In a recent interview, Dr. Oscar Serrallach, an Australian physician, used the term "postnatal depletion." I had not heard the term before and was immediately intrigued because I have certainly witnessed the symptoms in women after the births of their babies. According to him, some of the symptoms include: fatigue and exhaustion, tired on waking, hypervigilance, frustration, overwhelm, isolation, brain fog or "baby brain" and loss of libido. Sound familiar?
These symptoms often occur in the immediate postnatal time, but Dr. Serrallach contends they can manifest up to ten years later in some women. After discussing the depleting physical impact of pregnancy on the postnatal time, Dr. Serrallach outlined a specific plan for "postnatal repletion." Imagine! A problem presented and a solution defined in one interview!
Reasons for maternal physical depletion in pregnancy include the following, according to Dr. Serrallach:
"The placenta passes nearly 7 grams of fat a day to the growing baby at the end of the pregnancy term, while also tapping into the mom’s “iron, zinc, Vitamin B12, Vitamin B9, iodine, and selenium stores—along with omega 3 fats like DHA and specific amino acids from proteins.” On average, a mom’s brain shrinks 5% in the prenatal period, as it supports the growth of the baby (much of the brain is fat) and is re-engineered for parenthood."
Many women enter pregnancy in a depleted state, even though they feel they have a healthy diet. What we think of as healthy eating may not provide sufficient nutrition because our food is increasingly devoid of nutrients. Our stressful lives and chronic insomnia contribute to this depleted state. I think it would be wonderful if everyone could take a class like the one offered by Michelle L'Esperance, CPM and Alli Cwalinski, doula--Thriving in Early Pregnancy, designed for women in the first or second trimester or for women trying to conceive.
The solution to regaining optimal health after pregnancy, according to Dr. Serrallach, is three-fold. 1). In the early postnatal time, the focus is on "Repletion and rebuilding of micronutrients and macronutrients." He recommends seeing a functional health practicitioner, getting a nutrtitional assessment and advice, accessing physical therapies that can engage the relaxation reponses, particularly yoga and acupuncture, seeking a counselor or psychotherapist for emotional well being, and getting support! 2). The second phase is "Recovery" and includes optimizing sleep, engaging in activities and exercise, education about a healthy home and healthy kitchen, and rebuilding relationships. 3). The third phase, "Realization . . . is about understanding motherhood as part of the heroine’s journey and discovering self-actualization through this process."
Dr. Serrallach is planning to write a book on the subject of postnatal depletion and repletion, but until then, I highly recommend reading his interview on GOOP. It is informative and sensitive to the deep and layered experiences of women in the childbearing year, offering a reasonable structured approach to support and recovery in the postnatal time.