A Postpartum Doula’s Role in Nourishing the Mother: Podcast Episode #245

Kristin Revere and Jodi Graves of Michigan Family Doulas discuss the importance of postnatal and prenatal nutrition.  They also talk about the role of the postpartum doula and how they can support families after baby arrives on the latest episode of Ask the Doulas. 

Hello!  This is Kristin Revere with Ask the Doulas, and I am excited to chat with Jodi Graves.  Jodi is the CEO of Michigan Family Doulas.  She’s an accomplished professional with a profound commitment to modernizing birth and postpartum care in the United States.  With her extensive nutrition, functional medicine, nursing (LPN), and psychology education, Jodi leads Michigan Family Doulas and serves as an elite certified doula trainer.  Her personal experience has fueled her passion for empowering birthing individuals and their partners, advocating for informed consent and fostering a sense of agency and education in the birthing process.  Jodi’s dedication extends beyond her family in Brighton, Michigan, including the love of her life, her two daughters, and dogs, to her love for Hawaii and her lifelong dream of saving the whales.

Welcome, Jodi!

I love hearing that – the saving the whales part.

Yes, that is awesome!  It’s so amazing to have you join us.  I know our topic today is focused on postnatal nutrition, and with your background, you’re the perfect guest to address that topic.

Yes, it’s one of my favorites.  One of my favorite topics.

I would love to have you tell a bit of your personal story about how you got into not only doula work, but also all of the other related modalities focusing on women’s health.

Yeah.  Well, so I started out in nursing school back in the ‘90s and completed nursing school and did a little bit of time being on an oncology floor in a local hospital.  And I said, this is just not for me.  I was absolutely miserable.  And so I went running and screaming away from it and kind of did a 180 and started really thinking about, what am I passionate about, and what am I already knowledgeable about?  And the answer for me was women’s health related issues and food and nutrition.  And so then I went down the path of exploring a nutrition degree and doing something in the nutrition field, and I ended up getting a bachelor’s and a master’s, both in naturopathy and nutrition.  And then I guess just for fun, I ended up with a psychology degree in there.  I started taking some psychology classes and was just so hooked it ended up being a degree.  It’s actually relevant for the work I do, honestly.

Absolutely.  So relevant.

For sure.  But then it kind of evolved, and from the naturopathic degrees, I ended up becoming a clinical nutritionist.  And I’m certainly very passionate about women’s health in the reproductive cycle, but my people are now perimenopausal and menopausal, so I also work with women when we come out of that childbearing cycle.  It’s all about women’s health.

That is the overlying theme that I see with your work.  I know you also do a lot within the advocacy space, if you’d like to touch on that.

Well, birth and postpartum in this country has, to put it mildly, is severely lacking.  When you compare us to the rest of the world and all other industrialized countries, we consistently get much lower scores than everyone else.  The March of Dimes the last couple years gave us a D+.  I mean, we’re just – we’re failing women.  So I am passionate about change.  I’m passionate about, honestly, an entire overhaul of the system as my goal because what we’re doing isn’t working, and women are continuing to die post birth, certainly.  During birth, absolutely.  At just embarrassing rates, right?  And it just keeps climbing.  So it’s time for an overhaul.

100%.  And where does nutrition fall into that advocacy work?

I think it’s a largely overlooked piece of health in general across the board for everyone, but certainly in pregnancy and postpartum recovery, it’s not something that is talked about with physicians.  And to defend them, I guess, physicians don’t have any training in nutrition services.  So they are not somebody that should be relied on for information or guidance as far as nutrition is concerned.  So if it’s not talked about at the doctor’s office, it’s really not being considered.  I think part of our problem in this country is nutrition related.  You can be obese and still be malnourished.  We are one of the countries across the world that has that as a real, legitimate problem.

Yes.  And certainly postnatal, that is a big focus of yours.  That depletion is a real issue, and that can be dehydration, lack of the nutrients and minerals needed, especially for breastfeeding mothers.  They get even more depleted.  But recovering from birth, there are so many things where nutrition is important, and if you don’t have, say, a postpartum doula in your home helping to make snacks and make sure that you’re drinking water and keeping up with meals, mothers often forget to eat.  They’re so focused on trying to rest and feed baby.  They may have other children at home to feed, and they don’t care for themselves.

