If you’re a mom with young children and you’re feeling like you’re completely depleted, running on fumes, or are inexplicably short-fused and drained with the people that you love, you might be suffering from postnatal depletion.
We’re all warned about postpartum depression, which health-care professionals constantly screen for in new moms. But almost no one tells us about postnatal depletion, which is just as real and can affect women up to ten years after their last pregnancy.
Making, having, and raising tiny humans is no small task. It requires lots of nutrients and energy. Nature favors babies over moms, so if there is a shortage of nutrients or energy, nature takes from the mom to give to the baby. If you never fully replenished your body after your children were born, you could still be suffering from nutritional deficiencies and hormonal imbalances that are creating a lack of physical and mental energy.
You’re more likely to suffer from postnatal depletion if you:
- Were over 30 when you had your children
- Had multiple pregnancies in short succession
- Breastfed for long periods of time
- Have children who struggle with sleep or have challenging temperaments
- Are a single mom or have a partner who travels frequently
- Have a demanding job
- Live far from family
- Lack a robust social support system
- Feel like you’ve lost your own identity or unique purpose apart from being a mom
Interestingly, it tends to peak two to four years after your last pregnancy.
Why You Must Address It
If not treated, postnatal depletion can wreak havoc on your physical and mental energy levels and it makes it impossible to show up as the professional and the mom that you want to be. You simply cannot give what you don’t have. If you are depleted and you continue to ignore your own needs, your physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual health will suffer. Your relationships with everyone in your life will also suffer because you will simply not have anything left to give.
I realized this the hard way. I thought my own needs were optional until I hit a wall. I was utterly drained and exhausted. The only option was to replenish myself back to health. I began to view restoring my reserves as 100% mandatory and non-negotiable.
If You Can’t Do It For Yourself, Do It For Those You Love
Women are conditioned to put others’ needs first and we’re also wired to make sure our little ones survive, so it’s no wonder that we struggle with taking care of ourselves as moms with young children. If you think it’s selfish to take care of yourself, think again. Modeling self-care for your children is the best gift you can give them because it gives them (1) a rested, healthy, and happy mother, and (2) the skills they need to take care of themselves.
Do you want your children to learn to take care of themselves when they are adults? Do you want them to eat well, exercise, get sleep, and be healthy? Research overwhelmingly shows that children who watch their parents practice healthy habits are much more likely to internalize those habits as teens and adults than children whose parents simply told them to practice healthy habits. Children also learn self-compassion from watching their parents practice self-compassion. So if you have a hard time doing it for yourself, do it for your kids.
Here’s What You Can Do
If you suspect you may be suffering from postnatal depletion, you should talk to your doctor about it right away. I highly recommend the book The Postnatal Depletion Cure, by Dr. Oscar Serrallach. It provides a wholistic and actionable plan for repletion. In the meantime, here are some recommendations that have made a huge difference for me and my clients.
Replenish Your Body With Nutrients
Start by getting a complete physical to find out your levels of key nutrients, such as Vitamins D, B12, and B complex, calcium, magnesium, and iron, so that you can address any deficiencies through diet or supplements. Make sure you’re getting enough omega 3 fatty acids, either through food or supplements, which are critical for brain health. Also take a look at your diet and be sure that you’re getting the macro- and micronutrients you need by eating whole, unprocessed foods including lots of healthy fats, protein, veggies, and fruit.
And make sure you remember to eat! Many moms don’t take the time to sit and eat during their busy day. It’s obvious but we often forget this simple truth: you must properly fuel your body so it can function.
Replenish Your Body With Sleep
Nutrition alone is not enough: your body also requires a lot of sleep to replenish the sleep debt that comes from giving birth and raising young children. Treat sleep as your number one priority and do everything in your power to get as much as you can. Although weekends away from the kids are helpful to catch up on sleep, getting adequate sleep on a regular basis is much more impactful and important to your health over time. You might need to sleep for 9 or 10 hours the first few weeks. Eventually, your sleep debt will decrease and you’ll go back to needing your normal amount.
Prioritizing your sleep might mean napping when your children nap and going to bed right after you put your children down to sleep at night. The earlier you go to sleep at night, the more restorative it will be. You can wake up early in the morning if you feel rested and want to get things done, but going to bed early will ensure that you get the rest you need.
