Mainlining Oxytocin

As of last week, I thought I had learned as much as I could about the hormone Oxytocin. I was pretty certain I understood it from a physiologic perspective, from a sociologic perspective, as well as psychologic - kind of why we do the things we do perspective. I was wrong.

The lessons in Oxytocin come from midwifery and medical texts, teachers like Penny Simkin, Simon Sinek, Brené Brown, and many many more. But last week, I learned one thing about this incredible hormone that rocked my world.

Oxytocin helps your heal your heart from stress induced damage.

This is pretty cool! This enlightenment comes from the research of Kelly McGonigal, PhD. 

What you (might) know about Oxytocin:

  • It's the love hormone
  • It releases during orgasm, breastfeeding, right after childbirth 
  • In a chemical form, oxytocin is also known as Pitocin
  • The release of oxytocin promotes human bonding and connection
  • It's a neurohormone

Here's what you might not know about Oxytocin, and is new understanding to me. Oxytocin:

  • Fine tunes our brains social instincts
  • Its release makes you crave physical contact with your friends and family
  • Primes you to do things that strengthen close relationships 
  • Enhances your empathy
  • Is a stress hormone that is pumped out by your pituitary gland, and it is as much of a stress hormone as Adrenaline!

Now we need to talk about your heart. Think about your heart and what it does when you get stressed. What does it feel like in your body? 

Physiologically, what's going on in a normal stress response is that your blood pressure goes up and your heart vessels constrict, which reduces delivery of oxygen to the brain. To stay in this constricted mode all the time, with normal stress responses, is not healthy. 

When it comes to your heart, Oxytocin: 

  • Is made to protect your cardiovascular system from the responses of stress
  • Is a natural anti-inflammatory
  • Helps blood vessels to stay relaxed during stress
  • Helps regenerate heart cells and heal the heart from stress induced damage (I love this!)

Next is the coolest information of all, and applies to you. When oxytocin is released, it's motivating you to seek support. So, when you're stressed, oxytocin wants you to be surrounded by people who care about you. If you reach out during times of stress either to seek support or give support, you release more oxytocin. Then your stress response becomes healthier and you in turn rebound and recover from stress faster. 

This week, I have a challenge for you. I want you to reflect on these questions:

  1. How do you view stress? Good or bad? Productive or destructive?
  2. What are your normal stress responses?
  3. Do you seek support when you're stressed? If so, what motivates you?
  4. What if I told you to change your beliefs about stress and view it as helpful? For instance, believing in a stressful moment that your beating heart is preparing you for action, your brain is getting more oxygen when you start breathing faster, and the release of oxytocin will help heal your heart during stressful times - would you change your beliefs about stress for a week?

Talk to me in the comments, I'm totally curious! 

This information is big! After learning about all the damage stress has on our bodies for many years, I have a new sense of wonder and how to help women leave that flight or fight state and get you into your heart living long, healthy lives. Lives where stress can be healthy and productive!

Have a cool weekend! Find some wonder. 

XO,Rebecca

 

Your thyroid is like your COO

busy is a choice. stress is a choice. joy is a choice.
choose well.

Normally, in modern health care, someone wouldn’t choose to use this quote to start talking about the thyroid. But I am not normal. I think differently. The thyroid is a gland I’m totally in love with for a myriad of reasons, many physiologic and some metaphysical. 

I became most obsessed when I realized how many women suffer from thyroiditis of some kind, but thought it was postpartum depression in the first year postpartum. This obsession lead me to my thesis that it needs to be common practice for women to have a full thyroid panel completed in that first year postpartum. If diagnosed, she deserves care and a conversation about thyroid health that fits and supports her lifestyle. Before I go further, watch this little video and learn about your thyroid:

My favorite quote, “Your thyroid is like your COO.”

We all know how important it is to have a Chief Operating Officer overseeing the health of a thriving business. So, if your thyroid delegates and spreads little hormones throughout your body that manage and maintain your metabolism, why wouldn’t you want to know about it’s overall health and function? We (the providers) get a full picture of your thyroid health when we run a full thyroid panel. Just knowing your TSH isn’t enough information. 

I’ve dabbled with hypothyroidism. A few years ago, my system was significantly compromised from sleep deprivation, diet, an extremely stressful job, not enough exercise, and a recent big move. Lots of cortisol in my life and I’m pretty tuned into my body, so I knew something was off. Since I worked in a clinic, I did a full thyroid panel to try to rule out thyroiditis of any kind. Once I read my lab results, I was bummed. My numbers were up, and I was in full swing sub-clinical bullshit. 

