There is this pervasive idea in our Western society, that moms have to be “everything” to everyone, and as result of this, so many mothers suffer in silence. I really believe that for our society to thrive, mothers must be healthy and fully supported.
Fatigue and low energy are the most common symptoms faced by new moms (maybe even in mothers in general). Being a new mom is EXHAUSTING and, at times, overwhelming. To some degree, this is a normal part of the process. Sleep deprivation and/or broken sleeping patterns are a given. However, in many instances, this is only part of the equation and there is so much more that can be done to support mothers and get them feeling better.
The female body goes through so many profound biological changes during pregnancy, delivery, and postpartum. It is common for women (even many years after giving birth) to experience symptoms such as:
These issues can often be addressed via individualized diet, lifestyle, acupuncture, nutritional/herbal supplementation and a thorough investigation of the potential causes as outlined below.
General Nutrient Depletion
Due to our hectic schedules, demanding careers, and increasingly nutrient-poor food sources (and food choices), many women are already in a depleted state leading up to conception. Adding pregnancy and breastfeeding to the mix really compounds the issue. The female body, in all its glory, supplies everything that the growing baby needs hence why so many women become low in iron, zinc, Vitamin B12, omega-3, iodine, and selenium, just to name a few. This is why a high-quality, professional-grade prenatal multivitamin is so important BEFORE conception (ideally), throughout pregnancy, and breastfeeding (if applicable). Many prenatal vitamins do not contain nutrients in their most ‘bioavailable’ forms, which means that they are not readily absorbed. This is what makes a high-quality prenatal stand out against the others, in addition to having more therapeutic doses of each nutrient. [Side note: If you’ve ever heard a health professional say that multivitamins/prenatals are unnecessary postpartum and that it can 'all be sourced from food', run for the hills. This person is practicing what I call ‘minimum-wage nutrition’ and likely does not understand the fundamental difference between a good multi and a bad one.] FURTHERMORE, it goes without saying that food is important here but when moms are exhausted and juggling a baby, good intentions can fall by the wayside. That being said, increasing healthy fats, high-quality protein sources, and fruits/veggies is the way to go.
IRON IRON IRON IRON IRON IRON
I really can’t stress the importance of this mineral enough. Most women will receive iron tests throughout pregnancy and afterwards but here is where things may slip through the cracks…
1) Ferritin also needs to be tested. This is the storage form of iron so it measures how much iron you’ve got in your ‘reserves’ and this number isn’t going to be affected by what you recently ate prior to testing (as free ‘iron’ will be on a blood test).
2) The reference range for ferritin starts too low for optimum health. This means you have to be extremely depleted for several months before it will show up as low according to the standard reference range. Many women will experience symptoms of fatigue, low energy, hair loss (in addition to many more possible symptoms) while being well within the given reference range. So get yourself tested and get a copy of the results.
3) If you have been told to supplement with iron by your doctor, you need follow-up testing to determine if you’ve reached optimal level. It can take many months to replete iron stores (especially if there are absorption/digestive issues) and you need to be sure that you’ve gotten there before stopping your iron.
4) Iron supplements come in many different forms. Heme iron (animal source; not for vegans) is better absorbed and has less of a tendency to cause constipation.
Thyroid: ALL the tests
Due to various hormonal and immunological changes, the risk of developing a thyroid issue is greatly increased during pregnancy and postpartum (especially in women who are already genetically susceptible). To make matters worse, thyroid dysfunction is frequently missed or overlooked in new moms. I mean, it sort of makes sense. Being a mom is naturally exhausting! Overwhelming. Anxiety-inducing for some…. right? It becomes hard to know when it is going beyond ‘normal postpartum fatigue’ and into the realm of thyroid problems. In fact, the symptoms of a thyroid issue overlap so much with the ‘normal’ postpartum symptoms that it is virtually impossible to distinguish between the two without the proper testing. By proper testing, I mean you need a FULL THYROID PANEL in order to determine how your thyroid is functioning. Not just TSH. I promise. Learn more HERE.
We live in a society where stress has become the norm and most of us have completely forgotten how to press the OFF switch. This continuous cycle of stress has a profound effect on hormones, immune function, and gut health. Stressors, big and small, initiate a “fight-or-flight” response whereby your body (adrenal glands) pumps out adrenaline and cortisol. The more stress you experience, the more your adrenals are squeezing out these hormones to help your body cope with the threats whether they are physical, mental, or emotional. Being a new mom adds more stress to the mix and just like anything you use over and over again, without supporting the adrenals, they run out of steam. When this happens, low energy follows, in addition to numerous other potential symptoms.
While the ‘baby blues’ are common and a normal result of the postpartum decrease in hormones, depression which lasts more than a few weeks after birth can signify PPD. Please note that this can occur up to one year postpartum. Please consult with your healthcare provider to find out more.
The take home message...
If you are a struggling with symptoms of fatigue and low energy, please know that you are not alone and that you CAN feel better with some support. Get your ferritin and thyroid checked. Ask for a copy of the results. Consult with a healthcare practitioner who is comfortable delving further into the issue so that you can get back to feeling your best. Contact us if you'd like to know more about how Naturopathic Medicine can help.
Dr. Kerri Dow, ND