Better after baby: Coping with ‘postpartum depletion’ + how you can bounce back

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A quick story—a little over a year ago, I was walking out of a play gym class with my toddler and newborn, when my toddler ran out towards the parking lot. Don’t worry, I caught him. But not without skinning both my knees (ps that hurts way more than I remember from my childhood) and almost dropping my newborn. It turned out fine, but all I could do in that moment was sit on the sidewalk and cry.


I was just so, so tired. I felt depleted, overwhelmed and quite frankly, a little lost.

And that’s when a mom—an angel—came over to me, bent down to help me up and said the words I will never, ever forget (and always appreciate)—

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You’re not doing it wrong. It’s just that hard.

Still makes me cry to this day.

Because the thing is, we moms are simply too hard on ourselves. We do this massively incredible task of growing and birthing a baby, and then expect to snap back to being even “more” than we were before. We need to really start thinking and talking about the impact pregnancy has on us. It’s wonderful, absolutely. But it’s hard.

Understanding why exactly we feel so depleted may be the first step in figuring out how to feel better.

Postpartum depletion isn't a medical term per se, but a way to describe the way new mothers—their bodies + their brains—feel for months and even years after baby is born.

So let’s get science-y—

During pregnancy, there is a tremendous exchange of nutrients, fat, hormones and iron between mom and baby. Not to mention ALL the physical and emotional changes you experience as you grow and give birth to your baby. And while this is on purpose and fabulous for growing those sweet little faces of theirs, it takes a significant toll on us moms. . .for years to come.

Let’s talk about the ways this depletion happens + then what you can do about it to feel better now—

1. Sleep (#duh)

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This one should come as no surprise, but almost all moms experience at least some degree of sleep deprivation. Many, many studies have found that women who experience poor sleep after they have a baby (um, anyone NOT raising their hands on this one?) have an increased chance of developing postpartum depression and more health problems in general.

What you can do—

Delegate. Consider hiring a postpartum doula or baby nurse, or simply asking a family member to spend the night, so you can get a solid chunk of sleep.

Don’t over-exert yourself. You are already super-mom, so no need to add anything else to your plate right now. Don’t feel obligated to take on any extra responsibilities—just focus on you and your baby.

Practice good sleep hygiene. This means no TV or smartphones in bed (and the hour leading up to it), consistent bed and wake times when possible and using your bed only for sleep and sex. In other words, no reading stressful work emails in bed right before you try to fall asleep.

Ask for help. Don’t assume that your sleeping difficulties are because you are taking care of a newborn... they very well may be, but it helps to rule out something else more serious by talking to your health care provider.

2. Your pelvic floor changes

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The muscles of your pelvis can change pretty dramatically after birth. In fact, most women experience at least some degree of incontience (peeing when you don’t mean to, like when you cough or laugh), general muscle weakness and even sexual discomfort. The unfortunately truth is that in the U.S., we don’t do a great job of helping women get the support they need in this department. In Europe, for example, women are routinely referred to specialists to address any pelvic floor concerns.

What you can do—

Kegels! Kegels are exercises that strengthen your pelvic floor muscles. Check out this guide to doing them correctly.

See a pelvic floor physical therapist. “That’s normal after you have a baby” is not always true, and sometimes an expert can help make a dramatic difference in your life.

3. Your belly shifts

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In order to grow a baby, our abdominal muscles have to stretch, and even separate a bit. This separation, known as diastase recti, occurs in almost half of all women and can last well after the baby has been born. This can lead to decreased ab strength, as well as discomfort and pain.

What you can do—

Gentle, firming exercises. Here’s a guide on how to do them.

Seek help. It’s never a bad idea to have your abdomen examined by your provider. Sometimes the separation is severe enough that it will require medical intervention (and you’ll feel so much better when it’s done).

4. Your digestion changes

We’re all familiar with the um, digestion challenges, of pregnancy. But these troubles can last into the postpartum period as well—constipation, nausea and heartburn continue for many women, especially when you add the effects of stress, poor diets (anyone else existing on leftover mac n’ cheese these days?) and exhaustion.

What you can do—

Eat well. Fruits and veggies can alleviate constipation while super foods will give you more energy to care for your little one. Inspiration here, here, and here.

