S1 E23: The Postpartum Journey with Kim Perez


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Amanda: Hey, this is Amanda, women’s health dietitian.
Emily: And I’m Emily, nutritional therapy practitioner.
Amanda: And this is the Are You Menstrual? podcast where we help you navigate the confusing world of women’s hormones and teach you how to have healthy periods.
Emily: Each week we will be diving into a different topic on women’s health and sharing our perspective using nutrition, female physiology, and metabolic health.
Amanda: Our goal is to help you wade through conflicting health information and empower you on your healing journey.
Emily: We hope you enjoy it.

Amanda: In this episode, we’re discussing the postpartum journey and how you can support your body during this time with Kim Perez. Kim is a functional nutritionist supporting women through the transition into motherhood and beyond. Her own health journey, especially the struggles she experienced postpartum, have catalyzed her mission to help other mamas regain vibrant health after having babies and feel happy and at home in their bodies. Through her signature method, Kim helps women uncover root causes of depletion and imbalance and learn to fully nourish and strengthen their bodies, especially in the face of the demands of motherhood. Through her one-on-one work, group programs, and online education, she carries out her mission of helping more moms feel good, because not only are we worthy of that, but we all truly require it.

If you’re wanting to learn more about the preconception and prenatal stuff, we did that in the previous two episodes. I’m super excited to be with Kim today. We actually used to have a podcast together and we had this whole life balanced babes method that we created. So I feel like this is, like, you know, bringing me back to the days we used to record.

Kim: Thanks so much for having me, Amanda, I’m so excited.

Amanda: So let’s start with your specific like hormone healing journey. And what kind of brought you to not only women’s health, but I’m very interested in why you decided to pivot a little bit and support women in that transition to motherhood.

Kim: It’s been a roller coaster. It started very early on. Like many women, I had super erratic periods, and they were insanely painful. And nobody ever gave me any support for that other than birth control, which, like, I fought for a little while, but I finally gave into it because that was the solution that was offered to me. And obviously it didn’t fix anything. While I was on the pill, I started having really intense anxiety, my digestive issues that I’d struggled with, you know, on and off since childhood just intensified. And I was, like, I had this lightbulb moment where I’m, like, I’m putting these fake hormones in my body, essentially, I’m not fixing anything. And I had this deep fear in me, like, when I go off this, what’s gonna happen—it’s all just gonna come back. And I knew that I wanted to have a family one day. And so I just had to, like, take matters into my own hands. And really, you know, I dove into learning about nutrition and learning about how all of my habits were impacting on my body.

And, you know, I really was in a great place where I was coasting for a while or so I thought. And then I got pregnant and had a fairly enjoyable experience. It wasn’t anything too intense, I felt pretty good, but postpartum rocked my world. And I just realized that, A, I realized, man, we’re doing postpartum wrong in our society, and we’re not fully preparing women. And then I also realized, like, I really, really was intentional about my health, I was really intentional about planning for postpartum, and if this hit me this hard, this has to be happening to other women. And I just realized there was a major gap. And so I did make that pivot, because I just feel that one of my biggest frustrations with women’s health nutrition in general is that we’re not taught enough about our bodies and what to expect.

And I think that that is so true for postpartum. And I think there’s more information coming out. And I think there’s a big focus, obviously, on pregnancy, but then you have the baby and it’s like, what happens? Now it’s all about the baby. And I think that we really need to change that narrative and support moms, because in reality, like, the family unit, it’s not going to be healthy if mom isn’t healthy, if mom isn’t happy and nourished and fulfilled. And so that was a big catalyst for my kind of pivot into supporting women postpartum.

Amanda: You were always like very open with sharing about, you know, how you had like somewhat irregular cycles and that was like crazy, and the pill and everything. But you’ve been very open and transparent about your postpartum journey, I would even say like pregnancy, too. You have a lot of great posts on like body image within pregnancy and like after, so if anyone’s struggling with that, like, definitely check out Kim’s Instagram @rootandbranchnutrition.

