Virgo season health with Emma McLaughlin

We are honoured to speak with Emma McLaughlin a women's health advocate.

Emma believes women have a right to understand how their bodies work and what can be done to support hormonal health so successfully with food, herbal medicine and lifestyle modifications. She likes to combine evidence based science, with a healthy dose of practicality, good fun and traditional naturopathy. Plus she is a Virgo woman herself!

In its core, the sixth house of a natal chart is a place of routine that provides us with good nutrition, health, and satisfaction, corresponding to the sign of Virgo and speaking of our practical, everyday life.
Tell us a little about your story and how you came to empower women by helping them understand their bodies?
I am a mum to two little-uns - Stella (age 7 - pisces), and Jed (age 4 - virgo). I had both of my children while studying for my naturopathy degree at uni and about 8 months after Stella was born I just hit the wall. Stella was such an awful sleeper - I was up 6 times a night, losing weight, exhausted yet running on adrenalin and despite being exhausted, unable to get to sleep at night. I was struggling emotionally as my husband was working a FIFO job and our closest family resides in Sydney. I was not suffering from post-natal depression, I was just sleep deprived, exhausted and lacking support (trying to 'super-mum' it! - A common story I hear a lot from women! I had to work really hard to pull out my tools - herbal medicine, really honing in on the nutrients I was depleted in post-pregnancy, birth and breastfeeding and rethink how to address food, nutrition, exercise and the big one - 'me time' now that I was both time and energy poor. Jed was the same in terms of sleep, however I had my toolbox there and rode through it a lot better. When I opened my clinic doors I attracted a lot of women in the same boat and really started to realise there are a lot of mum's struggling out there who just need a toolbox of their own and to be able to take the super-mum cape off and realise we need a little help at this point I our lives.
Tell us about the hormonal revolution?
The more women I see, the more I realise that many of us are so far removed from the understanding of our bodies and how they work. Hormones are so central to our wellbeing as women - they impact mood, our ability to fall pregnant and breastfeed and have normal healthy periods. Many women think that period pain is normal, of irregular or drawn out periods are normal - they may be 'common', however 'common' and 'normal' are two very different things. I believe we need to get back to understanding our cycles, our bodies, our hormones and what we can do to support our hormones. As women, we used to have a lot of wise knowledge around herbal medicines and how to rest or exercise at different times of our cycles that was passed down from woman-to-woman. A lot of this knowledge has been lost, and a lot of women feel unempowered when they see someone about period pain only to be told - "this is your lot, take a neurofen". There is so much more we can do, a knowledge is the key. Social media has become such an awesome platform to share knowledge and to get our messages out. I am trying to use these platforms to educate and bring back some of this knowledge. That's the hormonal revolution :)
How does pregnancy and childbirth really affect our hormones?
It is different for every woman. That's one reason naturopathy, herbalism and functional medicine are all based around "individualised" treatment of a person. If we are looking at health wholistically we need to look at all aspects that might affect and individual. Pregnancy and childbirth however are one of the biggest periods of hormonal shifts we will go through - along with adolescence and menopause. "Matrescence" is the term used when you become a mother - the shift from "maiden" to "mother" which is huge both hormonally, but also emotionally and neuronally (our brain structure literally changes during and after pregnancy). We come out the other side an "upgraded" version of ourselves. Yes, there are hormonal changes to oestrogen, progesterone, prolactin and that gorgeous love hormone oxytocin during pregnancy and after birth which will have to settle back to normal at some point (for some this does, and for others their hormonal patterns might become a little skewed). I think understanding the role our adrenal hormones play in stress resilience is almost more important as they come into play big time and if not supported can contribute to fatigue, anxiety and poor stress tolerance.
You specialise is postnatal depletion, would you mind giving us an insight into what this is and some of the common symptoms?
