Our women’s wellbeing for pregnancy and beyond
Interview with Leah Salmon founder of Naturally You Coach
Leah Salmon is a home educating mother, wife, author, speaker, nutritionist, life coach & live blood analyst. Working in the community for many years Leah has helped empower black women to improve their wellbeing.
As part of your consultancy you do Live Blood Analysis. What does that entail?
To do this I take blood from the finger, place it on a slide and put under the microscope and project it onto the screen. I show you round what I can see in your blood which is magnified 1000 times. So I am able to see the white blood cells, red blood cells, plasma and the platelets. From the shape, size and positioning of the cells we can see indications of different things to do with your health.
It’s like a reflection of your health.
The process is not meant to treat, cure or diagnose anything, and the Advertising Standards Agency makes sure we don’t ever make that claim. But it does give us a very clear indication of what is going on in the person’s body so that does help in giving dietary recommendations as well. It’s very interesting.
You have worked to help women improve their health for many years. How and why did you start this journey?
When I was 11years old I decided I wanted to be a vegetarian. My mum obliged as long as I was getting enough protein. So in everybody’s estimation if you are a young growing girl you need to get a source of protein, and the only way was through soya. So I was led down the path of eating soya at least 3 times a day. I had soya milk, soya cheese, soya burgers, even soya bacon. Literally, soya everything. In the midst of eating insane amounts of soya I also very rarely ate fresh fruits and vegetables. I rarely made meals from scratch. Like me making a meal would be like boiling pasta and putting cheese on top and a soya sausage. That was the extent of my culinary skills, so I was what I called a junk food vegetarian. So as long as there wasn’t any meat, poultry or fish in it then I ate it. I wasn’t vegan.
So I had pizza and spicy bean burgers from the take away. By the time I was 17 I developed a menstrual condition called Metrorrhagia where I would bleed between my periods. So I would have my regular period and 2 weeks later I had another period. And this lasted for about 2 years and came with all the other symptoms of PMS. I had the extreme pain, heaviness, clots, the skin eruptions, food cravings and the emotional instabilities. But when I was 17years old this Metrorrhagia developed as well and this lasted until I was about 19years old. And I kept it that long because I did not want to tell anyone about it. I found it very embarrassing to have those problems. I thought I was being punished and I did not link it to the food I was eating as I was under the presumption (and a lot of the clients I work with are under the same impression) that to be vegan/vegetarian then I am healthy and there is no way my food can impact my health. So when I was about 19 I finally went to the doctors. And as the saying goes in order for change to occur the pain of staying the same has to be greater than the pain of change. And for me the pain of exposing this very bad thing was not as bad as fortnightly periods. And the reason I did not go was because I thought they would try and operate on me, drug me or ignore me. And they literally did the latter. They said if it gets worse come back in 6months. They did not offer any solutions. I left the room feeling abundant and feeling uncared for.
This did empowered me to take my health into my own hands. That’s when I started going back into my studies of herbal medicine, nutrition, lifestyle, aromatherapy; and then to put together a plan of aromatherapy oils, diet changes that included reducing soya. Within 2 weeks my symptoms subsided and within 3months it had completely gone. So that turned me onto a health quest. I was the annoying person who just found out about health and was questioning everything. But I realised around that time I was not employable. I didn’t like being told what I had to do and the number days I was allowed for holiday. So I decided I would be a nutritionist by trade. But the type of nutritionist I was thought if it worked for me it’s going to work for you; and if it doesn’t work for you then there is a problem with you as my advice is perfect. So I started working with clients. Some were getting good results some were actually getting worse and others had no change at all. And the diet I was recommending was the same I was on which was relatively high carb grains like rice, pasta, and not a lot of fat or protein. Then, as I was not getting great results with clients I was going to give up. But then I discovered something called metabolic typing which was a personalised diet planning. So instead of trying a one size fits all diet, you tailor a diet to someone’s biochemical make up. When I started doing that the success went through the roof. My work was getting better results. But I also realised I was calling myself a holistic practitioner but I was only focusing on food. Like I couldn’t care less if you could afford what I was offering you; or whether you had time to make the recommendations; or if you were in a bad relationship; whether you hated your job or your children were stressing you out. None of that matters. I just cared if you had the smoothie. So I realised to be holistic I had to take peoples whole lives into consideration so then I added life coaching to the work that I was doing. That too improved the success I was getting with clients. In amongst that journey I became a mother, I got married and we had 7 children in total. Being a mother I started to resonate with and have more empathy towards the struggles women have in particular when it comes to being healthy. When it comes to looking after yourself when there are other people you’re responsible for; and that goes for wives, girlfriends and mothers because by nature women are nurturing to those around them and in their care. So it became very important for me to feel like I was an example of what was possible. Mothers would say it’s really difficult to do this as I have the children to look after, and I wanted to become an example people could use and say ‘Well she can do it. She has 6 children, home educates , has her own business so I can do it as well!’