5. Your brain

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The actual structure of your brain changes when you have a baby. The good news is that our brains become more efficient and responsive to emotions (um, check). The bad news is that “mommy-brain” is an actual phenomenon—women scored slightly lower on some tests taken during the first few years after birth (so I am not the only one putting her keys in the freezer?!).

What you can do—

Focus on safety. Seriously. It’s estimated that exhaustion accounts for as many as 100,000 car accidents per year, just as an example. Before you get in the car, do a little self-check and make sure you’re really okay to drive.

Be gentle on yourself. It can be really frustrating to feel like you’re not as sharp as you used to be. Remember- you are actually SHARPER than before... your brain power is just focused in a new area now.

6. And what about the baby weight?

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Pretty quickly after giving birth, our culture has us wanting to get our “pre-baby body” back. But this is no easy task. The hormone changes alone can make weight loss pretty tricky, not to mention the added stress and schedule changes that come with a new little life to take care of. Have you heard the expression, “it took you 9 months to gain the weight, don’t expect to lose it over night”? It’s pretty true—research has found that it takes most women a year (or more) to lose the baby weight.

What you can do—

Breastfeed. Breastfeeding burns an average of 500 calories/day, and many women find that breastfeeding helps them take the weight off more quickly.

Don’t wait to get healthy... but also ENJOY this time and don’t stress. There is a really fine line to toe here. Research does indicate that baby weight that hangs on for longer than a year can become permanent weight gain. That being said, you are under a tremendous amount of stress as a new mom and adding this to the lot doesn’t help. And, your body has just done an AH-MA-ZING thing—the last thing you need to do is feel bad about your body in any way. Here’s some inspiration for embracing your beautiful body.

7. Postpartum mood shifts, depression + anxiety

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Did you know that as many 10-25% of women will experience postpartum depression and/or postpartum anxiety? And that 80% of women will experience notable mood shifts after giving birth, commonly known as the “Baby Blues”? PLEASE check out this list of symptoms, even if for a friend and not you. Postpartum emotional difficulties are caused by hormonal changes, as well as many of the things discussed earlier.

In other words, IT’S NOT YOUR FAULT.

And, help is out there. Speaking with a therapist or doctor will absolutely change your life. Also remember that if you ever feel like hurting yourself or your baby, you can call 911 or go to an ER.

New motherhood—it demands more than you than you ever thought you could give.

That parking lot jetting toddler is now about to start pre-school, and that newborn is now a toddler. My knees scrapes have heeled and I haven’t cried on a sidewalk in recent history. In other words, I promise you it gets better, mama. But it’s still hard. It’s taken me 3 kids to realize just how hard it all is, and how crucial taking care of myself is.

I’ve learned that self-care is not a luxury, it’s a necessity.

My wish for you, new mama and seasoned mama, is that you truly understand how amazing you and your body are, and treat yourself like the mama-goddess that you are.

You’ve got this.

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When it comes to holiday gifts, we know what you really want, mama. A full night's sleep. Privacy in the bathroom. The opportunity to eat your dinner while it's still hot. Time to wash—and dry!—your hair. A complete wardrobe refresh.


While we can't help with everything on your list (we're still trying to figure out how to get some extra zzz's ourselves), here are 14 gift ideas that'll make you look, if not feel, like a whole new woman. Even when you're sleep deprived.

Gap Cable-Knit Turtleneck Sweater

When winter hits, one of our go-to outfits will be this tunic-length sweater and a pair of leggings. Warm and everyday-friendly, we can get behind that.

$69.95

Gap Cigarette Jeans

These high-waisted straight-leg jeans have secret smoothing panels to hide any lumps and bumps (because really, we've all got 'em).

$79.95

Tiny Tags Gold Skinny Bar Necklace

Whether engraved with a child's name or date of birth, this personalized necklace will become your go-to piece of everyday jewelry.

$135.00

Gap Brushed Pointelle Crew

This wear-with-anything soft pink sweater with delicate eyelet details can be dressed up for work or dressed down for weekend time with the family. Versatility for the win!