I think the biggest thing is this postpartum period. So when I was planning this whole series of like preconception, prenatal, postpartum, one, I feel like we could probably do like a million episodes. And, two, like, you’re the first person I thought of, because you’ve shared those struggles. And think about it, like, you are a nutritionist and you work in this world. This is like your whole life and you did a bunch of research. I remember when you were pregnant, it’s like a lot of focus shifted even, like, before when you guys were, like, planning on getting pregnant. And it’s like, if that kind of a person can’t, you know, I don’t want to say, like, thrive through postpartum, but if you are feeling like you’re just kind of surviving and having a really hard time, it’s…you’re totally right. It’s like, what is the general person supposed to feel like?

And I think it’s really cool, because I was even talking to Maria and Kristin from Wise and Well on our menopause episode about how it’s so great that, you know, we’re talking about our cycles now. Like, women have a better understanding, which I think is so important. I think that is what is kind of getting women to this place where it’s, like, okay, like, I kind of understand my cycle. I know how to track my ovulation, hopefully. And they’re kind of on this journey, they know how to prepare their bodies for pregnancy. But again, it’s kind of like, what do I expect postpartum? You know, like, what’s kind of happening? Like, what are the shifts that are happening in my body? Because I’m like, think about it, you’re growing a human for nine months, you know, that’s a lot of work on your body. And then labor is so intense, and it’s like, basically like running a marathon.

What do you think are some of the biggest areas of depletion that women are dealing with that could be impacting them during that postpartum time period?

Kim: I love that the term postpartum depletion is getting, like, you know, more focus, because it’s such a real thing. But I think that there are, like you said, there’s so many different areas that we can be depleted. And I know, there’s a huge nutrition piece of things, right. Like growing a baby, it takes nutrition, it takes nutrients from our bodies, essentially, to give to our babies. And I don’t, I think that there’s more focus, again, on prenatal nutrition, but not enough. It’s just not this like deep nourishment that we need. And women come to postpartum and they’re lacking key nutrients, their minerals are out of balance. And so there’s a big piece of that. Obviously, the physical exertion of labor and like the physical recovery is so nutrient demanding for moms after having babies. Sleep, all that, we know those things, like, you’re not going to be sleeping so great, especially early on.

The one thing I think, that I didn’t fully consider, and I think a lot of moms don’t fully consider is the stress piece of things. And I think it’s this image that we have of moms doing it all. And moms, you know, you’re just kind of pushing through, and yeah, you’re not gonna sleep. But that’s okay, you can still hit the gym and, like, all this stuff, right. And I want there to be more focus on the stress side of things, because every mom is going to go through some very different scenario and have a unique experience of her own. There’s just such a widespread amount of different stresses that can impact you postpartum, but even prior. And so something that I like to get across for women is that yes, postpartum depletion is a real thing, for sure, but it’s not just postpartum. It’s like, kind of look back. And were the roots of that potentially set prior to pregnancy, and the stressors in your life, and the history of dieting and food restriction and whatnot, that could bring you to that place where now it’s just that much more intense.

Amanda: And you know, maybe that’s why it is more intense for some people, because they’re entering pregnancy in a more depleted state. Or like maybe they have that history of like really restrictive eating, but I just know so many women that have had health issues for a long time. And so you know, they’ve, they’ve eliminated x, y, and z, and they’ve tried to figure stuff out. Maybe they’ve done, like, food sensitivity testing, they’re already only eating a limited number of foods, and then you’re pregnant. And it’s like, I mean, truly, your, you should really be preparing your body for pregnancy so that, you know, it’s not as big of a demand. But we lose, you know, about 10% of our minerals during pregnancy. So of course, there’s going to be depletions there.

When you say stress and like wanting that to be a big focus, what are some of the key nutrients that are going to be depleted with that stress that you’re experiencing postpartum?