You will only be as effective in life as your health allows you to be. So I realised that not only do I understand women’s health more than I understand anybody else’s health I also understand black women’s health more than anybody else’s health. And as black women we are used to being told what to do by people who have no idea what it is like to be us. So again I wanted to talk to sisters from a sister’s perspective to help empower them to take their health into their own hands. Especially when it came to eating for health and thinking for happiness and living in harmony. Because when you can do those three things there is literally nothing that you can’t do.
Do you feel that women are inspired by you and were they receptive to your approach?
So a lot of women will say the same thing. ‘I don’t know how you do it’. And a lot of women have stated the times they don’t know how to do things, and then they remember me. Whilst I do think it is important for us to have examples. I do think it is important for us to recognise how brilliant we are on our own; because life is very relative. Women will look at me with 6 children and think how can they be struggling with just one. But I often say to them when I had one child I found it harder than having the 6 because I was a new mother. So part of my work is to help women think for happiness, because then you are not comparing yourself to others. So while it is good to have a role model it is very important to show grown women, teenagers and little children that they are enough. But part of the challenge we have is the idea of beauty. Using chemicals and unnatural means to create an ideal is rooted in the idea that our natural state is not enough. So whilst it is good that people are trying to achieve things as they see me as an example, also the other half is to empower sisters to feel good enough.
For women who are new to motherhood but far removed from their traditional lifestyle – what basic advice would you provide them?
The first thing I would highlight to most mothers is that the state of mother’s health now compared to the state of the mother’s health in our antiquity is like chalk and cheese. In ancient days we did not have things like premature birth; morning sickness was not regular; gestational diabetes; and prolapsed wombs. Now there are so many challenges in pregnancy and birth much less just after birth. Our ancestors did not experience those things. So whilst we can look at pregnancy and child birth negatively as a state of ill health they don’t have to be like that. We can change the paradigm of how we think of pregnancy and birth by looking at our ancestors and following their examples. So the most basic level when a couple got married traditionally in Africa very often they were put on a particular diet. It was very often taken as a given they would have children. The reason for a particular diet was to make sure the egg and sperm were coming from healthy people. When the mother got pregnant she was put on a different diet to help nourish the child; and because of those two practices it meant that problems in pregnancy were virtually unheard of.
So if we want to reduce the challenges we have in pregnancy and childbirth then we need to be more considerate of our diet. The diet of the husband before, the mothers diet during pregnancy and after the birth too.
The concept of eating for two is not helpful. So really we should think we are being healthy for two people. That’s a more productive way to look at it. Also things like practical practises such as having a woman from the community who is close to you, and can help throughout the pregnancy and birth. Who will advocate for you in the medical setting what you want on a holistic level. This will help to ensure the pregnancy and birth is as stress free as possible to reduce the chances of medical intervention.
Also not to be scared to pursue a home birth or a birth in a birthing centre, because the unfortunate reality is that traditionally pregnancy and birth were natural events that sometimes needed medical intervention. The situation is now that pregnancy and birth are medical situations that sometimes get handled naturally.
After the baby is born it is important besides breastfeeding that the mother’s getting back the health of the body. One of the things that mothers do not do that much these days is binding. The use of a cloth that is wrapped round their midriff in order to help the recovery of their womb. Doing those things, breastfeeding, getting rest and respecting the period after the birth which is called the fourth trimester or the baby moon. Recognising these times rather than the western mindset of having the baby and then going back to work. This does not help the mother or the child.
