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The journey of “becoming” the mother

The voyage from maiden to mother is the biggest journey a woman will embark on. It’s a rite of passage that marks the beginning of a new you. While it is clear to see the monumental changes that occur physically to a woman’s body, did you know that equally great changes are occurring to her hormones, nervous system and brain? These big psychological shifts can result in a dichotomy of emotions: one minute overjoyed and feeling a love like never before to the next where anxiety, lack of confidence and overwhelm creep in. Instead of focusing on setting up a nursery and buying the right pram, we need to be preparing a woman for how she is going to feel as she moves through this season of life, and discuss what is happening to her and how she can best be supported. Understanding the changes that are occurring and truly honouring these with space, rest and solid support networks will ensure this journey of “becoming” the mother is as sacred as it should be.

Hormonal changes

One of the biggest biochemical changes that occur when a maiden becomes a mother is hormonal shifts.

Healthy menstruating maidens have biphasic cycles; the first half is called the follicular phase and the second half is the luteal phase. The two main sex hormones oestrogen and progesterone ebb and flow throughout the two phases of the cycle like a beautiful dance; in the follicular phase, oestradiol (primary oestrogen made in reproductive years) is at its highest and in the luteal phase, progesterone is highest.

The body and brain become accustomed to the predictable cyclical pattern of these hormones, so when a woman becomes pregnant and experiences unparalleled surges of steroidal sex and pregnancy hormones it can cause an array of psychological, neurological and emotional changes for her.

During pregnancy there is a surge of oestriol (primary oestrogen when pregnant) and progesterone far greater than what a woman will experience at any other time throughout her life. Cortisol, one of the body’s “stress hormones” is three times higher and pregnancy-specific hormones hCG (human chorionic gonadotropin), which is created by the growing placenta, and prolactin, which is responsible for creating breast milk, are also the highest they will ever be. The shift in oestrogen and hCG can increase levels of thyroid-stimulating hormone and right before a woman gives birth, “the love hormone” oxytocin ramps up to prepare the woman’s body for labour.

Following birth, hormones dramatically shift again. After the placenta is birthed, there is a big drop in oestriol, progesterone, hCG and relaxin. Oestrogen and progesterone are at this point the lowest they will ever be until a woman hits menopause.

It’s easy to see how a woman may feel highs and lows from this rollercoaster of hormonal changes. Fascinatingly, these immense hormonal shifts are not only associated with emotional changes but have also been shown to impact a mother’s brain.

Nutrition changes

The demand for nutrients dramatically increases as the maiden transitions to mother. Growing and sustaining life is an enormous job and recovering and healing from this marathon is just as big.

A growing baby takes what it needs from the mother first, therefore if a woman goes into pregnancy nutritionally deficient, she will become depleted very quickly. It is important to prepare yourself in the maiden days so that you transition into pregnancy fully nourished and well.

A few key nutrients that are fundamental to enjoy during your maiden years and while pregnant include:


  • Requirements during pregnancy are greatly increased due to an increase in blood volume.
  • In utero the baby accumulates enough iron stores to last through their first six months of life.
  • Iron is essential to transport oxygen around the body.
  • A deficiency of this mineral is particularly common in pregnancy.
  • It is important to have high enough levels as low iron correlates with post-natal depression.

Iron can be found in: Lean meat, broccoli, cabbage, spinach and cooked legumes such as chickpeas, lentils, lima beans and kidney beans.


  • Supports baby’s brain and immune, muscle and bone development while helping to protect mother from stretch marks, cracked nipples and tearing during delivery.
  • May help prevent post-natal depression.
  • Zinc can be found in: Meat and seafood, Brazil nuts, parsley, pumpkin seeds, spinach, broccoli, garlic, oats and carrots.

Vitamin B12

  • Deficiencies in B12 during pregnancy can lead to neural tube and brain defects, and supplementation can help prevent spina bifida and nervous system abnormalities.
  • Improves energy, mood and stress levels throughout pregnancy.

Vitamin B12 can be found in: All animal products including red meat, chicken, fish, eggs, dairy and organ meats


  • Iodine is important for thyroid function as deficiency during pregnancy has been associated with learning impairment in the newborn.
  • Iodine can be found in: Kelp, fish, lima beans, mushrooms, sunflower seeds and iodised or sea salt.

Omega 3 fatty acids

  • High-quality dietary oils are essential to the growth and development of the baby’s central nervous system, brain, eyes, skin, IQ and behaviour, and may help prevent the risk of a pre-term delivery as it is most effective in prevention.

Omega 3 fatty acids can be found in Oily deep-sea fish such as salmon and ocean trout (safest to eat cooked), plus eggs, chicken, wheat germ, nuts, seeds and flaxseed oil.

  • Protein
    Protein is essential during pregnancy.
  • It forms the building blocks of life.

Protein-rich foods include: Lean meat, poultry, deep-sea fish, eggs, hemp seeds, tofu, tempeh, lentils and beans, dairy products, nuts and seeds and quinoa. Aim to have a good-quality protein, roughly the size of your palm, in each meal.