The term "postnatal depletion" refers to nutrient deficiencies that might occur postpartum as a part of heightened demand in pregnancy, birth and breastfeeding. It can also refer to hormonal depletion or imbalances that may occur, and can occur up to 8 years postpartum. Common symptoms may include fatigue, brain fog, mood imbalances, anxiety and sleep issues (outside of babies waking you). Yes, a lot of these symptoms might be expected in the early days, however for many women they go on much longer than they should and become debilitating. It is quite a big issue in our modern western cultures as we don't prioritise postpartum recovery the way that other cultures do and we are often having children later and might have pre-occurring health conditions or levels of depletion prior to pregnancy that are compounded afterwards.
What are some other common issues mothers come to see you for?
Thyroid disorders such as Hashimoto's and Graves Disease, digestive complaints, skin and fertility. I also love working with women going into or through menopause.
Please tell me what the low down is about PMS, I feel it gets worse as I get older!
Hee hee, sometimes I feel motherhood can be one long PMS journey! My tether is so much shorter these days! Well PMS refers to mood changes such as irritability, anger and/or teariness in the few days leading up to menstruation and can also include other physical symptoms such as tender breasts, sleep disturbance and food cravings. For some women this is minor (I think some assertiveness and boundary setting is important and might occur more readily in this time!) but for others this can get really debilitating and drawn out and might also indicate some hormonal imbalances. Herbal medicine can be a beautiful was to calm ourselves if this is a bit of an issue. Traditionally this phase of our menstrual cycles was seen as a time for introspection and quiet rest - like the 'Autumn' of our cycles or the waning and dark phases of the moon. This isn't always easy to do with little ones, however being conscious of this can really help so that we can nurture ourselves, rather than push.
What are some important practices to incorporate into a postnatal plan?
Number 1 is relaxation and restorative practices. I personally think this is more important than nutrition and movement (they come a very close second). Time (or lack of) becomes something we really need to bear in mind and so starting with simple focus on breath and abdominal breathing are a great way to incorporate a nice daily practice. I recommend doing this when putting on the kettle or going to the loo! Just close your eyes, focus on 3 or more deep inhales and exhales and feel the wave of calm. Use this whenever you can to come back to centre. Meal planning and slow cooking can be very handy and focus on 'movement' rather than intense exercise or you will deplete your cup even further. The postnatal period should be all about slow and steady nourishment. Oh - and making sleep a priority where possible.
How did you handle the transition into motherhood?
Terribly! I have only just realised that just like adolescence, matrescence can take years to go through such a huge change and it does not come with a manual. Sleep deprivation was huge for me and I feel I'm only just out of the woods - however I am calmer now, the 'earthmother' I thought I would be turned out to be a crazy screaming lady some days whom I never knew existed. And being an introvert, I didn't realise how much I relied on my quiet time and time away form others to recharge - I found being 'on' 24/7 and dealing with constant noise incredibly challenging but this too has become easier as my children are growing. I love them to the stars and back but had no idea what I was in for. I think we don't talk enough about the challenges generally and if we did it would help us as women rather than braving it behind closed doors and sitting in 'mum guilt'. I'm blessed to have friends who are very honest, very supportive and together we can laugh at this journey and ourselves - warts and all.
What do you say to people who are unsure about paying the price for natural therapies?
Do what you feel drawn to do if you are struggling to make headway somewhere yourself. There are so many ways to meet your goals with health - you might be good at researching and implementing something yourself or find your relief from acupuncture, or massage, or your GP, or reiki or any number of therapies and if it works for you then that is wonderful! Yes, there is often an outlay for these things, however most people will prioritise servicing their car or keeping their home in shape before their health. It depends what you think is more important. At the end of the day you are seeking the advice or treatment of someone trained in a specific area so will often get quicker and more direct results than trying to "Dr Google" it and collect tools for your toolbox to use indefinitely.
Lastly, what’s one thing women and mothers can do at home today to improve their relationship with their bodies?
Love, nourish and support yourself - don't push. You can't be the best mother/partner/etc unless you make you a priority. Treat yourself gently.
You can find Emma via