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 I think about the Super Bowl, two things come to mind: funny commercials and tasty snacks. If you're hosting the Super Bowl and have kiddos around, the name of the game (pun intended) is to offer a spread of snacks loaded with proteins and vitamins that will keep everyone's energy levels up the entire game, and won't make your friends rely on greasy items.

Try these healthy go-to treats for your viewing party that even your toddler will love:

Skinny baked mozzarella sticks

Skinny baked mozzarella sticks

Serves: 16 pieces

Time to cook: 1 hour and 18 minutes

Ingredients:

  • 8 sticks part-skim mozzarella string cheese
  • 1 large egg
  • 5 tbsp Italian seasoned breadcrumbs
  • 2 tsp parmesan cheese optional
  • olive oil cooking spray

Instructions:

  1. Cut the string cheese in half and place it in the freezer for 30-45 minutes. Beat egg in a small and set aside. In a separate bowl mix the parmesan cheese and breadcrumbs and set aside.
  2. Dip one string cheese in breadcrumb mixture than in egg mixture and then back in breadcrumb mixture. Repeat this for all the pieces. Place sticks on a greased foil or pan. Return the cheese stick back to the freezer for at least 30-45 minutes. Note: do not skip this step because the cheese will melt if they are not frozen.
  3. After the cheese is finished freezing, heat oven to 375 degrees. Spray the cheese lightly with cooking spray and place in the oven. After four minutes flip the cheese sticks and continue baking for another three minutes or until they are golden. Do not overbake because the cheese will melt. Serve hot with your favorite marinara sauce.
Recipe from Gimme Delicious.

Broccoli cheese balls

Broccoli cheese balls

Serves: 20 balls

Time to cook: 35 minutes

Ingredients:

  • 2 cups broccoli florets
  • 2 eggs
  • 1/2 cup almond flour or panko or Italian breadcrumbs
  • 1 cup shredded cheese mozzarella, cheddar, or favorite melting cheese
  • 1/4 cup minced onion or shallots optional
  • 2 tbsp cilantro chopped optional
  • 1 clove garlic minced
  • 1 teaspoon cajun or taco seasoning or favorite seasoning blend!
  • Pinch of salt and pepper black pepper

Instructions:

  1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees and line a baking sheet with parchment paper or foil.
  2. Steam broccoli in boiling water or microwave until tender. Chop broccoli using a knife or food processor until finely minced.
  3. In a large mixing bowl, combine the chopped broccoli, eggs, almond flour, cheese, parsley and spices. Mix until well incorporated.
  4. Scoop about 1 tablespoon of mixture and form into a ball. Place on a lined baking sheet and spray or drizzle lightly with oil. Bake 25-30 minutes or until lightly golden and cooked through.
  5. Serve on a salad, in a sandwich, with rice, or as an appetizer or snack with your favorite dipping sauce.
Recipe from Gimme Delicious.

Chicken taco lettuce wraps

Chicken taco lettuce wraps

Serves: 4

Time to cook: 30 minutes

Ingredients:

Grilled taco chicken

  • 1 pound boneless, skinless chicken breasts or thighs
  • 2 tablespoons taco seasoning
  • 2 cloves garlic minced
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil

To assemble

  • 8 leaves romaine lettuce rinsed
  • 1 avocado diced
  • 1 tomato diced
  • 1/4 cup onion diced

Cilantro sauce

  • 1/2 cup loosely packed cilantro
  • 1/2 cup Greek yogurt or sour-cream or mayo
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 jalapeno optional
  • 1 clove garlic minced
  • Juice of 1/2 lime
  • Pinch of salt

Instructions:

To cook chicken

  1. Add the chicken, garlic, olive oil, and spices in a large bowl or zip-seal bag. Place in fridge and let marinate for at least 15-30 minutes or up to 24 hours.
  2. Remove chicken from marinade and discard marinade. Place chicken on a grill or pan heated to medium-high heat. Let chicken cook until it is no longer pink on the inside, about 9-10 minutes per side (or until it has reached an internal temperature of 165 degrees).

To make cilantro sauce

1. Place all the ingredients in the food processor and blend for one minute or until creamy.

To assemble

  1. Layer lettuce wraps with chicken, tomatoes, onion and avocado. Drizzle with cilantro sauce or your favorite taco sauce.
Recipe from Gimme Delicious.

Eggplant pizza bites

Eggplant pizza bites

Serves: 4

Time to cook: 35 minutes

Ingredients:

  • 1 large eggplant cut into 1/4 inch slices
  • 1 tablespoon salt
  • 3 cloves garlic minced or crushed
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 teaspoon Italian seasoning
  • 1 cup pizza sauce
  • 1 cup mozzarella shredded

Instructions:

  1. Sprinkle the eggplant with the coarse salt, let sit on paper towels for 10-15 minutes and wipe dry.
  2. Preheat oven to 400 degrees. In a small bow, combine the crushed garlic, olive oil and Italian seasoning. Brush the mixture onto both sides of the eggplant slices and bake for 15 minutes.
  3. Remove eggplant from oven and flip eggplant slices, top each slice with a tablespoon of marinara sauce, and a sprinkle of cheese. Return to oven and bake for another 10 minutes or until cheese is fully melted.

