Nourishing Mothers: Understanding and Overcoming Postnatal Depletion

Friend of Village for Mama and world renowned integrative doctor, Dr. Oscar Serrallach who first coined the term ‘Postnatal Depletion’ aptly characterises it as a complex interplay of deep fatigue, hyper-vigilance, and an overwhelming sense of being stretched thin.
Village For Mama A girl with long hair in a beige sweater and floral skirt hugs a pregnant woman wearing black underwear, holding a flower near the woman's belly.

This month we wanted to explore Postnatal Depletion. What is it and how can we both help prevent it and overcome it.

Postnatal depletion is not just a phase of exhaustion following childbirth; it’s a ‘multifaceted syndrome encompassing physical, mental, and emotional challenges exacerbated by the demands of modern motherhood.’

Friend of Village for Mama and world renowned integrative doctor, Dr. Oscar Serrallach who first coined the term ‘Postnatal Depletion’ aptly characterises it as a complex interplay of deep fatigue, hyper-vigilance, and an overwhelming sense of being stretched thin.

Dr Serrallach shares that most of the issues that occur to mothers postnatally are neuro-inflammatory, and that’s why it can’t just be fixed with sleep. Because it is so much more than that. 

But women have been having babies since the beginning of time. So why now? Why are modern mothers suffering from postnatal depletion?

How do we become depleted?

During pregnancy, the placenta acts as a conduit, drawing vital nutrients from the mother’s reserves to nourish the growing baby. As a result, crucial nutrients such as iron, vitamin B12, zinc, vitamin C, vitamin D, and omega-3 fatty acids are often depleted postnatally. The mother’s brain undergoes a remarkable transformation, adapting to parenthood through a “software upgrade,” fostering hyper-vigilance and intuitive responsiveness to her child’s needs. This depletion extends beyond childbirth, impacting immune function and gut health long after delivery. Women who gave birth seven years ago can still be suffering from postnatal depletion. 

Recognising the Symptoms

Symptoms of postnatal depletion manifest in various forms, from severe fatigue and digestive issues to heightened anxiety and a diminished libido. These are not isolated occurrences but rather signals of an underlying imbalance, stemming from both physiological and psychological sources.

Contributing Factors

Factors contributing to postnatal depletion include inadequate postpartum planning, a lack of social support, and unrealistic expectations of motherhood. Moreover, societal pressures and norms perpetuate the myth of “supermum,” hindering mothers from prioritising their own well-being. This is one of the reasons we at Village for Mama  are so passionate about educating mothers and their families about the importance of postpartum planning, nourishment and the gathering of a village.

Preventing Postpartum Depletion

Whilst most of Dr Oscar’s work focuses on supporting mother’s to overcome depletion, he also shines an important light on preparation to help prevent postnatal depletion. He speaks our love language when it comes to postpartum planning, acknowledging that most of the so-called primitive cultures of the world had specific practices to ensure mothers made a full recovery from pregnancy and childbirth. There have been centuries of very deliberate practices in nutritional recovery, spiritual practices and rituals as well as elaborate social support. With this in mind, here are Dr Oscar’s three principles of Postpartum Planning.

Dr. Oscar’s Principles of Postpartum Planning:

1. Deep Rest (1 Month):

 The first principle emphasises the importance of prioritising restorative rest in the immediate postpartum period. Mothers are encouraged to carve out time for deep rest, allowing their bodies to recover from the physical demands of childbirth and establish a foundation for healing.

2. Deep Support (100 Days):

   Dr. Oscar advocates for robust support networks during the critical first 100 days postpartum. This period is characterised by intense physical and emotional adjustments, making it essential for mothers to have access to compassionate and practical support from partners, family members, and healthcare providers.

3. Priority on Sleep (1 Year):

Sleep deprivation is a pervasive issue in the postpartum period, exacerbating fatigue and compromising overall wellbeing. Dr. Oscar underscores the importance of prioritising sleep as a long-term investment in maternal health. Implementing strategies to optimise sleep quality and duration can significantly impact recovery and resilience.

Addressing Nutrient Depletion

Dr. Oscar’s approach to postpartum care involves a three-step program aimed at addressing nutrient deficiencies and supporting overall well-being. 

Step One: Repletion and Rebuilding:

   – Conduct a comprehensive assessment of nutrient levels through blood work.

   – Prioritise replenishing essential nutrients such as iron, vitamin B12, zinc, vitamin C, and vitamin D.

   – Emphasise nutrient-dense foods, supplementation, and supportive therapies to restore balance and vitality.

Step Two: Recovery:

   – Focus on optimising sleep, physical activity, and nutrition to facilitate holistic recovery.

   – Provide education on creating a healthy home environment and nurturing relationships.

   – Tailor interventions to address individual needs and promote sustainable lifestyle changes.

Step Three: Realisation:

   – Encourage mothers to embrace motherhood as a transformative journey of self-discovery.

   – Foster a sense of empowerment and self-actualisation through reflection and personal growth.

   – Cultivate resilience and purpose beyond the challenges of postnatal depletion, recognizing the inherent strength of mothers.

Dr Oscar published his book ‘The Postnatal Depletion Cure’ to help mamas all over the world identify and overcome postnatal depletion. His book outlines how you can work with your own GP or health professional to support you on your road to recovery. It includes incredible resources such as a list of blood work to request as well as practical tools and meal ideas. It is an incredible resource that we highly recommend.

If you’re pregnant and reading this, you are in the perfect position. We believe that there are steps you can take through pregnancy to help reduce your chances of getting postnatal depletion. 

  1. Get blood work in each trimester of pregnancy. Make sure you are eating a balanced diet of nutrient dense foods and supplementing with high quality supplements.
  2. Take a good quality prenatal through pre conception, pregnancy and the entirety of your breastfeeding journey. We love Foraged for You Mother’s blend, The Natal Naturopath Ever Natal and Tresos Natal. You can split your dose for better absorption, as long as you remember to take both.
  3. Take a good Omega 3 DHA supplement through pregnancy, postpartum and the entirety of your breastfeeding journey. We love Rosita Cod Liver oil.
  4. Plan for postpartum. We have written ‘A Postpartum Guide’ as a resource and bible for the first 6 weeks of motherhood. 
  5. Set an intention for your postpartum that is achievable for you and your family. 
  6. Use your Village for Mama book and recipe cards to prioritise nourishing, nutrient dense food for postpartum. Stock your pantry, fill your freezer and organise a meal train. And of course, gather your village.

Overcoming postnatal depletion requires a collective effort. Acknowledging the unique challenges mothers face and providing them with the resources, support, and compassion they deserve. 

If you want to learn more, Dr Oscar Serrallach has created an incredible resource for both Mothers and practitioners called The Mothercare Project

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