Kim: Yeah, so obviously the first one’s gonna be magnesium. We know that’s, like, burned through first, but then we have our electrolytes—we have our sodium and potassium, so key for our adrenal function. And I know for myself, and you saw my HTMA, like, my sodium and potassium were plummeted, and because of, like, that burnout that kind of…and I also think, like, a lot of women are going through that where they’re in that fight or flight for so long and then they kind of crashed postpartum. And that was totally what happened with me, and then if you throw history of dieting in there, if you’ve been on low carb diets, if you’ve been avoiding quality animal proteins and saturated fats, you know, your, your vitamin A or retinol. So, yeah, those were some of the key ones. I know that was very true for myself, but I’ve seen it on a lot of women that I’m working with now. And lots of copper and iron dysregulation too.

Amanda: I think the postpartum probably, like, I mean, most people do their hair tests like around three to six months postpartum, I would say, that I work with. But I have a lot of women that test in the third trimester as well just to kind of see what’s going on or even like blood work to go along with that. And vitamin A is always low, like, it’s always low. And these are women that are eating beef liver, they’re supplementing beef liver, a lot of them then need to start taking cod liver oil. But yeah, it’s, it’s pretty interesting how vitamin A, you get so depleted.

Kim: So I really stumbled into so much, like, unlearning, and relearning postpartum, that I, you know, can’t beat myself up. Like, I wish that there were things that I’d learned before. And I kind of took a look back at, like, all the popular prenatals and like, even the very mainstream pregnancy recommendations. And we know that like vitamin A, you’re not getting preformed vitamin A in your prenatal, or at least enough of it. And you’re really, you know, you’re pushed to not consume vitamin A at risk of toxicity, right? Like, that’s a big nutrient that they focus on, like don’t eat too much vitamin A, and the focus is obviously not on the right things, right. And so there’s that side. And then also, like, I found some studies more recently about cultures that eat a ton of liver, like you said, and eat a lot of these vitamin A-rich foods and are still depleted because of the way that pregnancy transfers those nutrients to the baby. It’s really, really, really interesting. And I also find it so interesting, like, the foods that were rich in vitamin A are the things that I craved during pregnancy, like uncontrollably craved during pregnancy. And yeah, so I think that’s got a lot to do with that mainstream advice and information around what we should and should not be eating when we’re pregnant.

Amanda: Even though it’s when we look at the studies, and so many people have debunked this, Weston A. Price, even Lily Nichols in her “Real Food for Pregnancy” book, the dietitian, she talks about how all the studies with vitamin A and birth defects are synthetic vitamin A—it’s not the same as the vitamin A that you get from beef liver or cod liver oil or something like that. So yeah, that’s like a very big one that I see. And then when that vitamin A goes down, what I tend to see is, like, either excess iron, but usually like excess copper, in that postpartum period. And that’s when, you know, that can lead to excess estrogen. And a lot of the times it’s just like mental, emotional turmoil when copper is really high, because it can get stored in the brain. So it’s just interesting.

And it’s kind of, like, if we really understood what was happening in the body, because we’re still learning all this stuff, which blows my mind. I was reading the other day, how we’re still learning about how babies develop in utero. I’m like, wait, wait, we haven’t figured this out yet? This is crazy. And same thing with, I think about, like, pregnant women, like your needs absolutely change first, second, and third trimester. But we don’t talk about that, right? Even that, like, we’re just, like, given blanket statements. And I understand the need for blanket statements to keep things simple, and to like reach more people. But it’s, I feel like, in my opinion, third trimester vitamin A is such an issue. And then because so many women are afraid of it, that gives them postpartum issues because of copper imbalances.