Over the next week, I consulted with five different medical providers. The advice I stuck with was from my athletic MD back in Montana who managed her overworked thyroid without medication. She said, “Rebecca, do less of what is stressing you out and do more things that bring you joy. Exercise and eat better. Relax more. Consider acupuncture. You know how to take really good care of yourself, but don’t medicate unless you really have to.” Per my physicians advice, I didn’t medicate.

But, I did give my overall health and spiritual health the major overhaul it needed to get back to feeling good. You will not have the same story as me, especially if you have or might have Hashimoto's Thyroiditis. That's legit and you will need support. We'll talk more about Hashimoto's in the future.  

For some, medication is the answer. For others, it is not. Whatever you choose, know how your thyroid is functioning for your overall health. If you have not had your thyroid checked recently, now is the time.

Oh btw, LMH has a great card that explains the difference postpartum thyroiditis and postpartum anxiety. Oddly, the signs and symptoms are very similar. Download the app if you're curious what's happening to your body, or feel free to ask questions here!  

Remember, busy is a choice. Stress is a choice. Choose well.
XO,
R

A Little Love from The Mother Love

Take a leap, it’s the first step in falling in love - with yourself, a new job, your love again, anything that you “begin again.” 

If you’re afraid to tell your story, because shame surrounds your expression or story - find someone who makes you feel safe and tell them your story.  

If you feel alienated and only like you can share your beautiful self - jump in and show us the messy side of you, we will catch you. 

We’re missing out on something, Mother Lovers, when we hide our true stories. I’m learning this every day, as I continue to project myself further into the world after being buried deep in the mountains of Montana, Colorado and Oregon for most of my 20's and 30's. It was easy to hide and see it as enough, but something pulled me to reach further and grow.  

If there’s one action you’ll take this week, it’s to show up and show yourself to the world in a brave and courageous way. That you'll do the work, in whatever way is right for you, that helps you quiet the noise in your head and release some of the overwhelm.  

Taking action and showing up for yourself leads you down a trail of deeper confidence, one you'll teach kids to hold in their own lives. It's always a good thing to be a courageous woman, children will thank you when they're adults - no matter what issues come up for them (or you) in life. They will have a tool kit that they use, because you taught them well. 

Give yourself some good love this weekend. We are here to catch you.  

XO, 
Rebecca

The Physiology of Postpartum Sex

Let me introduce to Sara Reardon, aka @the.vagina.whisperer on Insta, one of our researchers and contributors. Our mutual friend, Jessica Shortall, introduced us over the summer because of our upcoming deck for LMH on the pelvic floor. It was love at first phone call. 

Sara is writing a three-week series on postpartum physical therapy that you can relate to and apply easily to your life, experiential learning at its finest. This week is on sex and your body after childbirth. 

We want to hear from you in the comments. What was your experience like when it came to having sex after having your baby? What is not listed here that affected your intimacy after pregnancy and delivery? We're curious and love you.

Enjoy this mini-series!
XO,
R + S


“When can I start having sex again?” This is one of the most common questions after having a baby, only second to “When can I start working out?” There are a few things we want to get back to make us feel like normal human beings after having a baby, and being intimate and having sex with our partner is one of them.

Most women wait until after their 6-week physician check up to get the okay to return to intercourse. Some women may want to start having sex sooner than that, but I highly encourage you to let your body heal during that time.

You want to make sure vaginal bleeding has stopped and any scar tissue from an episiotomy or tear has healed. More severe tears or scars can take up to 6-12 months to heal. So be patient with your body and don’t push through any pain.

Learning how to perform gentle scar massage on the area starting 6 weeks after your delivery can help soften the tissue and promote faster healing. You can consult a pelvic physical therapist for advice.

Even if you did not have a vaginal delivery, C section scars can often be the culprit of painful intercourse. The vaginal muscles have decreased blood flow and may get too tense causing pain with sex. Seeing a pelvic physical therapist who can perform external scar massage and internal massage to the vaginal muscles can help improve blood flow. Using vaginal dilators (they looks like tampons of different sizes) can also help retrain the vaginal wall muscles to relax and promote blood flow to the area to help decrease pain.

