If you’ve ever heard or used the term “mom brain,” it’s not a made up thing! When the tiredness never goes away — it might be Postnatal Depletion. What that means and how to recover.
“I feel like she’s literally sucking the life out of me.”
That’s the best way I could describe to my husband how exhausted I felt a couple weeks after giving birth.
Most babies aren’t sleeping through the night for months or even a year or more, so being tired is part of the program. What caught me off guard after both pregnancies is just how tired I felt.
No Amount of Sleep is “Enough”
My husband has always been very hands-on, and even took the early shift on many days so I could catch up on sleep (bless him!!) The problem was, no matter how much sleep I got, I never felt caught up.
In fact, I was pretty much non-functional until after my first cup of coffee. And then a few hours later I needed more.
I was hanging on by a thread, thanks to caffeine and sheer willpower.
Weeks went by, but nothing improved.
Then during one of my late night nursing sessions, I stumbled across an article on postnatal depletion.
As I read another mom describing how she was in “survival mode” after her most recent birth, it was as if I could have written the same thing myself.
And then it clicked.
I wasn’t crazy.
I wasn’t imagining it.
I really am THAT tired.
And I’m not alone.
What is Postnatal Depletion?
Note: I’ve included shop-able ad links to the products that helped me, in case you want to try them too.
According to Dr. Oscar Serrallach, author of The Postnatal Depletion Cure (and originator of the term), as many as 1 in 2 moms feel excessively run-down and lethargic for weeks, months, and even years after birth.
And they’re NOT imagining it or exaggerating how they feel. Growing a baby takes a lasting toll on a mother’s body.
Postnatal depletion is more than just the normal tiredness from getting less sleep than before baby. While different than postpartum depression, postnatal depletion can interfere with daily life too.
Babies Literally DO Suck the Life Out of Us
During pregnancy, a mother’s reserve of key nutrients like iron, zinc, B vitamins, iodine, and selenium are depleted, and are often not completely replenished after birth — hence the term “postnatal depletion.”
Postpartum mothers are often lacking in omega 3s and amino acids as well. (source)
For lack of a better description, a developing fetus truly does suck nutrients and energy from mom. The baby’s needs come first, and we moms are often left without enough of the crucial nutrients that we need.
Breastfeeding, while wonderful for baby, is also tough on mom because you are still growing a baby. Sometimes I marvel that my body alone is nourishing our daughter, but WOW is it hard work!
What is Mom Brain?
Get this: while carrying a baby in her womb, a mother’s brain shrinks up to 5% on average. Yes, you read that right — our brains get smaller while we’re growing a baby!
A 2017 study published in Nature Neuroscience shows that women actually lose grey matter during pregnancy and these losses can last for up to 2 years.
Compounding the problem, there is a lot of pressure on mothers to bounce quickly after baby — not only losing the baby weight, but also returning to work and back to “normal” routines.
Instead of taking as much time to recover as needed, moms are pushed to “suck it up” and deal with it.
Could it be Postnatal Depletion?
Postnatal Depletion is a relatively new title for something that’s likely been affecting moms throughout modern history.
There is a lot of evidence to support the existence of postnatal depletion, though some doctors are skeptical. (But there are plenty who believe in it too!)
If you’re experiencing any of the following symptoms, without a seemingly logical cause, postnatal depletion might be something to consider:
- Chronic, and often debilitating fatigue
- Extreme exhaustion, no matter how much sleep you get
- Overall feeling of being “run down” for an extended period of time
Postnatal depletion may sometimes manifest as physical symptoms or illness — when the body is not getting adequate nutrition or rest, the immune system may become compromised.
How to Recover from Postnatal Depletion
To combat the symptoms of postnatal depletion and start yourself on the road to true postpartum recovery, Dr. Serrallach recommends the four steps:
- Make sure you’re giving your body plenty of key nutrients
- Exercise regularly
- Rest as much as possible
- Ask for help when you need it
Generally, if you’re eating a balanced diet, you’re getting most of the nutrients you need. BUT since mothers are often so depleted after birth, boosting your nutrient intake with supplements can help you get back on your feet faster.
How I’m Dealing with Postnatal Depletion
The folks at Ora Organics reached out to me to try some of their greens, Omega-3 supplements, and protein shakes right at the time when I was at a low point energy-wise.
They had no way of knowing what I was going through, but their email couldn’t have arrived at a more perfect time!
I felt an instant boost of energy after using these products, and it lasted longer than caffeine.
By the way, this is NOT a paid post! I did get samples of the products for free, but there was NO obligation to write about them. I’m doing so because they made such a difference in how I felt that I wanted to share in case they could help someone else.
I’ve included shop-able ad links to the products I used, for your convenience.
