A Q&A with Dr. Robin Berzin, Founder and CEO of Parsley Health
At Every Mother, we’re always talking about women’s health, no matter where in the motherhood journey it may be. We’ve heard a lot of discussion around approaching prenatal and postpartum care holistically and its benefits at all stages of maternity. To learn more about this approach and ways to empower ourselves by asking the right questions, we reached out to Dr. Robin Berzin of Parsley Health—a doctor-led, holistic medical treatment program—about what this approach to care means and what we should know before, during, and after pregnancy.
* A full transcript of these videos are available at the end of the article
What does it mean to take a holistic/ functional medical approach to pregnancy?
What common concerns do you see in prenatal and postpartum women?
What nutritional guidelines do you recommend for prenatal and postpartum women?
How do you recommend women attend to their mental health while pregnant?
Let’s talk about postpartum depression and anxiety.
When is the right time to visit a doctor postpartum?
Dr. Robin Berzin is the founder and CEO of Parsley Health. A Summa Cum Laude graduate of the University of Pennsylvania, Robin completed medical school at Columbia University’s College of Physicians and Surgeons and trained in Internal Medicine at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City.
- What does it mean to take a holistic/ functional medical approach to pregnancy?
Some of the ways that holistic medicine can be really vital in pregnancy is around really taking care of the whole of you as a person. I find that, and I’ve had two kids myself, that when we get pregnant or are thinking about getting pregnant, as soon as we get pregnant, all the focus goes on to baby. And sometimes we actually forget about mom and the medical process.
When we take a holistic approach, we want to make sure that we’re taking care of any other health conditions that you have, that haven’t suddenly gone away when you’re pregnant. In addition to that, at Parsley, we’re doing testing along the way to look for things like heavy metal levels and thyroid conditions and low levels of vital nutrients, things that often don’t get checked. From there, we’re also making sure that mom is eating the right foods, taking the right prenatal, tending to her mental health, making sure she’s staying active and physical. These are the kinds of things that we do at Parsley because pregnancy doesn’t mean that you disappear. It just means you’re here, have all your needs, and you’ve got a baby.
- What common concerns do you see in prenatal and postpartum women?
One of the key things that I think women forget about postpartum is that during pregnancy, when your progesterone levels are high, it’s this moment when things kind of get quiet in terms of your health conditions and sometimes postpartum, that’s the moment when some of your old health conditions from before your pregnancy start to flare up. This is particularly true with auto-immune conditions and inflammatory conditions, and even things like acne and breakouts.
So if you had this sort of glory days during pregnancy where some of your other stuff went quiet, this is the time that it can be really flaring up. And so a lot of women, I think don’t take care of themselves or don’t check in with their doctor postpartum and then things get too far along. So we recommend that you do that.
- What nutritional guidelines do you recommend for prenatal and postpartum women?
One of the frequent mistakes that I see mamas make postpartum is they don’t replete themselves. It is a lot to grow a baby. And then if you are breastfeeding, a lot of your nutrients are going out your boobs and into that baby, which is where they’re supposed to go. But a lot of times I see women really get depleted postpartum. Especially in the later months, months three and four and five and six, when you’re getting back to your regular life and you have a baby, you have so much to do, and you’re really not taking care of yourself. So a few things nutritionally that we recommend: lots of Omega-3 fatty acids. (I recommend taking a high-quality fish oil supplement.) You’re not going to replete those Omega-3’s without a little extra boost, because remember, they all just went to baby. You also want to make sure you keep taking that prenatal [vitamin] if you can, all the way through your breastfeeding period, and really tank up your B vitamins, your iron, some of your key nutrients that come in that prenatal, which is basically like a multi [vitamin]. I see a lot of women take that out of the game too soon. And then avoiding sugar and processed foods is my name of the game at any stage of your maternal life cycle.
- How do you recommend women attend to their mental health while pregnant?
Mental health is critical to take care of during pregnancy. Pregnancy comes with a lot of hormonal changes, physical changes, and sort of cognitive overload, and all those doctors’ appointments and ultrasounds and things you have to do. That can be a lot for people. It’s especially trying for people who maybe have had a history of miscarriage or are worried about the status of the health of their pregnancy, right? So there’s a lot going on.
Some women experience a lot of fatigue in their first trimester, depression in their second trimester, anxiety and insomnia in their third trimester. Or it could be all in different order than that, and everyone’s really an individual. So one of the things we would want to make sure moms do is learn a relaxation practice and a check-in practice during their pregnancy. Something like a breathing practice—a resonance breath, where you inhale for five [seconds] and exhale for seven [seconds]—can be a really powerful stress-reduction tool throughout any part of life that’s stressful. And we love to teach women that [practice] when they’re pregnant, but we also want to make sure that if you’re feeling overwhelmed or overly emotional, that you reach out for help.
- Let’s talk about postpartum depression and anxiety.
Another thing that I see a lot postpartum is anxiety and depression, and these things are really, really common. I think a lot of women don’t realize that postpartum depression may show up for you as postpartum anxiety, and that sometimes these things can get triggered not so much in those first weeks after postpartum, or even a month or two out, but many months later, and weaning your baby can also be a trigger. So I just say to everybody, if it’s in the year after baby, your milk supply is dictating how your hormones are shifting. Your hormones are going sort of along their own journey, and they’re not static in that time either.
And then it’s a lot to take on to being a mom, especially if it’s your first time, or for me, second time around and now you have a toddler running around here to deal with, too. So remember that these emotional changes can happen at different points after pregnancy, and that can be manifesting as anxiety, not just depression. If you’re experiencing those [feelings], we really want you to reach out and get some help. If you’re a Parsley member, we can help you with that, and certainly let your other primary care doctor or GYN know.
- When is the right time to visit a doctor postpartum?
So when’s the right time to go see the doctor postpartum? Everyone talks about how they go in for that check with the OB and it’s like 10 minutes, and it asks you a basic questionnaire, and they’re like, “Cool, bye.” And that’s it. I see so many women who don’t have the opportunity because they don’t have access, or because they just forget, or because they don’t know that it’s important to really go check in with their doctor. Once your baby comes out, your OB/GYN has come and done. You really want to go see your personal doctor. And if you don’t have relationship with the doctor, try to create one, to get some essential testing after you have baby.
At Parsley we recommend our moms come in somewhere around week six to eight after baby, because that’s the time when you’ve kind of pulled it together a little bit and you’re ready to go out into the world. And at that time we’re doing testing to see how mom’s blood sugar is doing, how her heart health is doing, how her nutrient levels are doing, how her thyroid is doing—everything is moving and changing in this time. So it’s a really good time to come in, get some blood work done, and to check in on your health issues before it gets out of hand.