Loss of energy is a battle for many women. What has helped you through pregnancy and beyond?
Removing sugar. Ensure you are well hydrated. Ensure your diet has a daily amount of healthy fats in it. Ensuring that a third of your diet is made up of plant based raw vegan foods. All of these things will ensure you have more energy during the pregnancy. Now being raw vegan is not essential. Include wholegrains, not wheat but other wholegrains like spelt, amaranth, barley the more natural ancient grains.
It is important that mothers stay active unless they are at high risk of premature birth. It is very important mothers are doing things to stay physically active. They are now working up to one of the most physically enduring events of their life. So sitting for the whole pregnancy with your feet up is not beneficial unless you are high risk. Even then only a period of activity is useful. But engaging in pregnancy yoga, walking, stretching and if necessary visiting an osteopath to ensure your muscles and body is aligned.
You can pursue exercise safely. You can support your body through the pregnancy as the baby gets bigger. Doing exercises is also going to help with deep breathing. All of those things will help maintain energy as much as possible throughout the pregnancy.
While pregnant how can a woman ensure she is taking in enough nutrition for herself and the child?
Everyone’s diet is different. There is no one size fits all however, there are some fundamentals of health when it comes to your pregnancy. And again it really does come down to fats, oils and water. Making sure you are having enough when you are pregnant. You are growing a child from scratch, so you need to make sure you are covering all bases. This is not the time to go on a fat free diet. Make sure you have good fats from avocados, nuts, seeds and coconuts. You also want to make sure you are having complex healthy carbohydrates like fruits, vegetables, and grains like spelt. Also the protein sources, if you are plant based then this will come from seaweed, lentils and beans soaked and sprouted. Dark green leafy vegetables will all provide the amino acids needed to build proteins in the body. You also want to make sure you get enough water. It is a definite fuel source to absorb the nutrients you are taking in.
Taking things in the most absorbable form possible is important. During your pregnancy if you feel you are lacking or not getting enough nutrients the first thing to do is to visit a nutritionist and get a plan. Planning meals even on your own would be essential. When you have the paper and you write the table, and it has Monday to Sunday with three meals a day you can write down the meals you want to eat and look at it. You can ask is there enough fatty food in here? Is there enough healthy carbohydrates? Are there enough proteins? If you are looking at it and your don’t know then again speak to a nutritionist. As a people we never did things on our own. There is a mentality that we have to figure things out on our own, I have to go on Google which was not something we always did. Before we always had people that helped us with things, and if they are not in your immediate family or community then ask for recommendations of someone that can help you at this time.
Supplements like Floradix which is a liquid iron supplement is very useful, or Spatone which is an iron rich water supplement. Using things like nut milks, green smoothies and juices and vegetable broths; all those are really useful ways of getting large amounts of nutrients in a very absorbable way.
Transitioning from breast milk to solids. What natural food recipes would you recommend?
There is kind of a schedule you can follow and it is usually on a rotation. I firstly would not start weaning your child off breastmilk before 6-8months.
After this the normal way people wean is to use one food at a time mixing it with breastmilk. So things like vegetables and fruits. I would not start weaning a baby off with rice; it is one of the worst things you can use. For my children we started with plantain that had been boiled and mashed up with breastmilk or yam, bananas. And then we moved to things that were slightly more acidic like mangos, and apple sauces all mixed with breastmilk. You should give the baby a few spoons of this food to play with for three days. Then for the next three days you would move them onto another single food. You would do this four times with four single foods. Then you would start the whole rotation again. For the first 2-3weeks they will have only four foods twice as you want to slowly introduce foods in a very easy way and make sure the baby does not become constipated, or with spots anywhere or have adverse reactions. Then after you have tried those four foods twice each then you can start combining foods. So you start again with fruits and vegetables that are lightly cooked or blended mixed with breast milk. Then move on to two food combinations, three food combinations and take it very slowly. In the first 2 years of life I do not see why a child needs to have dairy, red meat, or poultry. And sugar is not a treat! It is unnecessary to feel the need to give the baby sugar in the first 2 years of their life. There is no point.
How do you curb children from a sugar addiction?
