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

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)—

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)

A post shared by Motherly (@mother.ly) on

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

A post shared by Motherly (@mother.ly) on

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

A post shared by Motherly (@mother.ly) on

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

A post shared by Motherly (@mother.ly) on

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?

A post shared by Motherly (@mother.ly) on

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

A post shared by Motherly (@mother.ly) on

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.

Join Motherly

Who says you have to wait for birthdays or holidays to give your bestie a great gift? A sweet surprise that tells her you've been thinking of her might be the pick-me-up she needs in these more-than-trying times. We've rounded up some of our favorite go-to gifts that are certain to be a bright spot in her week. But be warned, you may want to snag a few for yourself. (You deserve it, mama.)

Here are some our favorite "just because" gifts to give our hardworking mama friends.

New Mother face + body care duo

volition face + body care duo

This correcting oil and stretch mark minimizer is perfect for the pregnant mama looking to keep her pregnancy glow. The correcting oil brightens the skin while reducing dark spots, and the stretch mark minimizer works to smooth her ever-growing belly.

$70

Allover roller

esker allover roller

This jade roller goes beyond your typical face roller and can be used anywhere on the body. It works to increase stimulation and reduce puffiness and is perfect for applying any oils to the face or body. Plus, it feels like a mini spa treatment.

$65

Kombucha making kit

farmsteady kombucha making kit

What could be a more perfect gift for the health-obsessed friend? This kombucha making kit comes with everything you need to brew your own homemade green tea kombucha. They'll think this is the tastiest gift ever.

$45

Laetitia lipstick

cupid & psyche laetitia

This red lipstick is perfect for your makeup enthusiast bestie who is looking to spruce up her life in quarantine. Crafted in the United States, these bee and vegan-friendly and cruelty-free lipsticks are created to flatter all complexions. Cupid and Psyche Beauty makes finding the perfect red lip way too easy!

$23

Jigsaw puzzle

inner piecec jigsaw puzzle

Mamas need to destress now more than ever during quarantine. This adorable jigsaw puzzle is perfect for the mama who needs a brain break! The 500-piece puzzle designed by artist Ray Oranges features an abstract gradient design that fits a standard frame when completed. Bonus: It's printed on recycled paper and the company donates $1 from every puzzle sold to youth mindfulness programs.

$30

Matilda's Bloombox

matilda's bloombox

If we have to be stuck inside, we might as well have some gorgeous florals to brighten up the space. Matilda's Bloombox locally sources blooms, delivers them to her door and provides simple tips on how to arrange it into a beautiful bouquet.

$39

'I Am Enough' bracelet

I Am Enough bracelet

Let this dainty bracelet serve as a constant reminder to your bestie that she is enough. She'll wear this on her wrist and read this daily oath to herself, "I Am Enough."

$35

Glow assorted teas

vahdam low assorted teas

This tea gift box set covers the entire spectrum of flavors from sweet to spicy. Individually packaged in beautiful tins, your gal pal will feel like a queen sipping her morning tea. Originally $40, this set is currently on sale for just $24. We'll take two, please.

$24

Find your voice journal

find your voice journal

Journaling is a great way to ease anxiety and will slow your bestie's racing mind before bed. This gift is perfect for first time journalists and includes prompts, daily quotes and coloring pages to help her unlock her potential and find her voice.

$22

Premium frother

shore magic premium frother

This gift is fitting for your latte-sipping bestie who can't go a day without her coffee. All she has to do is add two scoops of collagen to her favorite drink, and she'll have a perfectly foamy drink ready in seconds. Skipping the drive-thru line has never been so easy!

$25

Bath soak infusion kit

maude bath soak infusion kit

Say hello to hydration! She'll be feeling smooth and relaxed as ever after a long bath soaking in these salts. This vegan + cruelty-free set incorporates dead sea salt and dehydrated coconut milk powder for an ultra hydrating experience.

$32

Tiny Tags 'mama' necklace

Tiny Tags 'mama' necklace

It's a hard-earned title she answers to a hundred times per day. Whether she's new to the club or a seasoned professional, this delicate script 'mama' necklace is guaranteed to be a perfect fit.

$105

Superfood honey

Beekeeper's Naturals B.Powered honey

With a lack of sleep and jam-packed days, getting through the afternoon can be a real challenge. Send her a powerful pick-me-up in the form of a therapeutic blend of royal jelly, bee pollen, propolis and raw honey. It makes the ideal companion for tea, smoothies, yogurt or even on its on.

$17

Calming midnight mask with melatonin

Who doesn't deserve a reminder to pamper themself every once in awhile? Even better, this mask does all its work at night while you're sleeping with no extra effort needed. It's an amazing plant-powered antioxidant-packed mask that has melatonin, wild dandelion leaf and hyaluronic acid to rehydrate, repair and reset facial skin. It's so good, you might want to gift it to yourself. We won't tell, mama.

$68

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

Shop

When it comes to getting a good night's sleep, there are many factors that, as a mama, are hard to control. Who's going to wet the bed at 3 am, how many times a small person is going to need a sip of water, or the volume of your partner's snoring are total wildcards.

One thing you can control? Tricking out your bed to make it as downright cozy as possible. (And in these times, is there anywhere you want to be than your bed like 75% of the time?)

I've always been a down comforter sort of girl, but after a week of testing the ridiculously plush and aptly named Snug Comforter from Sunday Citizen, a brand that's run by "curators of soft, seekers of chill" who "believe in comfort over everything," it's safe to say I've been converted.

Keep reading Show less
Shop

Our list of 100 baby names that should be on everyone's list this year includes more choices than in the past of names that are obscure and surprising. That's because there are so many more unusual baby names coming into widespread use and baby namers have become a lot more adventurous.

Expectant parents do not need to be told to move beyond Jennifer and Jason. Their thinking about names has evolved to the point that the most useful thing we can do is offer a large menu of intriguing choices.

Here are our picks for the 100 best surprising + unusual baby names now.


Keep reading Show less
Learn + Play