Congratulations on your new baby girl! How are you feeling?
Thank you, it's been quite an adventure already. I feel a jumble of many things —excitement, so much love, joy and curiosity mixed in with exhaustion, fear, anxiety and self-doubt! Life with a baby is fascinating and very different every day. Before, I would do whatever I could to avoid a routine, or two days in a row of the same schedule, so I love the unpredictability and chaos of it all.
I try to be easy on myself in regards to what my days look and feel like, and to let go of expectations. I have had 38 wonderful years where I could more or less spend each day exactly how I wanted, so these sorts of compromises feel okay right now. I had a long and difficult birth with a lot of unforeseen complications, things I could never have prepared myself for, so postpartum has been a lot of healing, learning and adjusting. I am in awe of how fast my body was able to recover — there is really nothing quite like oxytocin!
How has your skin been postpartum? Anything new or unexpected? How are you managing?
My skin has been pretty good. (This may be due to the fact that I care so much less and spend minimal time thinking about it or looking in the mirror.) You know, right after the birth I got a lot of compliments on how great and “glowing” my skin looked — much more so than when I was pregnant — that was really unexpected. I imagine that was thanks to lots of adrenaline and again, oxytocin!
Other than that, nothing too new. I have not experienced the hair loss or super dry skin that many people do. I don’t know exactly what I owe that to, but I suspect it’s my regimen of Chinese herbs — I have been a patient and friend of Dr. Anna Gold for years so she knows my constitution well (and my weak points!). She makes a wonderful postpartum blend that I also give to new mamas in my world, as I believe it deeply restores and nourishes the body.
Other than that I try to eat well (I have never had such an appetite as I do now), and I have been very consistent about my topical regimen. Even when I am exhausted at night or in a rush in the morning. Honestly I have left the house wearing my partner’s shoes more than once, but somehow I seem to get products on my face! They make me feel awake and more put together than anything else.
With a sudden shift in hormones after birth, what are some balancing and restorative skin-care products and rituals you recommend?
If the one word that describes pregnancy is “excess,” then the one word that describes postpartum is “depletion.” So given that, I try to hit the different layers of the skin and compensate for the deficiencies I may have.
I imagine my body is prioritizing its resources for anything but my skin, so topical delivery of micronutrients seems crucial. I use Balancing Hypotonic, Soothing B3 Serum, Vitamins C+E+Ferulic Serum, Barrier Restore Serum, layering AM/PM as needed. I also am combining Barrier Lipid Complex and Rejuvenating Night Oil morning and night.
Also, with all the prolactin in my system from breastfeeding, I think about how I can support the production of collagen. I believe taking Vitamin C both internally and topically is the safest and best way to do this.
Ritual wise, I don’t really have any at the moment. I imagine massage, gua sha, etc. would be wonderful for stimulation and blood flow, but it's not a priority for me at the moment. The topicals I use are quick and easy- takes 2 minutes, but feels good for the entire day.
You speak about nutrition as an important factor for healthy skin. How are you nourishing yourself these days?
In an effort to stay strong and healthy and because I am breastfeeding, a balanced diet is the priority. I follow a mostly all cooked, whole foods diet — warm, cozy foods are what I crave most. I don’t restrict anything as I believe it's more important for me to get a variety of nutrients and a lot of calories and good fats.
The area we live in is so remote there aren't any options for take out or prepared foods, which means we cook everything ourselves. We’re in West Marin and are surrounded by dairies, ranches, farms and the ocean, so fortunately our access to delicious ingredients is incredible. Some days it's hard and I have no inspiration to cook, and on those days I always make congee, which is a staple for my family.
Immediately after Asa’s birth the community supported us by delivering so much food that we didn't even have to think about it for the first 6 weeks! It was incredible to receive that type of nourishment from the people around us. I got the impression that people were really happy to stop by, drop off a soup, and feel like they were really helping. It was the best help that I never knew I needed!
Aside from food? Water, lots and lots of water. The instant Asa starts nursing I get hit with extreme thirst!
I love your “Beyond Topical” interview series about addressing underlying skin issues. What beyond topical practices are important after having a baby?
Oh, thanks! I love that series too — we have a few more interviews to roll out! They were really fun to do and I try to integrate what I learn from experts into my own life, as much as possible.
Mental health is an ongoing focus for me. I’m always collecting tools to reduce stress and stay in the moment, and learning ways to teach my body to relax. I feel really lucky that at this point in my life I have done work in this area and am better equipped with tools and techniques to combat anxiety, fear, and stress, as those have been triggering for me during this postpartum period.
Additionally, I have turned to breathwork more now than ever. Breathwork is my biggest “hack” for cultivating energy at the moment. When I am exhausted but still have a long day ahead of me I will take 10 minutes and do a breathing practice (I love Tiffany Cruikshank's collection on Yoga Medicine). Honestly nothing changes my mental and physical state as immediately.
As I live very close to the beach I also try to swim regularly (or I should say “plunge”) and go for walks with Asa. She loves the wind and sound of the waves. For a few months I couldn’t get her to sleep unless she was on my body, and this was kind of cool because it got me to take a lot of long solo walks on the beach or in the woods. The slow walking, breathing, and just being outside so much was mutually beneficial for sure!
Let’s talk microbiome. What’s happening postpartum and what are ways to prevent and or recover from any disturbances?