$79.95

Gap Flannel Pajama Set

For mamas who sleep warm, this PJ set offers the best of both worlds: cozy flannel and comfy shorts. Plus, it comes with a coordinating eye mask for a blissed-out slumber.

$69.95

Spafinder Gift Card

You can't give the gift of relaxation, per say, but you can give a gift certificate for a massage or spa service, and that's close enough!

$50.00

Gap Stripe Long Sleeve Crewneck

This featherweight long-sleeve tee is the perfect layering piece under hoodies, cardigans, and blazers.

$29.95

Gap Chenille Smartphone Gloves

Gone are the days of removing toasty gloves before accessing our touchscreen devices—thank goodness!

$9.95

Ember Temperature Control Smart Mug

Make multiple trips to the microwave a thing of the past with a app-controlled smart mug that'll keep your coffee or tea at the exact temperature you prefer for up to an hour.

$79.95

Gap Flannel Shirt

Our new favorite flannel boasts an easy-to-wear drapey fit and a flattering curved shirttail hem.

$59.95

Gap Sherpa-Lined Denim Jacket

Stay warm while looking cool in this iconic jean jacket, featuring teddy bear-soft fleece lining and a trendy oversized fit.

$98.00

Gap Crazy Stripe Scarf

Practical and stylish, this cozy scarf adds a pop of color—well, colors—to any winter ensemble.

$39.95

Nixplay Seed Frame

This digital picture frame is perfect for mamas who stay up late scrolling through their phone's photo album to glimpse their kiddos being adorable. By sending them to this smart frame to view throughout the day, you can get a few extra minutes of sleep at night!

$165.00

Gap Crewneck Sweater

Busy mamas will appreciate that this supersoft, super versatile Merino wool sweater is machine washable.

$59.95

This article was sponsored by GAP. Thank you for supporting the brands that support Motherly and Mamas.

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There's a lot of discussion about the importance of early education—but what about soft skills like respect and kindness? How can mamas teach children important values like cooperation, gratitude, empathy or politeness?

These values are basic, foundational beliefs that help us know right from wrong, that give balance and meaning to life and that enable us to form community bonds with one another. These soft skills are crucial for kids to learn at any age, and it's important for them to be reinforced, both in the classroom and at home, throughout their childhood.

Here are fundamental ways to build character in your young children:

Kindness

Performing random acts of kindness can have a positive influence on both the individual showing and receiving the kindness. As a family, think of ways that each one of you can show kindness to others. Some ideas may include baking cookies for the mail carrier, donating an unopened toy to a local charity, purchasing canned goods for a homeless shelter or leaving notes and drawings for the neighbors. Include your child in the process so they can see firsthand the joy that kindness can bring to others.

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Responsibility

Children have a strong desire to mimic adult family members. Encourage your child to help complete simple chores in and around the house. Children feel a great sense of accomplishment when they can do their share and feel that sense of responsibility. Two-year-olds will enjoy folding towels, putting books away, putting paper in the recycling box and tending to the garden. Older children may enjoy helping out in the kitchen or with yard work.

Patience

Patience is the ability to demonstrate self-control while waiting for an event to occur. It also refers to the ability to remain calm in the face of frustration. This is a skill which develops in children as they mature. While it is important to practice patience, adults should also be realistic in their expectations, evaluate daily routines and eliminate long periods of wait time from the schedule.

Politeness

Schedule a time when the whole family can sit down together for dinner. Model good manners and encourage older siblings and other members of the family to do the same. Use phrases such as, "Can you please pass the potatoes?" or "Thank you." Be sure to provide your child with guidance, by explaining what to do as opposed to what not to do.

Flexibility

Change your routines at home to encourage children to be flexible in their thinking and to try new things. Try being flexible in the small things: enjoy breakfast for dinner, eat ice cream with a fork, have your child read a bedtime story to you or have a picnic in the living room. Let your child know it is okay to do things in a different way.

Empathy

Children are beginning to understand different emotions and that others have feelings. Throughout their childhood, talk about their feelings and share one's own feeling with them as well. By taking the time to listen to how children are feeling, you will demonstrate to them that you care and reinforce with them that you fully understand how they are feeling.

