Interview with Dr. Oscar Serrallach, a medical specialist dedicated to remaining at the cutting edge of wellness healthcare for mothers.
Q: You’ve identified a syndrome in mothers, which you call postnatal depletion—what is it exactly?
A: It is the common phenomenon of fatigue and exhaustion, combined with a feeling of “baby brain.” Baby Brain is a term that encompasses the symptoms of poor concentration, poor memory, and emotional lability. Emotional lability is where one’s emotions change up and down much more easily than they would have in the past, e.g. “crying for no reason.” There is often a feeling of isolation, vulnerability, and of not feeling “good enough.” It is experienced by many mothers, and is an understandable and at times predictable outcome associated with the extremely demanding task of being a mother from the perspective of both childbearing and child raising.
Along with these features, I have identified a typical associated biochemical “fingerprint” that is partly the cause of and partly the result of postnatal depletion.
Q: How many women do you believe it affects? And for how long?
A: I suspect up to 50 percent of mothers will have some degree of postnatal depletion—possibly more, but because of the focus of our clinic I would have a slanted view. I don’t tend to have mothers seeking my helping who are feeling “amazing.”
Postnatal depletion, I feel, can affect mothers from birth until the time the child is seven years of age (possibly longer). There is a lot of overlap between postnatal depletion and depression in terms of symptoms and biochemical findings. For some women postnatal depression occurs at the severe end of the spectrum of postnatal depletion.
In Australia, the peak incidence of postnatal depression is four years after the child is born, not in the first six months which was previously thought to be the time of highest incidence of depression. This shows that postnatal depression is an accumulation of factors from the pregnancy, delivery, and post childbirth. This is also the case for postnatal depletion though many mothers with depletion don’t experience depression and it is possible to have postnatal depression without the depletion.
Q: What are the symptoms of postnatal depletion?
Fatigue and exhaustion.
Tired on waking.
Falling asleep unintentionally.
Hyper-vigilance (a feeling that the “radar” is constantly on), which is often associated with anxiety or a sense of unease. I often hear the words “tired and wired” describing how mothers feel.
Sense of guilt and shame around the role of being a mother and loss of self esteem. This is often associated with a sense of isolation and apprehension and sometimes even fear about socializing or leaving the house.
Frustration, overwhelm, and a sense of not coping. I often hear mothers say: “There is no time for me.”
As mentioned, brain fog or “baby brain.”
Loss of libido.
Q: What are its causes of postnatal depletion?
A: It is multifactorial:
We live in a society of continual ongoing stress and we literally don’t know how to relax or switch off. This has profound effects on hormones, immune function, brain structure, and gut health.
Woman are having babies later in life. In Australia the average age for a mother having her first baby is 30.9 years.
Women tend to be in a depleted state going into motherhood with careers, demanding social schedules, and the chronic sleep deprivation as the norm in our society.
As a society we tend not to allow mothers to fully recover after childbirth before getting pregnant again. It is not uncommon to see the phenomenon of a mother giving birth to two children from separate pregnancies in the same calendar year. Also with assisted reproduction we are seeing higher rates of twins, which will obviously exacerbate any depletion.
Sleep deprivation of having a newborn: Some research suggests that in the first year the average sleep debt is 700 hours! Reduced family and societal support is very common, as well.
Processed, nutrient-poor foods make up a large percentage of the typical diet these days. We are in many cases having “two mouthfuls of food for one mouthful of nutrition.”
There is a perceived notion that the mother has to be “everything,” and as result many mothers suffer in silence and are not receiving education, information, or support. Multi-generational support groups for mothers have been part of indigenous cultures for millennium though they are sadly absent in our post-industrial culture.
The phenomenon of inter-generational epigenetic changes in the expression of our genetics is very complex and I suspect it explains in part the higher rate of allergic disease and autoimmune disease that we are seeing in our society. In short we cannot do the same as what our parents or grandparents did and expect the same level of health. We literally have to “up our game” just to experience the same level of health as our parents, let alone experience better health.
Q: Why is this a new thing? Or is it not a new thing and just newly acknowledged? Have women been experiencing this since the beginning of time?
A: It is certainly much more common these days. Most of the so-called primitive cultures or first people of the world had very specific practices to ensure that mothers made a full recovery from childbirth. This is something that is not much talked about in today’s age. These are called post-partum practices. From China to India, from Aboriginal Australia to the Americas, there have been centuries of very deliberate practices in nutritional recovery, spiritual cleansing, and protection as well as elaborate social supports.
In traditional Chinese culture, they observe the sitting month “Zuo Yue Zi,” where the mother would not leave the house for thirty days, would not receive any visitors, and would have no duties apart from breastfeeding the baby. Special “rebuilding” warm foods would be supplied and the mother would not be allowed to get cold or even shower in that time. Ancient cultures have made the realization that Western society unfortunately has not: For society to be well and prosper, the mothers must be fully supported and healthy—in every sense of the word.
(Partial) Interview from Goop.
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Who is this for?
Exhausted moms who are either in the midst of postpartum and/ or have never really recovered from pregnancy, childbirth, and postpartum.
Women who are currently pregnant and want to avoid the common pitfalls of postnatal depletion and baby colic.
Moms who want to have even more energy than they had before kids, so that they can conquer being ‘on-demand’ 24/7 - with ease.
Moms who want to make sure their baby is growing healthy & well and want to improve their baby’s digestion & nutrition which also means: less crying!!
Women who are ready for a healthy dose of self care so that they can be a ‘fun mom’ again.
Moms who don’t take “deal with it” for an answer.