Recipe from Gimme Delicious.

Rice krispie chicken tenders

Rice krispie chicken tenders

Servings: 4

Time to cook: 20 minutes

Ingredients:

  • 1 lb raw chicken, cut into long thin slices
  • 2 cups brown rice krispies (or regular if you desire)
  • 1/3 cup egg whites
  • 1/2 teaspoon each: garlic powder, onion powder, sea salt
  • Dash of cayenne pepper
  • 1/2 cup plain greek yogurt
  • 2 tablespoons mustard
  • 2 tablespoons BBQ sauce
  • 2 teaspoons honey
  • Sea salt, pepper and cayenne pepper to taste

Instructions:

  1. Preheat oven to 425 degrees.
  2. Place egg whites in a shallow bowl.
  3. In a separate bowl, add rice krispies and smash with the bottom of a cup until it is a crumb like texture (some will be almost a flour consistency, but don't smash long enough for all of the krispies to be completely crushed). Add seasonings in bowl.
  4. Dip each slice of chicken into egg whites, then coat completely on both sides, and place on a baking sheet sprayed with nonstick spray.
  5. When all are on a baking tray, lightly sprinkle a little more sea salt onto tenders and place them in the oven.
  6. Bake for 10 minutes, remove and flip and bake for 10 more minutes.
  7. Combine yogurt, mustard, bbq sauce, honey and seasonings in a small bowl.
  8. Serve with chicken tenders for dipping.
Recipe from TheLeanGreenbean.
Life

I have a love-hate relationship with maternity clothes. On one hand, I love them because they make me feel comfortable as my bump grows, without anything getting in the way of my breathing or baby's movement. On the other hand, I've really struggled finding items that are my style—which I admit is very particular—or don't cost a ton of money.

During my first pregnancy I bought a bunch of basic pregnancy outfits and tried to include some of my non-maternity favorites in the mix. Sometimes it worked, sometimes in the middle of a work day I had to run to the bathroom to unzip my high waisted skirt because it was too much to handle. By the time baby came, I realized I had spent a ton of money on clothing that I barely wore, and passed them on to other pregnant friends (some items still with tags on.)

With my second pregnancy, I decided I needed to be comfortable above all, but also not spend a ton of money on fast pregnancy fashion because these months go super fast and I'm trying to be more environmentally conscious. I had tried clothing subscription services before (hello wedding season!) and loved being able to wear different outfits I otherwise wouldn't have been able to. After doing some research, I found three subscriptions that offer maternity clothes. I tried them out in an attempt to dress better while sporting a huge bump and to save money and keep my closet decluttered. The best part was that if I really loved something, I had the chance to purchase it at a super discounted price.

Here are the three maternity clothing subscription services I tried:

Amoire

Amoire Style

About the service: This is a fairly new service and it's currently priced at $149 a month. Once you sign up, you take a style quiz by picking from a group of eight photos of the looks you like the most. Once you are done defining your style, you give your current sizing and then tell your stylist what you are looking for. You get four pieces at a time that you can wear as many times as you want, then return and get new items to wear.

More to know: Unlike other clothing services, you cannot pick from an endless list of clothes what you'd like to receive in your shipment. Instead, you have to go through a stylist who sends picks for you. To be honest, I found this a little annoying since I kept asking for rompers and pants, but kept getting blouses and dresses in my orders. So it did take some back and forth until my stylist sent me things I actually wanted to wear.

My thoughts: I received a mix of maternity and non-maternity clothes that were all bump friendly. The quality of all of them was great and some came with tags, which meant I was the first one ever wearing that piece of clothing.

$149

NUULY

Nuuly

About the service: This subscription is priced at $88 per month for six pieces at a time. The difference between Nuuly and other services is that you cannot return items to get new ones during the month—you return all of them at the same time and get six new ones the next month. This was a bit of a learning curve for me as I was used to sending back things that didn't fit or I didn't like to maximize my month of rental.

More to know: This service provides clothes from more edgy brands, like Urban Outfitters, Reebok and DL1961, which actually made it my favorite service because it was super aligned with my style. They offer both maternity and non-maternity clothes, so I was able to get super cool dresses (like the one pictured above) in a bigger size than my regular size to wear with my growing bump.

My thoughts: Their maternity catalog is pretty limited, however they have super unique items. One of the pieces I requested was already rented by the time my order was placed and they sent me something totally different to what I wanted. I understand the effort to make sure I was getting the full six items in my order but it was a non-maternity summer dress that didn't work with my bump.

$88

Rent the Runway

Rent the Runway

About the service: I went with their Unlimited Plan which is priced at $159 for four pieces at a time (you can exchange over and over again during the month). Their return service is super fast so if you are organized and return pieces you don't love quickly, you can get so many new things to wear in a month.

