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Tag Archives: maternity health

  • Why the French Look so Fit so soon after Pregnancy

    Now we have new evidence not only why French Women don’t get fat but why they bounce back so quickly after having a baby compared to most of us in the United States and other countries.

    In most countries, the US included, women are often sent home ASAP after the baby, sometimes as soon as the next day following delivery. Once at  home women are left to fend for themselves for both caring for their baby, breastfeeding their newborn and recovering from birth both physically and mentally.

    In France, however, women see their gynecologist within the first month of birth for a full checkup and discussion session. They then routinely get twelve half hour sessions with a specialist in postnatal physiotherapy to rehabilitate their pelvic floor and abdominal muscles. This specialist also checks the abdominal muscles for any damage or separation caused during pregnancy and French postpartum women are then given exercises to tone them up.

    Many of us develop “mommy tummy” following delivery that oftentimes never fully goes away. This is the horizontal roll of fat along your stomach that hangs down in two sections if you bend over. The technical name for this is abdominal diastasis and it is often an indication that the abdominal muscles have not fully closed back together again after childbirth. This separation is caused during pregnancy when the front abdominal muscle that wraps around the baby starts to pull apart. In France this abdominal area is checked before women even leave the hospital and they are then given a set of exercises to heal the damage. In most places in the US, women are overlooked in this department and sent home fully oblivious to any damage caused to their abdominal muscles and pelvic floor during pregnancy nor are they given any instructions on what to do about it.

    Oftentimes women unknowingly exercise these stomach muscles too vigorously too soon after birth, like doing sit-ups or running (particularly if they used to be super fit before they were pregnant and are eager to resume their fitness routines), which further contributes to increased separation and damage of this muscle. In France women are shown how to strengthen their pelvic-floor muscles to close the gap and then introduced to more advanced abdominal exercises.

    Knowing this, it is a good idea to ask your doctor to check your abdominal muscles before leaving the hospital to determine if you have any separation and, if so, to understand the degree of it. It is common to have more of a problem if you have had more than one baby or if you had a big baby.

    If you do have a gap ask your doctor to prescribe for you some basic stretching exercises to help to begin closing this gap. Ask your doctor to show you how to feel the gap when you lie on your back so you can also monitor the progress at home.

    Even if we don’t live in France we can at least reap some of these postnatal benefits by educating ourselves on what they are doing so well. We can also speak up to our doctors for the same rehabilitation advice so we can be healthy and happy postpartum and lose the "mommy tummy" for good!

  • Walking is as good as Running, maybe Better

    New research out by the Life Science Division at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory discovered that walking is one of the best things you can do for your body, sometimes even better than running. This is good news for many expecting women and new mothers who are looking for a form of exercise that is safe and easy to do with their constantly changing bodies.

    The study showed that while walking can be less vigorous than running, if you expend the same energy walking as you did running (this means you would have to walk vigorously and for a longer period of time than you would run for the same effect), you could potentially affect even more positive health changes than running for reducing blood pressure, lowering cholesterol, diabetes risk and cardiovascular heart disease. In fact, the more you walk, the greater the benefit.

    For many pregnant women, running is no longer a safe or comfortable exercise option as ligaments are loser during pregnancy along with increased weight and a shifting center of gravity which throws off balance. Running is also not doable for most women postpartum as your body is still healing and vigorous exercise in general is not recommended in the early weeks and even months following delivery. Running is particularly unadvisable for nursing moms who may suddenly have a heavy milk supply and a fuller chest. Tight sports bras are not a good choice as they can cause clogged ducts and mastitis. Walking, however, is an excellent way to ease back into exercise without hurting yourself while also allowing you some bonding time with your baby outdoors. Pushing a stroller while walking gives you the added strength and cardio workout that is even better exercise than walking alone.

    The study noted that to achieve the full benefits walking you need to clock in 10,000 steps a day. The good news is that these steps can be spread over the course of the day and you will probably find many of your day to day chores, errands and daily activities can expend up to half of that step requirement. However, if you are not used to walking this much, you should start slowly and gradually build up to this amount as you are safely able to do so. Also, make sure you invest in a good pair of walking or cross training shoes with adequate support for your joints to lessen the impact. Proper athletic shoes will help you avoid injury and comfortably walk further. (Please note that 10,000 steps of vigorous walking while pregnant should only be done with your doctor’s ok, and not for those who are early weeks postpartum.)