And we’ve gotten so far away from community where mom and aunts and cousins and sisters would all come and help make sure that you’re nourished.  That’s not really so much a think anymore.  In pockets across the country, people are still doing this, but as a majority, we’re not part of communities anymore.  And so you’re right.  It’s hard to focus on yourself when you’re caring for a newborn.  And we have so many postpartum complications in the US, and I think some of them could be solved completely with good nutrition.

Yes.  And there are so many jokes about just satisfying whatever pregnancy cravings you have, or those first meals after you have a baby and not being nutrient dense and kind of the fast food cravings people may have, and so really understanding some important books related to postnatal nutrition.  I love The First Forty Days and anything by – Lily has a lot of gestational diabetes.  Lily Nichols is an amazing resource.  She also has some pregnancy- related nutrition books.

Yeah, and I encourage folks to pick up anything that you can while you’re pregnant, right, so you can plan for your postpartum recovery.  Because it’s hard to then catch up.

Yes, exactly.  What are your tips for our listeners who are looking at planning for their postpartum phase and how to get some good nutrition in those meals, whether they’re asking for food from friends and families from meal trains and how to ask for the right things rather than, say, a casserole?

Right.  Well, and a casserole is not a bad idea, as well, if it is nutritionally balanced.  If it’s mostly cheese and bread, it’s probably not going to give you the desired outcome.  But we do like to tell our clients that work with my agency, Michigan Family Doulas – try to focus on warm foods.  Soups are amazing, especially if they’re packing with vegetables and beans and other things.  You can even put chicken and that kind of thing in soups and get a really good nutrient profile in something that’s fairly easy.  Casseroles are great, too, if we’re talking about including some phytonutrients, which is going to be plant-based nutrition.  Keeping it simple, keeping it easy is important.  Things that you can put away and freeze and pull them out and reheat them easily are tips that I have.  If you’re having cravings for things, think about why that might be.  Usually, the human body has cravings because it’s lacking in some sort of nutrient.  So really focusing on phytonutrients, which are plant-based, warm foods, of course, and getting enough fats, enough carbs, enough protein during that postpartum recovery time.  And it’s tricky to know what that means, right?  Like, you go to Google and ask how much do I need, and you might get six different answers.  So that’s a tricky piece.

It is.  And as doulas, of course, we have our finger on the pulse for all of the experts that we can refer our clients to, and that could be functional medicine doctors or nutritionists, dieticians.  We try to look at even some healthy meal delivery services.  I know there are some in your area in southeast Michigan.  I’ve ordered for friends who had babies and had some healthy meals delivered to them. 

And that’s a wonderful thing.  We definitely have more options here than we ever have.  I think that’s the case across the country, which I love.  I think that a lot of Americans have realized that there’s a problem with the way we eat and the food that’s available to us, and a lot of us are making changes already, which is awesome.  It can only help with postpartum recovery, the more people that start realizing, hey, our food supply isn’t that great.  What we normally eat really isn’t healthy.  Maybe I’ll get some different options and change my diet a little, and I think that can only help this whole process, right?  And it can only help with our statistics about postpartum complications.

Right.  And what are your tips for listeners who are breastfeeding or pumping?

When you are breastfeeding, your body requires an extra 300 to 500 calories a day.  That can be something as simple as a half a sandwich and a handful of grapes.  Simple things, right?  So we encourage our clients and I encourage those we work with to, again, even if you are eating extra calories, be mindful of what those calories are.  I think mindful eating is really important.  Ask for help, right?  If it’s the middle of recovery, I’m two weeks in, there’s nothing in my house to eat and I can’t cook for myself – the typical conversation we have in postpartum.  Where’s my extra pair of hands?  I encourage folks to investigate what’s in your area.  Investigate some of those meal delivery services in the area.  Or postpartum doulas will come and help do some of that for you.  Make snacks while they’re there.  If you have a soup recipe or something you want us to put together, your doula can do that for you.  So there’s a lot more options now than ever before for getting these needs met, whether you’re breastfeeding or you’re not.

