There’s no time in a woman’s life when she is more concerned about what she is putting in (and keeping out) of her body than when she is pregnant or trying to become pregnant.
For months we focus on upping the amount of fruits and vegetables we eat. Increase our protein intake and pay closer attention to food sourcing. We set a phone alarm to remind us to take our prenatals. We make a concerted effort to drink more water.
And then this beautiful human being is born and our focus continues to be on growing this little life the best we can. Except now the baby is outside of our body.
And we forget that what’s good for a breastfeeding mom is good for a breastfeeding baby.
Because there are so many mouths to feed and noses to wipe and meals to plan, bills to pay, school drop-offs, work projects, laundry and chores and the list goes on.
And somehow it’s time for dinner and we haven’t even eaten yet. And we forgot to reorder our awesome whole food prenatals. And we forgot to drink water or shower or rest.
And then we wonder why we feel exhausted all the time. And grumpy. And short-tempered. And exhausted.
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Enter postnatal depletion.
I first began researching what could be up when I was regularly “getting” 12 hours of sleep at night (featuring several breastsleeping sessions so I could never figure out exactly how much sleep I was actually getting but surely that couldn’t be considered sleep deprived, right?) and yet I was waking up exhausted.
At first I thought maybe I was getting too much sleep, so I started watching tv while I nursed and held V while she slept for a couple of hours. A month of this and no improvement.
I asked a few of my more seasoned mom friends. While they agreed it was normal to a certain extent as V was only five months old and I had only been back to work for two, one of them asked if I was still taking my prenatals.
Somehow in all the research I had done and my appointments with my midwives, I had overlooked that breastfeeding women should continue to take their prenatal vitamin, so no, I had not been taking one. Because my body will pull whatever nutrients baby needs into my milk anyway, right? So I didn’t have to worry about all that?
Except those nutrients had to come from somewhere (regardless of whether or not that’s how the whole milk production process really happens). And that somewhere was my nutrient stores. Which I wasn’t being very diligent in stocking up.
No wonder my body was telling me it was exhausted.
There is some debate as to whether “maternal depletion” is an actual syndrome or if it’s just a marketing ploy. I personally don’t care. It’s something women are facing and it’s something that is affecting our ability to be the mother, wife, employee, employer, friend and woman we want to be. Whether it’s a syndrome or simply a normal physiological function that we’ve lost the tradition of supporting somewhere along the way, I don’t know.
“In an age where food is plentiful, but not so nutritious; where postpartum care and maternal recovery is not emphasized, and much more care is focused on the prenatal period; where families are raising their kids largely in isolation; where women are having babies later in life and may enter pregnancy with lower preexisting nutrition, it is not surprising that women struggle to be healthy and feel good after having a child. ”
Symptoms of postnatal/maternal depletion are sort of vague so they’re often written off as just normal or caused by something else, but can include (source):
- 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. I often hear the words “tired and wired” describing how mothers feel.
- 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 socializing or leaving the house.
- Frustration, overwhelm, and a sense of not coping. I often hear mothers say: “There is no time for me.”
- As mentioned, brain fog or “baby brain.”
- Loss of libido.
Here are some ways I refocused on helping my postpartum body:
- Getting back on a good prenatal – I believe in buying high-quality supplements. I don’t want to waste money on supplements that are so processed my body won’t absorb them and I’m basically paying to have vitamin-enhanced pee. But said supplements get expensive quickly and in my head they just weren’t a priority when the hospital bills start rolling in. It’s a priority. Even if you eat a perfect organic homemade diet, our soils are so depleted that it’s extremely hard to get all the nutrients our bodies need. I take this prenatal and plan to basically take it for the next several years straight. I also add Vitamin D3 since we live in the Midwest and I’m not outside as much as I should be. When we can afford it, I also try to get some sort of fish oil. This one is lauded as the best but I don’t know enough about it all to say if it’s truly superior. This one is one I’ve used.
- Focus on protein and fat – During pregnancy and breastfeeding, protein and fat intake needs to be higher and is often overlooked. I am someone who functions better if I use intermittent fasting and skip breakfast. Except when I’m pregnant or breastfeeding, so basically except for the next 10 years lol. Anyway, I struggle with eating enough protein and fat in the morning to get me going and sustain me through my morning tasks/getting to work. I found this protein powder with V that I noticed drastic improvement in my energy stores within a few days. It is fairly expensive (about the same as buying a cup of coffee a day) so I ended up making my own version using hemp protein powder, cacao powder, gelatinized maca, and collagen. It doesn’t mix in as well (there’s usually some cacao leftover at the bottom) but it gets the job done. I mix with half unsweetened coconut milk, half water, and will sometimes add some raw local honey if I’m craving something a little sweeter. I can notice a huge difference when I don’t get enough fat especially so I try to keep high fat keto-type snacks around when I need them. There are lots that double as great high good fat toddler snacks, so two birds and all that. I also like to make homemade bone broth to get all the amazing nutrients from it in an easily assimilated method.
- Figure out what makes you feel rested – Sleep is just one facet of rest. It’s so important to also have time where you are doing something that rejuvenates you (or maybe that means time for you to do nothing). I’m still trying to figure out exactly what makes me feel rested but so far reading a good book, writing and spending time with Husband seem to help me a lot. Maybe you need to get groceries by yourself. Maybe you need to go sit at a coffee shop for an hour with no one talking to or touching you. Maybe you thrive on order and you need a clean home to feel rested.
- Find time for prayer and regularly attend Mass – Motherhood is a beautiful vocation bestowed on us by God. Making time with Him a priority feeds our soul and the graces we receive through the sacraments and regular Mass attendance can do a lot toward helping us in all areas of that vocation. I know personally even when the kids have a particularly trying time at Mass, I always leave feeling better (at least once I get them both in the car and can take a few breaths 😉 )
- Check yo’self – Check in regularly with yourself and figure out if you are developing unreasonable expectations in your life. If you are feeling overwhelmed but are taking care of yourself nutritionally, it may be that you are putting too much pressure on yourself and having unrealistic expectations. Make a list of non-negotiable chores and tasks and focus on those. Keep checking in with yourself and if you are feeling up to it, try to add something else to that list that you would like to start getting done. Be kind to yourself and remember growing, birthing and nourishing littles is hard work. (and check out my post on focusing on reasonable expectations!)
How do you take care of yourself during your postpartum and breastfeeding stages? Chime in in the comments or hop over to Facebook.