Have you heard the term “Postnatal Depletion”?
It’s fairly new but the condition is not. We all laugh about it and joke around about “Baby Brain”. But it is actually a serious condition that needs to be recognised!
Note** “Pregnancy brain” can also be called Baby Brain. However, in this article what I refer to as “baby brain” is the end result of “Pregnancy brain”. Pregnancy Brain is a genuine, measurable phenomenon in which the mother’s brain actually reduces it’s grey matter volume and re-programs itself to be in tune with the baby. The average brain shrinkage during pregnancy is about 5%, and is not so much the brain getting smaller, but rather being modified to acquire the skills to become a mother.(which is why a mother’s intuition knows best). Oh and it is not yet known whether brain function returns to normal levels after giving birth. Sigh.
So What is Postnatal Depletion and What Causes it?
Postnatal depletion is a term phrased by Dr Oscar Serrallach. He has written a book on this phenomena.
Postnatal depletion is a spectrum that comes from physical, emotional and hormonal stresses. It can range from mild to severe, with postnatal depression at the severe end of the scale. Postnatal depletion is caused by a depletion in nutrients that are literally sucked out of you by the development, incubation, birth and breastfeeding of your baby, sleep deprivation (the average mama loses 700 hours of sleep in the first year) and the exhausting role of motherhood (no time for self, emotional and mental burdens, stress, and social isolation). This results in a range of symptoms such as;
- problems with concentration
- loss of libido
- worsening of pre-existing medical conditions, inflammation, autoimmune etc
- Emotional instability or numbness, anxiety, self-doubt, insecurity, and feelings of unworthiness
- sleep problems
- poor memory
- accelerated ageing
- susceptibility to colds and flu
If you are thinking what I am thinking, you’ll agree that it sounds like pretty much every mama you know! And in my case it is an exact account of the last 7 years of my life. According to Dr. Oscar Serrallach, 50% of the women might be suffering from some form of postnatal depletion! That is half of all the mamas you know! And Postnatal depletion can last for years – just like I teach in my fitness classes, pregnancy is temporary, postpartum is forever.
The depletion and imbalance of mineral, vitamin, and nutrients (B12, zinc, iron, EFFa’s, Vitamin D, and trace elements such as selenium, manganese, magnesium) won’t exactly mean that you have a disease, but it means your cells and organs are not able to run properly and this is what makes you feel terrible. You may have the feeling that something is not right, but because symptoms are vague and your GP will have trouble diagnosing you. He or she may prescribe anti – depressants instead. (The point of this article is to help you to understand that what you are going through mama is very common, and there is hope).
What Causes it and Why is it so Prevalent?
- During pregnancy the growing foetus gets all the nutrients and oxygen it needs before you do. If your vitamin and mineral stores aren’t great to start with, your baby will empty those stores and whatever is left, is yours. Breastfeeding depletes these stores even further, as does blood loss and postpartum vaginal/c-section tissue healing.
- To heal well, we actually need to consume a huge amount of food to be able to obtain the nutrients needed to combat these losses and refill our stores as well. (Our food is becoming increasingly nutrient poor, Instead we need to be having 2 mouthfuls of food for 1 mouthful of nutrition).
- Western culture does not allow mothers to fully recover from childbirth before getting pregnant again/hitting the gym/losing the baby weight/returning to work/daily life (if you have been following me for a while you will see this is my biggest mission/gripe). Both Traditional Chinese Medicine and Ayurveda practice the tradition of postnatal rest and nourishment for the mother. This to counter the depletion that takes place during pregnancy and birth. “Caring well for the mother (in the postpartum period) not only ensures her good health for the future but can even resolve past health issues”. There is a high importance placed on nutrition, in chinese culture women are expected to consume large quantities of healing foods such as eggs, black sesame, ginger and so on. Western culture is focused more on consuming large amounts of coffee instead…..