    Pregnancy is a great time to make positive changes in your health and fitness routines for life. You will need the stamina not only for labor when you deliver your baby in the coming months but also for caring for your newborn which can be a marathon in itself. So if you are not on bed rest and you are in good enough health to slip on your walking shoes, look into clocking a few more steps into your daily routine. Also don’t forget to hydrate frequently and avoid getting overheated by taking breaks as needed. Happy walking!

  • Folic Acid during Pregnancy may reduce Baby’s risk of Autism

    Most of us have received the news flash that we should take our prenatal vitamins and in particular we should take our folic acid when we are pregnant. Folic acid is an important vitamin for helping prevent neural tube defects in babies. However, did you know that it may help reduce autism?

    Now this is even more relatable a reason for most of us as autism is almost always in the news, seemingly on the rise or at least on the rise in terms of diagnosis and is surrounded by a shroud of mystery and debate over how a child can get it or be born with it.

    A new study in Norway found a very strong correlation between a reduction in autism and women who took folic acid supplements four weeks before their pregnancy and through at least the 8th week of their pregnancy. Women who took Folic Acid daily during this time period saw a 40% reduction in autism in their children (when they were tested about 8 years later) as compared to the children of the pregnant women in the group who did not take folic acid for this time period. This is a huge reduction in autism!

    Apparently timing does matter. The earlier you can start supplementing with folic acid prior to conception, the better. The study found that in terms of autism risk that the folic acid supplements did not seem to have any impact beyond the 22nd week of pregnancy. The crucial time interval was from four weeks before conception to eight weeks into the pregnancy.

    Of course it does not hurt to continue on with folic acid throughout your pregnancy and who knows, maybe there’s further benefits or risk reductions that are yet to be uncovered from continuing with folic acid beyond the first trimester. However, what researchers have uncovered so far is enough evidence to start any woman even thinking about having a baby to be popping a folic acid supplement right away.

    So what is folic acid? It is the B vitamin that helps with the construction and repair of DNA molecules which is the genetic code that controls all of the body’s cells, including the brain cells. It is especially important to take it early in pregnancy during the development of the baby’s spine and nervous system to prevent neural tube defects, including spina bifida. Doctors typically recommend that all women who are planning on getting pregnant to take 400 micrograms of folic acid daily from a multivitamin and continue taking this amount throughout their early pregnancy.

    Now with 1 out of 88 children diagnosed with autism we hope that this research will help us reduce the risk of childhood autism and increase awareness of our ability to potentially prevent this disability by supplementing with Folic Acid early in our pregnancy and even before. Knowledge is power so let’s empower ourselves and those we know with this scientific knowledge and preventative health measure of supplementing daily with Folic Acid if we are pregnant or hope to become pregnant. It’s an easy lifestyle adder that can reap benefits in our child’s health and well-being for a lifetime.

  • Our Breast Milk is Smarter than We Thought

    Just when we think we know everything healthy and nutritious and miraculous there is to know about breastfeeding and our baby’s health, we find out something new. A new study just uncovered even more amazing news about the mother’s body, it’s uncanny knowledge and ability to know our baby’s gender and produce customized milk for our baby girl or baby boy. (We already know it produced milk for the exact age of our child, be it premature or full-term, or a toddler a year or more after birth if we still nurse).

    Interestingly, a common theme in humans, monkeys and other mammals is that there are a variety of differences in the quantity and type of milk that is produced for our babies depending on their gender. Baby boys tend to get richer or denser milk which has more fat and protein in it, providing them with more energy while baby girls tend to get milk that is produced in greater quantities. (Didn’t we always say baby boys were pumped full of adrenaline and our baby girls calmly nursed forever?)

    Last Friday this research was shared at the Association for the Advancement of Science’s annual meeting. Although it is not clear why human mothers produce such different milk for their girl or boy babies, there is evidence that this customized milk is developed while the baby is still in utero. This does give mothers more reason to try and breastfeed our baby with our individualized formula which our body intelligently produces for our child.

