When fatigue is more than sleep deprivation after baby

Since April I’ve been focusing on my own health in a whole new way.

After a tick bite I had some blood work done to check my iron, hemoglobin, red blood cell and other Vitamin levels to make sure my immune system was at its best. What we found out wasn’t news to me, pretty much I am frankly anemic.

I have always had low iron levels. During both my pregnancies my iron levels were borderline but my first pregnancy depleted me and I never regained my normal stores during the years between my second pregnancy.

What I have realized over these past few months is I am dealing with postnatal depletion and have been since 2014.

The combination of not sleeping through the night for 5 years, depleted nutrients and imbalanced hormones my body is drained. I was completely unaware of how much this was affecting me until I went for a short bike ride while camping over the weekend.

My muscles quickly fatigued and I had gone less than a mile. And it clicked. I wasn’t seeing the improvement in muscle function with my running and other exercise because they were starving for nourishment. I thought I was eating nutrient dense foods and supplementing, but my body wasn’t absorbing enough and giving away too much.

My stores were running low and couldn’t keep up with the demand.

That’s when my Naturopathic doctor said I need to add to my supplements. It wasn’t enough to do just collagen and desiccated liver. I needed more Vitamin D, Vitamin B12, and Iron supplements.

At my last appointment, my iron levels have improved but my red blood cell and hemoglobin were still extremely low. Which is alarming. Did you know that hemoglobin is a protein on your red blood cells that carry oxygen to your organs and carbon dioxide away. Since your tissues need oxygen to function, hemoglobin plays an essential role in how your body works and feels.

So I added even more supplements to my regimen to improve my hemoglobin. None of this was even on my radar as necessary. I thought all I needed to do was take Iron supplements.

Have you ever gone for a run and had your muscles burn? That’s a side effect of lack of oxygen and increased carbon dioxide. Now that doesn’t mean you’re anemic, it could just be that you need to build up your muscle endurance, which improves blood flow to those muscles.

The difference for me, was my muscles were fatiguing with normal activity. I was feeling drained without even realizing how tired I really was. But it wasn’t because of lack of sleep, though this is a big factor in how your body heals and absorbs vital nutrients. It was because I was lacking the vital nutrients themselves.

Here’s the kicker and a HUGE red flag that I was completely ignoring. I didn’t start my period again after my daughter until 18 months postpartum. And I still haven’t started it again, 19 months postpartum. I thought, YEA! I don’t have to deal with my period. When really my blood is starving for red blood cells and is in survival mode. When your body is in survival mode it won’t let you reproduce, thus no period. So really, my body was warning me that something was wrong.

So not only were my muscles fatigued by the slightest increase in physical activity [and I wasn’t an extreme athlete, but I wasn’t a couch potato either before my kiddos] but my body wasn’t ready to bleed.

This morning I went for a run with my son after my daughter got on the bus for school. I ran my usual route with the stroller, which is about 2 miles. Typically I would have to stop to walk only a quarter to half a mile in, but today my legs felt fresh and ready to go. I ran the 2 miles almost non stop (only stopping to let my son see the goats on our road). I was astonished but the difference in how my body felt. I felt like a new person.

I am not totally 100% by any means, but I can see the difference in paying attention to the little signs of postpartum depletion can do. It really takes courage to say, “hey I think I have a problem” and follow through on fixing it. Finding the right person to join you on the journey is a big deal too. Someone like a Naturopathic Doctor. Someone who really listens to you and explores more than just the basics.

This has been a huge eye opener for me and I’m still learning how to listen to my body, and provide it what it needs, rather than dismiss it.

It’s a journey that I will continue to be on for probably years to come. I joke that I’m an excellent Physical Therapist, but I’m a crappy patient because let’s face it I’m a mom and even though I take care of myself I’m still on the bottom of my to do list most days. It’s a life style shift back to putting me first (like I was before kids) so I can be fully present with my husband and kids.

What I want you to take away from this, is not to feel sorry for me, but to use my story as a way to listen to your own body. Tune in however you feel most comfortable…meditation, journeling, chatting with friends, sitting quietly…and really ask your body what it needs. Pay attention to the little signs. You know your body the best and will be your biggest advocate. So remember, taking care of your self is taking care of your baby.

You don’t have to feel fatigued all the time, you can feel refreshed and enjoy your body. All it takes is asking for help.