Pregnancy is work. Actually, it’s a lot of work and it takes a big toll on the body. This is why the effects of pregnancy can be felt for months to even years post-baby and why postpartum recovery is critical. Postnatal depletion is a catch-all term that describes a sense of fatigue, exhaustion, poor memory and concentration and emotional variability (think lots of highs and lows) that lasts far longer than the first few weeks postpartum. Postnatal depletion is thought to be caused by an inability to replenish depleted nutrient stores that occurred during pregnancy and postpartum. It may be the reason you keep saying, “I just don’t feel like myself,” and it may lead to even larger issues such as postpartum depression, if not resolved. Here’s what you can do to support yourself during this very special and critical time.
No Drastic Dieting
We tell most of our clients that we don’t even want to see you in our offices before 6 to 8 weeks postpartum. One of the most common mistakes we see postpartum is diving right into the quest to getting your pre-baby body back, stat. The most important thing in the immediate postpartum period is to nourish your body with nutrient dense foods to support recovery (you just had a baby after all!). Not only will this help to replenish diminished nutrient stores such as iron, folate and calcium, but it also supports establishing a healthy breastfeeding supply – if you choose to nurse.
It can be difficult to meet your increased nutrient needs postpartum through diet alone, especially for new mothers adjusting to life with a newborn. Continuing to take a prenatal supplement for 6 to 12 months postpartum or for at least as long as you are breastfeeding can help replenish nutrient stores, supporting both physical and mental health. However, there is no way to ‘out-supplement’ a bad diet. Eating real, whole foods is still the best way to get in the nutrients you need. Always speak to your doctor before starting a new supplement.
Keeping your energy up and avoiding getting “hangry” become even more critical when you’re dealing with a newborn or infant, sleep deprivation and a new and often exhausting routine. Eating at regular intervals (every 3 to 4 hours) and keeping your blood sugar stable will help you keep your energy up while juggling a baby. The best way to get in those meals and snacks? Create a “healthy eating support system”. Stock up on easy healthy snacks like nuts, fruit or greek yogurt, enlist your partner, MIL and friends to help you cook and buy groceries those first few weeks, and/or use a grocery delivery service to help source ingredients.
Support Mood with Omega-3s
Omega-3 fatty acids are passed from mom to baby during pregnancy and lactation and are needed to support a baby’s brain development. Omega-3s are equally important for mom’s brain health. One study found that women who ate more seafood and whose breast milk contained higher concentrations of Docosahexaenoic Acid (DHA), a type of omega-3 fatty acid, had a lower risk of developing postpartum depression.
Good sources of omega-3s include fatty fish and seafood like salmon, mackerel, seabass, oysters and sardines. To get adequate omega-3s, aim to eat 2-3 servings of seafood per week. If you don’t love seafood, talk to your doctor about taking a fish oil supplement.
Establish a New Routine
Rather than expecting to jump back into your pre-baby routine, work on establishing new habits that complement your new schedule. Time and convenience is important for new mamas but when it comes to nutrition, convenience doesn’t have to equal lots of processed and packaged foods. Mastering the ‘throw together’ meal is key. Save time by buying pre-prepped items like rotisserie chicken, preformed turkey burgers, pre-cooked grains, frozen fruits and veggies and pre-washed greens.
Be Gentle with Yourself!
When you’re in it, sometimes the postnatal period can feel endless. But it does get better and easier with time. Be gentle on yourself and recognize when you need a break. You got this.