Pain can also occur during sex because your vagina feels dry, like really dry. Like Sahara desert dry. Estrogen levels may not have returned to normal yet, especially if you are nursing or pumping, causing vaginal tissue to be thin, dry, and even prone to tearing. Use a water-soluble lubricant or natural oil like coconut oil (and lots of it!) during intercourse to help decrease friction. Staying super hydrated and performing gentle kegel exercises to help promote blood flow to the area can also help.

After pregnancy, labor, childbirth, and possibly nursing, our bodies (vaginas in particular) are often just not the same afterwards. Whether it is leaky boobs, saggy skin, stretch marks, weight gain, or a more relaxed vagina, body image issues are legit. You may never get to the point of viewing your new body as a badge of honor of motherhood, but take some time to allow it to recover and to accept some of the changes in this new season of life. Talking to other moms, staying active, and returning to a regular exercise routine can to help the process.

Lastly, you may have nooooo sex drive. You are exhausted, irritable, emotional, and in desperate need of a shower. "Doing your partner" is low on the list of priorities. Don’t push yourself to do something you don’t feel ready for, but do try taking small steps to stay connected with your partner. A frequent complaint from new moms is they often feel lonely and less connected to their partners. Being intimate is a great way to connect and can just entail having outercourse. 

The takeaway here is to be patient with yourself and your body as it heals.

You should return to sex at the pace that is comfortable for you. AND, painful intercourse is not normal! Talk to your doc and request to see a pelvic physical therapist who can help guide you on the path to pain-free and enjoyable sex.  

More next week!

Help Heal Postpartum Anxiety with Food

photo @elizarlopez

photo @elizarlopez

"Food is medicine." 

Hippocrates said this hundreds of years ago and it’s as true today as it was then.

As an acupuncturist, I feel lucky that I get to put this saying into practice every day with my patients. One patient might be prescribed cabbage, brussel sprouts, and lemon juice to help move their liver energy while another patient might be prescribed some cinnamon, fennel, and star anise spices to help boost their digestive fire. Who doesn’t love it when their medicine is as tasty as a hot cup of chai tea? (Or spiced pumpkin soy latte if that’s more your jam.)

Today, I want to share with you how to use food to help support the symptoms of postpartum anxiety and depression.

In Chinese medicine, we consider postpartum emotional disorders to be mainly caused by something we call blood deficiency. Sounds scary, right? Well, it’s really common and not as scary as it sounds. An added plus is that it responds really well to food as a type of therapy.

See, during pregnancy your blood volume almost doubles in order to support your growing fetus. Your hair grows long and gets thick, your nails get strong, and you might even find that previously bothersome symptoms like headaches or dizziness disappear. In Chinese medicine, these effects are all due to the abundance of blood flowing through your veins. We consider blood to be a more condensed version of Qi (life force of the body). So when you’re pregnant, your body is literally overflowing with extra Qi and blood.

But that excess amount of Qi and blood quickly diminishes after childbirth.

Blood loss is common during labor and immediately your body starts using the remaining qi and blood to produce milk for the baby. Breastfeeding creates a constant need for blood support for the mother.

One of the best ways to tonify and build up blood is through what we eat.

Food therapy has long been a part of postpartum care in Chinese medicine. Today I’m sharing with you the foods I recommend to my own patients who are new mamas. Enjoy!

Foods that can help rebuild your blood after giving birth:

  • Grains like barley, oats, and rice
  • Vegetables like sweet potatoes, beets, alfalfa sprouts, dark leafy greens, kelp, and mushrooms
  • Fruits like figs, grapes, and longan berries
  • All red meats, especially liver and bone marrow
  • Eggs, especially the yolks
  • Other dark, rich, foods like molasses

Some great meal ideas:

  • Crispy sweet potato hash topped with scrambled eggs
  • Steaming bowl of cinnamon raisin steel-cut oatmeal
  • Warm nourishing soup made with bone broth and lots of dark leafy greens (Replace the bone broth with a vegetable and seaweed broth if you’re vegetarian or vegan.)
  • Slow-cooker pot roast with root vegetables and sauteed mushrooms
  • Homemade ginger snap cookies made with molasses

One of my favorite postpartum blood tonifying recipes comes in the form of a caffeine-free tea. This herbal combination includes mineral rich and chlorophyll full plants to boost hemoglobin production. Many of the herbs are also galactagogues and can help encourage your milk supply.

