This post is part of our New Mom Success Series, where we’re taking an in-depth look at the (1) physical-nutritional and (2) mental-emotional needs of brand-new moms, especially in the sacred first six weeks after birth.
To learn more about the whole series, and to set the proper foundation with a powerful vision-casting exercise, click here.
To learn more about the physical-nutritional component, click here.
Check out the other new mom nutrition myths: Myth #1, Myth #2, Myth #3, Myth #4, Myth #5, and Myth #6.
And now, welcome back to “Why common nutrition advice for new moms is all wrong (and what to do instead).” Here’s Myth #7.
New mom nutrition myth #7
“It’s all about the food.”
Why it’s faulty
So now you might be perplexed.
We’ve come to the seventh and final myth in our new mom “nutrition” series, where it’s been all about the food, and now I dare propose it’s not all about the food?
Food is part of the story, or I wouldn’t have devoted so much attention to it.
But it’s only a part of the story—and arguably a small part at that.
This may sound blasphemous from a nutrition practitioner, but it’s becoming an incontrovertible reality in my practice and many others’ that true healing often lies in something much subtler than food.
As we progress on our health journey, it’s easy to fixate on those tangible factors we can control, what we put into our mouth being the primary one. While that’s a critical piece to reclaiming and maintaining health, it tends to be deified above less tangible ingredients.
In fact, the more I work with people, the more I grow convinced: at a certain point, the difference between illness and health becomes less a function of the space between your mouth and other end than a reflection of the space between your ears.
In other words, how you think and how you feel is often more important than what you eat.
Naturally, it goes both ways: the two components—the physical-nutritional and the mental-emotional—do not each exist in a vacuum (as I noted earlier). What and how you eat puts your body into a place of safety and healing so that it’s ready to address matters of thinking and feeling. But clearing negative thoughts and emotional patterns is also important, allowing your body to utilize the nutrition coming in. It’s an intricate dance.
This notion starts to make even more sense when you realize that food is only one aspect of digestion.
According to Ayurveda and other ancient healing traditions, thoughts, feelings, and emotions must be digested, too. And new motherhood especially is full of new thoughts, feelings, and emotions. (So is real life, progeny aside: this myth unveils a universal truth.)
You might be doing everything “right” from a nutritional standpoint—eating warm, simple, home-cooked meals (Myth #1) with adequate fats (Myth #2), appropriate spices (Myth #3), and ample hydration (Myth #5).
But if unrealistic expectations, limiting beliefs, unhelpful mind-set patterns, negative subconscious programming, intrusive thoughts, repressed feelings, or troublesome emotions are hanging around, they’re gumming up the digestive works and keeping you from full vitality. They’re hijacking valuable internal resources that should be allocated for food digestion, tissue repair, hormone production, neurotransmitter synthesis, lactation, and more.
A nervous system locked in overdrive, or inundated with old or new psychological sludge, registers as trauma to the body. And just as birth is a physical trauma that requires time, care, and healing, so too mental and emotional traumas require concerted release and reintegration.
What to do instead
Take an honest inventory of the mental food you’re feeding yourself, and how well it’s digesting.
Ideally, this is an ongoing process, not one precipitated by birth. Everyone, but especially moms-to-be, can work through their own mental-emotional histories to prepare themselves for the changes and challenges ahead.
While ancient wisdom has long encouraged practices that harmonize body, mind, and spirit, modern research is corroborating the importance of this approach. Studies on adverse childhood events (ACEs) reach the startling conclusion that unresolved emotional trauma from childhood may be the single biggest, yet under-recognized, risk factor for chronic health conditions.
These childhood traumas need not be of the cataclysmic ilk: while major disasters like warfare and tragedy take their toll, it’s the low-level, chronic, unpredictable stress that corrodes a child’s resilience.
And the repercussions don’t stop with the adult’s propensity for disease. Through epigenetic changes and other physiological mechanisms that we are only beginning to understand, unresolved traumas and emotional wounds get passed to the next generation, perpetuating a legacy of suffering.
If you’re already a mom, however, take heart: there are ways to break the cycle and invite mental-emotional healing.