Exactly.  Yeah, and even with grocery delivery service.  I wish that was a thing when I had my kids.

Oh, my gosh, yes, for sure.  I think about that now, and I’m like, how did we make it work in the middle of postpartum recovery?  I’ve got to the grocery store with my brand new newborn.  Times have changed, so we have more options available to us now, which I’m so grateful for.

Exactly.  In my early days as a postpartum doula, I used to run errands for my clients.  Go grocery shopping, the butcher, and that way they could stay home and focus on healing and feeding their baby.

For sure.

Now, it’s not really even a needed service, as you can get your groceries delivered.

That’s right.  Now, they don’t always do a perfect job in getting the things that you ask for, but I tell you what, it’s a heck of a lot better than what it used to be.

Totally.  Jodi, you mentioned warming foods and teas and so on.  That really, again, is focused on those traditional, especially Malaysian, cultures’ focus on pregnancy being a warm state and the shock after you deliver and your body being in a cold state and needing to be warmed and eating and drinking warming foods and teas and so on.  Again, in our culture, it isn’t something that is so focused on, and in so many traditional cultures, families are focusing on caring for the baby and mothering the mother and making sure she is getting rest and proper nutrition so she can then be the best parent for the rest of the family, as well as baby.  And I feel like, again, not only nutrition, but also making sure that you’re drinking water or healthy teas and so on.  So where does hydration play into postnatal recovery and certainly breastfeeding or pumping?

This is a vital piece of recovery.  You know, you are going to be getting rid of all the extra fluids that your body kind of packed on the end of your pregnancy, and just the normal fluid accumulation that we get when we’re gestating.  So that’s all going to be happening.  I encourage people to keep drinking, even though they feel like maybe they have some swelling going on or they have some extra water weight.  We still encourage fluids all day, every day.  In fact, I’ll never forget this.  My first daughter was born 25 years ago, and I was so thirsty, it was the only thing I could think of, those first few weeks.  I was so thirsty.  And we forget that, right?  That’s an important piece.  So I always recommend that you not just sip on water, but electrolytes.

Exactly.  Coconut water or electrolyte drinks.  I’m a fan of electrolytes for labor, but as you mentioned, also the postnatal recovery phase.

Yeah, for sure.  And I like electrolytes that don’t have sugar in them because it can be a lot of extra sugar in some of those premade mixes.  I like to stick to the ones that are salt-based only with no sugar in them.  And then eat some fruit or other healthy things that give you the sugar.

Great tips.  So what else are you seeing with your postpartum doulas and how they’re able to help their families adapt to this change, whether it’s baby one or baby five?

Well, I think that some of the biggest things that we are doing as doulas here, really, are obviously supporting folks, no matter what their parenting styles are, no matter what their choices are, no matter whether it’s one baby or five, like you mentioned.  Just helping everybody to get rest, to get nourishment, to have somebody there to help with basic things in the early days.  And then as folks transition to getting into parenting and getting into their groove, we’re just there to support their choices, make sure that they stay rested, be a sounding board for these families or a place that they can ask questions and get referrals to other services.  You know, we really want to be the go-to person for these families when they have an issue or they’re feeling stressed, or God forbit, they’re showing signs of postpartum mood and anxiety disorders.  We want to be there on the front lines.  That’s really our focus here.

Exactly.  And you mentioned rest multiple times.  Your agency, similar to mine, does offer overnight postpartum doula support and newborn care specialists, so let’s touch on that for our listeners who haven’t really known that was an option for them.

Yeah.  So we do provide overnight care.  I would say that we – I wouldn’t say it’s exclusive, that we just provide overnight care, but it’s definitely more than 75% of the care that we provide is overnight because everyone is exhausted.  And I don’t know what we’re doing right now outside of growing babies and giving birth and all of that.  As a society, we must be doing something, that we’re coming into birth already exhausted.  So people have an infant, and then we’re playing catch-up.  So it’s not just the normal fatigue.  It’s more of an extreme, everybody’s stressed.  Everyone is exhausted.  And so we’re really trying to focus on helping people overcome that because you can’t be a good parent if you’re so fatigued you can’t keep your eyes open.  So we really focus on that quite heavily.  And I’m going to say about 90 to 93% of the time – I’m a numbers person – so 90 to 93% of the time, our families will have a few overnight visits or plan for maybe just a short-term care plan with us, and then they almost always ask us to stay on.  So I think when folks get a taste of what it’s like to have a newborn but also sleep, they’re like, oh, my goodness, you can’t leave.

