Life with a newborn can be overwhelming. Overwhelming in the wonderful, love-that-cracks-your-heart-open way… and overwhelming in the bone-weary, can’t-keep-my-eyes-open way. It happens: you’re adapting to a completely new life with your tiny and highly-dependant infant.
Nonetheless, the fatigue that many people experience after the birth of their children and during those first few months can be debilitating. In clinic, I talk to mums and dads who tell me that they feel they never have enough energy, that they’re always tired. For some people, this feeling can last well into the toddler years and even until their children are in school.
However, while certain factors such as broken sleep and the total overhaul of your lifestyle can’t be changed, there are a number of things you can do for yourself that will make a big difference to energy, mood and health.
When you’re exhausted and caught up in the day to day of baby wrangling, it can be a challenge to remember your own nutritional needs. Let alone find the energy to prepare a meal. Even so, if you don’t fill yourself up with good quality fuel – i.e. good food – your energy will only get worse over time.
Aim for easy go-to meals and snacks that you can have on hand – these can be as simple as veggie sticks, natural yoghurt, boiled eggs, nut butter on toast, or avocado on crackers. When you cook a meal, make an extra-large batch – that way, you can keep several portions in the fridge or freezer for later in the day, week or even month. Also check out groups like MamaBake, where you can share the load, share the food and connect with like-minded folk.
Wherever you can, opt for foods that are fresh, seasonal and healthy. Ideally, steer well clear of processed foods. This can seem particularly challenging at times! When your energy is flat you’ll often crave simple sugars, which is an easy way for junk foods to creep into your diet. However, try and avoid this as much as possible because it will actually make you feel worse. Plus, it establishes bad eating habits that will cause more problems down the track.
As well as forgetting to eat when tired, a lot of new parents forget to drink, or just can’t find the time. Unfortunately many of us don’t drink enough to start with, which is compounded by baby-induced fatigue.
Staying well hydrated is incredibly important for being healthy. If you don’t drink enough fluids you will become dehydrated. And, if you’re dehydrated, your body won’t work as well as it should. That is when your least-loved symptoms will worsen: headaches, low energy, fuzzy head, irritability…. yep, the works.
If you find it difficult to drink plain water, try adding a squeeze of lemon juice or drinking diluted herbal teas. If you can’t make it to the kitchen for a glass, put water bottles and cups in several rooms around the house so you can grab them and rehydrate as you need to. Also keep a water bottle in your bag / pram / car so that you can sip regularly while you’re out and about. As well as making it more available, carrying water with you also provides a handy visual reminder. No excuses now, drink up.
Certain herbal remedies can make a big difference when you’re stressed, sleep deprived and juggling life with little ones. I will often prescribe what are called adaptogenic, or tonic, herbs to boost and balance energy for flat-out parents.
Adaptogens help your body respond better to physical and mental stress. These herbs improve energy production, calm down inflammation, help to balance immune function and stabilise the hormone fluctuations that commonly play havoc during this period. Adaptogenic tonics have a nurturing action on the body. Perfect for new parents – who need all the nurturing they can get!
Some of my favourites include Withania (Withania somnifera), Rehmannia (Rehmannia glutinosa), Siberian Ginseng (Eleutherococcus senticosus), Astragalus (Astragalus membranaceus) and Codonopsis (Codonopsis pilosula). Usually you will have these combined in a mixture that has been formulated specifically for you. However it’s always important to talk with a practitioner who has been trained in herbal medicine before you start taking anything, especially if you’re breastfeeding.
When you’re fatigued, flat and overwhelmed, it’s important to tell someone what’s going on – particularly if it’s feeling like you can’t cope. Who you talk to is up to you, but can include your partner, family, friends and health practitioners. Once the people around you know what’s happening, they can help you. You know the phrase ‘it takes a village to raise a child’? Well, that ‘village’ raises parents too, including supporting you through ups and downs.
Talk to your healthcare practitioner
The fatigue of a newborn can be exacerbated by a nutritional deficiency or illness, so be sure to have this checked if you suspect there is something else contributing to how you feel. For example, your thyroid may be a little sluggish, you may have a bug, or you could be low in iron or B vitamins. Once you have a diagnosis, these issues can be treated and improved easily.
Just remember, life with a new baby is a huge adjustment and it will take time to adapt. Some mums will also be recovering their energy from the physical and emotional exertion of birth. And if you had a caesarean, that’s major abdominal surgery, which takes time to heal. So, be kind to yourself.
As much as babies need care (and they do!) mums and dads need nurturing too. That’s where family support, a good community, some healthy foundations and help from a practitioner such as myself will make all the difference.