Is your exhaustion adrenal fatigue or could it be postnatal depletion?

WORDS: Alyce Cimino | Naturopath + Owner of AHARA HEALTH

Over the past few months, we have been seeing Mumma after Mumma come into the clinic with similar symptoms – fatigue (often closer to exhaustion), trouble sleeping, lack of motivation, low moods, low libido, changes in appetite … on initial thought, you may be thinking adrenal fatigue, or whole-body fatigue which is more recently labeled…however what is postnatal depletion is the trigger for this whole-body fatigue?

Firstly, what is postnatal depletion?

During pregnancy it is very normal for our nutrient stores to be used up, I mean you are not only trying to survive yourself, but you are also growing organs and a tiny human! However, if we do not replenish the nutrient loss, rest and restore in throughout the pregnancy but also into postpartum life we can end up with postnatal depletion.

Interestingly, postpartum depletion can occur anywhere after the bub is born to 10 years later! Generally speaking, there are usually one or more pregnancies within that 10-year window from the first birth so the nutrient depletion is accumulative for each subsequent pregnancy and the years that follow.

Due to this very large timeframe, Mummas can often get caught up with the classification of adrenal fatigue (or whole body fatigue) when it may have been postnatal depletion all along.

So what are the signs?

The symptoms picture of adrenal fatigue and postnatal depletion are almost interchangeable – fatigue, exhaustion, running on cortisol, issues with sleep, lack of motivation, feeling wired but oh so tired and yet you just can’t fall asleep, mood fluctuations and low moods, irritability – this includes snapping at partners and kids over the small things that would normally not bother you.

For some women, it can also feel like electricity is running through your body and you just can’t get it to stop. Other physical symptoms include (but are not limited to) digestive upset such as loose bowel movements and urgency, palpitations, headaches, and changes to our reproductive cycle.

What do we do about it?

The first step is to take a step back and really look at your overall health picture, how are you feeling? Truly feeling? If you are ticking any of the symptom boxes above it’s time to have a check-in.

We recommend ALL our Mumma’s to have general blood tests done prior to conception – this is your benchmark, during the preconception stage it is our goal to nourish you as much as possible before bubs conception so you are nourished throughout the pregnancy and beyond. From there we recheck those pathology tests 6 weeks postpartum, 6 months postpartum and 1 – 1.5 years postpartum. What we are looking for is a drop in nutrient levels and hormones which may be not only contributing but also triggering the postnatal depletion and adrenal fatigue. Our goal is to find any causes, replenish them and have you feeling better as quickly and seamlessly as possible.

Lifestyle Prescription

This is possibly the most common prescription that we prescribe and yet its possibly the hardest – it isn’t a supplement, or something you can buy in a bottle – it is rest, creating time for yourself away from bub (s) and let your body slow down. Now, we don’t mean leave bub with Hubs and go and do the grocery shop … we mean acutal time for you to rest, enjoy the quiet and allow your body to restore, yeah we know, we told you this is often the hardest step. The trick is to start as soon as you can, even 15 minutes a day can help.

MEDITATION: we know by allowing time to nourish the vaga nerve we inturn support overall adrenal health. Meditation can be hard for most people (myself included) so its finding what works for you. It may be 10 slow deep breaths each night as you are laying in bed, a guided yoga nidra meditation, a group class or my personal favourite swimming laps, nice long slow laps. The repetition, focusing on your breath is almost a meditative state.

ASK FOR HELP: if you can, where every you can ask for help. Personally, I found the early postpartum stages much easier than the toddler non-stop stage. Asking for help with a meal once a week, a load of washing or even getting family and friends to watch the bubs so you can go have some quiet time is priceless – you can always return the favour to help another Mumma out so she too can get some rest in.

Supplement prescription

Prenatal and pregnancy vitamins are non-negotiable in our clinic – from preconception, trimester one (when nausea isn’t limiting intake), two & three AND trimester four, the postpartum and breastfeeding stage. We recommend continuing your multi until you have finished your breastfeeding journey. If you aren’t breastfeeding then you want to continue them for at least 3 months post birth.

Other supplements will differ from Mumma to Mumma and this is based on their pathology results and symptoms presented, however, the common ones are DHA/Choline, Zinc and good quality magnesium.

Herbal Medicine

I adore herbal medicine for postnatal depletion, as well as adrenal fatigue and nervous system support. Having the ability to tailor make a blend specific to that person and their needs is always a little bit magic! Generally in the postpartum stage, we want to provide the Mumma with adaptogens, these are a class of herbs that naturally support how the body is able to tolerate and deal with stress, as well as nervines to nourish the nervous system.

Dietary Prescription

The big one – Mumma, hear me say this. You have grown a tiny human, your nutrients stores will be lower than when you went into the pregnancy, you are chasing a toddler or dealing with the all night wake ups of a newborn – the ONLY way to make a big difference and a long-term difference is to nourish yourself with nutrient rich foods.

Here are our top dietary tips

  1. Eat at least 3 main meals a day, do not skip a meal no matter crazy things get a home. Even If it is a room temperature smoothie, it is better than nothing. Where possible add in extra veggies with each meal and snack to boost overall nutrient intakes.
  2. Aim to have warm slow cooked foods, we love meal prepping before bub’s arrival with this one. Your slow cooker/pressure cooker is your new postpartum bestie. By enjoying warm slow cooked foods you are supporting your digestive system, your nervous system and even your hormones! Bone broth is also a brilliant addition here! Rich in collagen and warm, you can buy organic broth or make your own.
  3. Add in good quality animal protein – organic eggs, grass-fed free range protein, wild caught seafood, organic organ meats such as liver. Animal protein provides the exact balance of amino acids that we need to support healing and recovery, adding in organ meats packs a huge nutrient punch. If you are vegan or vegetarian it is possible to reach your protein and amino acid goals.. it does however take a little bit more work to get the balance right.
  4. Stay hydrated. You need it Mumma! grab a water bottle (with a straw, we don’t have time for dealing with a screw-top lid!)
  5. Avoid dietary stimulation. When we are exhausted it is only natural to reach for the high sugar, high processed foods and that oh so delicious next cup of coffee. This is a nervous system / adrenal/hormonal nightmare. Our cortisol (our stress hormone) function is already pushed to the limit and adding high sugar foods and caffeine on top only makes things worse. If you are going to have coffee, try and limit it to one a day, ALWAYS after you have eaten and no later than 11am so it doesn’t affect your sleep.

The first step of postnatal depletion is recognising that feeling so flat and exhausted is not normal, it is not part of being a mother and most importantly you don’t have to just push through!

If you are feeling like you are ticking some of these boxes let’s have a chat, find the root cause and rebuild those nutrients to have you back to feeling your best.

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