Speaking to mom clients and friends about postpartum depression I very quickly realized even though some moms didn’t necessarily have it, there was something else going on called postpartum depletion.
It was like there was this stage somewhere before postpartum depression, but it didn’t really go by a name.
Many of my mom friends didn’t really want to talk about it because as we know the ‘extremeness’ of our understanding of postpartum depression can be scary. Depression in general is also still unfortunately very stigmatizing.
And goodness forbid we’d be seen as having postpartum depression if we said something. Worse even, we’d be seen as a bad mom.
Turns out we needed some way to define the long term emotional drain of being a mom on our mental health when we don’t have postpartum depression.
WHAT IS POSTPARTUM DEPLETION?
Postpartum depletion is a term that started popping up on mommy blogs a handful of years ago. Celebrities like Gwyneth Paltrow also had discussions of it on her site. It started to pick up in momentum, as it seemed to name an experience that so many moms were having.
In 2018, Dr. Oscar Serrallach, a General Practitioner published a book on postnatal depletion called Mothermorphosis: Your Revolutionary Guide to Postnatal Transformation. As a GP, researcher and father, he argues after the birth of a baby many women have difficulty recovering nutritionally, hormonally and emotionally.
According to Dr. Serrallach “[a]t its core, postnatal depletion is the understandable outcome of a series of less-than-ideal events leading to depletion of a woman’s well-being at multiple levels”.
He argues that there are 3 main components that are contributors:
1. Nutrients. Creating and having a baby requires a great deal of resources and nutrients. This requirement increases when a woman is able and chooses to breastfeed.
2. Exhaustion. “Sleep deprivation over time can lead to deep seated exhaustion.” This compounded with the physical, emotional and psychological effort that goes into taking care of a child can exacerbate it.
3. Role changes & social isolation. It goes without saying that being a first time mom often thrusts most of us into very new territory. This new space can not only be very abruptly different but also very isolating.
Cumulatively these factors have an effect on a woman’s physical and psychological well-being.
HOW DOES POSTPARTUM DEPLETION DIFFER FROM POSTPARTUM DEPRESSION?
If you feel like you might be experiencing either postpartum depression or postpartum depletion, please speak to a health or mental health professional or someone you trust.
Postpartum depression is a diagnosable mental health condition many women face at any point often in the first year postpartum. Whereas, at the moment there is not medical diagnosis for postpartum depletion.
Many women discuss how depletion can start and can last quite some time after childbirth. There are differing accounts on this point.
There are some signs of postpartum depression that women cite feeling. Other women that don’t necessarily have postpartum depletion but find that they do experience some of the same signs.
Dr. Serrallach argues that a mom can have postpartum depression without depletion and vise-versa.
SIGNS OF POSTPARTUM DEPRESSION:
- Persistent low mood
- Persistent feeling of sadness
- Difficulty bonding with your baby
- Withdrawal from contact with others
- Difficulty concentrating
- Persistent feeling of tiredness and loss of energy
- Pattern of trouble sleeping at night
- Thoughts of harming yourself or your baby
WHAT CAN YOU DO ABOUT POSTPARTUM DEPLETION
Although there is shockingly little research out there on postpartum depletion, there are some advocates that have helped to define it and its treatment.
Because of its complexity of factors from exhaustion (e.g., sleep deprivation or poor quality of sleep) and environmental (e.g., social isolation, stress) to physiological (e.g., nutritional impacts from pregnancy to breastfeeding, toxins), holistic treatment should be reflective of this.
This means the recommendations are to focus on providing attention, support, action and healing to these respective components.
QUICK VIEW ON HOW DO WE ATTEND TO, SUPPORT, ACT AND HEAL
1.Nutritious diet. Eating a balanced nutritious diet is key. Dr. Serrallach says he finds many of his mom patients have low levels of key nutrients like iron, V B12 CB9, selenium stores, iodine and omega 3 fats (e.g., DHA).
2. Address Exhaustion. Finding ways to increase sleep and the quality of sleep for a lot of moms is fundamental to good mental, physical and emotional well being.
3. Getting acquainted with role changes and finding support. This of course can be a challenge for many moms. If you can, finding support in your social or familial environment can be helpful. Finding creative ways to develop your support network and self-care routine is also helpful.
There really isn’t much in the way of research out there to truly back up much of the existing literature on postpartum depletion. It is an important concern for many moms and it should be a priority.
If you are experiencing postpartum deletion, it doesn’t mean you’re a bad mom or that you’re losing your marbles.
Don’t struggle alone, reach out to a trusted friend or professional as soon as you can.
If you’re interested in more information, please stay plugged into my Facebook and follow my mommy journey on Instagram. I try to share helpful tips and infographics to make it easy to keep up with the latest research.
Take care of yourself,