Exhaustion during those early months of mamahood is to be expected – but what about years later? How do we begin to recover from all the broken nights? Mama and nutritionist Renee Holmes shares how we can start to nourish ourselves after months (and years) of broken sleep.
I thought that life in my twenties was exhausting; a time when I was working as a nurse on night shifts and my social life was also often nocturnal! I thought I was sleep deprived then but it doesn’t come close to how I felt during the first 2 years of my son’s life.
I was blessed to have an easy baby who was a great sleeper, of course we still had our challenging moments. There were weeks on end when he would scream and just. not. go. to. sleep. Thankfully after six months this behaviour stopped abruptly and we sailed through the next 12 months with a mostly, excellent sleeper.
During this time though, I experienced major emotional stress with the passing of my father and the ill health of my brother who has had four major neuro surgeries in the space of 18 months, and counting. The needs of everyone else in my life was high and I was beginning to let my own health slip. I was in the early stages of adrenal fatigue – total burnout. I didn’t know this was happening. It crept up on me. And it kept on creeping.
My son is almost 3 now and I am still exhausted. It can take your body two years to recover from pregnancy. We spend so much of that time awake – and giving – giving so much of ourselves. We wouldn’t have it any other way of course but we can become emotionally and nutritionally depleted by the end of the pregnancy.
Growing a baby is physically demanding. The placenta alone uses huge amounts of nutrients to supply the baby, and those nutrients can only come from mum; iron, zinc, selenium, folate, vitamin B12 and iodine. We need to replace these vital nutrients in pregnancy by having a well balanced, whole food diet. Not only is it important for all body systems, but our thyroids need extra special care, both during pregnancy and then post-natally. A thyroid that can’t do its job well can lead to exhaustion, mood swings, and bad sleep.
It is important to have your doctor check your thyroid function post pregnancy, and at any stage if you are feeling overwhelmingly exhausted, especially if you are trying to pregnant again. Knowing your thyroid function is power. If there are any issues, working out what the cause of the issue is can be life changing. It could be as simple as an iodine deficiency, or you may need to tweak your iron or other micronutrient intake.
How do we get our shine back?
When our bodies are so super tired we need to replenish what it is that that is lacking. Every cell in our body depends on nutrients, even our cells that make us think and feel. How many of us can honestly say that when we are exhausted, we truly nourish our bodies? It can be a viscous cycle. No energy to eat well – not eating well – so no energy at all. Add in running around after children, working, cooking, laundry, cleaning; there’s no time for you to even get a word in let alone take five minutes for yourself.
Well mama, it is time for you to start building up your nutritional foundation. It is time to put your health first. It is time to get to the bottom of it and nourish yourself.
Nourishment isn’t just about the food that we eat. I like to dig a little deeper and think about what “nourish” means to you. Finish off this sentence. “I feel nourished when…”. What comes up for you? Is it about food? Is it about spending time with loved ones? Is it about fulfilling your desires? Is it going for a walk in nature?
Nourishing your precious being produces a positive biochemical response in your cells. Your body naturally falls in to the green zone of the parasympathetic nervous system dominance, a place we really want to be. You are telling your body that you are safe, and everything relaxes. The quickest way to get there is by taking deep belly breaths to get your diaphragm moving. Studies have shown that this way of breathing instantly puts your body into a state a calm. This place of calm is where digestion happens, where restoration happens, and all those vital nutrients get to important destinations in your body.
Eating well to nourish your body includes eating whole foods, lean protein, an abundance of vegetables, a moderate amount of fruit, a good amount of essential fats, some carbohydrates and buckets of water (preferably filtered).
Do you allow yourself to eat these foods regularly? Can you be bothered cooking for your family when you’re so tired? Consider investing in a slow cooker. This is a great way to get at least one meal a week that is loaded with the good stuff.
It is time to set a few goals around your nutrition intake, especially amping up your greens, and getting specific with nutrients your body may be craving. Vitamin C is particularly important for restoring our health after times of sleep deprivation. Our adrenal glands thrive on it and they secrete our short and long term stress hormones – adrenalin and cortisol. Are you noticing you are craving more sugar? This can be due to our natural stress response when our body perceives we are in danger. Our body requires fuel quickly, historically to fend off tigers, and glucose is fuel our muscles can use immediately to get us out of there! But today our perceived stress is much different to fending off tigers, but our body still thinks its in danger so craves glucose. This is where we need to implement practices in to our day to get our parasympathetic nervous system dominant again, the belly breathing.
Can you improve on your sleep hygiene? No screen time for 2 hours before bed, to let the natural sleep cycle set in. Establish a routine, perhaps legs up the wall once the kids are in bed and the chores are done. Some belly breathing. Winding down to catch the sleep train. Avoid coffee in the later part of the day and try to reduce other stimulants.
Get your sleep in when you can. If your child wakes in the night, remember that they are still little and this will not last forever.
Mamas, I get it. I work, I cook, I clean, I love my child more fiercely than I believed I could. I also set him a bedtime routine so I have the time to do things that light me up. Take the space to learn what this new side of you needs. Take time to listen to your body. It’s always talking to you, sending messages to let you know what you need.
Renee Holmes is a qualified nutritionist with a focus on children’s health. Renee is also a registered nurse with 15 years experience working worldwide in children’s health, as a paediatric nurse. You can read more about her work and support at Dandelion Nutrition.