Kim: One hundred percent. And I always think, like, if men were having babies, we would have figured this stuff out a long time ago. It’s so funny how it’s just, like, pushed aside, but you’re right, and it’s just this, like, oh, just take this prenatal and just eat whatever you want. You’re eating for two. And I love…and I found that to be so interesting postpartum, like, postpartum depression and postpartum mental health issues. There is like very blanketed statements around those and it’s more so like women thinking, like, oh, just because I had a baby, I’m, you know, biochemically, this is going to happen with how understanding like the nutrient components of things. And if I did like a quick Google search on copper, like high copper, or copper toxicity and mental health, I was like, oh man, I check off all these boxes. It wasn’t that I was copper toxic, necessarily. It was because of the way that you know, all my nutrients in my body wasn’t processing that and it was unbound. And, like, how was nobody recognizing this in the postpartum, you know, health space that nutrients matter for our mental health, not just our physical health?

Amanda: I know, and there is that one OBGYN that does talk about it. I think I sent you her YouTube video. I’ll link it in the show notes. But she, I mean, I don’t love the term copper toxicity. I think that that’s not the case, right? It’s not that we have too much copper, it’s that our body’s not using it, because we need vitamin A in order for it to use it. But we’re using all that vitamin A to make more red blood cells, right, because your, your blood volume is doubling. And so, and then of course, you know, third trimester, you’re giving baby all that copper. So it’s like a huge copper download to their liver that’s gonna require vitamin A. So I think it’s this like combination of, like, deficiency but then also like a lack of knowledge. And then it’s hard because some women will take medication for anxiety, I see that a lot postpartum, which I think is totally fine—take what is going to help get you through this season of your life. But then they often suffer unwanted symptoms when they’re on it, when they come off. And it’s like, then this already challenging time in their life of postpartum, especially if you’re a new mom, and you’ve never done this before, it just gets even harder and harder.

So I totally agree that, that mental, emotional health aspect is huge. And that’s going to affect your stress and your minerals, too. So a lot of this idea is like, yes, we have postpartum depletion, but we also, a lot of us are entering pregnancy in a depleted state, whether that be like mentally, emotionally, nutritionally, even like calorie energy wise, like, metabolic state, you know. How is that? How is your body utilizing energy? A lot of us are already entering in that state. So that’s what you’re saying is, like, even a, probably a bigger contributor to that postpartum depletion?

Kim: Absolutely. Because if you look back historically and in traditional cultures, like this is not, this is not as big of an issue. I mean, it’s, sure exacerbated by like modern life. But you know, also thinking back, like, I’m thinking back to my mom who was pregnant with me in the era of like, low fat diets and, like, so it’s, it is more of a modern issue, because so many things are compounded now and so much more widespread. Like we’re all hustling, dieting, restriction, use of hormonal birth control, and things like that, that are already depleting us, and it just fuels that fire.

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Amanda: It’s interesting, too, because, you know, like Weston A. Price, they’re really big on, like, your current health and nutrition status is going to impact your baby’s baby, like, their nutritional status. And you can see it, like, they have a lot of cool pictures on their website of, like, how you can actually correct those deficiencies. And then you can see in their facial structures and everything. Some of this stuff is out of our control, like, you can’t control how your mom ate, and that there was, like, a low-fat fad during that time, you know, it’s, like, it is what it is. But I just think a lot of this is, like, powerful. And if you are someone that entered pregnancy depleted, you don’t know to do better until you learn. So it’s like you can’t beat yourself up. It’s just more of like learning this stuff now, so that in the future, if you ever needed it again you can apply it. But speaking of that, like, what are some helpful ways that moms can prepare for the postpartum time period both, like, nutritionally, mental health, stress, all that stuff?

Kim: I think that one of the best things to start with, and I do this a lot with women in my practice is just, like, creating a game plan. What is your perceived timeline of things? Obviously, postpartum is going to throw wrenches into it, but like what is your general plan for what you hope to be doing to support yourself. What healing supports you’re going to need, having conversations with your partner about who’s going back to work when, things like that, who’s going to help with childcare, just that open communication, setting up your appointments for any providers that you’re going to be using. Something that I remember doing, and I think this is so helpful, is like making a list, like, outside of the typical postpartum care and newborn life, like, what do you need to be healthy and well. And I remember I made a list and I put it on my fridge of like, these are the things that bring me joy. So that everyday I saw that and I thought like, can I do this for 10 minutes? Can I do this for you know, five minutes, whether it’s just, like, getting outside, reading a book. So having that support, too, because a lot of the stuff is so heavy and you need that aspect in your healing as well. And also to feel like you, so just having whatever that looks like for you. What does that first like three months gonna look like? What do you need, who do you need, and doing what you can to start setting that up for yourself before you get to that point.

