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Depletion or depression in postpartum? What’s the difference?

On a societal level, mothers are not thriving.

The stats tell the story there.

1:5 women are diagnosed with depression and/or anxiety (those are just the ones that get properly screened and come forward). Many more are struggling but don’t fit the definition of “postpartum depression/anxiety”.

Often a mom who is struggling will go to their care provider looking for answers and support.

Often during this short visit they will get one of two responses:

  • They will be offered a prescription for a medication which may be necessary or for others may feel heavy handed or unsatisfactory.

  • Or they may be offered no suggestions or support and told this is just how it is to be a mom

The truth is that there is a spectrum of struggle that mothers can experience.

Let’s talk about the difference between postpartum depletion and postpartum depression.

There is a spectrum of what we call “neuroinflammation” which is inflammation in our brain and spinal cord.

At the low to moderate part of the scale we would call that postpartum depletion. When we start to get to higher levels of the spectrum, then we start to see anxiety, depression, OCD and other diagnoses.

There are a lot of similarities in how a mother feels when she’s experiencing depletion and depression. Sleep issues, fatigue, feelings of worthlessness, foggy brain and inability to concentrate, significant weight changes, etc.

But the two biggest differences that we see in depletion vs depression is around sleep and ability to experience joy.


  • A mom is exhausted but tends to fall asleep easily and stay asleep when she has the opportunity

  • Life still feels good at its core, despite feeling awful, she can still find moments of joy and emotional connection with her children and others.


  • A mom is exhausted but struggles to fall asleep or she has “middle insomnia” where she struggles to fall back asleep after tending to her baby or is awake unrelated to her baby.

  • Life feels flat and there is a lack of the feeling of joy and connection.

Both depletion and depression impact a mother’s ability to enjoy life and function.

Depletion often is a sign that a mother needs more SUPPORT - meaning lifestyle interventions, nutrition, practical and emotional support.

Depression and anxiety are more serious, often needing medication and treatment. Mothers experiencing this always need more support, lifestyle interventions, nutrition, practical and emotional support as well.

Hope that helps!



Your dietitian doula

P.S. - would you like to know more about how I support women with postpartum depletion?

I’d love to support you inside the Balanced Mom Method community!


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