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Understanding Postnatal Depletion and its Effects on Breastfeeding

Motherhood is no joke. After trying, sometimes for years, to successfully conceive, warrior mamas go through the grueling work of creating a tiny little human from scratch. It’s a process that mines our bodies for all the nutrients our babies need to thrive. Then, there’s the intensity (and insanity) of childbirth itself, followed by the demanding and sleep-deprived newborn stage. Meanwhile, a mother’s body is doing its best to heal and recover from both delivery and the best part of the last year. If you’re breastfeeding, it’s also directing vital nutrients into nourishing your ever-growing little one. 

It’s a lot, and it’s why many new mothers are seriously drained. The popular term is postnatal depletion (1), the combination of hormonal, physical and emotional depletion that’s incredibly common for women following the birth of their babies. But a little knowledge goes a long way, and we’re here for you, mamas! As we roll into World Breastfeeding Week, here’s what to understand about postnatal depletion and its effects on breastfeeding.

KEY TAKEAWAYS

  • Postnatal depletion is the mix of physical, hormonal and emotional depletion common to new mothers.
  • Women who breastfeed have a higher likelihood of experiencing postnatal depletion because their nutrient needs are often higher than they were during pregnancy.
  • Breastfeeding mothers have higher caloric and nutrient needs to support milk production.
  • Continuing with a prenatal vitamin after delivery helps fill the gaps to ensure you and your baby are getting the right nutrients.

What is Postnatal Depletion?

Postnatal depletion really sums it up—new moms so often feel completely drained, and it’s because, well, they are. For months and months, you’ve been passing along essential nutrients like iron, calcium, folate, choline, B  vitamins and proteins to your baby. During childbirth and the earliest weeks of motherhood, women also lose blood, burning through their iron reserves. As milk production kicks into gear, nutrients are likewise funneled from mama in the interest of her baby. It’s no surprise that new moms are experiencing symptoms of depletion!

Often, these symptoms overlap with the earliest part of motherhood, so postnatal depletion isn’t always easy to identify. Things like excessive fatigue, low energy, brain fog and feelings of anxiety, frustration and self-doubt could all be indications of depletion at the deepest level. 

Who’s at Risk of Postnatal Depletion?

New moms who are jumping back into their daily lives, whether that involves responsibilities at home or at work (or both!) are more likely to feel the effects of postnatal depletion, especially if they’re lacking a strong support system. The same is true if you’re breastfeeding, when your nutrients needs are even higher than they were during pregnancy. 

You’ve heard about the magical elixir that is mother’s milk—a personalized concoction uniquely formulated to nourish your growing baby. But producing that milk means an increased need for specific nutrients, not to mention protein and adequate hydration. Breastfeeding moms need roughly 400-500 extra calories every day, along with greater amounts of specific nutrients, including:

That’s why experts recommend continuing with your prenatal vitamins after the baby comes. It’s one way new moms can prioritize self-care—and we aren’t talking about indulgent massages and mani-pedis.

The Role of Self-Care + What to Prioritize

postnatal-depletion-breastfeeding-beli-baby

One of the most valuable things a new mother can hear is that her needs deserve to be met, too (followed closely by, you’re doing great!). All too often, things done in the name of self-care are sacrificed for the never-ending needs of your bossy little baby. That tends to play out IRL with things like skipping showers, no sleep (Literally. No. Sleep.), wearing the same clothes for days on end, and missing meals and/or fueling up on the closest thing in reach.

But taking care of yourself means you’re in the best position to take care of your baby, and that’s particularly true when you’re breastfeeding. You’ll find endless articles online for things new moms should do to look after themselves, and nutrition is always, always on the list. It makes sense. In the big scheme of things, messy hair and spit up-covered clothes aren’t a big deal. But subpar nutrition costs you more than you might think, simply because the process of healing after pregnancy while simultaneously caring for your baby calls for elevated levels of vital nutrients. And you won’t find those when you’re shoveling pizza pockets or chips into your face because it’s the fastest, easiest thing to get your hands on.

With that in mind, here’s what to prioritize in an effort to reduce the effects of postnatal depletion and support breastfeeding:

Put nutrition first

In an ideal world, new mothers would have balanced meals prepared for them so they could focus entirely on the important work of mothering an infant. In the real world, well, we do what we can. That means doing your best to eat healthy meals with a good mix of fruits, vegetables, protein and healthy fats, and supplementing with a high-quality prenatal vitamin to fill the inevitable gaps. A daily prenatal like Beli for Women really is the best way to ensure you’re getting all the right nutrients to support your own health and nourish your baby. A few highlights:

  • Our prenatal is designed for all five stages of pregnancy, from preconception to postnatal, which just makes things easy. 
  • All those important nutrients we mentioned above, like choline and vitamin D? Yeah, you’ll find them in Beli!
  • Our ingredients are naturally derived, which means zero synthetics or fillers, and we only use the purest, most bioavailable forms of vitamins and minerals to ensure your body can use them properly. Plus, our formulas have earned the Purity Award from the Clean Label Project.
  • We manufacture in cGMP and FDA-registered facilities, which speaks to their safety and consistency.

Lean on collagen protein

Remember that a prenatal vitamin is truly designed to supplement what you’re already eating, so be mindful of what you eat. It’s not always easy, but a decent diet will help your energy levels and physical health. Pro tip—protein smoothies are your friend! Whizz up a nutrient-dense, protein-rich smoothie full of fruits and veggies and a scoop of Beli’s Collagen Protein Boost for a fast, easy way to fuel your body, get a hearty dose of vitamins, minerals and antioxidants, and hydrate. Just remember that not all protein powders are created equal, and you want to be careful about what goes into your body, especially when you’re nursing. Our Collagen Protein Boost is free of fillers or suspicious ingredients, so drink up!

Remember to put sleep before laundry (and dishes)

In addition to a decent diet and keeping on with a good prenatal vitamin every darn day, do what you can to get some sleep. Split shifts if possible, or forget the laundry and grab some shut-eye when the baby sleeps. 

Ask for help

All those well-meaning visitors who pop by to see the baby are bound to ask if there’s anything they can do. Put that to good use! If you need someone to mind the baby so you can hop in the shower, or you’d be so grateful if they could swing by the grocery store on their way in to visit, ask for it. As the saying goes, it takes a village. If you have one, lean into it.

The Bottom Line

In our busy modern lives, postnatal depletion is more likely than not, and it’s so easy to focus entirely on your baby’s needs. But remember that you can’t pour from an empty cup, and it’s not selfish to need some time to just breathe. Do your best to meet your own needs, starting with that prenatal vitamin. While some much-needed time to yourself might be too much to ask if your support system is lacking, taking care of your basic needs should absolutely be a priority. The bottom line is that looking after yourself really is the best way to minimize the effects of postnatal depletion. If all else fails, be mindful of eating well at the very least!


Resources

1. Postnatal Depletion—Even 10 Years Later. (2015). https://goop.com/wellness/health/postnatal-depletion-even-10-years-later/

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