Mommy Maintenance

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Photo credit: Tim Chin Photography (www.timchin.com)

The journey of being a new mom has really challenged my sense of self-image. To say it has been a roller-coaster would be an understatement. When I was pregnant, I really enjoyed my new body. Physically, I felt great most of the time and mentally, I found it liberating to dismiss my insecurities about not being skinny enough and instead, to celebrate my growing belly. I actually found that I had more wardrobe options with my baby belly (I could now wear items that fit more snugly around the tummy area) and had fun adapting my clothes to my new new shape. It helped that I often received compliments on how I looked from my friends and co-workers which boosted my self-esteem. My positive self-image reached its peak when I gave birth to Leah naturally like I had hoped and planned. I was in such awe of what my God-given body could accomplish and the miracle that was created in my womb. But once that high passed, the roller-coaster started its steep descent.

The first blow to my self-image was the soreness and pain I felt “down below”. Every time I sat up to breastfeed or walked over to the bathroom to pee, I felt like I would never be the same down there (don’t even talk to me about sex!). Not only that, I quickly realized that I  wasn’t just dealing with an issue of comfort but also control! I was shocked to find that I had trouble controlling my pee which was both distressing and embarrassing. My boobs were painfully engorged, my nipples were sore and incredibly sensitive and the whole breastfeeding thing, while amazing, was hard to mentally adjust to.

Next, postpartum PUPPPS brought on massive hives all over my legs, belly and arms that could not be controlled despite my best efforts. This angry, red rash was unbelievably itchy and my relentless scratching resulted in bleeding, scabs, and awful stretch marks. Oh yeah, the stretch marks! Now that my belly was gone, I could see my stretch marks clearly and what a sight they were. I was prepared to throw out all my bikinis and secretly wondered if I would ever hit the beach again.

In terms of losing my belly bump (belly flab), it was a very long process… year long to be exact. While I knew that it wouldn’t happen right away, I still felt so frustrated when I found myself wearing maternity pants for many months after Leah was born (they really should call them maternity AND postpartum clothes)! Yoga pants, sweatshirts and hoodies were my wardrobe staples. I thought that the breastfeeding would help things but I wasn’t seeing the results that I had hoped for. I was even more frustrated with myself when I saw the mommies in my Mommy Group shedding the pounds and back to their normal wardrobe far quicker than I was.

A good mommy friend of mine warned me not to try on my pre-maternity jeans before Leah turned one, but I ignored her good advice and tried to stuff myself into them. At the six month mark, they weren’t even close to fitting, and at the eight month mark, still no luck. Another major beating to my self esteem. I knew I had to do something to help me feel better about myself and I couldn’t find the time to go to yoga class with Leah exclusively breastfeeding. I decided to finally invest in a few pairs of regular pants that fit my new body instead of waiting for my body magically return to its pre-pregnancy state.

Before returning to work, I also decided to start wearing my contacts more often and to spend a bit of time on myself in terms of putting on makeup and refreshing my work wardrobe. By accepting the reality that my body had changed and embracing my new shape, I finally found some peace and happiness in my new look. The extra effort seemed to pay off and with every comment and compliment (I treasured each one immensely), my positive sense of self slowly started to return. Now don’t get me wrong, I know that my identity is a whole lot more than just how I look physically, but I have to confess that the journey of my physical body from pregnancy to postpartum also made a significant impression on my mental sense of self. Being a parent ushers you into many new experiences, a new understanding of yourself, and taking stock of your physical self is a natural part of that process.

I think my positive self-image finally came full circle when I stopped breastfeeding. Leah was 1.5 years old and we were finally able to wean her to my great relief. As much as I loved breastfeeding and spending that quiet time with her, I was relieved to have my body back. I have to admit, I’ll never think of my boobs the same way again, but at least for now, I don’t have to share them with anybody else. Clayton, stay away, these girls are mine! :)

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1. Spend time with your partner - Even if you’re in the first year of parenthood and still adjusting to the craziness of it all, make the time for your spouse. You can find a babysitter and go for a nice dinner together, order your favourite take-out to enjoy at home by candlelight or indulge in your favourite dessert together in bed once the baby is fast asleep. Spending that time as a couple will re-invigorate your relationship and give yourself some well-deserved pampering.

