Postpartum Adrenal Fatigue
New mothers are especially susceptible to adrenal fatigue. Childbirth brings a quick dramatic shift in hormonal balance, setting the stage for further imbalance. Couple this shift with the demands of new motherhood, postpartum healing, and isolation, and you may be in for a case of adrenal fatigue. According to Dr. Sara Gottfried, adrenal fatigue is the most common hormonal imbalance that women experience.
Meet Your Adrenal Glands
The adrenal glands are a pair of walnut-sized, pyramid-shaped endocrine glands. They reside on top of your kidneys. Look at your hands for a moment. You see the arch extending from the tip of your thumb up to the top of your forefinger? With your palms facing down, rest that arch on the top of your hips. Your thumbs will approximately reach your adrenals. Now I invite you to give them a firm, circular massage with your thumbs. It feels lovely!
Your adrenals produce a number of hormones and chemicals, notably cortisol and adrenaline. When stress strikes, your adrenals pump out adrenaline. Then your heart beats faster, your breathing changes, your pupils dilate, and your mind becomes hyper-vigilant. Yikes! Typically, this stress response should only occur when your survival is at stake. But intense, prolonged stress (think postpartum!) combined with unhealthy lifestyle habits (such as lack of self-care) can put your adrenals in overdrive. As a result, you may experience adrenal fatigue.
Adrenal fatigue occurs when the adrenal glands are not functioning at optimal levels. Herbalist physician Aviva Romm calls this “being stuck in the ON position.” Another mama describes it as “feeling tired but wired.”
Dr. Romm identifies the following signs & symptoms of adrenal fatigue:
- Afternoon fatigue, caffeine, or sugar cravings, usually around 3 to 4 pm
- Allergies, food reactions, hives
- Anxiety, irritability, or depression
- Being in constant overdrive or overly driven, taking on too much, finding yourself unable to stop and relax
- Cravings for sugary, salty or fatty foods, or carbs (starches, baked goods)
- Difficulty sticking with a diet or exercise plan, trouble with “willpower”
- Difficulty with focus or memory (“brain fog”)
- Digestive problems
- Eczema or hives
- Fatigue, exhaustion, chronic overwhelm
- Hormonal imbalances
- Insulin resistance, Metabolic Syndrome, or Diabetes
- Low sex drive
- Muffin top or extra belly fat
- Osteopenia or osteoporosis
- PCOS, endometriosis, and infertility
- Perfectionism, feeling that you’re never doing enough, or never doing things well enough
- Trouble falling asleep, staying asleep, or waking up still tired
You may also notice decreased immunity and decreased resiliency when it comes to stress and illness.
Alleviating Adrenal Fatigue
Soothing postpartum adrenal fatigue requires a commitment to deep self-care. While actualizing self-care may seem like a monumental feat in between caring for the baby and perhaps other children, balancing housework, your relationship with your partner, and possibly your career – you can do it! Specifically, you must be willing to say “no” to excess and “yes” to your personal rejuvenation.
Here are some especially delightful tips to get you started your path to wholeness:
- Center your diet on whole foods
- Eat meals at regular times. Accordingly, do not skip meals.
- Avoid overuse of stimulants
- Stay hydrated. Keep a large insulated water bottle nearby to make it easier for you to sip throughout the day. I love the Simple Modern Summit Water Bottle.
- Exercise in moderation. Be sure to not exercise excessively or too vigorously, as this can lead to further depletion.
- Get plenty of good-quality sleep. Extended sleep deprivation (common for new mamas) is a fast track to adrenal exhaustion.
- Learn and practice healthy stress-management. This may include yoga, breathing, and meditation techniques.
- Explore herbal adaptogens to support optimal adrenal function. I recommend INNATE Response Formulas Adrenal Response or blah.
- Cuddle your baby! Dr. Jolene Brighten reminds us that “breastfeeding and cuddling your newborn stimulates oxytocin, a hormone that protects your body from the ravages of stress.”
It must be remembered that adrenal fatigue can be a key player in postpartum depression and postpartum anxiety. So take good care of these lovely little endocrine glands that work so hard to support you. Likewise, know that caring for your adrenals will help you restore a healthy response to stress.
In our companion article, we will explore how adaptogens can strengthen your adrenal health and reduce symptoms of postpartum depression and postpartum anxiety.
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Nena Complo offers women and families holistic support throughout the childbearing years. She is a holistic birth & postpartum doula, yoga teacher, and midwifery student. Nena lives with her sweet husband and their two radiant daughters in LoveLand, Ohio.