No one has told you this, but yes, you can safely embark upon a “detox” after giving birth – even if you are breastfeeding.
Giving birth and becoming a new mother is one of the most exhausting physical and emotional experiences for a woman. Immediately following labor and birth, the new responsibility of taking care of the baby leaves little time for you to rest and recover. For weeks, even months, after giving birth your body is going through enormous changes.
Good, clean nutrition is incredibly important during this time to help your body recover and cope with the many new changes. I encourage new moms to take advantage of this time to repair, rejuvenate, nourish (and even cleanse!) the body through consuming healthful, healing foods. In fact, your body will respond like a sponge and absorb all the nutrients it can get.
Cleanse? Detox? Just Semantics
There are so many myths and misnomers about the terms “cleanse” and “detox.” I support appropriate periodic detoxification programs, but only under the right circumstances and with the support of a qualified health care practitioner.
Often, in some mainstream health circles, detoxes are code for “very extreme dieting” where a person is partially or completely fasting. Also, a person may be following a mono-diet (eating only one type of food, such as rice or celery). Sometimes, detoxing can mean participating in a juice fast (consuming only fresh vegetable and fruit juice). Most importantly, “detoxing” often involves caloric restriction, and does not contain the full spectrum of nutrients.
These types of “extreme” detox or cleanse is not advised for anyone’s optimal health. In fact, a detox of this nature can actually create greater risk factors for your health, and even make you feel worse.
Your body naturally knows how to “detoxify” on a minute-by-minute basis. There is absolutely nothing we need to do to “turn on” detoxification. Rather, let’s encourage our bodies to detoxify more efficiently, more effectively, and remove the substances, foods, drinks and chemicals that often get in the way of our own innate ability to detox.
Eating fresh, organic, whole foods, in the natural forms intended by Mother Nature is the best detoxification program available!
Estrogen, Toxins and Pollutants, Oh My!
It is estimated that a pregnant female produces as much estrogen in 40 weeks of pregnancy as a non-pregnant female produces in her entire lifetime! After giving birth, it takes a considerable amount of time for estrogen levels to return to normal.
Your liver is the organ which breaks down estrogen and helps to remove excess hormones from your body. The removal of the excess estrogen is part of your body’s natural detoxification process, and it is occurring naturally all the time, and most especially after giving birth.
The liver essentially prioritizes chemicals, hormones, compounds, toxins and substances for removal from the body. Therefore, if a nightly glass of wine, new carpet installed in your home, additives from foods, or medications are also in the pipeline, estrogen may get pushed to the back burner.
Metabolites of conjugated estrogen may re-enter the bloodstream via the enterohepatic circulation process, allowing for the accumulation of excess estrogen in the body. This process may lead to a condition known as estrogen dominance.
Estrogen dominance following pregnancy may cause weight gain, imbalances in other hormones (progesterone, for example) which may contribute to irritability, brain-fog, and fatigue. In the long-term, estrogen dominance may cause health problems such as ovarian cysts, breast cancer, PMS, and difficulty during menopause.
Just as various other toxins may take precedence over estrogens in the detoxification process, extra estrogen after pregnancy may be clogging up your liver’s normal daily detoxification routine. This allows unwanted toxins and pathogens to remain in your body and bloodstream for a longer period of time. Thus, it is a vicious cycle of hormones and toxins competing for removal from the body. Those that are not removed, ultimately end up back in the blood stream.
Studies have shown that pesticides, heavy metals, and other persistent organic pollutants accumulate in human milk. Many toxins may actually pass through your breast milk and be ingested by your baby . Is your little one often fussy or spitting up after feedings? How does your baby’s skin look? Toxins may be the reason.
To reduce baby’s exposure, you can support your own healthy liver to facilitate careful removal of hormones and toxins from the bloodstream and from breast milk. You can change your diet during breastfeeding to promote natural, safe, effective detoxification.
And, finally, reduce your exposure to chemicals as best as you can to boost estrogen detoxification, and to limit toxin exposure in breastmilk.
Detox Program for the Nursing Mother
A breastfeeding mother should never diet or restrict her calories, or do a heavy supplement-based detoxification program. Undergoing a major detox with various herbs or nutrients would definitely allow toxins to be released from your body and rapidly enter your breast milk in larger quantities; impact the quantity and nutritional quality of your breast milk; and would ultimately be harmful to your baby – so, not a good idea.
If you desire to do a comprehensive metabolic detox, and want to work with a holistic nutritionist to customize the right program for your needs and goals, please wait until you are ready to wean your child and are sure that you are not newly pregnant.
Until then, follow this safe and effective whole-food cleansing regimen designed for postpartum and breastfeeding women.
This regimen encourages flushing your system with a variety of clean, organic, fresh whole foods and specifically takes into consideration the nutritional needs of both mother and baby.
You and your baby may benefit in ways you have not before considered.