- It is fairly common to see a mother having two children born in the same calendar year. In some cultures around the world it is seen as shameful to have a baby before the previous child can walk. This period allows the mother to refill her nutrient & mineral stores in her own body, allowing the next pregnancy to be easy, and the outcome of a healthy baby. These cultures view it as fairness to the subsequent child that he she gets the same start in life as the first. When I was a new mama with my first baby, my naturopath reminded me to wait at least a year until I had ceased breastfeeding to conceive again. This not only ensured my health but also the healthy development of baby no. 2 in utero. However, in western culture as mentioned earlier, we take a different view on things. Many women prefer to have their children closer in age so that they can get the nappies/sleepless nights and maternity leave out-of-the-way.
- With IVF there are high rates of twins and this is usually coupled with an older maternal age which again increases the depletion. In Australia the average age for a mother having her first baby is 30.9 years.
- Our lifestyle contributes to stresses left right and centre and our newly re-programmed brain tells us to take care of our children even if it means sacrificing our own health. We have very high expectations of ourselves and we really beat ourselves up sometimes, especially if we are comparing ourselves to unrealistic posts on social media.
- 21st-century lifestyle environmental factors such as pollutants in the air, heavy metals, chlorinated water and EMF’s deplete our nutrients, and stress our bodies.
What can you do to help refill your Stores?
Everyone knows there is plenty of pregnancy support and loads of well-meaning advice and interest from friends and family and even strangers. There are books, magazines, blogs and products and birthing plans etc, but as soon as baby is born, the whole focus goes to the baby. There’s very little focus on the mother. And what about a postnatal healing plan?? I so wish I had one of those!
Dr Serrallach has written a book specifically for women in western society on this subject which can help you shake the brain fog, regain your energy, and get back on your feet.
Some examples are:
- Nutrition, nutrition, nutrition! Seek advice from a qualified practitioner (functional nutritionist, naturopath, health coach, integrative GP) to increase your nutrients and help you to increase your consumption of nutrient dense foods and reduce your empty ones. They should test you for food sensitivities and food intolerances as these are often created or worsened in the pregnancy and can exacerbate depletion and play an important role in gut health. Nutrient balance is also important so you may be sent for blood tests. E.g copper is an important mineral, however too much copper is associated with too little zinc and this imbalance can wreak havoc. (and make you feel like crap.)
- The more I learn about the Gut Health the more I am healing myself. It is so vital not to take gut health for granted. The gut contains 80% of your immune system and is to as the 2nd brain. This is because serotonin (happy brain hormone) is made in the gut. Medications (steroids, antibiotics, the pill etc), stress, and some food choices all weaken our gut microbiota, which in turn reduces our immunity and is linked with anxiety and depression. I am currently enjoying reading Dr. Robynne Fur’s books (https://gutbliss.com/)
- Get support! It can be in the form of friends, family, a paid baby sitter, a facebook support group, or scheduled “me time”. Support can also come from professional counsellors, life coaches, to assist with these life changes and emotional challenges.
- Plan for the 4th trimester. The body undergoes a period of spontaneous healing in the first few days after birth but we really need to undertake a period of rest, hydration and nutrition to extend and prolong healing into restoration!
- Letting go of the belief/self expectation that you can control or do everything. Accept that you can’t!
- Focusing on optimising sleep. Sleep is when our bodies are repairing and restoring themselves. And who doesn’t feel amazing after a good night’s sleep? Sure, a newborn baby is expected to wake during the night, and you may not often get a full night’s sleep, however, you can improve the quality of the sleep you do get and teach some self settling techniques to your baby to help you get those precious extra moments of rest for yourself. I personally love “save our sleep”.
- Get off social media. Enough said?
Don’t forget to comment below, or tag a new mama friend.
Love you all,
http://oscarserrallach.com/ – His book, Mothermorphosis: Your Revolutionary Guide to Post-Natal Transformation (Grand Central Publishing) will be available in June 2018.
http://www.sallyfallon.com – Nourishing traditions for baby and pregnancy care