There’s nothing that fuels fatigue quite like having small children in the house (or really any children in the house!) – especially if you’re breastfeeding, and/or they’re not sleeping through the night, and/or your hormones aren’t quite back to normal after your pregnancy. Couple that with having a chronic time shortage to shop for groceries and prepare healthy meals, and it can be a recipe for exhaustion. Here are a few nutritional strategies for overcoming mama fatigue:-
(1) Redefine “fast food”
Some mums resort to fast food as they need quick food on the go. However, fast food is devoid of nutrition, can be full of toxins and chemicals, and will definitely not fuel healthy energy levels long term. I think the better strategy is to find your own “fast food” – quick, easy things that you can grab in between nursing sessions, or on your way out the door with a toddler in tow. Here are some simple ideas:
- Trader Joes makes a huge range of salads prepackaged, and most include a source of protein. Buy five of these in different for quick, easy salads, one for each day of the week. Now granted it’s not all organic, but if it’s that versus In and Out burger and fries or a quick taco, I know which one is going to be more nutritious. Many grocery stores do something similar if there’s no Trader Joes nearby, but Traders definitely offers up the maximum amount of variety.
- Buy a stash of protein bars – there are some truly healthy ones out there. Lara Bars are very natural, albeit higher in sugar because of the dried fruit in them; Think Thin are low carb/ high protein; Jay Robb also has yummy protein bars that are delicious and protein-rich. Make sure to avoid anything with artificial sweeteners or high levels of sugar.
- Buy a greens powder that you can take each morning – it might not be realistic to be cutting up veggies to make juices or smoothies every day, and yes concentrated nutrients in green drinks can give energy levels a real boost. Consider having a greens powder on hand that you can just add to water and drink down. It might not be as good as having fresh vegetables, but it’s certainly better than nothing!!
- Drink a protein shake in the morning – even if it’s as simple as almond milk and protein powder blended together, getting a good burst of protein first thing in the morning can help sustain your energy throughout the day. You might also consider a protein snack around 3pm to help prevent the afternoon energy crash.
(2) Avoid coffee
I can hear you laughing at me from the other side of your computer. Avoid coffee you say? ‘Ha ha, that’s the only thing that’s keeping me going day to day.’ I get it, I really do. But here’s the thing. If you rely on coffee for energy and drink multiple cups a day, that is a sign of tired adrenals, and pumping coffee in to try to compensate is actually going to wear them out more in the long term and lead to even greater fatigue. It’s short term gain but long term loss. Yes, you’ll feel pretty rubbish for a few days if you stop drinking coffee, but you’ll ultimately have more energy without it, as your adrenals have a chance to recover. I’ve known many people who thought they couldn’t possibly go without their coffee give it up, and feel sooooo much better for it.
The other point to make about coffee is that if you are revved up on coffee, if there should arise an hour during the day where your little one is asleep or you find yourself alone in the house and could sneak a nap, you might not be able to get to sleep with caffeine in your system.
(2) Get your hormone levels tested
Clearly pregnancy and breastfeeding take it out of you, and while for some hormone levels bounce right back to pre-pregnancy levels, for others they don’t, and some symptoms can arise from those imbalances – including fatigue! If I were to give women one piece of advice prior to giving birth, it would be to consider placenta encapsulation. That is a way to keep hormone levels and energy levels in a much healthier place postpartum. But eventually the body has to self-regulate, and that is not always automatic.
All hormones can be impacted when we have our children. Thyroid is especially important to check, as hypothyroidism can emerge after pregnancies. For mamas already on thyroid supplementation, make sure to check levels more frequently to make sure the medication is at the right level.
I talk a lot about adrenals and how they suffer when the body is under stress. Well I think it’s safe to say that having children can place strain on the body – sleep deprivation, extra busy-ness, lack of time for self-care, managing sibling schedules, trying to find work-life balance – and any combination thereof … all those things tax the adrenals.
Female hormones can also suffer, especially for nursing mamas as the high prolactin levels required for milk production naturally suppress estrogen and progesterone. Looking at testosterone is also important for women as low testosterone levels can definitely lead to significant fatigue.
I would ask your doctor or naturopath to check:
- estradiol (around day 18-20 of cycle if menstruating)
- progesterone (around day 18-20 of cycle if menstruating)
- testosterone – free and total
- Free T3
- Free T4
- Cortisol (at least get a morning cortisol if doing blood work, but I much prefer the saliva tests that measure levels morning, noon, afternoon and night).
While we’re on the subject of labs, here are a few other things I would screen for on blood work to check for possible causes of fatigue:
- Vitamin D
- Iron and ferritin
- B12 and folate
- Blood count and metabolic panel
(3) Take supportive supplements
I get that it can be hard to keep up with elaborate supplement regimens when you are flat out trying to shower and dress in those early newborn days, and maintain complex schedules and possibly multiple children and their related needs over the years. Here are the ones I think are most relevant to address the fatigue aspect specifically:
a) A good quality multivitamin – I would go for something that doesn’t require too many pills each day. A prenatal vitamin can be really good to continue during the breastfeeding period. Whether or not your multi should contain iron really depends on your values as assessed through your blood work, but low iron is a definite energy drainer so it’s important to look at that.
b) B12 – vitamin B12 can be a great energy support. The very best way to get it is through injections – they can be given yourself and aren’t as intimidating as they might sound. We actually give them to our patients pre-filled in insulin syringes, so the needle is tiny and they’re easy to administer just under the skin. Sublingual B12 would be the next best way, but the injections are way better. Sublingual B12 can be taken every day, injections are typically done 2-3 times a week. I always use the methyl-B12 too, it’s a little more costly but so much more effective for most people.
c) Essential oil energy booster shot – this is one of the first things I drink in the morning, and it definitely helps me to wake up and get going – I put 5 drops each of lemon, grapefruit and a metabolic blend that contains cinnamon, ginger and a few other things. I repeat something very similar after lunch. Even just the metabolic blend alone would be great – I had a friend who has an 8-month old try it, and she came back to me for more for her mother and aunt too, as they all loved it so much!
d) Adrenal support – it might be worth taking an adrenal support specifically to help offset some of the stress those poor little glands are under. I have a few that I love, mostly containing herbs such as ashwaghanda, rhodiola, withania, and ginseng. Licorice root can be good for low cortisol levels. Some products contain adrenal glandulars as well, which can help provide more cortisol for the body and help the body regulate it’s own levels. Vitamins B5, B6 and C are really important for the adrenals too.
e) Mitochondrial support – the mitochondria are the energy-producing powerhouses of the cell, making ATP which is our actual energy source. Nutrients such as NADH, CoQ10, taurine, acetyl-L-carnitine and alpha-lipoic acid can help support mitochondrial energy production.
* I have access to a couple of different formulas that combine these nutrients to provide the best energy support in the least number of pills and potions! Send me an email for my specific protocol!
Let’s face it, with young children in the house, it simply might be a season of greater fatigue, less sleep, and higher levels of stress. But with the right nutrition and some targetted supplement support, you can at least mediate it and optimize your energy levels.