Amanda: I think that’s, I love the whole making the list and putting it somewhere you can see it. Kim is a list queen, if you ever follow her on Instagram you will see all her lists, I love it. I have, like, a written plan or, like, I use Google Calendar for everything, but I have to like, I have to write my stuff down every day. Like I can’t go, like, digital for everything. But I know we always have, like, so many lists. We used to work at Kettlebell Kitchen together many, many moons ago.

Kim: Which required many lists.

Amanda: It required a lot of lists, guys, okay, like if you’ve ever ordered from Kettlebell, just let us know, reach out to me on Instagram, I love to connect with you.

Kim: That’s amazing.

Amanda: I just can’t believe they closed, it’s just crazy to think about. One thing that I think about is, you know, especially if it’s your first child, like, you are transitioning from being, like, one person into being a whole new… it’s not like you aren’t still yourself, but it’s, like, now you’re a mom and you’re responsible for this life. And you know, a lot of what your typical priorities are are now, like, moved way down the list. So I really like that idea of, like, keeping the things you enjoy a priority and, like, it, I mean it forces you to figure out what is most important, what does help make you feel like yourself.

Kim: Definitely. And I think that, you know, having that information for yourself is important, but having it for your partner, your family, whoever is going to be supporting you. And something that I remember I read and we never implemented it, but it was to have, like, a dry erase board or a chalkboard or something in your house where you literally list out, like, things that you need to have done maybe around the house or foods that you need or whatever, so that anytime somebody came over to visit the baby, you can, and they asked what you need, you have someplace to direct them to.

And so that’s a great place, especially with food. And I even know clients that will print out recipes. Like when the parents or somebody asks, like, this is something that I need, setting up a meal train, like, having supports for your, your nourishment, as well. And again, yes, you knowing what you need is so important, so that you can be aware and you can advocate. But also, you can’t do it all yourself. And so having the other people in your life be aware of those things. If you hire a postpartum doula, like, things like that, so that when you’re so focused on this baby, which you’re going to be and that’s important, you are not falling to the wayside and your basic self-care needs are not being neglected.

Amanda: And you know what, like, people always ask, what can I do to help? Like, let me know if you need anything. That is the one thing I hear all the time. Like, obviously, we’re a military family, we move all the time, a lot of times I’m moving without my husband. And people reach out to me, and I’m, like, they think that I’m going to tell them that I’m good, but I don’t do that anymore. So I’m like, if you’re gonna reach out to me, I’m going to take advantage of this, because I do need help.

And I think as women, I know for myself, my husband makes dinner most nights, I don’t care, I used to feel really guilty. We’re definitely more like 50/50 partners, whereas before, it’s, like, I just took on wanting to do everything and be in charge of everything in the house, because that’s how I grew up. And I just thought that that’s what I was supposed to do. But that’s not realistic, and then add a baby into the equation and it’s like you’re asking for burnout, you’re asking to run yourself into the ground. So when people ask you…think about you’re going to be exhausted, most likely, probably just excited to have someone around, and so it’s really easy to have those moments become fleeting, and then you’re like, oh, no, I’m good, I don’t need anything. And then later, you’re like, God, I really wish I asked them to do this, this, and this.

