Q+A with Danielle Shea Tan, Clinical Nutritionist
Hello! Kindly tell us a little about yourself and your practice.
First and foremost, I am a mama of two energetic, sweet and smart boys, ages 10 and 5. I am a homeschooling mama which allows me the flexibility to be in the kitchen, at a farm or serving clients throughout the week. I am a Licensed Nutritionist and Integrative Health Practitioner for women, infants and young children, owner of Healthy Mamas for Happy Families, and Nutritionist at Expectful. Prior to becoming a nutritionist, I was a Management Consultant for over a decade working with large non-profits and Fortune 500 companies.
I have been serving women and children for over 10 years and it all started because of an experience that I had at a new mother’s circle. In 2012, our group of ~20 mothers (and our newborn babies) gathered weekly at a local hospital community room. On one occasion during our round robin, one mother shared that her newborn was prescribed acid reflux medication for indigestion. It was such surprising information for one of the babies in our group to be on such harsh pharmaceutical medications! But, that wasn’t the half of it. Within minutes of our round robin, we learned that 9 of the 20 babies in the room were also on reflux medication! Through some recent health training, I had learned about the concerning medical statistics associated with reflux medications and I felt so worried and sad for this baby. And, the hardest part was that I knew there was a safer, more effective way to address reflux in babies. It was this experience that led me to start the process of obtaining a Masters in Nutrition and Integrative Health. I wanted the knowledge, training and experience to feel confident about helping families use more natural approaches as first line therapy whenever possible and practical.
In my private nutrition practice, Healthy Mamas for Happy Families, I help women, infants and young children use food, herbs, nutrients and lifestyle to address digestive health conditions, skin conditions, food allergies/sensitivities, autoimmune conditions and more.
When it comes to postpartum nutrition, what do you find is the biggest obstacle?
The biggest obstacle is actually eating enough for you and baby! We often think about pregnancy as a time where the body needs more nutrients because we are creating a new human being. Contrary to this popular belief, postpartum women actually need more nutrients than required in pregnancy to heal from the journey of carrying and delivering a baby and making breast milk. I find that women spend more time cleaning their house and tending to chores than they do nourishing their bodies with enough food. Caring for a new baby is such a beautiful, exhausting experience for women, especially in this modern age when we are often doing it without the help of extended family. In many parts of the world, multiple generations of women live within very close proximity to one another and can care for each other when a new baby is born. The loss of this practice has added another layer of stress and struggle for the women who give birth. Food is the foundation of healing and energy and I hope that women reading this can find a way to ask friends, family and their loved ones to help nourish them with healthy meals.
What does a breastfeeding mom need to keep in mind when it comes to her diet?
Making breast milk is a gift, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t hard on the body! For every ounce of breastmilk your body makes, you need 20 extra calories. Depending on how much breast milk your baby drinks, you could need an extra 600 calories just to make milk—never mind the additional nutrients that your body needs to heal from pregnancy and birth. My advice is to Eat Simple, Eat Often and Eat Enough.
- Eat Simple: Think about whole foods that you can easily prepare and eat in minutes—avocado, apples, eggs, organic peanut butter, oatmeal, organic yogurt, hummus, wild salmon/tuna, pre-cooked rotisserie chicken, prepared soup.
- Eat Often: Plan to eat at least 4x per day. If that feels like too much time spent eating, consider using mealtimes as an opportunity to bring calm and joy to your busy, hard day. Enjoy it with a friend or family member, listen to relaxing music, or eat in silence while the baby is sleeping. I never realized how much my brain and heart needed silence until I had kids and silence was virtually non-existent.
- Eat Enough: This is where new mothers often miss the mark. Whether it’s due to lack of time, energy, support or concern about weight loss, many new mothers are not eating enough nourishing food! On occasion, food diaries can be a good tool when used appropriately. I don’t like using food diaries to track calories because this creates a restrictive mindset that can be detrimental to our relationship with food. However, tracking your nutrition intake for a couple of days can help you realize if you are missing vitamins, minerals or even major macronutrients. Remember, if you are breastfeeding you need to eat enough calories to make milk. Unfortunately, if you don’t eat enough, your body will SLOW your metabolism in an effort to save energy. This is not the time to be dieting—instead think about nourishing your body for you and your baby.
Any tips for identifying or working around any sensitivities a baby may have (i.e., dairy, soy, etc.)?