Blood Tonifying Tea:
2 parts dried red raspberry leaf
1 part dried nettle leaf
1 part dried alfalfa leaf
A pinch of dried rosehips

Mix together a big batch of these dried herbs so you can make this tea as needed. I often suggest my patients make a big pot of this every morning to sip throughout the day. This is delicious when made hot on a cold winter day, or when cold-brewed in the fridge in the summertime.

Amy Kuretsky, L.Ac is a licensed acupuncturist, herbalist, and health coach living and wokring in Minneapolis, MN. From living with both Crohn’s disease and anxiety, she’s passionate about treating women’s digestive and emotional health. You can find her on IG @amykurtestky. 

Hot Topic: The V(accination) Word

 

Like most new parents, we read everything we could.  We were voracious.   

I had a waterbirth, I nursed (not a drop of formula touched my sons lips). I grew my own food. When it came to vaccinations, Jon and I were uncertain. The research was confusing, and while the medical community was generally unwavering about vaccination, many people were doing delayed schedules, where you didn’t give more than one on a given day.  A supposed intention not to overwhelm the baby’s system.  

That seemed reasonable…appropriate…safe. 

Even though some research suggested some vaccinations were related to Autism, we didn’t think it was plausible. At that time, before revelations discredited research, there were so many weird and loosely scientific theories about Autism. As a Clinical Psychologist, I was surrounded by families doing all kinds of things to prevent or reverse or avoid it; treatments like chelation, dietary changes. I wont list them all.  

The point is this: we were not crazy.  

We felt like balanced, normal, modern, (now) middle-aged american adults. We felt aware and conscientious, and like many parents were finding our footing. We were blasted like cannons into parenthood and we took it on with passion and seriousness and so, we chose a delayed schedule. We discussed this with our Pediatrician and made that choice. 

All was well until the end of January 2007, when Winslow was 1½. We had just returned from a blissful trip to Hawaii where he frolicked naked on the beach, and from my cousins beautiful wedding in New York where we all got rotavirus and gave it to the whole wedding party (I don’t feel so bad anymore, they’re divorced now). Then, in Mid-January, while Jon was at a medical school interview in Iowa, Winslow came down with a fever. I called the doctor numerous times over that 24 hours – he was listless and febrile. “Wait,” she said. Wait. 

By the time Jon came home, I was more worried. Shortly after, Winslow began vomiting every ten minutes on the clock. A quick visit to our pediatrician confirmed this was more than a routine illness. By the time we got to the hospital, he was limp and a spinal tap showed Pneumococcal Meningitis. Following the initial work-up, in the throws of concern and fear, our Pediatrician, after reviewing our records, confirmed we had not yet received the Pneumococcal vaccine. 

I dropped to my knees. The aching pit of sorrow-filled recognition that opened-up within us…that this may have been preventable - was overwhelming. I remember screaming, “We are not hippies! I don’t understand.”   

Winslow was hospitalized for two weeks. There were many days of second-guessing and rationalizing our choices. In between the worry, the visits from friends and family, the many hours of staring at him and not being able to help his body stave off this infection, we researched this new threat (and more importantly, understanding the role our choices played in this drama).   

Not every strain is covered by the vaccine. Maybe the strain of bacteria wouldn’t have been covered anyway. Maybe it wouldn’t have mattered…Maybe we would feel less guilty if we knew that piece, if we knew that it was more random than it was appearing. 

We almost lost him. In fact, we began to accept that we had been lucky to have 15 months with him and tried to find grace and gratefulness. Winslow survived. He has hearing loss, and that has been its own amazing cool journey and a story for another day. We never followed up with our Pediatrician to determine the microbiology. That seemed like an excuse.  

But then there is this, “ANTI-VAXXERS ARE CRAZY!” And that statement? It makes my heart beat fast.

There is so much grey in life. So many opportunities to feel guilt, second-guess, and in hind-sight recognize a different choice would have been “better.” And the child that gets vaccinated, may, later on suffer from some other of life’s unknowns: the accident, the trauma, the shooting, the abuse, the other infections and cancers and unknowns that most of us believe will never happen to them. There are striking, and complicated arguments to be made for our communal and global well-being through vaccination. But it will likely continue to be a parent’s prerogative. Jon and I do not believe that parent’s would knowingly harm their children. We have some faith we all do the best we can, and make the choices we do based on the experience we have and the people we know.  