So I love that idea of having it written down and being like, oh, actually, there’s a binder or like a list in the kitchen. And if you honestly anything you feel like you want to do, like, go for it, it’d be such a huge help. Because people will, like, bring stuff you don’t really need, bring food you’re not actually going to want to eat, and it does, it’s not actually helpful. People want to help. Think of family, you know, like, family, like, wants to come over and, like, they want to act like they’re helpful. It’s, like, okay, well actually, let’s give them an opportunity to actually be helpful. And even, like, friends and stuff. So I love that idea. A lot of my clients instead of doing baby moons or baby shower, like, right before their due date, they’ll do, like, you were talking about the meal trains, they’ll have all their girlfriends over, they’ll have a bunch of food, and they freeze those meals. I feel like that’s probably one of the best things you can do. So that, I mean if we think about, like, breastfeeding and everything and replenishing those depletions to help you recover postpartum.

Kim: Definitely and so many of the foods that you, are going to be so nourishing for you are ironically, really easy to do freezer meals. It kind of kills two birds with one stone, because you’re nourishing yourself physically but also nourishing yourself emotionally not having to worry about, you know, I’m starving, and you go into the kitchen, you have, like, one hand and you don’t know what the heck you’re going to eat. It takes a lot off of your plate. And you have to just get really comfortable. I mean, I know I did and it was uncomfortable for me to learn how to ask for that and how to, even when people didn’t ask if people were just saying like, hey is it okay if I come and see the baby, and just saying, like, yeah, as long as you pick up x, y, and z, we really need paper towels, I really need diapers, I really need whatever the case is. I remember sending my poor mom like all over the place for sitz baths. You just have to get comfortable. And of course, like, the people that you want to ask those things of, you can’t do it alone, you have to kind of create your own village.

Amanda: And I think that’s an important point, is, like, we are not designed to do this alone. Then if you factor in… I think social media is a component of that and seeing everyone else’s postpartum journey. It’s like, you got to just put the phone away and think about, like, what do you want that fourth trimester to look like for yourself. Just, like, anything else, trying to envision that, because I, like, for me, that’s how I plan stuff is, like, what, how do I want this to go? And then you can kind of reverse engineer. If you do that, you might realize, oh, I actually need a lot more help than I had originally thought. And that’s good, because then you can try to plan for it.

Kim: Exactly, and I think on the flip side, many women do set up their physical things, like, I know, I got, like, lots of supplies, and, like, I had that stuff. But I think a lot of women are like, hey, I’m cool there, but I need support in other ways. Like I needed a friend to come over and just, like, talk with me about non-baby stuff, or, like, I needed that more evolved support. Like, I’m like, I’m good with the basic stuff, but I need time by myself, I need to get outside, I need to, like, take care of me on a deeper level. And so I think the fact that we’re normalizing a lot of this stuff is important, because it makes women more aware of the fact that your needs are going to be so varied, and that it’s okay to ask for help for whatever the heck you might need to support yourself.

Amanda: Did you have other friends that were also having kids or that recently had kids? Like, how did you kind of create that support network?

Kim: It was really hard. And I mean, I think timing for me played a huge role, because I had Henry, like, three months before the world shut down. I did have, two of my best friends had, either one of them had a baby nine months before and one had a baby a few weeks before. And then my, both of my sister-in-laws were pregnant the same time. So I had moms around me. So I could reach out and ask questions and, like, definitely had close friends that I could call and vent to. I think it was tough, because I didn’t have that in person support as much as I had needed. Honestly, as evil and terrible as it can be sometimes, I found a lot of support in social media, in meeting other women that were going through, especially like struggles that I personally had, making those connections with other women that were going through the same stuff, because that was important.

Amanda: I’ve met so many people on social media in real life now, like other dietitians and nutritionists, and obviously Emily, the nutritionist that works with me, I think it could bring a lot of positives into your life. You just want to use it the right way.

Kim: Definitely, yeah, I’ve created some amazing relationships and women that I’m very close with all through social media, and, like, especially the journey of pregnancy and postpartum. It’s something about going through something so challenging together, helps to bond you and create that relationship that, you know&

Amanda Montalvo

Amanda Montalvo is a women's health dietitian who helps women find the root cause of hormone imbalances and regain healthy menstrual cycles.

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