My Lil’ Bean Q&A: Dr. Joanna Thiessen

Gone are the days when the stereotypical doctor with the white coat is the sole authority to decide on every aspect of our health care. We are more likely to see other people in our community with expertise to bridge the gaps in that older system. With doulas, midwives, naturopaths and others, we are fortunate to have the wisdom of people who can care for us in a holistic way. Our guest for today’s blog, Dr. Joanna Thiessen, practices out of her office in Waterloo, Ontario at George Street Naturopathic Medicine.


What inspired you to become a naturopathic doctor?

I grew up being fascinated by and idolizing my grandfather, who was a very skilled internal medicine doctor in Ottawa.  I remember sneaking into his home office to look at his medical equipment, which he kept in this old, leather bag.  My desire to become a doctor began there.  When I was a teenager, my mom got really into “alternative medicine” and started a mail-order herbal remedy business.  Our basement was stocked with bottles of black cohosh and dong quai.  At that time botanical medicines and vitamins weren’t very easy to find in stores, so a mail-order business made sense.  Her work opened my eyes to the idea that there are lots of different types of medicine.  When I was doing my undergrad at the University of Guelph, I stumbled across a course called “Complimentary and Alternative Medicine” and during the semester we had a Naturopathic Doctor come to speak with us.  I had never heard of ND’s until then, and learning about the profession blew my mind!  It was like everything I had ever wanted in a career actually existed!  I was hooked.

How does your support for a healthy pregnancy differ from what a family doctor offers?

All of my pregnant patients are seeing either their family doctor, an OB or a midwife for their primary medical care in pregnancy. I provide support that compliments this care. In pregnancy, women are limited in terms of what medications they can use for the different ailments that might arise. In my Naturopathic toolbox, I have many safe, gentle, effective treatments for things such as nausea, heartburn, back pain, insomnia, and leg cramps. I am trained in clinical nutrition, so I am a great person to help a mom figure out what foods will be helpful to eat during pregnancy. I help moms get on the very best vitamins – did you know that many of the run-of-the-mill prenatal vitamins contain very low levels of important nutrients and are poorly absorbed? I have the luxury of having at least 30 minutes with my patients each time I see them. This allows for pregnant moms to ask a ton of questions and get the support they need.

What are some common reasons for new mothers to come for your help?

Breast-feeding challenges would be high on the list. Concerns about baby’s weight gain (or lack thereof) would be another, and this is often tied to nursing issues such as low supply. Constipation, gas, fussiness, sleep issues and skin rashes are other common concerns that I help new moms with. I love my appointments with new mothers, as they often have so many really great questions. I often find myself reminding new moms to get off the internet, put away the how-to parenting guides, and listen to their instincts.

What is an important aspect of baby health that might surprise new parents?

You shouldn’t over-bathe your baby. They really don’t get very dirty in the first few months! Many new parents think a daily bath for their newborn is a necessity but in fact it will just dry out their gorgeous baby skin. Even the old tradition of giving a newborn a bath shortly after birth is falling out of fashion as we realize the importance of leaving the vernix and amniotic fluid on baby. These substances have antimicrobial properties and actually serve to protect babies from infection! How cool is that?

What are your suggestions for how families can stay healthy during the winter?

Get enough rest. Don’t over schedule your lives or burn the candle at both ends. When you sleep, your body enters a heal and repair mode, so adequate sleep is vital for keeping us well. Eat nourishing foods, particularly cooked foods. According to Traditional Chinese Medicine, raw foods should only be consumed in the hot weather. Soups and stews are perfect foods for winter. Take vitamin D, a nutrient that we won’t get naturally in high enough amounts for the next 6 months!

What is the most memorable gift that you’ve received?

Many moons ago, my husband and I were good friends and kind of courting each other. For my birthday he made me a beautiful chair out of twigs that he found in the forest at his parents’ cottage. I remember him carrying it into my house, looking shy but also very proud. It was such a kind gesture and it made me realize just how special he was! Needless to say we were dating soon after.

Thanks to Joanna for agreeing to be our guest on the blog! Be sure to check back as we continue to interview more people that are contributing to healthier lives and more mindful consumers.