2. Make V-day special for your child - Though Valentine’s Day is traditionally about romance, change it up and make it about loving your child. I remember when my parents surprised my sister and I with potted flowers for Valentine’s day. I felt so loved! :) Spend some quality time as a family making homemade Valentine cards or baking heart cookies to make the holiday special for the little one too.

3) Re-think the gift- Instead of the usual roses and chocolates for her and socks and underwear for him, consider giving her a spa day and giving him a custom photo mosaic mug of his new baby. Perhaps throw in a gift card to his favourite overpriced coffee shop to help keep him awake at work after those late nights.

Whatever you do, make a point to make the day special for your family and start some family traditions of your own!

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The Boob Nursing Singlet (tank top) was one of the first items I received from PTPA to review and wow, was I impressed! The design, comfort, style and overall usefulness of this item made me instantly glad to be a member of the PTPA Panel of Moms so I could learn about great nursing tops like this one. Like I mentioned before, breastfeeding in public can be challenging partly because most clothes are just not designed for nursing, even when you’re nursing in a designated room. There’s the issue of trying to manipulate your clothes with one hand while holding the baby with the other, and then also the concern of being exposed while nursing. Call me uncoordinated but I often fumble with my nursing bra and Leah is not the most patient baby so easy access is incredibly essential. This means no more fitted and buttoned tops, dresses, and long tunic/dresses. Instead, I wore lots of stretchy shirts/tanks, hoodies and cardigans. Once I started breastfeeding I looked at my wardrobe completely differently and zoned in on those items that allowed me to nurse discreetly and easily. Unfortunately there just aren’t too many every day items that allow you to do this. Enter the Boob Nursing Singlet!

The Boob Nursing Singlet is a black tank top with a clever double layer fabric design over the bust, allowing for discreet and comfortable nursing. The opening is simply pushed aside with one hand, leaving the other one free to hold your baby. Made from organic cotton, this garment is good for you and for your baby.

With the double layer fabric, you don’t end up exposing your waist while nursing, plus the top layer over the bust discreetly covers up any boobage that might otherwise show. The fabric is soft and stretchy and super comfortable (I think I wore it every day for a week when I first received it in the mail!). The design of the tank is slimming, particularly if you get it in black, which is great when you’re still dealing with your postpartum body. I especially love how the tank top is extra long to cover up my lower belly pooch.

In general, it’s a simple design that works really well. Everything you need to breastfeed in comfort and maintain a positive self-image. And as a bonus, it doubles as a maternity top so I’ll be able to put it to use for #2, both during my pregnancy and postpartum. YAY!

Learn more about this PTPA Winning Product here.

Check out the Boob website here.

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Parenting is very challenging but having a support team makes the all the difference. It is essential to have people you can turn to when times get tough and particularly when you’re at the end of your rope. This might be family members who can come by and cook you a meal and/or hold the baby while you take a nap. It might be girlfriends that you can email and vent to, who will bring you ice cream and send you supportive messages. Or, it could be other mommies who are going through the same thing (or have already gone through it), who can relate to your problems and assure you that you’re not crazy for feeling the way that you do.

I am so thankful for family and friends that I have to support me through this first year of motherhood. The first time I reached out to my support group was when I was struggling with Leah’s naps. She was napping for 30 minutes (or less) and I was so exhausted from trying to rock, nurse or pat her to sleep. This was before we started sleep training and during the period of time I was still holding her ALL the time! I was feeling really down and sent out a few emails to my closest friends, some of which were moms, and got such a loving and supportive response. The phone calls and email responses I received over the days that followed sustained and strengthened me, and helped me to persevere through that tough period.

I am very blessed to have close friends who are moms and they have been so understanding and generous with their support. If you’re one of the first among your close group of friends, make an effort to meet other moms so you can turn learn from their experience. Join a mommy group and attend baby classes at the library, community centre or Early Years Centre so you can meet other moms and learn from one another. It really makes all the difference to know that other women (and men) out there struggle with parenting on a day to day basis, and to have them to hold your hand through the difficult parts.

There are also a lot of great online parenting forums out there which allow you to access other moms without leaving your home! Reading posts in the forums help me to feel like I’m part of a community, and provide me with the assurance that the frustration I experience is normal. One forum that I really like in particular is the Berkeley Parents Network. I used a great deal during Leah’s sleep training and have recently found that there are many great topics on the site. There are also a lot of mommy bloggers out there, so you’re bound to find one that you find interesting, fun, and inspiring. One of my favourites lately is the blog “Enjoying the Small Things”, by Kelle Hampton. But don’t just take my word for it. Look around, bookmark your favourites and enjoy the benefits of being part of generation of online moms. And you can always start one yourself, like I did! :)

More of my favourite blog sites are listed here.