Yeah, it’s priceless.  And for partners who need to return to work right away, then it is helpful for them to be at the capacity they were.  Say they’re a physician and need to return two days after the baby’s born, and they’re working long shifts, so they can’t help with diaper changes and need to get a full night’s sleep.  So we work with a lot of families where the partner is back at work or traveling for work.  Or, say, an athlete, for example, and may not even be around.  It’s hard to plan with certain schedules, whether it’s military or with athletes. 

We find the exact same thing, as well, here in southeast Michigan.  We do work with a couple of the sports teams in the area, and lots and lots of physicians.  We’re finding the exact same thing.  It’s hard when you’re a team, right?  It’s hard when you just gave birth, but you and your partner both can stay home for a little while.  That’s hard.  And then you take one of the partners away and say, okay, now you got to go back to work, and everything is as normal.  It’s almost debilitating for some families, and so I’m really grateful to be doing the work that I’m doing, that my agency is doing.  I’m grateful to be able to have even just a little impact on communities.  And if I’m being honest, it stems from the fact that I didn’t have any of this when I had my children.

Right.  Yeah, I mean, postpartum doulas and newborn care specialists were not a thing, and if there were postpartum doulas, they mainly did daytime support.  Short daytime shifts, helping with household tasks.  So it’s definitely changed quite a bit since we both got into this field, and with insurance and employer benefit plans covering more and more, and health savings and flex spending going from only birth doulas to also identifying postpartum doulas as a need.  That’s been very helpful.

It’s wonderful.  We get a lot of clients now that are using employer provided benefits, which is amazing.  It’s a step in the right direction.  It’s not a cure all.  It’s not even a band aid, if I’m being honest.  Maybe this is a backward analogy, but we’re using a firehose to put out a match with some things.  This is the opposite.  We have a forest fire.  We’re trying to use a little bucket that we might have on the beach.  So yes, it’s helpful.  It’s a step.  It’s something.  And I still feel like we have so much work to do.

Yes.  And in your area, especially, people are moving to southeast Michigan, to Detroit area, without the family ties and potentially friends around.  So they don’t have any support.  They move for work or to get into a more affordable city, whatever their reason, and they’re feeling very isolated, and the postnatal time is isolating, as it is.  If you don’t have family to help, especially when we’re in a childcare crisis, a postpartum doula or a newborn care specialist can help fill in some of the gaps.

Absolutely.  I think one little thing that is concerning to me is a lot of families here recently have said that they’re feeling pressure from family – mothers, mothers-in-law, extended family – they’ll make comments about, why would you have a doula?  Why on earth would you have doula support?  That’s just silly.  You should take care of your own baby.  I mean, we did.  And that kind of pressure and those kinds of comments are really hurtful for some of these people who really genuinely need somebody.  They really need help.  And then they’re feeling guilty for asking for help.  We’re hearing that quite a bit lately, and I’m not quite sure what to do about it.

That is so true.  It’s like, just don’t complain and focus on being a mom, but there’s just so much more in today’s society.  I feel like it’s hard to turn off work.  I mean, technology can be amazing, but I think that is a big part of the depletion and the tired feeling that families have even before pregnancy and the early newborn phase.  We’re just so locked in, and it’s hard to turn off work.  I see clients at a birth, and they’re checking their work emails and they’re getting texts.  There used to be, pre all of this cell phones and technology and emails, you would go to work and do your work, and you could turn it off.  There’s not a way to really fully do that now in most fields.

For sure.  Which is funny for me to think of.  It just makes me want to laugh, if I think about myself in labor, giving birth to my children – if I had given even one thought to my employer, I would have been upset.  I feel bad for families that have to do that now.  It has changed, you’re right.  It’s been another factor, I think, that’s added stress.

