Post Natal Depletion Q&A with Dr Camilla White

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Q: Mother, Integrative Doctor, Health Coach......You’ve got some pretty impressive credentials, can you tell us a bit about yourself and what inspired you to get to where you are today?

A: I’m mother to Evie who is 4 and Banjo who is 2 and we moved to Byron a few years ago. It’s always been a dream of mine to live up here and we love the outdoor lifestyle and natural beauty as well as all the inspiring friends we’ve met. I have a background in emergency medicine but I’ve always been interested in nutrition, holistic health, yoga and meditation. After my second child was born and my marriage broke down, I suffered from severe hospital fatigue and burn out. That difficult time luckily led me to a wonderful job in Integrative medicine where I work with inspiring doctors alongside wonderful naturopaths, acupuncturists, traditional Chinese medicine practitioners and other skilled therapists. I have a special interest in women’s health and postnatal care and after reading about the work Dr Oscar Serrallach was doing, I was keen to get involved. 

Q: Since working at the Health Lodge in Byron Bay, you’ve become a pioneer in women’s health. Can you tell us a bit about post natal depletion and what you see in clinical practice?

A: Post natal depletion is very common in clinical practice but not normal and not widely recognized. There’s very few texts written about it. Post natal depletion is a very understandable outcome of a series of less than ideal events leading to depletion at multiple levels of a woman’s wellbeing. The postnatal depletion period can last up to 10 years after the baby is born. Postnatal depletion is a syndrome with a constellation of symptoms that arise from physiological issues, hormonal issues, and interruption of the circadian rhythm, layered with psychological, mental and emotional components. Some of the factors that contribute to postnatal depletion are that modern women are having children later in life and we go into motherhood already close to the maximum capacity of what our bodies can handle. Western society does a poor job of preparing modern women for motherhood, we are all stressed and overwhelmed with choices and multiple responsibilities in a fast paced society. Throw into the mix pregnancy, birth and breastfeeding and add a little sleep deprivation, nutritional insufficiencies, environmental toxins and lack of social support and you have a recipe for postnatal depletion. In clinic, I see Mothers who are exhausted, overwhelmed, stressed, anxious and having difficulty coping with something they’ve been led to believe would or should come naturally to them.

Q:What symptoms should women (and partners) be looking out for so Post Natal Depletion doesn’t go undiagnosed?

A: Some of the symptoms of postnatal depletion include baby brain, fatigue (often debilitating), insomnia or disturbed sleep, weight or hormonal issues, loss of skin elasticity, skin dryness, softer nails and thinning hair. Partners could look out for mothers who are seemingly constantly stressed or overwhelmed, sensitive to light and sound, overly emotional - I’m sure we can all relate! If you have most or all of these symptoms, you are not alone. If you are also able to experience joy and anticipation at times, then chances are you aren’t depressed - you’re just depleted.

Q: Working with lots of women have you seen an increase in Post Natal Depletion? Do you think there is a rise in incidence or is it a case of newly recognised rather than a new condition.

A: I think it is both a case of a newly recognized condition and a rise in the incidence of mothers with postnatal depletion due to the society we live in. Western society on the whole does not offer the community or familial support in the fourth trimester (40 days after birth) like other more traditional cultures do. Our society expects women to get back to work, get your pre-baby body back and generally just “get on with it” often without support. What these ancient cultural practices have in common is a protected time (referred to as confinement) with lots of social support for the mother to fully recover after she gives birth. She has an army of helpers to allow her to sleep and rest. Someone to do the shopping and cooking and someone showing her how to breast feed, change and bathe the baby. She can relax in the knowledge that she is in a safe and nurturing place with those who only want the best for her and her new baby. Doesn’t that sound great?

Q: Have you seen a link to Post Natal Depression?

A: There is a difference between postnatal depletion (very common) and postnatal depression (less common). Postnatal depletion is a syndrome with a spectrum of symptoms. PND is at the most severe end of the spectrum and certainly postnatal depletion can contribute to PND but not all women with depletion will become depressed. Within the first 12 months of birth, the PND rate in Australia is approximately 13%. Some women are genetically predisposed to depression and have a history of the same as well as anxiety. One of the cardinal symptoms that distinguishes depression from depletion is anhedonia - the inability to derive pleasure from things that previously did bring pleasure. In depression, there is no joy in the experience of motherhood and no enjoyment in activities or simple tasks that would have usually brought joy.

Q: How can we help to prevent women from getting post natal depletion? Do you think we need more support for new mums in the early days of motherhood? Is it time women started looking at self -care as a necessity rather than a luxury?

A: We can prevent postnatal depletion by giving new mums more support in the early days of motherhood. Bring back the fourth trimester. Organize a postpartum doula, meal drops and practical support for the new mother. Mothers need to make self care a priority. Ask for help and accept it with grace. Get good sleep. Take good supplements. Eat good food and drink lots of water. Have a good restorative therapy as often as you can (yin yoga, acupuncture, massage), do some gentle activity, be good to yourself and don’t entertain visitors (unless they are going to help!), limit social media, slow down and simplify your life - de clutter your home, be good to your soul - make time for some meditation, do mindful breathing exercises, gratitude mantras or visualization. Enjoy life. You are amazing! You made a baby! Be proud and thrilled with your body, even when you’re still depleted. Put on some music you love, dance and sing along with your baby. There can never be too much joy in the house. 

Q: Tell us a bit about the retreats you are planning this year. They sound like every mums dream!!!

A: Through @yourholdingspace I’m creating some delicious mothers retreats with Natalie Martinot and soon we will be launching @spacetoflow ~ a place where you can go to find a bit of peace, some space to flow with life and nurture yourself. Our retreats will focus on sacred self care practices and mothering the mother. They will be around 3 days and nights of delicious Ayurvedic food, nutritional advice and recipe sharing, yin yoga, Vedic meditation, massage and essential oils workshops held in the beautiful Byron hinterland. We’d love to incorporate a Sisters and the Sea Fourth Trimester pack and an opening Women’s circle. Watch this space xx

Q: Lastly, where can women find out more about post natal depletion?

A: Much of this information has come from what I’ve learnt from Dr Oscar Serrallach and his book that is to be released very soon - The Postnatal Depletion Cure. If you are in the Byron Shire, the naturopaths at the health lodge are a wealth of information and you will currently find me at Cape Byron Medical Centre.