are three major muscles programmed to contract with adrenaline- any guesses what they are?

  1. Your shoulder muscles, the ones between the shoulders and the ears- yeah, those. They tighten to protect your brainstem as if a grizzly bear is approaching.
  2. Your jaw tightens in preparation for direct combat - those teeth are serious weapons, am I right early teethers?
  3. Finally, the psoas, a deep abdominal muscle, tightens along the lower back and this muscles helps us run away. Fast. But it also provides significant lower back discomfort when chronically contracted from adrenaline and poor posture (read: stress and sitting- hmmm sounds an awful lot like the early days of breastfeeding. And every single day in the car or an office.

It’s a feedback loop: the tighter these muscles become, the more adrenaline they trigger in your tired, baby-obsessed brain. But this is good news! You can address this exhaustion, this overwhelming abundance of adrenaline, from two different angles: physical and lifestyle. Reduce your physical tension in your shoulders, your jaw and your psoas and you will reduce your anxiety, your stress and your general feeling of “what’s happened to my life?!" (thumbs up!).

Stretch!

  • Stand with your feet wide, look straight ahead, clasp your hands behind your back and bend forward, letting your hands slowly drift towards the floor
  • Open your jaw slowly just to the point that you feel a gentle relieving stretch. Then close your jaw lightly so your teeth are barely touching, relax your tongue in your mouth and massage the jaw muscles
  • Place one foot on the ground and the other knee on the ground with both knees initially bent at 90 degrees. Support yourself with both hands on the ground at your sides. Slowly inch the front foot forward so that you begin to feel a gentle stretch at the front of the body with the bent knee. 
  • Once you feel a gentle stretch, place both hands on your upper knee and lift your chest to stretch the psoas

Decaf!

Yeah, yeah, I know, embarrassing to order, but give it a whirl. And notice how your breastfeeding baby responds- maybe they’ll chill out too since they drink what you drink. It may take you both a few days to notice the positive benefits. Trust that it’ll be worth it when you don’t want to go all “Red Wedding” on your partner come the end of the day.

Ask For and Offer Help!

It may only be 90 minutes that you crucially need, or an hour: ask someone to come to your house and hang out with your baby or, better yet, take the baby on a long walk around the ‘hood while you put ear plugs in and slumber. Ask a mom in your mothers group if you two can do a sleep/play date swap. Call your friend who wants to be called ‘Aunty’ and let her know that this is the test. Ask a tolerable and relatively responsible family member to help. People will be honored, I kid you not. And, most importantly, don’t let this opportunity pass you by: discipline yourself to get in bed, plug those ears and close your eyes.

Please, Share a Night Feeding!

Share this article with your partner and then arrange for them to take at least one of the feedings at the beginning or end of the night so that you can go to bed early or wake up later and get a “proper” stretch of sleep (4 hours!? YAAASSSSSS!!).

If you’re breast feeding, you will have to consider your boobs’ schedule but it’s worth the logistical analysis. If you encounter pushback, reference the “Red Wedding” allusion above.

Massage!

Did you know that Glow treats women at any age and stage of life? We’re not just prenatal specialists! Massage relieves anxiety by relaxing your tired muscles, reducing adrenaline, reducing blood pressure and increasing our happy hormones like oxytocin and serotonin (yum). Glow’s massage therapists will come to your house if that’s what suits you logistically or you can escape to our perfectly controlled environment at 4901 Lawton Avenue. 

Postpartum Doula!

Hire a Glow postpartum doula to come to your house for a four hour spell so you can take a load off, watch a backlogged episode of The Affair, and zzzzzzzzzzzzz. If a postpartum doula is too costly with all baby accoutrement accounted for, ask your friends and family for an early birthday gift. Better yet, pregnant mamas, ask for postpartum doula care in lieu of baby gifts! Email us to explore more postpartum doula options at glow@gloweastbay.com and check out our offerings.

Mini Vacay!

Once you’ve mastered breast milk storage or trained your partner/friend/family member to mix formula, GET OUT OF THE HOUSE! Book yourself a hotel room; it doesn’t have to be posh, because your eyes will be shut, god willing. Bring ear plugs, bring some basic food items, and SLEEP, MAMA, SLEEP! Even if you have to pump in the middle of the night, it’s not the same as waiting to hear the cry for a feeding. Worth every penny you will save on couples counseling, do this for the team.

Postpartum Belly Binding

Growing a baby necessarily forces your organs to the sides of your abdomen. Your tummy muscles, connective tissue and skin stretch to accommodate your growing baby. After birthing, you are left with an abdominal void, an empty space where the baby once grew. Your body gives you about 6 weeks to acutely impact the healing of your abdominal and pelvic tissue. Depending on our breastfeeding tenure, you have about 6 months to recover from birth before your beneficial postpartum hormones dwindle and you’ll then start fighting an uphill battle to bring our organs and abdominal tissue back into alignment. The first 6 weeks postpartum are imperative to our lifelong urinary and sexual health.

In the Bay Area we have access to a wealth of prenatal education but we rarely learn about postpartum rehabilitation. Recently, the tradition of postpartum corseting or “belly binding” has gained popularity. Lauded for its superficial impact on Hollywood starlets (Jessica Alba’s abs immediately postpartum, anyone?) the practice’s exposure has us buzzing. More important than fitting into your pre-baby jeans, the practice of belly binding can protect you from a secretly common ailment that we previously discussed in our June newsletter: Uterine prolapse.

Prolapse occurs when the uterus falls through the weakened pelvic floor and into or even out of the vagina. Painful, scary and embarrassing, prolapse is mostly preventable if postpartum care is taken seriously. Postpartum corseting draws the abdomen back to the spine and brings your abs together in the case of diastasis recti.

A postpartum corset retrains the tissue to support your lower back and organs as the postpartum hormones reset your posture. Combined with the pelvic floor exercises from our June newsletter, you are giving your torso the kindest support possible.

RESOURCES

Glow has sourced the best postpartum corsets available in America. Unlike the bulky Velcro versions developed in the U.S., or the time consuming woven binders, we offer South American eye-hooked corsets with flexible boning so the fabric stays put at your hips and around your upper torso. Our postpartum wellness specialist will visit you immediately postpartum to take your measurements and fit you for the appropriate sizing. Contact us at glow@gloweastbay.com for more information on corset fitting and more postpartum services to care for your body.