How to Deal with a Postpartum Diagnosis of Osteoporosis
I had never planned in my wildest dreams to be faced with a diagnosis of osteoporosis in my mid-thirties (well, the late thirties at this stage). When the naturopath read the results of my labs out loud, she was so nonchalant about it, while tears were striking my cheeks and ending in my lips. It was my worst fear, as I knew my body had been battered by years of partying and skipped meals, 9 months of Hyperemesis Gravidarum, 14 months of breastfeeding and many, many months without a period.
Both pregnancy and breastfeeding cause changes in, and place extra demands on, women’s bodies. Some of these may affect their bones.
During pregnancy, the baby growing in its mother’s womb needs plenty of calcium to develop its skeleton. This need is especially great during the last 3 months of pregnancy (NIH 2018).
Breastfeeding also affects a mother’s bones. Studies have shown that women often lose 3 to 5 percent of their bone mass during breastfeeding, although they recover it rapidly after weaning. The amount of calcium the mother needs depends on the amount of breast milk produced and how long breastfeeding continues (NIH 2018).
The diagnosis shouldn’t have taken me by surprise, but it was a cold and harsh slap in my face; I wasn’t ready to deal with a lifelong and deteriorating condition. In my dreams I wanted to run with my daughter for many years, I wanted to do cartwheels and squat jumps as if there was no tomorrow, and I was still considering that trapeze class offered at the local circus. I wasn’t ready to deal with a diagnosis of “getting old”, while my brain was somewhere stuck between motherhood and teenagerhood.
And that’s when I started reading, to find out if I could reserve the situation I was in (highly unlikely if you are at my stage, and I don’t want to sell false hopes), and what to do to optimise my chances of aging in optimal health.
Having knowledge on the topic doesn’t save my spine from its future, but there are a few things I have put in place hoping to reverse (or at least ameliorate) my condition:
Strength training and movement
I have always been a huge fan of cardio and yoga. With a diagnosis of osteoporosis in the spine, yoga isn’t the go-to exercise.
Exercise is recognised as one of the most effective lifestyle strategies to help make bones as strong as possible, reducing the risk of fractures later in life. On top of maintaining bone density, exercise increases the size, strength, and capacity of muscles. The best exercise is a combination of weight-bearing exercise with supervised progressive resistance training and challenging balance and mobility exercises, to be done at least 3 times per week, while forward bending and twisting have to avoided (Osteoporosis Australia 2019)
In the first couple of weeks after the diagnosis, I was afraid of moving my body, as I was terrified of breaking it; it’s not like that, and movement is the fastest and best way to prevent more issues down the line.
Vitamin D and supplements
When I got hit with the word “Osteoporosis”, I quickly realised I had no time to fool around; if I wanted to get better, I had to get serious. I was already eating a balanced diet, and I boosted it up with “superfoods” (for my condition), and I started supplementing with Calcium, Magnesium and more. I went back to weeding and feeding the microbiome, to enhance my chances of absorbing all the nutrients I was putting into my body; I knew that being underweight wasn’t serving me, which is why I started adding high-quality fats and proteins in my daily meals, in order to balance my hormonal levels and allow estrogen to kick in and protect my bones. I also focused on detoxification to avoid calcium to be leaked out from my system, and I embraced the “more water-less caffeine” lifestyle. Slightly painful in the beginning, but worth it.
Do you know when you have the gut feeling that what you are doing isn’t serving your body? To me, it was exercising when I was injured, tired, sick or exhausted. It sounds so common sense, but after having my daughter I did hold on very tightly to my 5 am exercise sessions, as that was the only time I had for myself. I had to let that go.
Stretching became the norm to calm my nervous system, and to allow the blood to circulate freely throughout my body. I also applied what I preach, and I tuned in with my body, I started listening to its cues, its niggles, and pains. And I accepted that I wasn’t 20 anymore and having a strong back to pick up my daughter with ease was much more important than going to a challenging HIIT session at the local gym.
We can get vitamin D through foods, but we do get it especially from sun exposure
Despite the name, vitamin D is considered a pro-hormone and not actually a vitamin, and it can be synthesized by our body when sunlight hits our skin.
It is estimated that sensible sun exposure on bare skin for 5–10 minutes 2–3 times per week allows most people to produce sufficient vitamin D, but vitamin D breaks down quite quickly, meaning that stores can run low, especially in winter (NIH 2019).
But why do we need vitamin D?
It helps the body to absorb Calcium
It supports a strong immune system
It strengthens our bones and moves our muscles
It carries messages between the brain and every body part
If you have been hit with a diagnosis of osteoporosis and you are younger than 40, don’t despair, it doesn’t mean your body is going to fall apart right in front of your eyes. It is important to put changes in places so you can strengthen your bones, muscles, immune system while protecting your body from impacts, falls and taxing activities.
I also would like to add that this article is based on my own experience, and although I’m a qualified nutritionist, I invite you to speak to your health care provider and to avoid self diagnosed and treatment.
NIH 2019,Vitamin D, https://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/VitaminD-Consumer/
Osteoporosis Australia 2019, https://www.osteoporosis.org.au/sites/default/files/files/Exercise%20Fact%20Sheet%202nd%20Edition.pdf