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There's nothing more joyful and life-affirming than becoming a mother. But like a miracle drug, it comes with some side effects: fatigue, sluggishness, low mood, weight gain, bloating, and a lack of vitality and time for yourself. And did I mention a seriously decreased sexual drive? While it all seems to happen at once, it starts with a lack of good sleep, not only when you're pregnant but also after the baby comes. Who knew your baby would become such an unreasonable boss, summoning you to the crib three or four times a night? Lack of sleep cascades into a disappearance of your vitality and energy and leads to an inability to finish the list of chores and errands that grows longer each day. The most important thing to remember, though, is that ultimately it plays havoc with your adrenal glands.
And why do we care about our adrenal glands?
Let's talk about how they contribute to your ability to cope while being a woman and a mother. About the size of a walnut and located above your kidneys, they function to give you "get up and go" by secreting the hormones cortisol and adrenalin. They work hard to pump those hormones out when you need them and then rest when you are sleeping.
Unfortunately, when you are chronically overworked and don't sleep, they pump more, rest less and break down as they are pushed to their limit. It is so easy to ignore them until you really start to wonder why you are so tired even after plenty of sleep.
Once they break down and become dysregulated, the adrenals start pumping out hormones at the "wrong" time, which means you may either have difficulty falling asleep, wake up in the middle of the night or still feel tired after getting a full night of sleep.
This is because dysregulated hormone release gives you a burst of energy at night when you should be winding down or sleeping and as a consequence, you become on edge, lose your ability to relax and can't sleep even though you feel absolutely exhausted.
Most moms know the feeling of waking up in the morning feeling tired and reaching for your favorite caffeinated beverage just to get through but few know it's connected to a medical condition. Medically, dysregulated adrenals also lead you to crave salt and sugar — i.e., you eat more things like chips, ice cream, bread and snacks — and ramps up your weight, hot flashes, irritability and emotions at the same time it ramps down your desire for sex. Sounds attractive right?
New moms often overdo it in a quest to lose weight, taking on strenuous workouts and decreasing their food intake, but this leads to an even more vicious spiral in which stress, emotions, over-exercise and voluntary starvation cause the adrenals to work harder pumping out even more cortisol and further weakening them.
To make matters worse, prolonged elevated cortisol tells your body to store fat, particularly around the belly and thighs and increases inflammatory responses which impacts your thyroid gland. The downward spiral continues as you decrease your metabolic rate slowing down your liver's capacity to clear toxins and has a negative effect on sex hormones which among other annoying things can increase anxiety and depression.
If it continues for a prolonged period of time, the extra cortisol increases your intestinal permeability and leads to a leaky gut that increases allergies, gas, bloating and constipation. Just what every new mom needs!
1. Sleep. Realize the importance of enough good sleep. If you have trouble falling or staying asleep, think about taking calming herbs or minerals (especially magnesium) before bed. Eat a small protein snack before bed to keep blood sugar stable and cortisol down during the night. Be OK with finishing the to do list on another day.
2. Eat regularly and well. Maintaining healthy blood sugar reduces stress, so eat good protein and fats early in the morning, and don't let yourself get hungry during the day. Try to stay away from sugar as best you can and also caffeine especially if it makes you a little anxious. Include a good multivitamin and minerals and adrenal formula, if you can.
3. Get comfortable with taking time out for yourself and rest without feeling you should be doing something else. Multitask less!
4. Move 5 days a week. Your body is meant to move. Make a habit of gentle movements, even if it's just stretching and walking.
5. Think about yourself and prioritize what is really important to you. Some stress is inevitable, eliminate whatever you can with the rest. Practice politely (or not) saying no. Conserve your energy and spend it wisely.
Slowly but surely you'll get more sleep, become less irritable and emotional, lose more weight, get more things done and, like a caterpillar, turn back into the vital butterfly you were before you became a mother. It's not too late to take some simple steps to take care of your own health along with cooking dinner for dad and feeding your baby. Your relationship will also share the benefits in your increased sex drive too, so what are you waiting for?