Shockingly, most of us are walking around with postnatal depletion, at least to some extent, and yet most of us have never even heard the term before.

So, what IS postnatal depletion? Traditional cultures across the globe have entire systems in place to ensure that postnatal depletion does not happen for their new mothers. Here in the modern Western world however, this is not the case.

Essentially what happens, is that we get pregnant, and our body basically hands our nutrient stores over to our baby. We know that the nutrients that we’ve consumed prior to pregnancy, during the ‘pre-conception’ phase (the three to twelve months prior to conception) affect the health of the egg, and affect the nutrient stores available for contributing to the early development of the embryo. Once we find out that we’re pregnant, many of us begin taking a prenatal vitamin, which of course does contribute to the overall health of the fetus. However our prenatal is also largely about replenishing the nutrients that the mother herself has lost, so that she is also nourished, as her body is busy handing over the stores she’s already got to her growing baby.

But what happens after delivery? Well, no matter what type of birth occurs, a lot of blood is lost and a major trauma to the body has occurred. And what happens next? Many of us stop taking our prenatal vitamin. Sleep goes out the window. Nutrition is not prioritized as most of the focus is dedicated towards caring for the new baby and ensuring the health of the new baby. Mothers are often quickly living on takeout and easy packaged/processed snack foods. Moms are quite literally scrounging for goldfish crackers and PB&J crusts off of the lunch plates of their toddlers amidst the chaos of caring for a new baby (and possibly older siblings as well). Many women are also now breastfeeding which, while immensely beneficial for the health of both mom and baby, also adds further nutritional demands on the postpartum body.

Add this on top of the pretty massive hormonal shifts that are taking place during the fourth trimester, and it’s the perfect storm for depletion. Other cultures have traditional recipes which are prepared by friends and family and brought to the new mother. These recipes prioritize certain nutrients and target specific spices, herbs, and properties that aid in healing, nourishing, and replenishing the postpartum body. Not to mention, traditional cultures surround new mothers with support; so mom is not cooking meals, she is not taking care of children by herself, she is not attending to housework or outside tasks. She is resting, quite literally, in bed.

The icing on the cake is that depletion actually gets worse with each consecutive baby. This is because by the time many women get to a second (or third, or fourth, etc.) baby, they’re still depleted from the last pregnancy. So now the new pregnancy is beginning at a place of depletion and the body is handing over any last reserves to the new baby, leaving very little left over for mom. Depletion is also more pronounced with closely spaced pregnancies, as the body has had less time to heal, restore, restock, and replenish between pregnancies. Closely spaced pregnancies have actually become increasingly common, especially in the Western world, given that many couples are waiting longer to start their families, and given that fewer women are breastfeeding their babies to natural term, meaning fertility returns sooner following each pregnancy.

So, what to do?! Well, investment in the new mother is absolutely vital for her short and long-term health and vitality. Planning ahead helps. Cook large batches of soups and stews and freeze them for postpartum. Sign up for a meal train. Get comfortable asking for help–family, friends, neighbors, and coworkers often WANT to help, but don’t know HOW without direction. Nutritious, homemade, warm, easy to digest meals delivered to your doorstep–this is an easy place to start. Because yes, new motherhood is a MASSIVE shift. True, it’s not all rainbows and butterflies. But NO, it’s NOT NORMAL to be walking around feeling ill for weeks, months, or years postpartum. So if you’ve had a baby anytime in the last decade (yes, decade!) this is worth keeping on your radar.

About Shelley Halloran

Hi! I'm Shelley of Mama Blooms, LLC. As a Lactation Counselor and Postpartum Doula, I serve women and their families; providing both in-person and virtual supports during all phases and stages of a breastfeeding and/or postpartum journey. I'm on a mission to educate, empower, support, and nurture modern mothers, and am honored to witness women bloom into the mamas that they're meant to be! Shelley Halloran, M.Ed., CLC, CPD

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