Moms are amazing. If it weren’t enough that they essentially facilitate the growth and development of a human being from two cells, they protect that tiny being for 40+ weeks, birth it into the world, and provide their child with nutrition for months or years…all from their own bodies! Sometimes, however, being “supermom” comes at a cost. I learned this hard lesson myself when my younger daughter was just 18 months old. After a year-long quest to determine the source of my young child’s issues with eczema, I was diagnosed with Thyroid Cancer. Being supermom…putting everyone else’s needs ahead of my own…had left me depleted.
Postpartum depression is widely acknowledged, but most women have likely never heard of postnatal depletion. If you have had a child within the last decade, you might be suffering the consequences of postnatal depletion. Oscar Serralach, MD, author of the book The Postnatal Depletion Cure, states that the issue most new moms face is not that being a new parent is so hard, it is that the process of growing a baby takes an immense toll their bodies.
Signs and Symptoms of Postnatal Depletion
Brain Fog. Baby Brain. Mom Brain. Growing a baby takes a lot out of you. Since our bodies are wired to prioritize the development of baby, it often depletes mom of Iron, Zinc, Vitamins B12 & B9, Iodine, Selenium, and Omega 3 Fatty Acids. In the latter part of pregnancy, the placenta passes 7 grams of fat per day from mom to baby. Since the brain is primarily fat, on average, a mom’s brain will shrink 5% in the prenatal period as it works to support baby’s growth and development. While some of this shrinkage is due in part to the brain rewiring itself for a new mom’s much needed baby radar, it also leads to the many symptoms of postnatal depletion.
Symptoms of postnatal depletion include feelings of being overwhelmed, uneasiness, anxiety, frustration, and loss of libido. Moms also experience hypervigilance: they are super sensitive to every whimper of their own child and at times other babies as well. Moms feel they need to be super mom–do everything for everyone. This leads to the downward spiral of fatigue and exhaustion. They are literally “wired and tired’.
Causes of Postnatal Depletion
There are multiple causes of postnatal depletion that can essentially be broken down into three types of stress. These types of stress include: chemical, physical and mental/emotional.
Chemical stressors include environmental pollutants such as heavy metals and chlorinated water. The food that we eat today is also less nutrient dense than it was a generation ago. It literally takes two “mouthfuls” of food to get one mouthful of nutrition! Physical stressors on the mother include: sleep deprivation, mom’s age, timing of births, and multiple births. On average a new mom’s “sleep debt” during the first year of their baby’s life is about 700 hours! Can you imagine losing 700 hours of sleep in one year and not feeling depleted?!
While age is not as much of a factor when mom is healthy prior to conception, it can be an influence in postnatal depletion because it takes them longer to heal. Another physical stressor that is a factor in postnatal depletion is the proximity of births such as having “Irish Twins”. Additionally, the rise of multiples due to assisted reproduction also relates to increases in postnatal depletion. Mental/emotional stress is a significant factor in postnatal depletion.
Our lives today are busier and more stressful than ever before. Women today give 100% to all aspects of their lives. We give everything to our career, our partners, and when we have children, we give 100% to them as well. Women are going into pregnancy depleted because our lives before pregnancy are stressful with our careers, social lives, and overall life stress. Then, once moms have given birth, they don’t allow themselves the time to fully heal, physically and emotionally.
The final cause of postnatal depletion is in reality a combination of all three types of stress. In “western” nations as a whole, pregnancy and birth are often treated like a disease. This leads to a cascade of events that often hinders the release of oxytocin, and therefore delays the bonding of mom and baby. This delay of bonding will often make a mom feel as though she is not enough. Research is also finding that the use of pitocin in birth is related to higher rates of postpartum depression, which can often overlap with extreme cases of postnatal depletion.
Prevention and Healing
Prevention is of course my number one recommendation in dealing with postpartum depletion. The best way to prevent postpartum depletion is to get yourself as healthy as possible prior to conception. At Thrive Chiropractic, I work specifically with couples prior to conception using Eight Essentials that include Chiropractic, Mindset Changes, and Nutrition.
Now, the Eight Essentials aren’t just for prevention! They are also key in healing a mom’s body when it has become depleted. It is important to eat nutritious foods including wild salmon, blueberries, kale, egg yolks, and dark chocolate. Another important aspect of restoring depleted moms is to ensure they get quality sleep. For some moms and babies, co-sleeping or having baby in a bassinet nearby helps mom to overcome her hypervigilance and to sleep more restfully. In addition to that, simply supporting mom is of great importance. So often mom is the center of attention throughout pregnancy, and the moment baby is born, everyone’s attention shifts to the baby. I believe however, if our society were to keep our focus on and care for mom in the months following giving birth, everyone would thrive! A well cared for mom leads to a well cared for baby!