Cooperation

Coordinate playdates or take your children to events where they can practice introducing themselves to other children, and potentially with adults. Find games and other activities that require turn-taking and sharing.

Gratitude

Encourage your child to spend five minutes every day listing the things they are grateful for. This could be done together just before bedtime or after dinner.

Respect

As parents, our goal is to teach children to recognize that even though people have different likes and dislikes or beliefs and ideas, they must treat each other with manners and positivity. Respect should be shown when sharing, cleaning up, and listening to others. Always teach and model the Golden Rule: treat others the way you would like to be treated. Also remind children that respect can be shown towards things in the classroom. Treating materials and toys correctly shows appreciation for the things we have.
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Medical researchers and providers consider a woman's postpartum period to be up to 12 months after the delivery of baby, but too often, health insurance doesn't see it the same way. Nearly half of the births in the United States are covered by Medicaid or the Children's Health Insurance Program (CHIP) and while the babies who are born during these births are eligible for Medicaid or CHIP for a year, their mothers often lose their coverage 60 days after delivering their child. There is clear data showing 70% of new moms will have at least one health complication within a year of giving birth.

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This week, members of Congress' Subcommittee on Health met to mark up H.R. 4996, the "Helping Medicaid Offer Maternity Services (MOMS) Act of 2019, and it was favorably forwarded to the full Committee.

What does this mean? It means that while this bill still has a ways to go before it potentially becomes law, its success would see states get the option to provide 12 months of continuous coverage postpartum coverage to mothers on Medicaid. This would save lives.

As we at Motherly have said many times, it takes a considerable amount of time and energy to heal from birth. A mother may not be healed 60 days out from delivering. She may still require medical care for perinatal mood disorders, breast issues like thrush and mastitis, diabetes, and the consequences of traumatic births, like severe vaginal tearing.

Cutting off Medicaid when her baby is only 2 months old makes mom and baby vulnerable, and the Helping Moms Act could protect families from dire consequences.

The United States has the highest rate of maternal deaths in the developed world, and according to the CDC, "about 700 women die each year in the United States as a result of pregnancy or delivery complications." This is not okay, and while H.R. 4996 is not yet signed into law this bill could help change this. It could help address the racial disparities that see so many Black mothers and Native American mothers dying from preventable causes in the first year of motherhood.

A report from nine American maternal mortality review committees found that there were three leading causes of death that occurred between 43 days and one year postpartum: cardiomyopathy (32.4%), mental health conditions (16.2%), and embolism (10.8%) and multiple state maternal mortality review committees have recommended extending Medicaid coverage to one year postpartum in order to prevent these deaths.

Basically, making sure that moms have have continuous access to health care the year after a birth means doctors can spot issues with things like depression, heart disease and high blood pressure at regular check-ups and treat these conditions before they become fatal.

The Helping Moms Act is a step forward in the fight for maternal health and it proves that maternal health is truly a bipartisan issue. Republicans and Democrats alike recognize the value in providing support for mothers during the postpartum period.

The Helping MOMS Act was was introduced by Democratic Congresswoman Robin Kelly of Illinois, chair of the Congressional Black Caucus Health Braintrust. It was co-lead by Texas Republican Michael Burgess (who is also a medical doctor), as well as Georgia Republican Buddy Carter, Washington Republicans Jaime Herrera Beutler and Cathy McMorris Rodgers and Ayanna Pressley from Massachusettes and Lauren Underwood of Illinois (both Democrats).

"Incentivizing postpartum Medicaid expansion is a critical first step in preventing maternal deaths by ensuring new moms can see their doctor. I'm proud that my colleagues, on both sides of the aisle, came together to put an end to the sad reality of American moms dying while growing their families," said Kelly. "We can't allow the perfect to be the enemy of the good. This is a good, bipartisan first step, but it must be the first of many."

It doesn't matter what your political stripes, reducing America's maternal mortality stats should be a priority.

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Whether you're having a low-key Friendsgiving with your closest friends or prepping to host your first big Thanksgiving dinner with both families, figuring out all of the menu details can be the most overwhelming step. How much should I cook? What ingredients do I need? How does one actually cook a turkey this big?