During pregnancy there is a shift in microbial diversity that occurs near the end/third trimester. So essentially you enter postpartum deficient and depleted and do not have the same hormonal profile which beautifully suppresses inflammation. To add to that, a lot of women take antibiotics during labor and sometimes after for various periods of time. Talk about a double negative! I personally had to take about three days of antibiotics during/after my birth, sigh.
It's interesting, while pregnant I would have shunned the idea of taking antibiotics during birth and now I think often, “oh, thank GOODNESS for the invention of antibiotics!” Thankfully, I don’t have much of a history of taking them and I have a lifestyle supportive of a healthy microbiome, so I am confident I will recover just fine. But the whole subject of the microbiome and pregnancy/birth and babies is something I do think about often and all the ways it varies from person to person, given their experience, location, history, lifestyle, etc. We live in a drafty wooden house in a forest with spiders and bugs and dirt all around us. Asa and I walk and play outside and it makes me happy to imagine all the beautiful spores and bacteria around us nourishing, healing and making us strong.
I work with a lot of women postpartum with dermatitis/eczema flare ups quite soon after birth, and then many who experience acne flare-ups after six months or when their cycle returns (mostly those who had these conditions pre-pregnancy, even if it went away entirely while they were pregnant). We cannot really control all the variables that occur which impact the microbiome during this phase of life, but we can try to support a healthy body that welcomes a healthy microbiome.
Skin wise, you can use products to support skin function with no contradictory ingredients that negatively affect bacteria (preservatives, fragrances, stabilizers, etc). Internally, you can limit processed foods while incorporating a wide range of vegetables, and do what you can to limit stress and be in nature as much as possible. All of this will help your hyper intelligent body recover from any disturbances as best it can.
What skin care ingredients would you advise against postpartum, specifically while still breastfeeding. How do you feel about natural ingredients like essential oils during this time?
This is a complicated question and what I want to say is don’t worry so much about having a list of bad vs. good ingredients but instead find a brand you trust. Use what they suggest is safe and also follow what feels right intuitively.
The way I see it, babies are so close to our bodies/skin and are so delicate and pure, the idea of bombarding their sensorial systems with a strong fragrance (synthetic or essential oil based) seems wrong. Not to mention their skin is much more vulnerable than ours and chemicals are able to penetrate it much more easily. Therefore I avoid soaps, detergents, chemical sunscreens, cleaning agents, as much as possible.
They say our skin is a reflection of what’s happening inside our body. While healing postpartum, is it natural and normal to experience a difference in skin conditions that we typically don't have?
Absolutely! We experience so many changes in our bodies postpartum. Hormones, thyroid, immune system, microbiome — all vulnerable systems susceptible to change. Postpartum depression and anxiety is incredibly common also. I work with and know many women who have dealt with that immediately after birth and it can impact diet, sleep, movement, etc., which then ultimately can impact the entire system function (including the skin).
In Eastern cultures, women are urged to stay in bed for the first 40 days postpartum. With your emphasis on blood and lymphatic circulation, how do you feel about this traditional custom?
The way I tend to take these sort of blanket advice concepts is to pull the main message and then apply it to my own life in a way that resonates or feels fitting for me.
So to me, 40 days postpartum in bed is really about rest, spending time with your baby, and letting others help you, and less about the physical aspect of being in a bed. We decided to spend the first few weeks at a house on the ocean as I knew I would want to be able to be in the sun and around water without getting in a car. So we made many cozy spots outside to lie on with Asa, and we never left the house. We were fortunate enough to let others bring us food so we didn't have to cook, and also there were no temptations of chores or errands as it was not our house. We didn't bring our computers or work at all so it was a true break.
It was the first time in my life that walking was really painful so I barely moved my body for weeks, but then one day things changed and it felt right to get up and go outside and move around. I didn’t overthink it all too much, I was too focused on cuddling with Asa and enjoying my new family. Yes, in order to be healthy we do need to move to encourage blood flow and a healthy system. That being said, I see postpartum as an opportunity in life to sit back and think less about your own system and how to optimize it, and more about your baby. Trust that your body is so well designed that if you give it space through rest and nourishment you will heal those systems. The circulatory and lymphatic systems are so amazing and will function without us even having to think about them.
One last thing to note. Through my experience as a new mother, I can see how motherhood, like the wellness industry, has become a business. Social media, podcasts, the internet, all make you feel like the more privilege you have, and the more resources or devices you have, the more success you will have raising a child. But it's a slippery slope. Yes, products and gadgets are helpful, and certain items will make your life easier. I’m not saying we shouldn’t buy anything —I make skincare products and offer a service that costs money for a living. I am only suggesting that it’s important to be mindful, take a step back, and look for opportunities to change this way of consumption. I have found it helpful to check in with myself around this more; I end up feeling better and need to buy so much less. Many of the most powerful and foundational health tools and techniques are free or cost very little. When I drink more water and cook food myself, I can naturally avoid things like processed foods, preservatives, and excess sugar. When I take time to enjoy my meals, take deep breaths, prioritize getting outdoors in nature and going to bed early, my whole system benefits. As a result, I need less supplements, less devices, less everything. My hope for my daughter is that she does not grow up in a world that makes her believe wellness and beauty are something you have to buy.