For brand-new moms, processing your birth story may be one of the first and most important. This is especially true if your birth was difficult or didn’t go as planned. But it’s equally true if your birth was more glorious than you could have imagined. Either way, owning your story allows you to embrace one of the many seeming contradictions of motherhood, where you might wrestle and rejoice all at once.
Whether it boasted hopes dashed or dreams fulfilled, birth teaches us to welcome acceptance. To handle disappointment. To release guilt and shame. To honor the journey. And to respect ourselves.
Invite a close friend or family member to listen, one who can do so with compassion and without judgment. Write it down if you prefer to journal or keep the details to yourself. Or speak it into an audio app to get the words out. Whatever you do, find your voice! Share the good parts, the hard parts, and everything in between. Sometimes liberating our painful stories can invite true joy.
(Ditto for all of life’s stories, not just the birth ones.)
But a strictly verbal approach is typically insufficient to plumb the deepest levels. Learning and applying self-care practices, like deep breathing, yoga, meditation, massage, and consistent daily routines, can guide the recovery and reintegration process. In some cases, consulting a practitioner trained in a specific modality, like emotional freedom techniques (EFT) (as I am), deep-level healing (as Erin is), or another evidence-based therapy, may be instrumental.
Just as the food you eat day in and day out helps shape your physical fitness, so too your typical thought diet largely dictates how you perceive and experience the world and determines your mental-emotional resilience.
This is a huge topic, beyond the scope of this introductory post. But the first step is awareness. Are undigested thoughts, feelings, and emotions keeping you stuck and bloated? Can you start to proactively cleanse and nourish the mind, giving it the healing sustenance it craves?
We’ll be taking a deeper dive into mental-emotional health later this spring. We’ll also be devoting part two of our New Mom Success Series specifically to this topic. We have a proprietary framework to help women prepare for the unique mental-emotional challenges of new motherhood.
Can’t wait? Book your personal strategy session today to see how we can help you uncover mental-emotional blocks that may be interfering with your recovery and preventing you from fully embracing your new role.
Nota bene: Restoring true vitality is much more than the simplistic either-or proposition implied here. Health isn’t a binary function dependent solely on two variables—nutritional inputs and mental-emotional state. So many other factors may be at play. That’s why we at P2P take a whole-person approach to wellness, considering interrelated body systems, exogenous chemicals and organisms, lifestyle choices, social support, and spiritual well-being. Learn more.
There you have it: Myth #7 in “Why common nutrition advice for new moms is all wrong (and what to do instead).”
But don’t stop with knowledge—take action.
If relevant, apply this tip now, for yourself and your family.
How can you ensure mom gets not only good nutrition but also mental and emotional support in the first six weeks after birth?
Share what you learn with someone you know. Even if this tip doesn’t apply to you right now, it can likely benefit someone in your midst.
Did a friend just have a baby? Yes, bring her a meal but also, if she wishes, give her a chance to share her birth story—and let her know why: because digesting the thoughts, feelings, and emotions of birth and new motherhood are just as critical as the physical digestion of warm, nourishing food.
Make sure she jumps on the bandwagon so she doesn’t fall into the trap of neglecting her mental-emotional health—or any of the other myths we’ve been unveiling in this series.
Let your voice be heard. What’s your take on Myth #7? Do you agree, or disagree? What’s your experience nourishing mental-emotional health after birth?
Bring your comments, questions, insights, and objections to the Preparing to Parent community. We want to hear from you!
Stay tuned for part two in our New Mom Success Series. Until then, together we are “Preparing to Parent: Growing Families with Purpose…on Purpose.”
Stacy Claxton, a Functional Diagnostic Nutrition® Practitioner, Ayurvedic Health Practitioner and Educator, and Perinatal Specialist, is one half of the dynamic duo behind Preparing to Parent, where she and her identical twin, Erin, are “growing families with purpose…on purpose.” This passionate sister pair loves caring for the tender and vulnerable bodies, minds, and souls of new beings and new moms and wielding words with impact on their holistic health blog. Join their family for free recipes and more.