A new term of postnatal depletion was coined by an Australian Doctor, Oscar Serralach, MD a few years back. It describes constellation of symptoms that can occur after pregnancies (usually multiple pregnancies), where the body takes a long time to fully recover energetically, hormonally and emotionally.
The science behind the diagnosis is that during pregnancy, a mother’s body becomes depleted of several key nutrients especially iron, zinc, vitamin B12, folate, iodine and selenium, as well as omega-3 fats like DHA, in order to support the baby’s growth and development in-utero. This depletion is compounded with each pregnancy, especially if they are close together with extended periods of breastfeeding, you have had twins, or if you had hyperemesis (extreme nausea and vomiting in pregnancy).
Resulting symptoms can include:
- Feeling un-refreshed from sleep
- Exercise intolerance (meaning that you feel worse after exercise)
- Weight gain or loss
- Hair loss, dry skin
- Low mood or anxiety
The key here, is that these are new symptoms that have developed after having children, and were not present before. These symptoms are quite general, and there are also many other conditions that express similarly, so we must first rule out things like hypothyroidism, low-iron levels, insulin resistance and more. Please do not self-diagnose without checking things out with your healthcare provider.
On a positive note, this is an issue that can be largely prevented, and there is support for you wherever you are in this spectrum – whether you are just a few months post-partum and feeling depleted, or 5 years post-pregnancies and feel like your body still hasn’t fully recovered.
Below are some simple tips to protect you from postnatal depletion.
- Ensure a balanced diet with extra focus on protein intake, healthy fats and plenty of vegetables.
- Take a good quality prenatal vitamin.
- Supplement with omega-3 fats, especially DHA through the 2nd and 3rd
- Watch your stress and your sleep. Listen to your body’s extra need for rest.
In the 1st year Postpartum
All of the above plus:
- In the first month postpartum, rest. This means spending lots of time in bed, minimal outings, and delegating all cooking, cleaning and laundry. Your body needs this time to rest and recover from childbirth.
- Build in support networks so you do have some breaks and recovery time. This may mean calling on extra family support, hiring a babysitter for a few hours a week, or delegating household duties to free up some time for extra self-care.
- Prioritize sleep. This usually means going to bed earlier to make up for the interruptions, but in the first month also includes taking naps.
- Do not start back on high-intensity exercise too soon. Ease into it gently.
- Continue to take your multivitamins and omega-3 supplements. They are even more important now!
- Get tested for iron levels, vitamin B12 and thyroid function if you are feeling especially fatigued.
If you suspect you may be experiencing postnatal depletion, and you are more than one year postpartum, there is still plenty of support for a full recovery.
Support after 1 year Postpartum
- Ensure a balanced, nutrient-dense diet. I know that when you have small children, your own nutritional needs have fallen lower on the priority list.
- Take an excellent quality multivitamin and fish oil supplement for basic nutrient repletion.
- Assess for adrenal function, thyroid function, deficiencies of iron and vitamin B12.
- Reset sleep rhythms. Often night-time cortisol levels are still high, especially if you have had babies who are poor sleepers.
- Tone down exercise intensity until the body is fully repleted. Gentle to moderate exercise is best at this time, while overdoing it can cause more depletion.
When I first read about postnatal depletion, it was excellent confirmation for the fatigue that I see in many women in the years after pregnancies. The bottom line is that we need to remember our own self-care when we are parents, as well as excellent care for our children.
Remember, there are many effective ways to resolve this fatigue and depletion. Learn more about how we can support your health during pregnancy and postpartum.
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