Nourishment in the post-partum period

The post-partum period should also have a big focus on nourishment to heal and replenish after months of growing a human. The caloric needs of a breastfeeding mother increase dramatically as she continues to provide nutrients for her growing baby. Following these five nutritional guidelines will support healing and optimise nourishment for mother and baby.

  • Eat warm, digestible foods. In Traditional Chinese Medicine a post-partum mother needs to be kept warm at all times for optimal healing. Avoid cold foods that are harder to digest and instead enjoy slow-cooked, nutrient-dense warm foods such as porridge, soups, stews, dals, kitchari, slow-cooked meats and broths. Add warming spices to meals such as cinnamon, cardamom, nutmeg and turmeric.
  • Eat adequate protein and fats with each meal. Protein helps to rebuild tissue and is fundamental for healing and recovery. Healthy fats are important for rebalancing hormones, reducing inflammation in the body and encouraging balanced moods. Enjoy organic animal meats, organ meats, fish, ghee, butter, olive oil, nuts, coconut oil and avocado.
  • Keep hydrated. A good rule of thumb is every time you’re breastfeeding, have a big glass of water or herbal tea next to you to drink. Breastfeeding women can very easily become dehydrated, so aim for three litres of water a day — herbal teas count toward this.
  • Avoid caffeine and refined sugar. Caffeine stimulates the body’s stress hormone cortisol, while refined sugar is inflammatory and impacts blood glucose levels. Both of these foods can contribute to imbalanced emotions and post-partum depletion.
  • Continue taking your prenatal vitamins. This will ensure your micronutrient stores are optimised and your baby is acquiring what they need to grow and thrive.

Post-partum rituals

In Jamila Rizvi’s novel The Motherhood she writes, “Ironically, while our lives are more luxurious than our grandmothers’ in almost every way, the truth is they probably had a smoother journey into motherhood. This is mainly because they made space for it. And the people around them did too.”

The voyage from maiden to mother is the biggest journey a woman will embark on. Honouring this time, allowing spaciousness for deep rest and bonding with your baby, keeping warm, nourished and safe are all crucial for the wellbeing of both mother and baby. Interestingly, most cultures around the world have post-partum rituals to help ease a mother into her new role.

Rizvi outlines these in her book: “In Korea, new mothers receive hot tea and seaweed soup for 21 days in a ritual known as san-ho-jori.”

During the “mother roasting” period in India, new mothers are fed nourishing foods and warmed by a fire for 10 to 40 days. In Tibet, they are served meat broths. In Southeast Asia, they endure or enjoy (depending how you see things) a 30- to 40-day confinement. Indigenous Aboriginal mothers receive multigenerational support. Mexican mothers are treated to 40 days of bed rest, massages, herbal baths, chicken soup and hot chocolate. Native Americans included sweat lodges and massage in the 10- to 30-day “lying-in time”. The Ayurvedic practice involves 42 days of daily massage, naps and slow-cooked foods. And “the sitting month”, or zuo yue zi, in China follows a similar theme of warming foods prepared by family members and no visitors (or showers). According to Traditional Chinese Medicine, the first 42 days govern the next 42 years.

Lacking proper care in the post-partum period can cause an array of symptoms that indicate depletion, including (according to Dr Oscar Serrallach):

  • Fatigue and exhaustion
  • Tired on waking
  • Falling asleep unintentionally
  • Anxiety
  • Low moods, tears, depression
  • Feeling guilt or shame around the role of being a mother
  • Low self-esteem
  • Sense of isolation — may be fearful of socialising
  • Frustration, overwhelm, feeling like there is no time for self-care
  • “Baby brain” — poor concentration, poor memory, mood swings, feeling down
  • Loss of libido
  • Nutritional deficiencies

4 ways to ease the journey from maiden to mother

Creating your own rituals and deep care can help ease this transition, here are four ways to help you on your journey.

1 Be gentle with yourself. Remind yourself of all the upgrades that are happening in your brain and body and allow space and grace for “becoming” a mother.

2 Call in support. There is a perceived notion that the mother has to be and do “everything”, and as result many mothers suffer in silence and do not receive the education, information, nourishment or support they truly need. Now is the time to ask for help, whether this be in the form of homemade meals, extra care for a sibling, another set of hands while you have a shower or a deep connecting conversation with another mother or friend who can listen, hear and hold space for you.

3 Optimise nourishment. Warming, nutrient-dense foods, rest, family, good friends, warm baths, anything that feels nourishing and healing should be woven into your days as much as possible to avoid depletion and encourage recovery post birth.

4 Prioritise your health. If there is ever a time to have your health team on call it is now. I recommend every mother should have a thorough post-partum blood test to assess her biochemistry and ensure nothing is out of range. As you now know, it is a big, depleting journey and we want to ensure a mother is not running on empty. Testing gives us clear guidance on what needs to be replenished. Call in the help of your naturopath or health provider. Remember you cannot give from an empty cup.

Ema Taylor

Ema Taylor

Ema Taylor is a naturopath, clinical nutritionist and certified fertility awareness educator. For more, visit emataylor.com or @emataylornaturopathy on Instagram.

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