I never realized what a detox junkie I am until I got pregnant and couldn’t detox.

Thankfully I had done a deep cleanse just a couple of months before getting pregnant, but once we had conceived, my focus was on deep nourishment and a “building” diet– lots of good fats, healthy meats, nutrient-dense bone broths, and cultured foods. Of course I ate my fair share of veggies and did a lot of juicing as well, but my primary focus was on foods that build: healthy fats and proteins.

None of this changed when Sia was born. Breastfeeding is no small job and takes a lot out of you on every level. And as any breastfeeding mama knows, it’s not the time to cleanse. For one, you don’t have the energy for it. More importantly, the last thing you want to do is mobilize toxins that could end up in your breast milk and thus in your baby.

Depending on how long you breastfeed, this could mean you don’t have the opportunity for a deep detox for a long time. My daughter just turned 13 months a couple of weeks ago, and we’re nowhere close to weaning. I expect we’ll go up to at least her 2nd birthday. When you add the months of pregnancy into that total, we’re getting close to three years without a detox. I started itching to “clean house” many months ago.

A few important things to know about detoxing:

  • Your body is always detoxifying. This isn’t something it only does on a juice fast. Everything from the hormones your body naturally produces, to the supplements you take, to any toxins in your food and environment… Every moment of every day your body is cleaning house. It’s just not doing it on an extremely deep level. Think of it like the day-to-day housekeeping you do versus the deep spring cleaning you only do once or twice a year.
  • One of the most important things you can do to support your body’s everyday housekeeping efforts is to make sure your elimination pathways are running clear and smooth. Once those toxins have been dealt with by your body, you want them to have a speedy exit route. When you take out the kitchen trash you don’t want the hallway blocked with junk preventing you from taking the garbage outside. Just like you with your busy schedule, your body doesn’t always have the time to clean up those elimination pathways on top of everything else it’s got to do, so preventing that back up in the first place is the best strategy.
  • While you don’t want to do a deep cleaning when you’re still breastfeeding, what you can do is reduce the number of toxins that are going in on a regular basis (and thus reduce your toxic load) and support your elimination pathways to flow freely.

Young woman breast feeding a baby — Image by © Royalty-Free/Corbis

Here are nine strategies you can safely use while breastfeeding to keep your inner house clean:

Screen shot 2013-08-27 at 9.50.33 PM1) Make sure you’re digesting and eliminating well – In other words: ensure you’re pooping at least once daily. Your digestion is one of the primary vehicles for your body to eliminate toxins – both food waste and the toxins your liver has neutralized. Here’s the connection: your liver neutralizes toxins, which are excreted from the body in bile. The bile is stored in your gallbladder, where it waits until you’ve eaten a meal containing fat. When your digestive system senses fat is present, your gallbladder squirts the stored bile into the top of the small intestine, where it breaks down the fats and escorts toxins out of the body in your poop. Kinda cool, right?

{Interesting side bar totally not relevant to breastfeeding mamas: you know how if you’ve had one too many drinks you crave greasy food? Well, that’s your body’s natural and totally appropriate response to getting those toxins OUT in a hurry. Eating a meal high in fat will cause your gallbladder to squirt out bile to emulsify those fats, while at the same time conveniently removing those extra toxins from the alcohol out of your body.}

If pooping daily is something you struggle with – and please know that many breastfeeding mamas get constipated – then getting things moving should be a top priority. Try adding beets to your daily diet (beet kvass – a fermented beet drink – is an even better option) to help thin the bile flow. There are lots of natural strategies for getting things moving, but this gets more clinical so we’d recommend you work with a practitioner if what you’ve tried so far hasn’t worked.

Woman Drinking Water from a Glass2) Make sure you’re well hydrated – Another key elimination vehicle is urine, and thus your kidneys. The best and easiest way to take care of your kidneys is to stay well hydrated. This is especially important (and difficult) to do when you’re breastfeeding and losing so much of your liquid through your breast milk. My strategy is to drink 8-12oz of water every time I breastfeed in addition to sipping water throughout the day. Try adding a pinch of unrefined sea salt to your water to add electrolytes for better absorption. Also, staying really well hydrated will help you poop and makes everything in your body run more smoothly. If you only do one thing on this list, get hydrated.

dry brush3) Keep your skin clear – Many don’t realize that our skin is a major detoxifying organ. Lots of stuff leaves our body via sweat, which means it’s a good thing to get sweaty. You can do this through good old fashioned daily exercise, or you can take a hot Epsom salt bath. I’d be careful with saunas and hot tubs – they’re obviously off limits when you’re pregnant, but even when you’re breastfeeding they can mobilize more of those toxins than you’d like.

Another way to keep your skin clear is a technique called dry brushing. This is where you use a skin brush with natural bristles (like this one) on dry skin before showering. I emphasize dry skin because it really doesn’t work on wet skin and can actually pull or tear the skin, and you want to do this before showering so you can wash off all that dead skin the brush stirs up. Start at your extremities (hands and feet) and move in strong swift strokes up to your torso, always moving in the direction of your heart. Your skin will be a little pink, but not red. It’s not super comfy at first but you’ll get used it and it actually starts to feel really good over time. Not only will this help your skin breathe and eliminate toxins more easily, you will look and feel amazing!

