What Is Postnatal Depletion & How Do We Treat It?
Recent research suggests that, on average, a new mother may lose around 700 hours of sleep in the first year of her baby’s life. On top of this immense sleep deprivation, mothers experience a huge shift in hormones following birth often resulting in signs and symptoms of what is called ‘postnatal depletion’. Some signs and symptoms of postnatal depletion include:
- Extreme overwhelm
- Poor concentration
- Brain fog
- Low libido
- Heightened self criticism
- Hypervigilance (never being able to ‘switch off’)
- Food sensitivities
- Poor sleep quality (even when the baby is sound asleep)
- Waking up tired
- Nominal aphasia (forgetting the word for an object, for example many women find themselves asking people to “please pass the thingy”)
- Hair loss
- Sensitivity to noise
- Poor immune function
- Digestive issues
- Bleeding gums
Interestingly, although post-natal depletion may be experienced within the first year post-partum it can also be more insidious and become apparent over several years. At the extreme end of postnatal depletion is postnatal depression; a condition that is more common than many people think and, in Australia, peaks at around four years after the birth. This demonstrates that supporting the wellbeing of the mother is not of importance only in the first few months following the birth of a baby but as continued support over the years.
Fortunately, research into pregnancy and childbirth and the associated hormonal shifts has shed light on potential drivers of postnatal depletion so that we are now able to test via general and functional pathology testing the hormonal and nutrient imbalances that may be involved.
As Naturopaths and Nutritionists we are able to refer for comprehensive testing to assess levels of key nutrients, for example iron, B12, copper, zinc, magnesium and calcium as well as adrenal, thyroid, sleep and female hormonal profiles, depending on what is relevant to the individual based on thorough case-taking and an in-depth client history. This information can then provide the basis for a personalised treatment plan that is effective and targets the underlying cause of the issue while still being doable around the juggle of family.
A simple place to start is with supporting good quality rest. Many mothers report being unable to rest into deep sleep once they have had a baby (even when baby is sound asleep!). Being aware of good ‘sleep hygiene’ will ensure that when sleep is available that it is good quality, restorative sleep. Some strategies to support better sleep patterns include:
- Avoiding blue light in the evening
- Swap scrolling through social media before bed for reading a book or listening to a guided meditation
- Ensure a quality meal containing protein, healthy fats and complex carbohydrates to regulate blood sugar throughout the night
- Avoid caffeinated drinks such as tea and coffee after 2pm and opt for a chamomile sleepy tea in the evening.
- Support melatonin (the sleep hormone) by starting your day with some morning sunlight and ensuring that you get some light movement during the day, for example a ten-minute guided yoga flow while baby sleeps.
Although we often see mothers who have significant postnatal depletion and have been feeling unwell for some time, it doesn’t need to be absolutely debilitating before reaching out for support and care. Both research and traditional medicine symptoms suggest that supporting the mother nutritionally, emotionally, and through community from as early as possible results in better outcomes for mothers, their child and the entire family.