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I confess, I’m not the most disciplined when it comes to flossing my teeth and during my pregnancy, I was so tired that my poor flossing habits continued. But when I went to the dentist in my third trimester, I got a good scolding from the hygienist for not keeping my dental hygiene in check. Apparently, though practicing good dental hygiene is always important, it is particularly important to take good care of your teeth during pregnancy. The reasons are as follows:

1) Hormonal changes can intensify dental problems – During pregnancy, a woman’s increased hormone levels exaggerate the body’s normal response to dental plaque, increasing the likelihood that a pregnant women will develop gum disease if her daily plaque control is not adequate. Pregnancy gingivitis is the most common dental concern during pregnancy, affecting almost 50% of all pregnant women. It causes your gums to become red, puffy, and inflamed. It can also trigger bleeding gums when you are brushing and flossing.

2) Poor dental health in moms can affect the fetus – Pregnancy gingivitis can lead to the serious stage of gum disease, periodontitis. Pregnant mothers with periodontal disease are seven times more likely to go into preterm labor. The explanation: Prostaglandin, a chemical found in oral bacteria, may induce labor (high levels of prostaglandin has been found in the mouths of women with severe cases of periodontal disease).

3) No x-rays during pregnancy – Since x-rays are not safe during pregnancy, your dentist will not be able to monitor your dental health as closely. Problems such as cavities may go undetected for 9 months or more, and in that time, they may worsen. Consider also that many pregnant women (like me) develop a sweet tooth and eat all those foods that can cause and worsen cavities. Furthermore, all those late evening and midnight snacks can worsen the problem further.

Believe me, the last thing you want to have to worry about is extra visits to the dentist with a newborn in tow, all because you didn’t practice good dental hygiene while you were pregnant. So make sure you take good care of those chompers especially if you’re snacking on all those sweets.

More information on oral health before, during and after pregnancy here.

Sources:

http://www.pregnancy-info.net/dental_care.html

http://dentistry.about.com/od/basicdentalcare/qt/perinatalguidelines.htm

http://www.wellwomanblog.com/50226711/dental_hygiene_during_pregnancy.php

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I’ve already talked a bit about the wonderful postpartum symptoms I experienced such as the lovely PUPPPs skin rash, swollen feet and urinary incontinence. Well, you can add sweating and shedding to that list! That’s right, after Leah was born I was sweating like a pig even though I was barely wearing anything (I wore a thin cotton sarong because my nipples were so sore and because I was always overheating). After doing some digging around, it turns out that postpartum sweating is normal after delivery and is actually caused by your hormones, instructing your body to rid itself of all those extra fluids it was formerly using to nourish your baby. For me, all those extra fluids were being stored in my feet so I was happy to sweat it out.

The shedding refers to all the hair that I’ve been losing from Leah’s birth up to now. Yep, 6 months after she was born I am STILL shedding like no tomorrow. It has been clogging up my drains, making a mess on my bathroom floor (especially after I blow dry my hair) and giving my Dyson a real workout. It looks like there’s a small animal living in my bathroom garbage can! My hair loss is another reason is why I’ve been spending so much time cleaning foam playmats! Apparently, the hair loss is also hormonal.  During pregnancy, increased levels of estrogen prolong the growing stage of your hair. There are fewer hairs in the resting stage and fewer falling out each day, so your hair often looks more shiny and full. After you give birth, your estrogen levels drop and a lot more hair follicles enter the resting stage. Learn more about it here:

My tip is this: Don’t worry if you’re sweating or shedding, it’s natural and normal (albeit a tad gross and inconvenient)!

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Kegel exercises help to strengthen pelvic muscles and are important in preparation for your labour and post-delivery. Strong pelvic muscles help with the delivery of the baby and also help to prevent urinary incontinence. I know it seems weird to be talking about peeing yourself when we’re hardly the target market for Depends adult diapers but believe me, at some points in my pregnancy I seriously considered investing in some because I kept having accidents (so embarrassing). These incidents would often happen when I heard the sound of trickling water (e.g. when washing the dishes, washing my hands, near a fountain, etc.). I started to mitigate the problem by emptying my bladder often and also by doing my Kegals.