If your child is fully in your care then one thing parents forget is that you are the adult in the relationship. If you decide you do not want to have a sugar addiction then don’t buy them sugar. It is literally as simple as that. Sugar addictions are as much as a snowball effect as other addictions. So for our children the best thing we can do is just stop it. If we lose that mentality that we are depriving our children of things, and have a full understanding of what we are saving our children from then it will make the decision easier. If you went to the doctors and they said your child has a peanut allergy you would do anything to keep them away from peanuts. But we do not take sugar as seriously. In fact we see sugar as love because breastmilk is sweet and we relate it to love. So when it is someone’s birthday we show love with a cake. So if we want to break the addiction it starts in the home in the kitchen. You decide that sugar will not be brought in. A husband, or aunt might do it, or when the child is older and has their own money. But as a mother you can 100% ensure that under your care they will not have sugar.
After pregnancy should the woman still focus on womb health and if so how?
For some women with each pregnancy you can actually have less symptoms. It does not mean it’s [the womb] doing less work but some women feel their period pain gets less after each child they have. So kind of makes them focus on womb health less and less. It does not mean that it doesn’t need to be looked after but there are changes that occur in the womb the more children you have. The womb is there to nourish the baby and it is still an important organ to us. Some of the things we can include in our regular life is vaginal steaming, yoni eggs and taking herbal combinations on a monthly basis in tune with our cycle. This helps to nourish and support our wombs. Herbs to look for include rose, marigold herb, yellow doc, raspberry leaf, vanilla, cranberry, camomile, shatavari root, liquorice. Being mindful of things that help our womb health almost on a monthly basis. Almost in a ritualistic way. We all have smart phones so on a monthly basis put an alarm that says yoni eggs, vaginal steam for your womb. So it becomes something that is always the focus of your mind. As mothers it is something to instil in the children from the moment they start their periods. That there are things to do each month to nourish the womb, so you don’t end up with a lot of the womb health challenges that you may see your friends and family experience. And then again human beings are beings of example, so with our children seeing us doing things it will make it more of a natural thing for them.
When girls see their mothers very much looking after themselves they will also see that as normal. So it is normalising the behaviour that we know can bring positive impact on our children’s health.
I ask my daughter about her period all the time. I want to smash any reluctancy she has about talking about her vagina, her womb and periods. In schools it is clear boys need to know as much education on female reproductive development as the girls do. The boys just think blood, girls, disgusting, and they will verbalise that. So girls who hit puberty who want to attract boys then feel ashamed about having their periods. We come from a generation of misogyny where the text books are written by men, the teachers were men and the media is run by men so they made women feel bad about having a period anyway. Ancestrally, through religion you were seen to be unclean if you were menstruating. You could not talk about it and even be cast out of the village. In some cultures you wear a different colour to show you were on your cycle. So now it is like an unwritten rule when you are on your cycle you should not talk about it. But in some cultures the period was celebrated as a rites of passage and a beautiful thing. But we need to speak in an open and honest way with girls so they are not made to feel dirty because of a natural occurrence that happens.
When people speak of periods syncing they really do sync because when my daughter started it was at a completely different time to mine. But there are times where all of a sudden I am a week early and it’s because she has just started. We can recognise the links between us and the changes in our cycles and how the cycle affects our moods. She is becoming more aware of herself through conversations we have about her cycles. In my book I speak about the concept of avoidance and acceptance for our periods. We are taught to avoid talking about the subject and then simply accept that periods are a difficult time, an emotional time and a painful time and there is nothing we can do about it. And shaming that paradigm of avoidance/acceptance in us as adults, and then showing our children that it is not OK to avoid the subject or to accept the negative things that are happening. This will help to empower them to not stand for anything less than brilliant health. What I notice is that the mothers themselves and the daughters are having challenging periods and just work out a way to deal with it. When my daughter was having challenging periods I said this was unacceptable! I did not want her to ever think that it is normal to have anything but a painless, short light period. Anything less, then we need to get to work on that.
I truly believe that if we change that mindset in them as teenage girls then that will permeate throughout everything else they will experience. They will not settle to be disrespected in life and relationships. Whereas at the moment women are told to stand there and look pretty and it is completely unacceptable.
For more information on Leah’s work visit https://thenaturallyyoucoach.com/
Leah Salmon founder of Naturally You Coach
18th Nov 2018