What is Postnatal Depletion?
Postnatal Depletion refers to the physical and mental deterioration of a woman caused by the process of pregnancy, giving birth, breastfeeding, and caring for her child. Whilst there has been a great deal of discussion on Postnatal Depression, Postnatal Depletion is not as commonly understood. However, according to Dr Oscar Serrallach[i] more than 50% of women suffer postnatal depletion, and it can last up to 7-10 years. Which means, of course, it is highly likely you are still depleted when you have your next baby, further depleting your reserves.
So how do you reduce the risk of Postnatal Depletion, and if you do experience it, what can you do to help recover?
What Causes Postnatal Depletion?
During pregnancy, the mother’s body diverts essential nutrients first to the baby. This can cause a depletion of essential nutrients in the mother’s body. The most significant of these is essential fatty acids, which are required to support brain development in your baby but are also essential to your own wellbeing and brain function.
Other nutrients which are depleted during pregnancy include Vitamins A, B6 + B12, D, E, K, folate, iron, zinc, magnesium, thiamine, selenium, and niacin.
In addition, there are changes to the mother’s brain which rewire it for motherhood, and, according to some doctors, cause it to shrink up to 5%, which is the cause of ‘baby brain’. The continued loss of DHA fatty acids exacerbate this.
Once baby is born, the depletion of essential fatty acids and nutrients continues as these are diverted to producing breast milk for your growing baby.
Although they are two very different conditions, many of the symptoms of Postnatal Depletion are similar to Postnatal Depression. In fact, extreme depletion can lead to, or at the very least exacerbate, postnatal depression.
- Extreme fatigue – tiredness even when you first wake up, falling asleep without meaning to
- Mood swings
- Baby Brain – including poor memory, fogginess, inability to concentrate, and a feeling of being ‘lost’
- Hypervigilance – feeling constantly wired and on alert
- Loss of libido
- Feeling overwhelmed by motherhood
- Reduced immune function – which can lead to poor gut health, increased risk of illness and infections like mastitis
Reducing the Risk
The best way to reduce the risk of postnatal depletion is to be prepared:
If you are planning to become pregnant, make sure you are eating a healthy diet rich in the nutrients we mentioned earlier, and you are getting plenty of rest and exercise. The stronger and healthier you are when you conceive, the better for you and your growing baby.
Again, make sure you are getting the nutrition you need. Be especially careful to ensure you consume sufficient fatty acids. Seafood is high in these nutrients, and since pregnant women need to take care around eating seafood because of concerns about mercury, it is worthwhile looking for additional ways to include them in your diet. Try walnuts, flax seeds, chai seeds and egg yolks. And make sure you get plenty of rest so you are at your best when labour begins. This is also a time to think about how you will be supported once baby is born. Put in place some plans that will ensure you have the help you need.
The two most important factors here are nutrition and rest. Easier said than done when you have a new baby to take care of. But taking care of mum is just as important as taking care of baby. There’s a reason they tell you to fit your own oxygen mask first – you can’t care for others if you are not coping yourself. Don’t feel you need to leap back onto your feet. Many cultures around the world incorporate a full month of care for the mother post-birth. This allows time to recover strength and replenish lost nutrients, and return to health.
How to Recover
Whether you are experiencing Postnatal Depletion or not, taking care of yourself after you have given birth is vital to you returning to full health and being the best version of yourself you can be – which can only be good for your children, your partner, and your friends and family, not to mention yourself.
Here are a few things to help every new mum, particularly those suffering from depletion:
- Look carefully at your diet. It is not always easy to get the micro and macro nutrients we need, especially when you are tired and busy with a new baby, so choose your foods carefully. Enrich your diet with fruits, nuts, raw vegetables, and plenty of hydration. These can easily be eaten while you feed baby. Consider talking to a nutritionist who specialises in postnatal nutrition, or engage a Doula, who will provide you with meals rich in the specific nutrients you need.
- Incorporate gentle exercise in your day – whether it is a walk in the fresh air with baby in the pram, or a yoga class. A little light exercise will improve brain function and help balance hormones
- Rest – it’s hard to get enough sleep when you have a new baby. Think about whether there is a friend or family member who can watch baby for an hour while you nap each day, or split the night feeds with your partner so you can get a good run at sleep. There will be a routine that works for you.
- Call in support. This is the time when a woman needs the most support she can get, see if you have friends or family who can help once your partner goes back to work, or consider a Postpartum Doula, who will not only provide nutritional foods, but can help with caring for baby, light housework, advice on breastfeeding and sleep routines, but also with giving you space to get some rest yourself.
If you feel you may be experiencing postnatal depletion, or you are pregnant and would like to take steps to ensure you don’t experience it, I would love to help you. I have a Certificate in Botanical Medicine for Motherhood, which addresses Postnatal Depletion, and can provide a range of nutritional meals as well as physical and emotional support. Please give me a call on 0422 258 771, or contact me:
[i] Dr Oscar Serrallach – The Postnatal Depletion Cure: A Complete Guide to Rebuilding Your Health and Reclaiming Your Energy for Mothers of Newborns, Toddlers and Young Children