But, don't worry, mama—HelloFresh is lending a helping hand this year with their Thanksgiving box in collaboration with Jessica Alba. Because you already have enough on your plate (and we're not talking stuffing).


Here are the details. You can choose from two Thanksgiving boxes: Turkey ($152) or beef tenderloin ($132). The turkey box serves 8-10 people while the beef one will serve 4-6 and both are $6.99 to ship. We got to try both and they're equally delicious so you can't go wrong with either one, but the turkey does require a 4-day thaw period so keep that in mind. And if you're wondering what the sides are, here's a sneak peek:

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  • Garlic mashed potatoes
  • Green bean casserole with crispy onions
  • Ciabatta stuffing with chick sausage and cranberries
  • Cranberry sauce with orange, ginger and cinnamon
  • Apple ginger crisp with cinnamon pecan crumble

While someone still has to do the actual cooking, it's designed to take the stress out of Thanksgiving dinner so you can focus on spending time with your loved ones (or watching Hallmark Christmas movies). You don't have to worry about grocery shopping, portion sizes, recipe curation or forgetting that essential thing you needed to make the meal perfect. Everything is super simple to make from start to finish—it even comes with a cooking timeline.

Orders are open through November 21 and can be delivered anytime through November 24. Even better? You don't need a subscription to order.


ORDER A BOX

We independently select and share the products we love—and may receive a commission if you choose to buy. You've got this.

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My mother's death propelled me to start the process of becoming a parent as a 43-year-old single woman. As my connection to her remained strong in spirit after her death, I was ready to experience the same bond with my own child. I began the journey with Intra Uterine Insemination (IUI), and after three failed attempts at getting pregnant, I decided to adopt.

The adoption process is a lengthy and humbling one—one that includes fingerprints, background checks, references, classes, doing a profile of yourself and your life that birth parents eventually use to choose adoptive families.

After my application was approved, a young couple chose me just a month later. I couldn't believe my fortune. But I had to get to work and prepare the house for my baby's arrival. I bought the best of everything—bassinets, clothes, diapers, car seats… the list goes on. I told close friends and family that it was finally happening.

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But all of this was in vain. The day I was supposed to pick my daughter up, I learned that the birth parents had changed their minds. They no longer wanted to give their daughter up for adoption. As time passed, it was difficult to endure no interest from potential parents but the faith in believing what is meant to be continued. To increase my potential, I enrolled with a second adoption agency.

A few months later, as I was getting ready to try IVF for the first time, I received a phone call to let me know that a woman had selected me to adopt her child. So I opted out of IVF and found myself in a hospital delivery room with the birth mother, assisting her in the delivery of MY child. It was a boy! I was so thrilled, and he was just adorable.

After six years of losses and disappointments, I was able to bring him home and awaited the final word that the mother and father have given the needed consent. I was getting ready to watch the Super Bowl with him dressed in football gear, I got a phone call.

Once again, the adoption agency informed me that the birth mother had changed her mind. That evening, I had to return the baby to his birth mom. I was heartbroken, and my hopes were shattered.

What now? Going back to IVF meant starting from scratch, and that would take a minimum of six months before being able to really start getting pregnant. I was 49 years old, and the clock was ticking. I really wanted to be a mom by the age of 50.

I was in Chicago, recovering from a collapsed lung, when I received yet another phone call from the adoption agency. An expecting mom had chosen me and had already signed over all of her rights. This little girl was mine. For real, this time. But I had to get to Southern New Jersey by Thursday to pick her up from the hospital.

After negotiating with my doctor to give me the green light to leave while recovering from my condition, I hopped on a train, and 22 hours later, I arrived to New York City in a massive snow storm. I took longer than expected to get to her, but after navigating the icy roads of New Jersey, I met my daughter!

She is now 2 years old, and she has changed my life in ways that just can't be fully described. What I can say is that I now understand my mother's love even more and her devotion to me and my siblings, and as I am sharing the same with my daughter, my bond to my mother keeps on growing.

Becoming a mom at 49 was never what I had envisioned. But whether you are trying to conceive or have decided to adopt a child, the road to becoming a parent is rarely easy. I know that inner strength and believing in what was meant to be kept me moving forward.

Life
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