Your whole world changes when you have a baby. Your life can shrink to feeding, burping and wishing for longer nap times, while self-care gets placed on the ‘later’ list.
Years of evolution have informed new mothers to care primarily about their infants, however we recognise that you need nurturing too. This time in your life can be overwhelming, but it is reassuring to know there are wellness experts who can offer a circle of care!
We interviewed some key professionals from Osler Health and COMO Shambala to ask all about pre and post-natal health and wellness. This included our very own Dr Foong Tsin Uin, and COMO Shambhala’s yoga teacher Sarah Manning, prenatal massage therapist Li Yan Ho, and naturopath and nutritionist Tiffany Wee on how expecting mothers can support their physical and mental wellbeing.
Perinatal mental health
Changes in your mental health are frequently seen during the perinatal period (pregnancy and up to one year after birth). Up to 18% of women experience depressive symptoms, while perinatal anxiety may affect nearly 22% of women.
“I always place a huge emphasis on how mum’s coping. The baby’s welfare is fully integrated with the parents’ wellbeing, especially mum. Some of the key areas I will always review include postnatal depression,” says Osler Health family physician Dr Foong.
Symptoms of postnatal depression and anxiety often overlap. Postnatal mental health is extremely important as it affects not only the individual experiencing these debilitating symptoms, but the entire family.
Common things to watch out for include: low mood during most of the day; feelings of unease, worry or fear; loss of interest or pleasure; change in weight or appetite; slowing down of movement; agitation; loss of energy or fatigue; having panic attacks; worthlessness or feelings of guilt or recurrent suicidal thoughts.
There is no shame in postnatal depression, but it is important that women seek medical support. “As a GP doctor that sees a lot of new mums (and their babies), I recognise how important it is to have a doctor that can recognise the signs and deliver a holistic approach to treatment,” says Dr Foong.
Reconnect with your body through pre and postnatal yoga
COMO Shambhala prenatal classes focus on opening your body and mind, and creating space for your growing baby. We build awareness of the pelvic floor, core stability and the muscles to protect the back; strengthen the legs, particularly the quads for lifting and carrying; and loosen the shoulders, releasing tension and opening the heart energy.
Each class is tailored to the students present. The emphasis is on making each pose yours – depending on your trimester, your pelvic stability and how you are feeling that day. Variations that challenge or allow you to free-wheel are offered. “We weave in tools helpful for parenting, childbirth and pregnancy discomfort relief. To complete the class we relax, calm the mind and intuitively reach out to your baby,” explains COMO Shambhala yoga teacher Sarah Manning.
Postnatal yoga classes have three key goals: to connect with and develop core strength, lift the energy to overcome fatigue and release the shoulder (where tension builds up with fatigue, breast feeding and soothing the baby). Babies are welcome to be in the room, comfortably in pushchairs, on the floor or in a baby carrier. “The community of support is a key part to the class, when you are sharing the same challenges of transition from woman to mother”, says Sarah.
Relax with prenatal massages
Prenatal massage can be a wonderful self care option for mothers-to-be. It not only helps on a physical level to reduce muscle aches and improve blood circulation, but also improves emotional wellbeing by relaxing the nervous system to release feel-good hormones.
Expecting mothers can begin COMO Shambhala prenatal massage from the second trimester up till full term or upon approval by their obstetrician. First trimester and towards the last few weeks of pregnancy, prenatal massages are performed strictly on doctor’s approval and instructions.
Very often mums-to-be go through morning sickness in the first trimester, and for some, even in the beginning of second trimester. “Prenatal massage can help to rejuvenate and uplift your energy after the morning bouts of nausea, and relieve muscular aches if you need more rest in bed than usual. Another overall benefit is better sleep quality as your body feels more relaxed after the massage,” shares COMO Shambhala prenatal massage therapist Li Yan Ho.
Choosing a good grade massage medium and being informed about the mother’s allergies are important. COMO Shambhala uses lightweight and vitamin E-enriched base oils such as grapeseed for customised prenatal massages.
With nurturing massage strokes, the focus is more on the lower back, the gluteal region from lying on the side while sleeping, the upper back especially if mums-to-be work on the computer often, and the legs to improve blood circulation and reduce fluid retention. Weekly or fortnightly massages are recommended. When mums-to-be are at about 34 or 35 weeks, once a week is highly recommended.
“Having sufficient self-care – exercise and massage therapy coupled with proper nutrition – and feeling joyful and loved will make the entire pregnancy experience an amazing one,” shares Li Yan.
Nutrition and pregnancy
Often the focus of nutrition during pregnancy is placed on fetal growth and development. This is a given. At COMO Shambhala, the specific needs of the mother are also addressed. “Rather than treat clients merely for the condition that they present with, including pregnancy, I listen to my client’s short and long term needs”, says COMO Shambhala naturopath and nutritionist Tiffany Wee.
All aspects of your health are taken into consideration, which includes mental, physical and emotional states along with any lifestyle and environmental factors before bespoke solutions are formulated to resolve existing imbalances and also improve your health beyond.
“No matter how much one had hoped, wanted, and planned for motherhood, this transition will, at times, be stressful”, acknowledges Tiffany. As important as nutrients like folate, calcium and omega-3 fatty acids are to ensure a healthy growing baby, there are also countless nutrients like zinc, magnesium and tryptophan-rich foods to promote mental and emotional wellbeing during pregnancy.
As Dr Foong observed, the baby’s wellbeing is very much dependent on that of the parent. If you are in a positive state of health, well-rested and happy, you may find it easier to adjust to your body’s changes and this will translate naturally to the baby.
“By recognising the mother’s needs as an individual during a time of change and transition, it also reaffirms her identity as distinct from that of the baby”, says Tiffany. While this may not seem like much, self-care and validation can go a long way to helping a new mum embrace pregnancy and prevent postpartum complications.
A holistic circle of care ensures not only the mother’s needs for fetal development, but that she is bound with health and vitality throughout her pregnancy to fully blossom into motherhood in mind, body and spirit.