4) Keep that lymph flowing – a side benefit of skin brushing and exercise is that you keep your lymph flowing. Lymph is the fluid of your immune system, another important element of your detoxification system, and it circulates through the body in a system that parallels your main circulatory system (your blood). The difference is that your lymph doesn’t have the benefit of a heart pumping to move it around – it depends on your movement.

The best way to get your lymph moving is to bounce: skip rope, do some jumping jacks, go for a jog, jump on a rebounder or trampoline – do anything that has gravity and requires you to bounce. Runners have excellent lymphatic flow because they do all that bouncing and they’re also pumping their arms at the same time, stimulating lymph flow in the nodes in their armpits. Time to break out the baby jogger?

meditate5) Deep breathing – Our lungs are an often-neglected detoxification organ, but with every exhale we’re ridding our body of toxins. Exercise can do the trick, or try some restorative yoga and focus on deep, cleansing ujjayi breaths. Never under-estimate the power of breath. It is life giving and can be an amazing tool if you harness its power and breathe with intention and awareness.

6) Oil pulling – Your mouth is big source of toxins and bacteria. Oil pulling is an ancient ayurvedic technique based on the principle that toxins and bacteria are attracted to oil.

Here’s how it works: first thing in the morning (ideally before you’ve brushed your teeth or eaten any food) you take a spoonful of good quality oil (I prefer coconut oil but any good quality oil will do) and swish it around your mouth for a good 20-30 minutes. As you swish, toxins and bacteria that are in your mouth get pulled into the oil. You might find that your nose starts running. When you’re done, spit the oil into the garbage. DO NOT SWALLOW IT!! as it’s loaded with toxins, and don’t spit it in the sink as it will clog it. You can then rinse your mouth with some warm salt water, brush your teeth, and proceed with your day as usual.

If you do this regularly you’ll notice over time that your teeth get whiter, feel cleaner, and your breath is fresher. By removing the burden of extra toxins and bacteria in your mouth, you’re freeing up your immune system and other detoxification organs to attend to other business in your body.

7) Reduce the number of toxins going in through your diet – Last but certainly not least is what you’re putting into your body. This is a time to be really mindful of how you nourish yourself and your baby. A diet filled with nutrient-dense whole foods is paramount. Steer clear of processed or “faux” health foods (you know – those “health” foods that you couldn’t grow or cook yourself and that come in fancy packaging with all sorts of health promises on it). The more homemade, the better. This is precious time in your baby’s life that you won’t get back. Deep nourishment for both of you is a top priority.

The one nutrient-dense real food cleanse you can do while breastfeeding is our Sugar Control Detox. We don’t recommend you try it until your baby is at least three months old, but it’s less of a cleanse and more of a deep commitment to eating exclusively nutrient-dense whole foods. And, of course, we take out any and all forms of sugar (and foods that convert to sugar in the blood quickly) in the process. Many breastfeeding mamas (including myself) have done this protocol with great success. It’s a great way to ensure you’re eating only the highest quality real food, and conveniently it eliminates a lot of the foods that contribute to colicky behavior in babies (like gluten and dairy) so your baby will love it, too. Oh yeah, and it’s an excellent and safe way to get rid of those last few stubborn pounds of baby weight.

8) Eat more veggies. Most of us don’t eat enough vegetables (even, ironically, many vegetarians!) and it’s a rare person I don’t have to overtly cajole into increasing their intake. Vegetables are very cleansing and jam-packed with micronutrients, antioxidants, fiber and flavanoids your body needs to thrive. Your goal should be 2-4 cups of vegetables per mealSee, I told you you’re not eating enough.

This guideline comes from Dr. Terry Wahls, author of The Wahls Protocol (exceptional book on healing autoimmune disease through food), who reversed her severe Multiple Sclerosis through diet and lifestyle changes that included this significant intake of vegetables and fruits.

If you’re thinking “how on earth am I going to eat that many vegetables?” here’s a way to divide it up so that you’re getting a good diversity and not eating the same thing over and over again. At each meal, strive for:

  • 1 cup of dark leafy greens (lots to choose from here: spinach, kale, collards, mustard greens, swiss chard, arugula, watercress, etc)
  • 1 cup of brightly colored fruits vegetables (beets, carrots, berries, eggplant, olives, tomatoes, peppers, radishes, etc)
  • 1 cup of cruciferous, alliums, and/or mushrooms (cruciferous are vegetables such as broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, radishes, brussels sprouts; alliums are garlic, onions, leeks)

Eating so many vegetables will naturally displace other less-important things on your plate, most notably the starchy carbohydrates like grains, legumes and white potatoes, and will significantly increase your body’s cleansing potential without mobilizing toxins in a dangerous way.

9) Coffee enema. If you’re feeling brave, this is a lovely way to open up a key elimination pathway without mobilizing more toxins, making it safe to do while breastfeeding. It’s a big, controversial topic, which I wrote about here.


Written by Margaret Floyd, NTP HHC CHFS

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