Exactly.  Especially if you deliver early and you had planned everything for maternity leave and tried to go as long as possible to optimize your leave, and then all of a sudden, there are all of these unfinished tasks.  That’s what I would see.  It’s like, oh, no, I need to email, and this needs to be done.  You really need to focus on your birth and early parenting, but again, some things are out of our control.

And I think people feel a lot of pressure at work or just a lot of pressure to make enough money to make ends meet.  You know, it’s extra stressors all the way around.

Right.  And with the rising costs of everything, for childcare and food, gas, all of the things – it is stressful for families.  Luckily, as we mentioned, there are different ways to pay for support.  Also, certainly with healthy meals and nutrition, registering for services instead of things, like all of those onesies and the fancy stroller – you could register for a doula and ask for a healthy meal delivery service or gift cards to your favorite restaurants, a housekeeper – things that will make your life easier.

Yeah, and it’s hard to know where to direct your money, but you’re right, all the things is not the place to spend because they won’t help you when you’re exhausted.  They won’t help you unplug and have a nap or have a shower or do the things that you need to, to make yourself feel normal, to feel like, okay, yes, there’s some semblance of my old life here.  And so it’s just, I think, ultimately, it’s all about all this extra stress.  It’s hard to know what direction to look, you know, and how to narrow down the options.  Hopefully folks hear us both say, your options are here.  We have teams full of them, and by that I mean doulas that can come and help and take care of all of these different facets of your early parenting.  And I know for us, we sometimes stay with clients throughout the first year.  Not just a two week thing and then you’re on your own; we do provide a lot more care than that.  It sounds like you guys do, as well.

We do work through the first year, as well, and I know some doulas, depending on the training organization, focus more on the first six to eight weeks and that recovery phase.  It just depends on which professional you’re choosing, what their philosophy is.  So look into that.  At Gold Coast, we have some families that have a lot of support initially, and they hire us during times that the partner is traveling or they’re transitioning back to work and want to optimize their rest.  There are so many different scenarios.

Absolutely.  I’m just thrilled by the progress that we’ve made as doulas.  Back in 1999 when I started this work, I spent more time telling people what a doula was than I did actually doing doula work.

You’re definitely one of the OGs!

That’s right!  We’ve come a long way because now most people do know what doulas are.  Not so much on the postpartum side, so we’ve got some work to do there, but every now and again, I still run into people who don’t have any clue what a doula even is.  So now it’s fun for me to be like, oh, this is something that you must know about.  I’m just really glad that we have come as far as we have.  I also, in the same breath, feel like we have so much farther to go.

We do, yes.  I agree.  I could talk to you forever, and our conversation has gone into many different directions, but I would love your top snacks for our postnatal listeners who are trying to avoid that depletion and nourish themselves.  What are you giving postpartum clients or what are you suggesting with your team of doulas, other than the fruits you mentioned earlier?

Yeah, I mean, anything like that, like fruit that you can cut up and put in the fridge so you can quickly grab them and snack on them.  If you can tolerate gluten, making sandwiches.  Of course, there’s lots of different options to make sandwiches with.  You can certainly do wraps and that kind of thing.  Stuff that’s easy to reach in the fridge and grab is essential, so even cut vegetables.  Maybe you could make those soups, a couple of soups, and put individual bowls in the fridge so that you can then pull them out, pop them in the microwave quickly, and then you have a warm, nourishing meal that you can sit and sip on or have little bites of while you’re rocking baby.  But easy, quick, convenient things are essential.

I like to encourage protein, so Greek yogurt is a really great thing to have on hand if you can tolerate that.  There are nondairy versions of Greek yogurt out there now that don’t taste too bad.  Hard boiled eggs are a great go-to.  Cut fruit and vegetables.  Cheese sticks or cut pieces of cheese if you can tolerate dairy.  There are a lot of options, but some of this does require some forethought and/or hiring a doula.

Excellent tips, Jodi!  Thank you so much!  How can our listeners find Michigan Family Doulas?

We are on social @michiganfamilydoulas.  We’d love to see you on Instagram or Facebook.  You can also find me.  I am the host of a podcast called Tea with Jodi.  We talk a little bit more in-depth about some of these political issues and things going on in the birth world.  And of course, you can find us at michiganfamilydouals.com.

Excellent.  Thank you so much!


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