More to know: They have the biggest catalogue of maternity clothes and brands, including Hatch. Like Nuuly, you get to pick what you want from their options. It can be a little overwhelming since you scroll through pages and pages of really good quality stuff so I recommend going into it with something in mind (do you need jeans or a party dress?).

My thoughts: Because the service is so popular, I got some clothes that were super worn already and even damaged. I returned those immediately and got new items, but you really never know in what condition they are going to be in, despite the service trying to keep super worn clothes out of their rental catalogue.

$159

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When infectious diseases make headlines parents naturally get a little worried, and this week coronavirus is in the news constantly. The coronavirus has infected more than 600 people worldwide, though mostly in China. As of Jan. 23, Chinese authorities have reported 17 deaths from the virus so far. Only two cases have been confirmed in the U.S. and officials are monitoring 63 suspected cases.

Here's what you need to know, mama.

1. Don't panic.

According to the World Health Organization the coronavirus outbreak is not an international public health emergency.

"CDC believes the immediate risk to the U.S. public is low at this time, but the situation is evolving rapidly," Dr. Nancy Messonnier, the director of the National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases, said on a conference call with media on Friday. "We have our best people working on this problem," Messonnier explained, adding that we will likely see more cases in the coming days.

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2. There have been no fatalities in children.

The youngest victim of a confirmed case of novel coronavirus is 36 years old. Most of the fatal cases in China have been in people over 60 and more men than women have been impacted.

3. The family of coronaviruses is a spectrum of severity.

According to the CDC, most people will be infected with a coronavirus at some point in their lives. The common strains of coronavirus cause "moderate upper-respiratory tract illnesses, like the common cold" while more severe strains, including Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) and Middle East Respiratory Syndrom (MERS) can be fatal.

The strain that is making headlines is a severe and novel coronavirus. It's new and the similarities to influenza make it difficult for experts to distinguish it from all the other respiratory illnesses floating around this time of year.

4. There is a test for it.

When public health officials suspect someone may have coronavirus they can send respiratory and serum samples to the CDC and find out if it's coronavirus or just the flu within about 24 hours.

5. There are steps to take for prevention.

To prevent the spread of the virus the U.S. State Department has issued its most severe travel advisory for the area of China (the province of Hubei, where the city of Wuhan is) most impacted by the coronavirus.

The CDC offers the following tips for protecting your family from the coronavirus (as well as other respiratory illnesses):

  • "Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds."
  • "Avoid touching your eyes, nose, or mouth with unwashed hands."
  • "Avoid close contact with people who are sick."
Bottom line: Don't panic, mama. The illness is likely to be in the headlines for months, but that doesn't mean we need to live in fear. We just need to be proactive and keep washing those little hands.
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Every generation has its parenting trends. “The Greatest Generation" had the idealized “perfect family"—a “picture perfect" two-parent, gender-divided home in the suburbs, that was probably more trope than reality.

The Baby Boomers brought us parent-as-life coach/ friend/chauffeur and manager. At best, it's a nurturing style done out of love and wanting the best for your kids. At worst, it's called “helicopter parenting," the idea that parents try to protect their kids from all harm and difficulty, only to make their kids incapable of caring for themselves.

And our Millennial generation has a “free-range" parenting trend, a backlash against the overly-controlled childhood aimed at teaching kids to rise to life's challenges.

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All of this talk about gender roles, helicopter parenting, grit and independence has me wondering—what kind of parent do I want to be?

Do I want to give my kids a picture-perfect childhood? Do I want to control them and make sure every good thing is done to them and for them? Do I want to set them free to figure it all out on their own? Defining the parent I want to be—and deciding what values drive my day-to-day parenting decisions—can be complicated.

The truth is, “helicoptering" comes easy to me, even when I know it's good for my children to work hard, face obstacles, and experience the pride of genuine achievement.

I don't want to helicopter—but I want to make sure my kids have the best opportunities in life, especially in things that I may have missed out on in my own childhood. (Though I'm sure I'm pushing my own values on them and they will find their own way to rebel....)

I don't want to helicopter—but I want to make sure they always look both ways before they cross the street, have their carseat properly installed, and are aware of dangers in our world. (Though I teach them these things and do my best to keep them in safe situations...)

I don't want to helicopter—but having faith that they'll be safe when they're out of my sight is really hard for me. (Though I say a prayer and trust in the universe...)

I don't want to helicopter—but sometimes doing things for them can be so much easier/ faster/ better than letting them do it for themselves. (Though I try to be patient...)

I don't want to helicopter—but I set up play dates, schedule after-school activities, and encourage them socially so that my children can make new friends. (Though I'm sure they will find true friends in their own time...)

I don't want to helicopter—but watching my little ones struggle can be hard for my mama heart. (So I hope they know I'm doing this because I love them...)

I don't want to helicopter—but protecting my kids comes easy. Giving them space to struggle and grow is essential, but hard, for both of us.

Life
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