The meaning of the term Postnatal Depletion sounds pretty straightforward. In some ways it is. It means depletion of the mother in the postnatal period. The problem though is that most people are unaware of what the postnatal period actually is, limiting it to the year or so after the birth of the child. Many people also think that postnatal depletion and postnatal depression are the same, when they are not. Most don’t realise that it can take seven to ten years for a woman to recover from pregnancy and childbirth, a period of time that far surpasses what we think of as the postnatal period.

Postnatal depletion and postnatal depression are not the same, although they can commonly occur together. While postnatal depression is commonly thought to impact a new mother in the first year or so of the baby’s life, the fact is that in Australia the peak incidence actually occurs later- four years after the child is born. Postnatal depression and postnatal depletion can and often do occur together and share similar symptoms and biochemical findings, yet they can also exist as independent conditions. A mother can be depressed but not depleted. Likewise she can be depleted but is not necessarily depressed.

In his book “The Postnatal Depletion Cure”, Dr Oscar Serrallach describes in resonating accuracy how he has seen a rise in women experiencing post-natal symptoms such as lethargy, memory disturbances, poor energy levels, hyper-vigilance and unease, frustration, overwhelm, brain fog, loss of libido and feelings of guilt and shame.  Our modern approach to childbearing with the attitude of full speed ahead, high stress levels, declining gut health, nutrient poor diets and a number of other factors, combined with a more advanced maternal age are driving an increase in mother’s experiencing a deep fatigue and exhaustion far beyond the vagueness of ‘baby brain’. And these effects are lingering way beyond the 6 to 12 months most people associate with the postnatal period of having a new baby.

Physiologically, the average mother’s brain shrinks 5 percent during her pregnancy to support the growth of her baby. This shrinkage is more like a modification, a remodelling of the brain to prepare the mother for motherhood. The fetal brain has a huge requirement for energy and fat and the placenta is so deeply woven in to our uterus wall that by the end of the pregnancy it has the capacity to absorb 7mg of fat per day from the mother. Iron, zinc, selenium, B12, B9, iodine and specific amino acids from proteins and fats like DHA are all taken from the mother to support this growing child and of this, 60% is to support to child’s brain. The baby is grown from the mother.

It is no surprise then that nutritional status in the years prior to pregnancy has a big impact on how well the mother is able to maintain her nutrient levels after providing for her baby. In clinic, we love it when women are pro-active in seeking out prenatal care. Herbs, acupuncture and scrutiny of lifestyle and dietary habits as well as supplementation with DHA/EPA and other micronutrients are used to support the mother to be and build on any deficiencies detected. Stress levels can be reduced with acupuncture and mindfulness techniques. This support is maintained throughout the pregnancy and into the postnatal period as much as possible.

If you have just given birth, or in your later stages of Pregnancy please call us on 9510 3700 to book an appointment with one of our Acupuncturists to support you through this stage.

Written by Kim Riley who is a registered doctor of Chinese Herbal Medicine and Acupuncture and has been practicing for over six years. Kim brings a wealth of knowledge and experience in women’s health, fertility, ivf, postnatal, pregnancy, teenage hormonal issues, gut health, the 4th trimester, Endometriosis, menopause, PCOS, nutrition and Chinese herbal medicine. She has a background in working in the health foods industry and initially studied naturopathy before changing paths to Chinese Medicine. This background serves her well in her work as she integrates her knowledge of whole foods, nutrition and supplements with her Chinese Medicine understanding.