So this incredible thing has happened. You carefully nurtured your baby in your womb for 9 months and helped it come into this world. You should be ecstatic. You should be filled with joy and energy and motivated to keep doing everything they say you should. But you’re not. You’re tired, and sad, frustrated, and sometimes feel like quitting. You feel guilty for feeling this way.
You might be wondering “is this normal?” Guess what Mama, it sure is. This experience is so common and it’s been happening to women since the beginning of time. The only difference is that we’re finally talking about it.
Postpartum depletion is a term coined by Dr. Oscar Serrallach, a researcher and author who is studying this challenging phase of a mother’s life. It is not a diagnosis, per se, but rather a way to describe the way a mother feels hormonally, nutritionally and emotionally as she journeys through the 4th trimester.
Throughout pregnancy, the placenta delivers all the nutrients your growing baby requires which results in depleted maternal storage of essential nutrients such as iron, zinc, iodine, b vitamins, and DHA, just to name a few. In addition to this, as Dr. Serrallachexplains, there is a reduction in grey matter in a mother’s brain during pregnancy which allows for remodelling of the brain resulting in enhanced intuition and “baby radar”. So, combine nutritional deficiencies with a heightened neurological state and you have the perfect storm for exhaustion, brain fog, and emotional lability.
What are some of the symptoms of postpartum depletion?
- Sleep that is not restorative or waking unrefreshed
- Hyper-vigilance that causes anxiety
- Feelings of guilt, shame, or low self-esteem as a mother
- Social withdrawal
- Feelings of inability to cope or overwhelm
- Brain fog/ baby brain
- Lack of libido
What causes postpartum depletion?
As previously mentioned, a combination of nutritional deficiencies as well as neurological remodeling are the major culprits, however, there are some contextual pieces to consider that could also be contributing to the rise in this presentation:
- Advanced maternal age
- Women entering motherhood in an already depleted capacity— demanding careers and social schedules, chronic sleep deprivation and poor nutrition
- Pressure to “do-it-all”; women returning to work too soon due to financial need, pushing themselves with exercise to achieve their pre-pregnancy bodies
- Sleep deprivation of having a newborn
- Standard American Diets
- Taboos on asking for help and the pressure to seem capable and successful
So…what can you do to cope?
- Ask for help! We all know the phrase “it takes a village”, so reach for them! Consider hiring a postpartum doula to get you adapted to a new sleep regime, ask your sister to drop of cooked meals, enlist a cleaning service temporarily— there are many ways you can find support in your network so reach for it!
- Stay on your prenatal supplement! The nutrients that were oh-so-important that you take while growing your baby are just as important in the 4th trimester. If you are nursing, even more so.
- Speak with your trusted health provider. A number of physiological factors could be awry, causing this phase to feel more agonizing. Having your thyroid, hormones, adrenals, nutrient status and mood assessed will allow your doctor to make the appropriate recommendations for medication, supplements and/or therapy as needed so your physical body is working in top form.
- Get outside— whether for a brisk walk or a casual stroll, movement and fresh air are natural endorphin producers.
- Sleep-banking. This might seem silly but if you prepare for the deprivation by “storing sleep”, you may find you are more resilient in managing the impending all-nighter. Resist temptation to do other things and commit to sleeping when your baby sleeps—it can have huge impact on your mood, hormones and experience overall.
- Eat nutritious food. Just as you were during your pregnancy, be vigilant about eating the rainbow of fruits and vegetables, healthy fats and proteins. Ensuring adequate protein and fat at each meal will support you hormonally and prevent the blood sugar rollercoaster that often precipitates mood swings.
- Consider counselling— whether with a life coach or therapist, re-evaluating your purpose and direction in life is super helpful when figuring out how to find a balance between your role in the family and personal self growth. These conversations can be eye-opening and up-lifting.
The transition through the fourth trimester can be an extremely challenging one. Be gentle on yourself and know that you aren’t alone in what you are feeling. Reach for the village around you, it’s there to support you.