“Wait until you have the baby and start breastfeeding – the weight will fall off then”

“You’re young, your stomach will be flat again in no time”

“Back when I had my baby, I started working again the very next day”

How often have we heard this? And even if you’ve promised yourself to never listen to anyone (or google anything!), it’s still tempting to start wondering what will happen in your case. Or maybe you’ve already given birth and your belly is still there, you’re more tired than ever and you feel drained of everything. So how long does the body really need to get back to its old self? Will it ever get back to its old self again?

Yes, it will, although this might not be the case for everyone.

After pregnancy, a phenomenon known as postnatal depletion occurs – when the body is depleted of nutrients.

Is this anything new?

I talk a lot about how the first three months after giving birth should really be called the fourth trimester, given what happens to your body during this particular time: the breastfeeding hormones kick in, you reset your whole circadian rhythm, you don’t get much sleep or you’re constantly woken during sleep, you feel tired, exhausted and your immune system seems to have taken a holiday. And I’m not even talking about purely physical changes.

The phenomenon we call postnatal depletion has definitely gained a stronger foothold in debates in recent years. Having worked with mothers for almost 15 years and being a mother of children between the ages of 24 and 7 myself, I am in a position to make comparisons and notice that certain things in my body have changed somewhat.

Postnatal depletion is the term used to explain the large amount of nutrients required by a woman’s body to carry a baby and the resulting depletion of essential nutrients such as iron, zinc, magnesium, B12, vitamin D and other essential nutrients.

Symptoms of postnatal depletion

Usually, you see imbalances in the mother’s hormonal system. Not only does the baby need nutrients from the mother, but the placenta needs high levels of female hormones to function throughout pregnancy. After childbirth, hormone levels drop suddenly (especially progesterone) and this can result in oestrogen dominance. Stress and a poor environment on top of that can cause the mother’s liver to have trouble clearing the oestrogen. Oestrogen dominance manifests itself in the form of things like bloating, swollen breasts, irregular menstrual cycles and a slower metabolism.

Low levels of micronutrients, such as iron, B12 and zinc, can also result in exhaustion, exacerbated by disrupted sleep patterns from being a parent of young children. In extreme cases, postnatal depletion is a contributing factor to low mood or mental illness, as low levels of serotonin can lead to neurotransmitter disorders.

Other symptoms:

  • Lack of energy and exhaustion
  • Tiredness on waking
  • You fall asleep anywhere and at different times
  • You can’t relax and feel like your radar is ‘on’ 24 hours a day
  • Feelings of isolation and poor self-image
  • Frustration, feeling of being unable to handle situations
  • ‘Baby brain’ – being unable to focus and concentrate
  • Low sex drive


  • We live stressful lives with high demands and don’t know how to ‘switch off’. This affects our hormonal system, immune system, intestinal flora and brain.
  • Pregnancy’s impact on you: the placenta requires about 7 g of fat per day to be passed on to the foetus. It also needs iron, zinc, vitamin B12, vitamin B9 and selenium – not to mention omega 3 and certain amino acids. We now know that pregnant women’s brains shrink by 5% during pregnancy to support the baby’s growth (the brain is made up of fat and not just water – the brain is simply emptied of fatty acids).
  • Women are having babies later in life. In the UK, the average age of a first-time mother is 30.7 years, after which more children may be born, meaning mothers are older than they were in the past. Age makes recovery slower.
  • Many women who become pregnant are already stressed, tired and have trouble sleeping.
  • Sleep deprivation due to the new born baby. Research shows that mothers lose 700 hours of sleep in their child’s first year.
  • A poor diet that is deficient in nutrients. Poor health support during pregnancy.

Postnatal depletion can affect women up to several years after giving birth. It is also possible that postnatal depression is connected to postnatal depletion and that they overlap. In Australia, it is said that the peak of postnatal depression occurs 4 years after childbirth and not after a few weeks (contrary to popular belief).

Signs of postnatal depression

  • Depressed mood for most of the day, almost every day
  • Significant weight loss or weight gain, increased or decreased appetite
  • Difficulty sleeping or an excessive need for sleep
  • Daily psychomotor concerns
  • Fatigue or loss of mental energy almost daily
  • Feelings of worthlessness or an exaggerated sense of guilt almost daily
  • Impaired ability to concentrate or indecisiveness
  • Recurrent thoughts of death or suicide

You can certainly see the overlap between these two conditions!

But although a depressed mother may experience sleep difficulties such as waking up in the middle of the night for no reason and then having trouble going back to sleep, a depleted mother may wake up multiple times but she will also go back to sleep within a few minutes.