Photo by Aaron Burden
Goop published a very interesting article on post-natal depletion back in May and ever since, I’ve been thinking about this condition and how many women I know have it. The term post natal depletion has put into words how I’ve been feeling since my son was born two years ago. That feeling of being nearly recovered, but not quite there. You know, the one where you think, “If I could just get a week’s worth of full night sleeps, I would be okay.”
Physiologically speaking, the newly acknowledged post-natal depletion condition is interesting, as it is an acknowledgement that pregnancy, giving birth, breastfeeding and the act of taking care of a child is physically and emotionally draining. It counters the Western idea that mothers should bounce back by the time the child is three months old and acknowledges that because pregnancy and breastfeeding are about growing and nourishing the child, they have the consequence of being physically draining on the mother, depleting her vitamin and mineral stores, stores that take a while to recover post-partum.
For example, the body stores three months’ worth of iron, a mineral that is rapidly depleted during pregnancy and breastfeeding. Pair this with now all too common post-partum bleeding and a less than optimal post-partum diet, it takes a while for the body’s iron stores to recover. This condition becomes even more interesting when you realise that the placenta passes nearly 7 grams of fat a day to the growing baby at the end of the pregnancy term, while also tapping into the mother’s iron, zinc, Vitamin B12, Vitamin B9, iodine, and selenium stores—along with omega 3 fats like DHA and specific amino acids from proteins.
This condition, and the fact that some women still suffer years later, really highlights the need for better support for post-partum mothers, on a micro and macro level. Better support from community health visitors to assess both the mother and baby, more family support so the mother can focus on caring for the baby and not a myriad of household and personal tasks, better maternity leave with better support for mothers returning to work, that acknowledges that having children alters perspective and that it takes time to get back into the swing of things with a young child. It is not just up to the mothers to demand support, as they may not realise they need it (raise your hand if you’re familiar with the ‘just soldier on’ mindset!). It’s also up to the people around these mothers to give help before it’s asked for, as a matter of course.
From a nutritional perspective, the importance of a proper nourishing diet becomes even more important for post-partnum mothers. I’m not talking about new mums whipping up big meals everyday, but rather better education on shortcuts to better eating. So, having lots of fruit to hand, things to make salads (with one hand!), meal planning so there is always something good in the fridge (even if has to be eaten cold!) and taking advantage of weekends when others are around to do lots of meal prep for the week. There are many nutritionists would be happy to help with meal planning, supplements and general nutritional support.
What’s your experience of post-natal depletion?