Do I have postnatal nutrient depletion?

Postnatal depletion is a term you may have been hearing more lately, particularly if you are pregnant or a new mother. That’s because it’s become more recognised in the medical world and talked about in mainstream media. 

To grow and sustain the life of a baby requires a huge amount of nutrients. During pregnancy, the baby depends on the mother’s macro and micronutrients to develop and grow, and in the process, the mother’s stores are massively depleted. 

The term “postnatal depletion” was originally coined by Dr Oscar Serrallach, a Byron Bay GP. He explains the condition causes persisting physical and emotional fatigue. Often the depletion post-birth is compounded with each pregnancy, particularly if they’re close together, breastfeeding, twin births or if you have suffered morning sickness, including hyperemesis.  

If you’re feeling drained, experiencing brain fog and suffering from sleep deprivation, you may have postnatal depletion. Feeling overwhelmed, a sense of anxiety or lost are also often common signs of the condition, but it’s important not to confuse these with postnatal depression. 

Common symptoms of postnatal depletion include:

  • Low energy levels
  • Brain fog or poor memory
  • Low mood or self-esteem
  • Feeling wired or hyper-vigilance
  • Waking unrefreshed 
  • Weight gain 
  • Weight loss 
  • Loss of libido 
  • Poor hair or skin quality 
  • Impaired immune function 
  • Worsening of pre-existing conditions

Often new mothers experience hormonal imbalances during the postnatal period as the baby needs female sex hormones to maintain the placenta throughout the pregnancy. 

Progesterone can decline rapidly and the result can be oestrogen dominance leading to additional symptoms such as abdominal bloating, tender breasts, irregular periods, skin issues and a general decline in well-being. 

With an expansive list of symptoms due to hormonal changes and micronutrient deficiencies such as vitamin B12, iron and zinc, postnatal depletion can be a contributing factor in mental health issues including postpartum depression. 

Want to prevent the depletion occurring before birthing your baby? There are several things pregnant women can do to reduce their chance of suffering from postnatal depletion.  

Do I have postnatal depletion?
  1. Start with preconception care
    Preconception care isn’t just about supporting the development of your baby. It’s also about supporting your own needs during pregnancy and preparing you for after pregnancy. 
    If timing allows, assessing your nutrient status 3-6 months before pregnancy is optimal. Work on your gut health, make sure your liver is functioning well, focus on your own mental health. 
    Investing in a balanced diet now can make a significant impact throughout your pregnancy and as a new mum. Place extra focus on your omega-3 fatty acid intake, especially DHA, protein and a wide variety of vegetables. 
  2. During Pregnancy 
    Making sure, where possible, you continue to eat a nutritious diet during your pregnancy is one of the best ways to avoid nutrient depletion. Again, focus on your good quality protein and healthy fat intake as well as fresh fruit and vegetables. Invest in a quality prenatal supplement and consider an omega-3 supplement. 
    It’s also important to look at your lifestyle habits in particular stress and sleep quality.  

As you ease into motherhood, especially for first-time mums, be kind and gentle to yourself. Growing and birthing an infant is a big deal and it can sometimes take years to recover, so a little self-care goes a long way. 

Continuing to keep up with the above will help to prevent nutrient depletion from occurring. There are additional lifestyle and dietary habits you can adopt if you’re starting to feel exhaustion or “baby brain” creeping in. 

  • Rest. Avoid entertaining too many visitors in the early days and prioritise your sleep to support your body’s recovery and repair. 
  • Eat a balanced, nutrient-dense diet. It can be difficult preparing nourishing meals when you’re a new mother, however, it’s vital for recovery post-pregnancy, especially if you are breastfeeding. 
  • Assess your nutrient status, particularly iron, zinc, vitamin C and vitamin D and hormone profile for deficiencies or imbalances. 
  • Look after your gut. Consume probiotic and prebiotic-rich food or choose a good quality probiotic supplement. 
  • Spent 15 minutes a day outdoors in the fresh air and sunshine, exposing your arms and legs to boost your stores of vitamin D. 
  • Reduce your liver-loaders like caffeine, alcohol and refined sugar, to support your hormones and encourage optimal detoxification.
  • Add gentle movement into your day such as walking around the block pushing the pram or some quiet stretching while your baby is sleeping.
  • Reach out for help. If you’re feeling stressed or mentally or physically depleted, ask for help. Outsource your shopping, ask for someone to help run a few errands or to babysit for a short period of time so you can have a breather.  

If you are looking for some help with your general well-being or to overcome postnatal depletion, please book in for a nutrition consultation. Replenishing your nutrient stores can help you feel revitalised and enhance the enjoyment of motherhood. 

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