This is an area of focus in my practice. I work with many women who have babies that struggle with food sensitivities and allergies. If you suspect that your baby has a food sensitivity, I recommend that you start keeping track of your diet and your baby’s symptoms to help identify the potential food causing the issue.
Keep in mind: If your baby does not have a true food allergy (IgE antibodies are produced), but instead has a food sensitivity (IgG antibodies are produced), it can take at least 29 days for the immune system to calm down and the inflammation to start resolving once the food is removed from your diet.
That being said: Why would you remove an entire food group alone without support? You, mama, deserve support. This is what a nutritionist is for! We can help you find new foods to love, make modifications to your recipes and assess your nutritional intake to make sure when you remove any foods from your diet that you aren’t inadvertently missing out on key nutrients that you need.
Any tips for mamas who are formula-feeding as they navigate recovery from pregnancy + childbirth?
If you are formula feeding, I encourage you to take advantage of being able to let other family members feed your baby so that you can sleep more and eat nourishing meals. Feeding your baby is a beautiful opportunity to bond with your baby and, when using formula, your partner, friends and extended family get to connect with your baby as well. I encourage you to use this time to get in that much-needed sleep and self-care.
What are your favorite energy-boosting snacks or meals to help combat sleep deprivation? What about caffeine?
Sleep deprivation is unbelievably hard on the body. In those early months of postpartum, it’s near impossible to avoid. While we all want to turn to caffeine to keep us going, it can actually cause more harm than good. (Don’t shoot the messenger!) Drinking too much caffeine or drinking it too late in the day can actually disrupt your circadian rhythm, the pattern by which your body understands when it’s time to sleep and when it’s time to wake. For many people, sleep/wake cycles are not impacted by drinking a single 6-8 oz cup of coffee or tea daily but, for others, myself included, drinking caffeine daily or more than once per day starts a vicious cycle of chronic fatigue from poor sleep due to the caffeine not clearing your system fast enough to have restful sleep at night.
A few of my favorite ways to boost energy naturally are to:
- Eat foods that are easily digestible so your body has more energy for other tasks. Focus on slow cooked vegetables, meats and legumes and avoid processed foods. Throwing meat, vegetables and beans into the slow cooker is both easy for a new mother and better for energy levels!
- Eat balanced meals to maintain a steady level of blood sugar. Pair carbohydrates like fruit, bread and grains with fat, protein and fiber to keep you full longer and allow your body to burn the carbohydrates at a slower rate causing less dips in blood sugar. Blood sugar dips will make you feel sleepy.
- Eat small balanced snacks between meals to maintain energy. Try apples + nuts, celery + nut butter, hummus + whole grain crackers, full fat yogurt + berries, oatmeal + peanut butter + honey, clementines + hard-boiled eggs.
If a mama could focus on just one thing when it comes to fueling her body, what should it be?
Focus on plants and omega-3 fats. Okay, maybe that’s two things. They go together because most people aren’t getting enough of them. What you may not remember from your high school science classes is that every time any cell in your body needs energy, you need a variety of vitamins and minerals in the process to create energy. Vitamins and minerals are abundant in plant foods—that’s fruit, vegetables, herbs, spices, nuts, seeds, whole grains. There’s no doubt that we get plenty of grains in our diet, but what about the color? I encourage mamas to take this time to eat more color to give her body the fighting chance to make lots of energy for her cells.
Inflammation is the root cause of disease. The beauty in omega-3 fats is their anti-inflammatory properties. This means when you eat foods rich in omega-3 fats, your body produces more chemical messengers to calm inflammation and the damage that it causes. Stress and lack of sleep both contribute to inflammation and there’s no shortage of these in the postpartum period. Incorporating more foods rich in omega-3 fats can promote better health overall. Try wild salmon, flaxseeds, walnuts, hemp seeds, chia seeds and sardines.
What other nuggets of wisdom might you have to share that we didn't even think to ask about? 🙂
Since I focus so often on helping mothers and children heal digestive or skin issues, I can’t leave out the importance of gut health! If you or your baby is struggling with bowel movements, diarrhea/loose stools, foods bothering you or have any digestive diagnoses, I encourage you to consider taking steps to heal your gut or work with a practitioner like myself to help you heal. Having a healthy gut is the foundation of all good health because 80% of your immune system lies within your gastrointestinal tract (or your gut). Even neurotransmitters that support emotional balance in postpartum are synthesized in your gut.
Thank you, Danielle!