    "Mothers are producing different biological recipes for sons and daughters," said Katie Hinde, an evolutionary biologist at Harvard University.

    "While the food aspects of milk to some extent are replicated in formula, the immuno factors and medicine of milk are not and the hormonal signals are not," Hende said.

    As new research continues to uncover more interesting facts about mother’s breast milk, it is clear that breastfeeding is the optimal food choice for our baby. As we continue to learn more about our body’s ability to produce the ideal milk formula for our infant, we are encouraged about how this new scientific knowledge can also help other infants who are in need of specialized breast milk and who cannot get it from their mothers.

    “Getting a better understanding of how milk is personalized for specific infants will also help hospitals find better matches for breast milk donated to help nourish sick and premature infants in neo natal units”, added Hinde.

    It’s powerful knowledge to know that you are your baby’s best nutrition source and you are your baby’s perfect biological match, not only for giving birth but for continuing to feed, nourish and nurture your unique child.

    If you are having trouble nursing, do not hesitate to ask for help. You can contact a lactation consultant or even a mother’s support group like La Leche League in your area to find the support that you need to help you nurse your baby successfully.

  • Surprise Babies are Surprisingly Common

    Although most pregnancy test news is welcome/expected/ long hoped far, not all are. In fact according to recent statistics it is estimated that almost half, 49%, of all pregnancies are unplanned in the United States.

    Most American families want two children. The average American woman spends five years pregnant, nursing and postpartum or trying to become pregnant. The next three decades she tries to avoid unintentional pregnancy. By age 45 half of all American women will have experienced an unintended pregnancy and 30% will have had an abortion.

    Personally I find these statistics very surprising. We all hear about unplanned teenage pregnancy, the “bonus baby” in the family with two kids or the “miracle baby” for the mom who suddenly gets pregnant in her 40’s after adopting two babies thinking she was not biologically capable of having a child with her husband. But who knew that what seemed like the exceptional unplanned pregnancy, is actually a normal and common occurrence, even if everyone is not admitting their child, or the timing/spacing of their child, was unplanned.

    Being a mom of three children I often get the question, “was your third baby planned?” It’s usually posed by people I don’t know well or virtual strangers who believe it’s a perfectly OK benign question to ask. I suppose anytime you go over the average two kids per family, you are assumed to have a surprise baby. I am also continually amazed by how many people readily admit that their third baby was not planned and came as “on its own” or “out of nowhere.” I have yet to encounter a parent who says that they regret that surprise child or that it has not impacted their life in some positive and unexpected way although many will admit they “have their hands full” or “it took an adjustment period” to regulate their lives.

    Although we welcomed every child in our family, we did not “plan” their exact birth timing (although all were born in November somehow) and were pleasantly surprised each time the test came back with a positive blue line. There are ways to be pretty bulletproof when you are really done having children and many couples over 40 who are “sure” they want to be done, have utilized multiple methods to insure they don’t have any more additions to their brood. Sometimes I think the ones that don’t use multiple foolproof methods may not be convinced they are truly done and are leaving a small window to fate or chance to decide if another child is part of their family’s destiny.

    My advice to women everywhere who get pregnant unexpectedly and who choose to keep their baby, is to feel better knowing you are not alone in having an unplanned pregnancy and that having another child in your family can be a truly positive experience. Yes all babies are hard work and expensive, but hard work isn’t always a bad thing and you learn as you go, even when life throws you a curve ball. Half of American moms have experienced an unexpected pregnancy, although you may not hear about it. Also I would venture to guess that the majority of those moms are happy to have the surprise child (even if it was a shock initially and took a little warming up to) and grew to love them every bit as much as any “planned” children they might have had.

    Life does not always go according to plan, but wouldn’t it be boring if “The Plan” never changed and was so predictable. There is always something good than can come out of a surprise or a challenge. A miracle baby may be just what you need in your life and future.

  • Exercise During Pregnacy to Make your Baby Smart!

    As Holiday Season approaches many of us find ourselves munching on more cookies, eating more pie and indulging in bigger meals. It’s easy to do as the weather is cooler and you may be surrounded by friends and family and lots of yummy goodies. Although pregnancy is not a time to diet, it is perfectly ok and even recommended to exercise, especially when you need to offset some extra helpings of stuffing or pumpkin pie.

