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Is THIS Level of Exhaustion Normal? Postnatal Depletion Might Be to Blame

As a new mum, friends and family might squeeze a, “How are YOU doing?” in between the ohs, ahs and cuddles of the new babe if you’re lucky. Even so, you will likely answer, “I’m doing fine.”

What you really want to say is, “I’m so utterly exhausted my bones ache.”

But you don’t. Because you’re a new mum and you’re supposed to be tired, right?

Yes, your sleep will be disrupted when caring for your newborn. Yes, you will have worries, concerns and unease like you’ve never experienced before that can cause you to struggle to sleep even when you feel extreme tiredness. But, there might be something else behind your postpartum exhaustion, lethargy, brain fogginess and memory loss besides lack of sleep. Your body might be depleted of essential vitamins and nutrients.

Pregnancy Depletes Your Body

So, before dismissing your utter fatigue as “normal,” take a minute to consider the toll pregnancy takes on your body and that you might literally be running on empty.

Australian Dr. Oscar Serrallach, author of The Postnatal Depletion Cure: A Complete Guide to Rebuilding Your Health and Reclaiming Your Energy for Mothers of Newborns, Toddlers, and Young Children, explains that many mothers are already depleted before they even get pregnant. Then while pregnant, a woman’s body gives a growing fetus everything it needs and prioritises the baby’s health above the mother’s. The result is a mother might not have the vitamin stores left after carrying a child for 10 months to properly recover. While there is typically a lot of prenatal care and attention, once the baby arrives, the focus shifts to the baby’s well-being.

According to Dr. Serralach, during pregnancy:

  • A mother’s brain can shrink by 5 percent while it supports the baby’s growth and reprograms for parenting.
  • A mother’s iron, zinc, vitamins B9 and B12, iodine, amino acids, selenium and omega 3 fat reserves (DHA) are tapped for the baby.

In the third trimester of pregnancy, the placenta transfers nearly 7 grams of fat a day to support the baby’s brain growth. In fact, 60 percent of the energy that passes through the placenta is used to feed the baby’s brain.

Causes of Postnatal Depletion

If you’re not feeling quite like yourself after having a baby, you could have postnatal depletion. Throughout his career, Dr. Serralach witnessed mothers struggling to recover hormonally, emotionally and nutritionally after giving birth and calls this syndrome postnatal depletion. It’s characterized by fatigue and exhaustion as well as baby brain—the combination of poor concentration and memory as well as emotional swings such as crying for no reason. Mothers can also feel isolated, vulnerable, hyper-vigilant, anxiety and suffer from a loss of self-esteem and libido. Postnatal depletion is not the same as postnatal depression but it can exacerbate the condition.

Dr. Serralach believes up to 50 percent of mothers experience some level of postnatal depletion and it can impact mothers up to seven to 10 years after giving birth. There are many things that contribute to postnatal depletion including:

  • Lack of nutrients in the food we consume; even today’s healthy food choices are less nutrient dense than in previous generations.
  • Pressure for a mother to be everything, to everyone, all the time.
  • Dispersed families and communities with no built-in multigenerational support for raising children as there was in the past.
  • Stressful lives that affect our hormones, immunity, brain function and gut health.
  • Mums who consistently put their needs behind everyone else’s.
  • Women are having babies later in life and are already depleted from hectic schedules and lack of sleep before conceiving.

Learn more: A survival guide to the fourth trimester

Symptoms of Postpartum Vitamin Deficiency

Your body might be so deficient in essential vitamins and nutrition from supporting your pregnancy, that even if you got eight hours of uninterrupted sleep, you’d still feel weak and extreme tiredness. Here are some other symptoms to look out for that might indicate you have a vitamin deficiency:

  • Ringing in your ears (tinnitus)
  • Muscle cramps
  • Lack of muscle strength
  • Weakened hair and nails
  • Pins and needles sensation throughout your body

If you feel like these symptoms describe you, it’s time to get your vitamin levels checked to determine if you are deficient in any of them. If you are, it’s time to make a plan to increase your levels so you can get back to being yourself as soon as possible.

Learn more: Postpartum Diet – Nutrients to help you recover from Pregnancy Tiredness