The vast majority of new parents are trying to do their BEST. Maybe they have not all read the studies in medical journals and analyzed and critiqued the arguments (have you? Be honest.). But my default is to not write them off as crazy. There are always extremes, and often, they become powerful voices to shift the center toward something better than the status quo. But calling the extremes, “Crazy,” is counterproductive. It serves no good to have write off the many smart, wonderful people that get lumped in with, “crazy.” You are polarizing further a community who feels they are doing their best. You are making it harder to communicate…To understand…To discuss. 

Did we vaccinate our daughter? Yes.  Do I think people who don’t vaccinate are stupid? Crazy? No.  Do I want you to vaccinate? I wouldn’t dictate my beliefs on anyone. That choice IS up to you, for now. But I am happy to have a conversation about it. 

Meredith Larrabee is the mother of two children, one dog, 5 fish, one hamster and a Guinea Pig. She is a Clinical Psychologist in private practice in Asheville, North Carolina; and is married to an OB-Gyn who "caught" his own children at a birth center before serving women.

What does Resilience teach us?

On Jan. 3rd, Seth Godin wrote a post on resilience the same morning I woke up thinking about my own personal levels of resilience. As I was in the heart of my intention setting, wish making and nearing my last day of my 37th year, I was quite grateful for his post and definition of resilience. So, I took the opportunity to write him a thank you note. Later that night, he wrote back. It made me glow. 

Seth defines resilience as, "The best strategy for those realistic enough to admit that they can't predict the future with more accuracy than others. Resilience isn't a bet on one outcome, instead, it's an investment across a range of possible outcomes, a way to ensure that regardless of what actually occurs (within the range), you'll do fine." He says a path of resilience is a powerful path, and that we undermine how powerful long-term resilience can be. I concur. 

My posts in January have all followed the theme of coming "home." We come home physically, emotionally, intellectually and spiritually in a variety of forms each day. Coming "home" has always been very important to me.  

For example, when my daddy passed away five years ago, it took everything I had to rebuild my way of being on this planet - in love, career, life, travel, family, friendships and community. It rocked my world. There were days when I didn't know if I would ever see light or allow myself to live in the light and soul that I am living in today. How could I know? I had never helped a parent die or been so intimately involved in death prior to that time period in my life. 

Coming home felt physical and spiritually impossible, however some how I got myself back on my feet, got deep and dirty with my concept of coming "home" and built up my resilience. It's like training for a big race, or building up Oxytocin...it takes time. 

Resilience to me:

  • challenging the status quo
  • medicinal
  • the ability to think innovative about health and improvement of the system that takes care of you
  • grounded
  • long-term
  • community
  • family
  • security
  • love
  • growth
  • spiritual
  • connected
  • life in whole

That's a lot, but it helps you start looking at resilience from the inside (the heart, soul, health of humans), out (how this rubs off onto and helps our families and communities thrive for a long time).  

When you choose a path of resilience, you learn to play and feel connected. You discover parts of yourself that you thought were going to lay dormant for years. Because right now, you spend a lot of time making sure everyone else gets their needs met and their pleasures tickled. But what about you? What are you doing to build your resilience up? Are you playing too? 

Zolli, in his book Resilience, beautifully points out that resilience is rooted in community and groups where we live and work and play. When forming these relationships, we innately dive into the two key tenets of trust and cooperation. The two tenets that helped you fall in love, meet your best friends, grow in your career and ultimately believe in yourself as you became a mom. So let's bring the inside of resilience out onto the table, let's get scrappy and a bit messy with it. I believe that is what it's going to take for many moms that come here and read weekly. 

In the comments, I want you to explore resilience in your life. Begin by asking yourself this question: What is resilience really about for me? Hold your heart and dive deep. 

Love you strong!

 

 

Wkndr

carson ellis poster for le oui

carson ellis poster for le oui

In cased you missed...

Jake making great signs. 

6-year old girls less likely than boys to attribute smarts to their own gender. 

Anti-abortion march happening today in DC, this is the 44th march.

The case against empathy.

A new movie to see, soon.

The shape-shifting army inside your cells..this is sciency and cool!

In case you wondered "WWSD" (that's Steve Jobs).

Sally came out with her new book this week on work and women. #spiritguide

Freaks about healthy guts and healthy bodies over here.

American child care is expensive, and unreliable. Kids and parents are paying a steep price.

Needing to understand Mike Pence more? We were...

Turned this up this week. 

Who is raising this boy? Love him.

The Netherlands had a message for the US.

Because. Why not!? 

Sippers.

This for sure or that mmm yes! Way into the Vit C and D right now. 

Ok, love hard this weekend. Every minute of it.
XO