    Not only is exercise good for maintaining a healthy pregnancy weight, it’s also good for your brain, nerves and self-esteem. More recently researchers are uncovering new benefits of exercise to the developing fetus. Two studies presented a few weeks ago at the Society of Neuroscience suggest that exercise during pregnancy gives unborn children a neurological advantage with “more mature and effective brain patterns.” Dave Ellemberg, a neuroscientists at the University of Montreal says active moms can give their kids “a kickstart even before they are born.” He continues, “What we found is that there’s this amazing transfer from what the mother does onto her child.”

    What better motivation is there to exercise since not only are you improving your own body and mind during pregnancy but that of your unborn child’s at the same time. Another recent study performed at Dartmouth University found similar results with the potential for exercise to leave “long-lasting effects on the behavior and cognitive function of the offspring.”

    Even as little as thirty minutes a day of moderate exercise can help with weight gain, mood and prepare mothers for labor, says Laura Riley, Director of labor and delivery and obstetrics and gynecology at Massachusetts General Hospital. She continues, that pregnant women who exercise are more mobile throughout their pregnancy and report less aches and pains during pregnancy.

    How much you exercise and the type of exercise you choose to do should depend on your fitness level. In general it is recommended that women should continue the exercise they already do and just adjust the level to their weight and abilities as the pregnancy progresses. Even just walking will do wonders for your body and your baby.

    There are obvious safety precautions such as staying clear of contact sports or those that require advanced coordination, such as biking (maybe consider a stationary bike). Also steer clear of exercise that involves flat on the back positions that can cause back strain or cut off the blood flow. Also you should not do abdominal work since those muscles are stretched to support your baby.

    Most importantly stay in tune with your body and take more frequent breaks. Also, be sure to hydrate more often as your body will need more liquids when you are pregnant. Finally be sure to be in close communication with your doctor on all exercise you pursue to make sure it is recommended and safe.

  • Ivanka Trump Posts Beautiful Post Delivery Photo of Herself and Baby

    Ivanka-Trump-DeliveryI admit it, I am a fan of Ivanka Trump. I admire how she can pull off being Donald Trump’s daughter so seamlessly, be a Wharton educated model who seems to also have a mind of her own and avoid the pitfalls of fame and celebrity. I love her style, her composure in the boardroom and in the media crazed public arena. This flawless and gorgeous delivery photo where she is in a hospital gown with no make-up and seemingly unwashed and unstyled hair, she literally glows from the inside out as she cradles her newborn son.

    In the photo posted Tuesday to her Tumblr page, Trump holds her newborn son with the accompanying simple caption, “We welcome with love, Joseph Frederick Kushner.”

    At last a “natural” delivery photo by a celebrity still in her hospital gown and maternity wristband. It is obvious she has just physically delivered her baby and is both exhausted and proud with a natural inner glow that make-up and airbrushing cannot create.

    In today’s Hollywood culture it is expected and lauded for a woman to bounce back to their pre-pregnancy shape in just weeks after delivering their baby. Celebrity birth announcements or Instagram selfies are often airbrushed to achieve perfection. Some celebs avoid the paparazzi altogether to escape the unrealistic pressure, like Kim Kardashian who went M.I.A. for the first time in years for almost three months after delivering daughter North West in June. Fergie, who delivered son Axl in August has still not made an official appearance.

    This pressure to achieve a perfect post-baby body has led some to overexert in exercise during and after pregnancy. In September an expectant woman in Los Angeles set off a viral storm with a photo of herself weightlifting a heavy dumbbell while 8 months pregnant. Even if this form of exercise was “safe” for her toned physique it sends out a risky message to expecting moms to follow her lead who may not be in the same mega physical condition while pregnant. Generally it is not a good idea to lift heavy weights while pregnant or perform any extreme physical exercise that your body is not already accustomed to doing.

    Even more recently a Sacramento mother of three young children triggered a viral backlash after posting a photo of herself and her washboard abs on Facebook with the accusatory caption “What’s Your Excuse?” Clearly losing weight fast and looking perfect is not an added pressure new mothers need.