- less fussiness in baby = less irritability in mamma
- greater sense of vitality and energy
- improved sleep
- water weight loss
- healing of damaged tissues due to pregnancy and childbirth
- rejuvenation of all elimination systems – digestive, liver, lung and skin
How to Get Started
Follow this program for a minimum of 7 days, or longer if desired. There is no limit on how long you can consume safe cleanings foods while breastfeeding – think of this as a maintenance program.
If your current diet is less than optimal now and includes junk food or fast food, if you have cravings for sweets, reliance on caffeine or alcohol, or consume very few fresh whole foods, it may be difficult to get started on a program that is essentially 100% good for you and baby.
It will take time to get used to new foods, a new way of eating, and the time and commitment necessary to eat this way for the long-run.
Seven days following this program helps to jump-start your nutritional health, gives you the motivation to continue, and rewards you with a newfound sense of wellbeing, energy and care for the foods you put into yours and your baby’s bodies. It’s best to always eat organic foods while breastfeeding.
Foods to Avoid
- Sugar and all sugar products (candy, cookies, etc.)
- Dairy* products, even goat and sheep’s milk cheeses
- Commercial salt and all products high in sodium (sea salt, Celtic salt used in cooking is OK)
- Wheat/Gluten* and all products made from wheat
- Caffeine, including coffee, soda, tea
- Corn* and all corn products
- Soy* and all soy products
- Preservatives – this means avoid packaged processed foods
Foods to Consume
- Organic/pasture-raised chicken and turkey
- Grass fed beef, bison and lamb
- Wild caught cold water fish like salmon, halibut and mackerel
- Wild game like venison, elk, ostrich and rabbit
- Pasture-raised eggs
- Organic coconut oil for cooking and spreading on cooked vegetables
- Organic fresh fruits and vegetables, preferably those in season and grown locally
- Organic gluten free whole grains and products made from those grains – bread, crackers, tortillas (a variety of healthful, minimally processed products like these can be found in your health food store)
- Probiotic drinks like InnerEco fermented young coconut kefir, found at most health food stores; also kombucha (homemade or store bought)
- Spring or filtered water, herbal tea, fresh pressed juices (water supports all vital processes in the body, especially digestion and detoxification)
Breakfast = 1/2 cup fresh fruit salad; ½ cup cooked oatmeal with flax seeds, almond milk and chopped dates; and one or two hard-boiled or poached pasture-raised eggs; herbal tea to drink.
Morning snack = 1/4 cup of raw, unsalted nut mixture, and one piece of fruit; consume a approximately 24 ounces of water by mid-morning.
Lunch = 1/2 cup of cooked brown rice; large mixed greens salad with plenty of veggies, ½ an avocado, and olive oil/lemon juice dressing; 4 ounces of grilled or sautéed naturally-raised lean meat or poultry, or 4 ounces of grilled or sautéed fatty fish; herbal tea or freshly juiced fruit and vegetable juice to drink.
Afternoon Snack = sliced veggies and ½ cup of natural hummus; consume approximately 48 ounces of water by late afternoon.
Dinner = 1/2 cup of cooked brown rice, quinoa, or buckwheat (does not contain gluten); sautéed or roasted mixed vegetables coated liberally in coconut oil; 4 ounces of grilled or sautéed naturally-raised lean meat or poultry, or 4 ounces of grilled or sautéed fatty fish; kombucha or sparkling water to drink; consume approximately 72 ounces of pure water each day.
Bedtime = 1 slice of gluten-free toast with 1 TBSP all-natural almond butter. 2 tablespoons of InnerEco fermented young coconut kefir probiotic drink mixed with water.
This sample menu consists of approximately 2,000 calories and is an appropriate amount for most nursing mothers.
10 Tips for Happy & Healthy Detox While Breastfeeding
- Take It Easy. Some withdrawal symptoms from sugar and caffeine may occur.
- If you are hungry – eat! Remember this is not a calorie restriction program.
- This is NOT a weight loss diet, although some weight loss may occur. If you find you are losing too much weight or have noticed a change in your breast milk supply, eat more.
- Drink plenty of water. Add fresh organic lemon wedges to your water for added detoxification support.
- Get lots of sleep. Go to bed earlier than you normally do and take naps throughout the day if possible. Nap with baby.
- If you are more than 6 weeks postpartum, exercise with caution, as some blood sugar changes may occur, and lightheadedness or dizzy feelings should be taken seriously.
- Focus on slowing down a little, nurturing both you and baby and tuning in to your basic needs and comforts instead of feeling like you “must” do something productive.
- Try eliminating other “toxins” from your life – social media, negative news stories, hurtful or judgemental people, saying “yes” when you really want to say “no”…
- Spend time outside in nature and bring baby! Take a walk, a hike, a swim, or just lay in the grass and enjoy some sunshine.
- Enlist a buddy; this is a healthy food program for your partner as well!
Looking for postpartum nutrition guidance?
Check out my Couple + BabyBootCamp Package – designed for families with a new baby looking for peace of mind & a solid nutrition plan for baby’s first year.