What is the postnatal/postpartum period?
Medically speaking, the postnatal (or postpartum) period begins immediately after the birth of a child, until the mother's body, including hormone levels and uterus, returns to a “non-pregnant state” (ref). The postpartum period can be divided into three distinct stages;
- the initial or acute phase, 6–12 hours after childbirth;
- the subacute postpartum period, which lasts 2–6 weeks; and
- the delayed postpartum period, which can last up to six months.
The World Health Organization (WHO) describes the postnatal period as the most critical and yet the most neglected phase in the lives of mothers and babies. In their 2013 report, the WHO reported that 87% to 94% of women report at least one health problem during the sub-acute postpartum period. Long-term health problems (persisting after the delayed postpartum period) are reported by 31% of women (ref). While these statistics are concerning, this study is now 5 years old, moreover, these statistics are only on reported health problems – it’s highly likely that many women are too busy to notice or do anything about any health issues they may be suffering postpartum.
Whilst there are medical milestones in the postnatal period, a full recovery from pregnancy and childbirth can take months. Just like how all babies are different, so are all women. A large majority of women may feel recovered around six to eight weeks, however, the healing process will vary for each woman.
So what is Postnatal Depletion?
Postnatal depletion is a term popularised by Dr Oscar Serrallach, which he describes in depth in his book; Mothermorphosis: Your Revolutionary Guide to Postnatal Transformation. Dr Serrallach describes Postnatal Depletion as:
A syndrome of accumulated issues including deep fatigue, hyper-vigilance and a feeling of being overwhelmed.
Postnatal depletion can lead to poor immune function and poor gut health for years after we give birth. Dr Serrallach believes there are three key elements that contribute to postnatal depletion;
- The energy and nutrients needed and given to making, incubating, and birthing the baby are enormous, and this depletion continues after the birth for women who are breastfeeding.
- Extreme exhaustion from sleep deprivation — the result of never having a good, refreshing night’s sleep. Which can affect all mothers, regardless if the baby is breast or bottle fed.
- Amongst the drastic changes of a new mother’s life, includes social isolation, which can have a deleterious effect on a woman’s psychological well-being. (ref)
What are the signs and symptoms of Postnatal Depletion?
Everyone expects to feel tired and overwhelmed and just overall exhausted as a new mother. However, in our fast-paced lives, tiredness and that sense of being overwhelmed have been normalised to the point where women are no longer cared for in the way they need to be after the birth and well beyond. A woman who experiences postnatal depletion feels deep and persistent fatigue, which is unrelieved by sleep.
Postnatal depletion often involves:
- Fatigue and exhaustion
- Tired on waking
- Falling asleep unintentionally
- Hyper-vigilance (a feeling that the “radar” is constantly on), which is often associated with anxiety or a sense of unease - feeling “tired yet wired”
- Sense of guilt and shame around the role of being a mother and loss of self esteem. This is often associated with a sense of isolation and apprehension and sometimes even fear about socialising or leaving the house
- Frustration, overwhelm, and a sense of not coping
- As mentioned, brain fog or “baby brain”
- Loss of libido (ref)
Dr Serrallach believes that many women struggle to recover hormonally, nutritionally, and emotionally after the birth of a baby, and that the combination of pregnancy, childbirth, breastfeeding takes a considerable physical and emotional toll on mothers. In his encounters with postpartum women , Dr Sellrallah often finds low levels of key nutrients including iron, zinc, Vitamin B12, selenium stores, DHA and overall low protein stores - all of which are in Vitimum original.
So, what’s the cure for Postnatal Depletion... is there one?
Firstly, if you believe you have Postnatal Depletion, any symptoms of deficiencies, or general concerns about your health, you should speak to your healthcare professional and/or partner.
Postnatal depletion can be cured, but it will take time, depending on how long you have been feeling this way. Below are some suggestions and practices that you may want to try.
- Consider getting a full blood count of nutritional and hormonal analysis, in order to determine whether you are suffering from deficiencies (i.e. anaemia).
- Increase your intake of good fats and proteins. If you are vegetarian or vegan, make sure you get adequate protein, and plenty of healthy fats.For more on what nutrients you need postnatal, see our blog post on Essential Vitamins for new and expecting Mothers.
- Do some light exercise, such as walking, every day. Once you have had your 6 week check, and if you are feeling up to it, you can progress to yoga, pilates or circuit training to rebuild your strength. Exercise promotes mood boosting hormones and increases your energy levels. Just make sure you listen to your body, don’t overdo-it.
- Getting a good night’s sleep as a parent is much easier said than done, especially if you are still caring for small babies or children. Speak to your partner about different bedtime/feeding “shifts”, so you can take turns looking after you child/children, and get some rest. If available, ask for help from your family or close friends.
- Try and stay social and connected. There is a wide variety of online forums and apps that you can use to speak and connect with other mothers. Using these social mediums can help you share your experiences with other mothers, and you will quickly learn you are not alone in the highs and lows that is motherhood.
Information and statements made are for education purposes and are not intended to replace the advice of your doctor. If you have a severe medical condition or health concern, see your doctor.