    We all know it’s hard enough just taking care of the baby and managing a few hours sleep. It is simply not natural to bounce back to pre-baby shape in mere weeks after delivering, nor is it a good idea. Breastfeeding moms in particular need to maintain a very healthy diet and eat enough calories to support their milk production. Any nursing mom knows that feeding the baby around the clock for the first few months is a fulltime job in itself.

    So we hope more celebs take the route of Ivanka Trump and reveal more natural looking photos where the emphasis is where it should be, not in showing off but in celebrating the pure joys in life like the arrival of new precious baby.

  • Oreos are More Addictive than Drugs

    Did you ever find yourself opening a new package of Oreo Cookies just to find that you simply could not stop eatting them? One to two Oreos turned into 5-6 and then some and the desire to eat more just increased? Well turns out you are not alone and it turns out there is good scientific data out there to explain why.

    A new study by students at Connecticut College found that when rats ate Oreo cookies they activiated more neurons in the rats’ brain (in their pleasure centers) than hard addictive drugs such as cocaine or morphine.

    Neuroscience Professor Joseph Schroeder said in in a school press release, “Our research supports the theory that high-fat/high sugar foods stimulate the brain in the same way that drugs do.” He continued, “It may explain why some people can’t resist these foods despite the fact that they know they are bad for them.”

    Jamie Honohun, the student behind the research, said she was interested in exploring how foods with high fat and sugar content contritube to obesity that in prevalent in low-income communities. She concluded that the risk was higher because of there low price point.

    “Even though we associate significant health hazards in taking drugs like cocaine and morphine, high-fat/high-sugar foods may present even more of a danger because of their accessibility and affordability, said Jamie Honohun.

    I’m sure if they did a study on pregnant rats, they would probably find an even higher correlation to addiction to sugar cravings as many pregnant women do once they get past the throws of morning sickness.

    On a more comical note, the study did find that the Oreo lab rats would break open the cookie and “eat the middle first” much like we do.

  • Stay Away from BPA during Pregnancy

    As if we don’t have enough to be worried about during pregnancy, we now have new research to reinforce a suspected health danger, BPA. In pregnancy, exposure to high levels of the BPA chemical may increase risk of miscarriage based on findings from a recent study from the American Society for Reproductive Medicine.

    This study found that pregnant women who had the highest levels of bisphenol A, or BPA, in their blood were more likely to miscarry (by 80%) than pregnant women with low levels of BPA.

    BPA is commonly used in food packaging and it also used to line cans to prevent corrosion. Even more concerning it is found in plastic baby bottles as well as tableware and food storage containers.

    Researchers refer to BPA as a “hormone disrupting chemical” which links to reproductive problems including obesity, diabetes and neurodevelopmental delays. All the more reason to be more cautious with your exposure to BPA during pregnancy.

    The BPA chemical is currently banned in Canada and the European Union. The United States banned it from baby bottles and sippy cups last July 2010 but has rejected ban of the chemical altogether.

    Small levels of exposure to BPA are reported to be safe and the study has not confirmed causality of BPA exposure to miscarriage as there may be other risk factors involved. However the findings are convincing enough that pregnant women should be extra vigilant about BPA exposure.

    To be on the safe side, parents should discard plastic bottles and sippy cups acquired earlier than July 2012 as they were made before the BPA ban on these products. Be sure to throw out plastic bottles that have scratches as they may contain bacteria which increases the release of BPA. Also, limit your children’s exposure to BPA products including the plastic food storage containers with BPA that are used for children’s meals.

  • Is the Uber-Fit Facebook Mom of 3 Sending the Right Message?

    ExcuseA very fit mom of three has recently caused quite a bit of controversy over a photo of herself and her three young children she posted on Facebook. In the photo the 32 year old, Maria Kang, poses in a skimpy workout outfit to reveal washboard abs and an incredibly toned physique. Her three young sons surround her on the floor with ages attached to each, 8 months, 2 years, and 3 years.

    However, the part that seems to have set off the viral spiral of this photo is the seemingly accusatory remark that looms over this attractive young family, “What’s your excuse?”