During my pregnancy I practiced Kegel exercises during my prenatal exercise classes and at home when I remembered (which wasn’t too often). One of the women in my prenatal class shared how her husband left sticky notes around the house and in her car with the letter “k” written on it to remind her to do her Kegels! Kegel exercises can be as simple as tightening and relaxing your pelvic muscles, and can progress to the Kegel Elevator (Visualize an elevator. Slow down the exercises, gradually contracting and releasing your pelvic floor muscles one at a time. As you contract, visualize an elevator traveling up four floors. At each floor, contract your muscles a little more until you reach maximum contraction at the fourth floor. Hold the contraction and then slowly release the tension as you visualize the elevator returning to the ground floor.)

Even after the baby is delivered, the urinary incontinence continues as I mentioned in my post on Bowel and Bladder Maintenance. A friend of mine mentioned that exercise (playing ultimate frisbee) would cause her to pee herself a little, another friend would pee herself when she sneezed, and I still struggle when I hear the sound of running water (lol!). Lesson learned: do your Kegals and strengthen those pelvic muscles!

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Leg cramps are very common in the third trimester of pregnancy. I woke up a few times grabbing my calf and screaming in agony, begging Clayton to help me. Ironically, the first time I got a cramp was the same week he injured his arm in hockey so he was in pain himself and had to use his left hand to help me… it was pretty hilarious.

From what I read, leg cramps are related to potassium levels so I started eating a banana a day to keep my potassium levels up. Like they say: “a banana a day keeps the leg cramps away!”. You can also try drinking milk to increase your calcium levels and overall, make sure you stay hydrated. More info here.

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Otherwise known as Pruritic Uticarial Papules and Plaques of Pregnancy, this is a severely itchy and painful skin rash that typically affects pregnant women. Lucky for me, I experienced this AFTER I delivered Leah (not before) and boy, was it awful! I can’t even describe how terrible was and how frustrating it was to suffer from this at the same time I was trying to adjust to being a new mom. To give you an idea, it is often compared to chicken pox or poison ivy. I looked up and tried a lot of different remedies including Black Tar Soap, Seabuckthorn Ointment, 0.5% Hydrocortisone Ointment and ice packs. I had these itchy bumps on my stomach, up and down my legs and some even appeared on my upper arms. The rash appeared on my stretch marks and somehow, from all the scratching, even more stretch marks appeared where I had the rash. SIGH.

Of everything I tried, the most effective treatment I found was constant moisturizing of my skin and ice packs. Because I was breastfeeding I couldn’t take antihistamines. It was particularly bad at night so I was in agony during the night time feeds. During these times, I would cool down my burning rash with an ice pack in a pillowcase. It offered a bit of relief but I still scratched like mad. It was so bad that I had bloodstains on my sheets and clothes. I have a new appreciation for women who endured this during their pregnancy… it is really agonizing. It only started to die down 3 months after she was born. Crazy! I hope none of you have to deal with this!

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It’s probably pretty obvious but when the baby arrives, the time you’ll have to prepare meals dramatically decreases… to practically zero! For the full first month of Leah’s life, I don’t think I cooked a single full meal. I relied on meals that my family and friends brought me, supplemented with canned, packaged and frozen foods.

I suggest you accept all offers for people to bring over food! If friends and family come to visit during the day, suggest a meal time such as lunch or dinner so you can have some help holding the baby while you eat (and of course, let them bring the meal!). It’ll help you to take care of the baby (and especially with breastfeeding) if you stay nourished and healthy.

Stock up on some easy meal options beforehand. If you’re the main person in charge of cooking in your household, make sure you get your hubby to familiarize himself with some easy recipes in advance. Stock up your freezer and pantry. Some suggestions for frozen foods are lasagnas, casseroles, meatballs, dumplings, pizzas, Chinese stick rice bundles (‘joong’) and M&M foods. Consider also stocking up on canned soup, instant noodles, and canned tuna or fish for protein. Also having quick snacks around was really helpful to have since breastfeeding made me ravenous! Having granola bars, fresh fruit (bananas!), cheese, bagels, yogurt and granola within reach helped to keep my hunger at bay without sacrificing a lot of time.

A favourite easy recipe:

Apricot Glazed Chicken

250 ml zesty Italian dressing
250 ml apricot jam
One pack of onion soup mix
6 chicken breasts

1) mix and spread over chicken
2) bake at 425 F for 25-30 minutes

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