Postpartum Depression: What it is and how to deal with it

Postpartum Depression: What it is and how to deal with it

Having a new baby is an exciting and emotional time in a mothers life.  But some of the emotions one might not expect to be feeling are sadness, weepiness and apathy in the days, weeks and months following the birth of your little bundle of joy.

 

On average, five to eight out of every ten moms experience baby blues, while one in four experiences full-blown postpartum depression.  These statistics are staggering, and indicate that there is a very good chance of any new mom facing this challenge after giving birth.  

 

What is the difference between baby blues and postpartum depression?

 

The ‘baby blues’ are a very common, almost expected chemical reaction to giving birth.  It is mostly due to rapid hormone fluctuations that occur immediately before and after labour.  You may feel especially emotional and fragile, with bouts of crying and irritability.  It is not a cause for concern, and usually passes within a few days once the body has had a chance to rebalance itself.

 

Postpartum depression, on the other hand, is quite a bit more serious and can last a long time.  There aren’t so many mood swings, but rather continuous sadness, anxiety, irritability, exhaustion and/or loss of appetite (to name a few).  You may also experience feelings of guilt or shame, low sex drive, loneliness and overwhelm.  While some or all of these symptoms are common to new parents, with postpartum depression they can be constant and debilitating, and can interfere with your ability to care for yourself and your newborn baby.

 

What causes postpartum depression?

 

There are many different things that can contribute to the development of postpartum depression.  Blood sugar imbalances, nutrient deficiencies, and hormone levels that didn’t balance out after birth.

 

If you experienced gestational diabetes during your pregnancy, and are now suffering from postpartum depression, chances are good that it is at least partly due to blood sugar imbalances.  The best way to deal with this is to avoid sugar, caffeine and alcohol; limit starches and refined carbohydrates; and eat plenty of healthy fats (avocado, coconut, animal fats, butter etc.) and protein with every meal, and eat small meals frequently while your body is recovering.

 

Cinnamon is a spice that has excellent blood-sugar-regulating properties – find a way to incorporate it into your diet every day.

 

Hormonal depression is also very common, as it can take some women longer to readjust after the hormonal craziness of pregnancy.  The best way to help your hormones is to avoid sugar, avoid conventional dairy and meat from animals that were injected with hormones, avoid soy, avoid caffeine and alcohol, and lower stress levels as much as possible.  Eating a real-food, nourishing diet can go a long way in helping rebalance hormones.

 

Nutrient deficiencies are very common during pregnancy and after.  While baby is growing and developing inside the womb, it demands LOTS of nutrients from mom.  If a mother doesn’t have sufficient stores of nutrients, or isn’t eating a nutrient-rich diet, she can become depleted very easily.  Some of the most important nutrients that babies require from moms that are related to mood and mental health are omega-3 fatty acids and vitamins A and D.

 

Most often, these nutrients are not replaced in sufficient quantities in a mothers diet to replenish her own stores, and leaves her depleted.  Especially if she has been advised to avoid some of the foods that are the richest source of these nutrients, such as wild seafood, organ meats and animal fats.

 

It’s no secret that I am a fan of organ meats and seafood, as well as a high-fat diet.  But at a time such as pregnancy and breastfeeding, these foods are even more important to our health.  Without sufficient omega-3 fatty acids DHA and EPA, our brains will suffer dramatically.  Consuming plenty of wild seafood such as salmon is the best way to improve our omega-3 status.  

 

As for vitamins A and D, animal fats and organ meats take the cake for their nutritional punch of these fat-soluble vitamins.  Include liver in your diet at least once per week, cooked in lard from pastured pigs for added vitamin D.  If you have an aversion to organ meats, you can get liver capsules to supplement your diet.

 

Some other nutrients that can aid in the prevention and recovery of postpartum depression are magnesium, vitamin B6 and tryptophan.  While not proven to be directly related to causing postpartum depression, these nutrients are essential for the production of serotonin in the brain, which is the hormone that keeps us happy.  Magnesium is especially good at balancing our moods, is frequently low in most people, and also helps to balance blood sugar levels and lower stress.

 

Sometimes, changes in diet alone are not enough to recover from a serious illness such as depression.  Supplements may be required, even if your diet is full of nutrient-rich foods.  The best supplement for vitamins A and D is cod liver oil, while fish or krill oil is best for omega-3’s.  As mentioned before, freeze-dried liver can also be taken as a supplement (although fresh liver is a whole lot cheaper).  Magnesium is also absorbed through the skin really well – soaking in an epsom salt bath or making your own magnesium oil is a great way to boost your levels.  See my article on magnesium for more information.

 

While diet and nutrition are major players in depression, other lifestyle factors can have a big impact as well.

 

Exercise is well-known to prevent depression and help those suffering recover.  Be sure to incorporate some form of exercise during pregnancy and after.  Especially good forms of exercise for pregnancy include yoga, pilates and walking.  Don’t neglect yourself after giving birth – take your baby out for a walk or try a baby-and-me yoga class.  

Stress levels can have a huge impact on moods and mental health – in part because stress depletes the body of nutrients and disrupts hormone balance.  And while stress may be an unavoidable part of your life, especially with the arrival of a newborn, the important thing is how you deal with it.  Don’t let stress take over your mind.  Find ways to lower your stress levels such as having a relaxing bath or getting a massage.  Acupuncture has been known to help many people suffering with depression. 

 

Here is a quick recap of some of the most important tools to help you deal with postpartum depression:

Blood sugar control

-avoid sugar, caffeine, alcohol, refined carbohydrates and starches

-eat lots of healthy fats and protein

-try adding cinnamon to anything you can (herbal teas, stews, roasts etc)

Hormone balancing

-avoid sugar, caffeine, alcohol, refined carbohydrates and starches

-avoid conventional dairy and meats from animals that have been factory-raised with added antibiotics

-lower stress levels

-eat a real-food diet full of nutrient-dense foods

Nutrient deficiencies

-omega-3’s from wild seafood

-vitamins A and D from organ meats and animal fats (from animals that are pasture raised and grass-fed)

-magnesium (leafy greens and epsom salts)

-vitamin B6 (seafood, poultry and organ meats)

-tryptophan (turkey, seafood and eggs)

Lifestyle

-exercise

-lower stress levels

-acupuncture

 

 

Have you struggled with postpartum depression or baby blues?  What has your experience been?  What has helped?  Share in the comments below!

 

Resources:

http://www.babycenter.ca/x3452/what-are-the-signs-of-postpartum-depression

http://www.babycenter.ca/a541888/the-baby-blues

http://www.helpguide.org/articles/depression/postpartum-depression-and-the-baby-blues.htm

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22853878

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