    Since we now live in an age of social media where anything seemingly harmlessly posted on Facebook, tweeted or Instagramed is no longer personal and can quickly go viral in a cause an otherwise ordinary person to be an overnight web sensation with good or bad publicity. Maybe this young women did not mean to offend her followers but when a posting like this takes off to the mass public, people feel compelled to share their opinions and emotional reactions to it and the originator of the post/photo.

    In my opinion, I do believe it’s commendable that this healthy mom has been able to achieve such an incredibly fit physique after having three young children in less than four years. However she is by far the exception to the average woman’s body after three kids and the caption, “What’s your excuse?”, comes off as accusatory and egotistical rather than inspiring as she says claims she intended it to be. Maybe a better caption should have read “You can do it too!” or “Love the Babies but shed the Baby Fat!”

    She probably could have cashed in big on a postpartum exercise DVD or established a new career as a top personal trainer, inspirational speaker, blogger, etc. Instead a remark reading the wrong way seems to just add more shame to the rest of us with young babies, especially those of us who can never seem to kick those last 10 pounds (or more) of post baby weight.

    Kang explains, “I wanted to inspire people,” she explains, adding that the “What’s your excuse?” part was simply a borrowed, popular phrase that’s been used in various “fitspiration” campaigns. “I wanted to say, ‘I know you think you don’t have time if you have kids. But if I can do it, you can do it, too.’” Maybe that caption would have translated better…

    Kang, of Sacramento, California, is a former pageant queen and fitness competitor who founded the nonprofit Fitness Without Borders in 2007. Ironically, she's also a recovering bulimic. Kang says she understands why some people reacted so defensively. “I think people struggle with their weight. When you add on being a mother — and the pressures we face to have it all and be everything, including fit — the expectations are so high. I think some moms saw the picture and just said, ‘This is ridiculous.’” But still, she says, “I felt really frustrated. Being called a bad mother and a bad person definitely hurts.”

    Although Kang posted this photo a year ago to her Facebook page, it only recently went viral. She recently reposted it to her 72,000 followers along with a “sort of” apology.

    “I'm sorry you took an image and resonated with it in such a negative way. I won't go into details that I struggled with my genetics, had an eating disorder, work full time owning two businesses, have no nanny, am not naturally skinny and do not work as a personal trainer. What I WILL say is this. What you interpret is not MY fault. It's yours. The first step in owning your life, your body and your destiny is to OWN the thoughts that come out of your own head. I didn't create them. You created them. So if you want to continue ‘hating’ this image, get used to hating many other things for the rest of your life.”

    This apology/response which started off well seemed to end with the same accusatory tone her initial photo caption embodied. Clearly this addendum did not help her case to water down the haters. On the other hand her critics have not been too tactful in their retaliation calling her a “bully” and blaming her for the body shaming problem in the country, etc.

    I think the learnings we can take from this are that moms everywhere feel they need support not criticism, especially from other moms. Women have long struggled with body image, multitasking and balancing life with children, work and other demands, let alone working out to achieve their pre-baby body or better. It is encouraging and inspiring to see that it can be done, albeit by a gorgeous beauty queen mom who may be a few years younger than many of us middle aged moms who have to work harder with bodies that are less forgiving after multiple pregnancies. Now I too am going on a bit of a rampage, although hopefully not a hateful one. I do admire someone that can achieve this level of fitness with or without children and marvel even more that a mom of three young children who can accomplish this feat (assuming there’s not a lot of airbrushing going on here).

    But again, I really don’t think her caption or tone of apology was appropriate. I also think that in this social media frenzy age we have regular ordinary people becoming celebrities overnight with viral photos and videos. These ordinary people are not used to this level of media attention and are usually totally blindsided and unprepared for the sudden level scrutiny and feedback that follows. Maybe we should think twice before tweeting or Facebook posting something that may sound hurtful or mean. Having babies and taking care of children is an amazing job and a tremendously challenging job that is a lifetime commitment. Most of us are surprised by the level of responsibility and commitment as well as the level of love and attachment we feel for our kids. It’s sometimes hard to find the time or justify the time to take care of ourselves, our health and our bodies. But we should take care of ourselves and we should support and not shame one another.

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