You’re expected to feel exhausted after having a baby. You have just grown a human inside you for nine months, then spent hours pushing or undergoing serious surgery to deliver the baby. Then you feed, change, clean up and watch over the new bundle of joy at all hours of the day and night for months on end.
Everyone says “oh don’t worry the exhaustion will pass, you will feel like yourself again soon” - but the reality is that women are not recovering after birth like they should and there is a surge of mothers who are experiencing what has been labelled ‘post-natal depletion.”
You may think, ok but women have always had to go through this, why is it such a problem now?
It comes down to the changing pace of life, women are more stressed than ever before - women are often depleted before going into pregnancy. The rise in hormonal issues, auto-immune conditions, and mental illness reflects this.
How we are able to mother is changing too. Gone are the days of big families to support a new mother, many women find themselves on their own after the birth with her partner returning to work a week later, family across the country, and friends who while want to help have jobs and their own children to care for. Women are often left to do it all on there own, and they can’t maintain these responsibilities while maintaining their health without nutritional and emotional support.
What is postnatal depletion?
Postnatal depletion is the depleted state a woman can find herself in after pregnancy. It is when she is suffering from severe nutrient depletion caused by pregnancy or by several pregnancies without adequate time to recover in-between. It can cause sex and thyroid hormone changes and contribute to extreme fatigue, mood changes, a feeling of hopelessness, immune conditions, gastrointestinal symptoms and postnatal depression.
This is syndrome can be recognised by the following symptoms:
Insomnia - even when the baby is sleeping through
Nails which chip easily
Painful and heavy periods
Weight gain despite a good diet and exercise
IBS - bloating, cramps, diarrhoea, constipation
Development of thyroid disorders
Loss of libido
Development of eczema
What can we do about post-natal depletion?
I work with couples for three months before attempting to conceive to ensure that both couples are healthy and producing healthy eggs and sperm, but also to repair any underlying health issues and resolve any nutrient deficiencies in order to help prevent post-natal depletion.
2. Prioritise care during your pregnancy
It is vital that your pregnancy is monitored closely by someone who understands the pressures that pregnancy puts on your body. Close attention needs to be paid to your iron, zinc, and vitamin D and B12 levels, thyroid function, and pregnancy symptoms should be monitored for signs of deficiencies. Diet should be used to build the mother up, with the focus on making her strong and well nourished while making sure the baby has all the nutrients needed for optimum growth.
Prepare for being a new mother - this means taking time before you give birth to organise help, prepare healthy meals for the freezer, organise a support system, and to educate yourself on alternative options for when things don’t go to plan. Mothers need to know that there are other options out there when breastfeeding isn’t working as well as it should, or when your baby is sick, or colicky or won’t sleep. These sound like small things but for new mothers they can be a lifeline, and very reassuring to know that there is a backup plan if when plan A doesn’t work out.
4. Be proactive
It is an instinctive behaviour to put yourself second (or third or fourth) as a mother. You’re built this way to ensure the species survives. But, everyone knows that you function better with your children, at work, and in life in general when you are feeling well. Sure, you can battle through, that’s what mothers are best at, but the thing is you don’t have to.
You know your body better than anyone, and when you feel that something isn’t right please don’t brush it off as baby induced fatigue, don’t let other mums, doctors or midwives tell you that you will get over it; because the simple fact is that sometimes you won’t. Post-natal depletion won’t always resolve itself and can be the cause behind thyroid disease, mood disorders and fertility issues long after you have given birth, sometimes women are living in this depleted state 10 years or more after having children.
What can you do today if you suspect you are a depleted mother:
get some blood tests - ask your GP or Nutritionist to look at how well your thyroid is functioning, check your iron, vitamin B12, D and zinc levels, and check your sex hormones.
start tracking your cycles and see if you are ovulating - ovulation is a good indicator of health.
ask for help, and don’t stop asking until you get what you need - reach out to a qualified nutritionist or your GP.
focus on eating real food - switch out processed foods for fruit, vegetables, whole grains, lean meat and high-fat dairy.
rest when you need to, say no to more responsibilities and take time to slow down.
ease up on the coffee, while you might think that you need it to get through the day the fact is that you are increasing your stress hormone production and compounding hormonal issues.
Take some time to do something for you each week. This can be as simple as an hour to read a book, meeting a friend for a walk on the beach or attending a fitness class you enjoy.
Jessica specialises in helping women with hormonal issues like infertility, PCOS, endometriosis, and acne, as well as IBS, skin disorders and nutrition for pregnancy and the prevention and treatment of postnatal depletion.
She is available in Auckland for consults as well as via skype, you can read more about her consultations here. https://www.wellnessbyjessica.com/work-with-me/