If the circumstances are such that you simply don’t have a full 8 hours for sleep on a given night, find a yoga nidra video on YouTube. Yoga nidra is a restorative sleep mediation that can help replenish your reserves. It’s not a substitute for consistent, 8-hour nights of sleep, but it’s restorative and especially useful for times when your little ones are up all night.
Replenish Your Body With Movement
When you feel completely depleted, the last thing you want to do is exercise. But gentle movement actually gives you more energy than you started with, so it’s worth doing. If you’re like most moms, you don’t exactly have a lot of free time, but finding small pockets of time for activity adds up, so don’t dismiss mini-workouts. Even a 5 or 10-minute walk can do wonders for your body and mind. In his book Spontaneous Healing, Dr. Andrew Weil says that the cross-patterned movement of walking generates electrical activity in the brain that has a harmonizing influence on the central nervous system. Gentle stretching exercises are also helpful and can be done in small pockets of time. Restorative yoga poses and deep breathing are also great for your physical and mental health. Just remember: every little bit counts.
Replenish Your Mind and Spirit
You can be just as depleted mentally, emotionally, and spiritually as you are physically. Moms often feel like they lose touch with their individual identities and can even forget what they used to like to do before having kids. Redefining who you are and what your purpose is will help you to make the conscious decision to live in alignment with your purpose, which will revitalize you.
Here are some ideas to help you do that:
- Allow yourself to be at the top of your priority list. If you struggle to make yourself a priority, realize that this isn’t doing anyone else any favors. I’ve had clients who came to me with this mindset and through our work together, they realized that this kind of thinking contributes to exhaustion and impatience with their loved ones. After they truly understand that self-care is one of the most loving things they can do for their families, I’ve watched them transform and return to their happy, thriving, and energized selves. Once they see the difference it makes, they never want to go back to their old patterns. What your kids need most is a happy, healthy mom–NOT an exhausted, overworked, short-fused mom with nothing left to give.
- Clarify your priorities for this chapter. Spend some time thinking about who you want to be in this chapter of your life and write down your priorities in rank order. Ranking priorities in order of importance is extremely helpful in making a conscious choice about how you want to live right now. Give yourself permission to let go of some goals that don’t feel as relevant during this time in your life. Is getting that promotion as important as being present with your young kids? If you knew that you were just as valued and valuable either way, which would you focus on during this time? There is no right or wrong answer here, just make sure that you like your reasons. Once you clearly rank your priorities, ask yourself what you can begin doing to live in alignment with those priorities.
- Define and live your purpose. Getting clear on your purpose gives meaning to your life. What is the most important thing to you? What do you want your life to be about? It can include both your contribution to the greater good and to your family. Write it down in a single sentence if you can. What needs to change in your life for you to begin living that purpose?
- Do at least one thing for yourself every day. Write down a list of activities that are just for you, which also energize you. Categorize them into 1-minute, 5-minute, 10-minute, 30-minute, and 1-hour timeframes. For example: 1-minute breathing exercise; 5-minutes of meditation; a 10-minute walk around the block; 30-minutes of drawing in a sketch pad, free-writing or other creative activity; a 1-hour talk with a friend at a coffee shop. Keep your list handy and schedule at least one (preferably more) of these activities every day.
- Record your wins. Human brains have an innate negativity bias, which means that we’re wired to focus on the negative and dismiss the positive. For moms, this means that we’re often juggling a lot of difficult demands, but still feeling like we’re not doing enough. To counteract that, start to look for and track the positive. Get a journal specifically for that purpose and every day, write down all your wins for the day, big or small. On some days, your win may be “kept the tiny humans alive.” That’s no small feat, so give yourself credit for it.
- Get help. Whether it’s in the form of more help at home, trading babysitting time with friends, or getting professional help, do whatever you can to set yourself up for success. If you are struggling and aren’t sure what to do to get back to your old self, find someone who understands postnatal depletion and can help you get clarity, establish positive habits, and create the life and energy that you want. Just because you can do it all, doesn’t meant that you should. Seeking out support when you need it a sign of strength, not weakness, and it will help you and your family more than you will ever realize. Regardless of your situation, what you want is available to you. Sometimes we just need some help finding a way through.
The Best Investment You Can Make
Young children grow up fast. Taking care of yourself and being at your best will ensure that you remember and treasure these precious years fondly. Having gone through depletion and come out on the other side, I can assure you this: restoring your reserves won’t be wasted time. It will be one of the best decisions you’ve ever made.
To your health!