What I Use to Recover from Postnatal Depletion:
- Daily Multivitamin
- “Nothing Fishy Here” Omega-3 Spray
- “So Lean & So Clean” Organic Vegan Protein Powder
- “Sol Food” Vitamin D Supplement
- “Easy Being Green” Organic Greens Powder
Before I talk more about the supplements I use, I’m going to start with exercise because it is THAT important. Supplements alone aren’t going to handle Postnatal Depletion — you’ve got to strengthen your body too.
My routine consists of two hour-long yoga sessions a week, along with 30-minute cardio and strength sessions whenever possible. Finding time to exercise with three kids can be tough, but I feel like crap if I don’t, so I have to make it a priority.
Yoga helped me heal and strengthen my core after surgery MUCH faster than after my previous c-section. If you can only squeeze in one workout, make it yoga!
Like last time around, I’m also doing P90X3 workouts as many times a week as I can. I love that they are only 30 minutes, but I’m drenched in sweat afterwards, so I know it’s doing something!
Related: How to Lose Weight While Breastfeeding (what worked for me!)
2. Daily Multivitamin
Don’t stop taking your prenatal vitamins after the baby is here! Especially if you’re breastfeeding, it’s recommended that moms continue to take a prenatal or multivitamin every day.
This was a new one for me! I’ve always taken Omega-3 supplements (long before I even thought about having kids), but I’ve never tried them in spray formula.
Instead of swallowing a giant capsule of fish oil, you can get the same Omega-3 goodness from a mouth spray. It has a mild citrus taste and there are no gross “fish burps” later.
Omega-3s are one of the most recommended prenatal supplements because they help support a baby’s developing brain. However, they are helpful for a mother’s recovery as well.
I usually do about 6 sprays before I exercise every day because Omega-3s make your workouts more efficient and help your body recover faster. (source) I also read somewhere a while back that Omega-3s increase fat burn during cardio sessions, but I can’t confirm that. Doesn’t hurt to try though!
Exercise is one of Dr. Serrallach’s recommendations for fighting Postnatal Depletion, so anything that makes you stronger and improves your workouts is a plus.
I’m lactose intolerant, so many whey-based protein powders and supplements are out of the questions for me.
That’s why I was so excited to find Ora Organics’ tasty plant-based protein powder (there are both chocolate and vanilla flavors).
Each serving packs 22 grams of proteins and a complete amino acid profile (which is one thing that many moms need to supplement during the postpartum period).
On mornings that I attend yoga class, I drink a protein shake for breakfast. It’s uncomfortable to practice yoga on a full stomach, but skipping breakfast is a big no-no, so these shakes are the perfect compromise.
Plus, with all the protein and nutrients I immediately feel energized!
This one is actually for the baby!
Pediatricians often recommend that you feed breastfeeding babies Vitamin D supplements. However, new research shows that supplementing the mom instead can have the same benefit (without the hassle of trying to get a baby to take those powders and drops!)
Each tablet or Ora Organics “Sol Food” contains 2000 IU of vegan Vitamin D, which is sustainably produced. The pills are super tiny and easy to take, with no aftertaste.
We never had any luck getting our middle daughter to take vitamin supplements as a baby, so this strategy has been much easier for us all.
“Easy Being Green” Organic Greens Powder provides over 20 veggies, grasses, algae, and superfoods in every glass. Adding greens to your diet is supposed to help aid in digestion, support your immune system, and have detoxifying effects.
This isn’t my favorite thing to drink (despite being citrus-flavored, it tastes like green stuff). However, the after effect is AMAZING!
I feel instantly energized after downing a glass of my green juice. Totally worth it!
And to be fair, my husband says he likes the taste. He actually drinks his greens more than I do!
If You Think It’s More than Just Being Tired…
There is no “magic” cure for postnatal depletion, and some days I’m still tired. However, by taking better care of myself and focusing on increased nutrient intake and exercise, I’ve noticed a drastic improvement.
If you’re also struggling with extreme fatigue or just feeling “off” for an extended period of time, don’t wait for things to get better on their own.
If you feel like you’re experiencing “mom brain,” know that you’re not crazy and you’re not alone!
Take care of yourself and ask for help when you need it.
It’s not selfish to make your own recovery a priority. In fact, it will help you be a better mom.
And you deserve to feel GOOD again mama!
Read this next:
More of my pregnancy and postpartum journey:
- 15 Things to Do When You Find Out You’re Pregnant
- My Birth Story
- 5 Things All C-Section Mamas Need to Hear
- Your C-Section Scar: 5 Things to Expect
- What Your Doctor Won’t Tell You About Breastfeeding
- 5 Essential Weight Loss Tips for Breastfeeding Moms
- 7 Tips to Relieve Itchy Skin After Pregnancy
- How to Turn a Posterior Baby Naturally
- Do Postpartum Belly Bands Work?
The Fine Print: This post is based on my own experience and not intended to be medical advice. These are simply things that helped me feel a LOT better so I wanted to share. Always consult your health care provider before starting a new exercise or nutrition regimen. These statements are not intended to diagnose, prevent, or cure any disease.