Holistic Healing for Postpartum Mood Disorders
New moms often face a whole range of emotions and mood disorders that occur after giving birth. They can range from overwhelming and mild depression to anxiety to psychosis. These disorders are sparked by the hormonal and chemical changes in a mother’s body after birth, and recently more moms are opening up publicly about their personal whirlwind experiences. It helps create awareness and allows for open dialogue on how women can be supported mentally, emotionally, and physically so they can best master their new life as a mother.
While it is important to seek medical attention if you believe you are suffering from one of the following, there are also holistic lifestyle shifts, nutrition upgrades, and herbs + supplements you can add to your routine to help support you through the process.
Types of Postpartum Mood Disorders
Postpartum anxiety can range in severity and there are four types of anxiety a new mother may develop. These are: generalized anxiety disorder, panic disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder, and post-traumatic stress disorder. Symptoms of postpartum anxiety may consist of a racing heart, shortness of breath, episodes of fear, panic attacks, the inability to focus or sit still, trouble sleeping, dizziness, and hot flashes.
Otherwise known as the baby blues, this occurs due to the drop of hormones in a woman's body after the delivery of the placenta. Tearfulness, mood swings, fatigue, irritability, sadness, lack of focus, dependency, and emptiness are all common reactions. These symptoms often start right after delivery and last up to one or two weeks post-birth.
Postpartum depression is classified as its own mood disorder, and it can occur in mothers after birth. A recent new understanding of this condition suggests there is a connection to imbalanced hormones, specifically changes in stress hormones, such as adrenaline and cortisol. These two hormones are altered in every mother as the body recovers from the birthing process, deals with the new challenge of taking care of a baby, and goes through sleep deprivation. Changes in the secretion of stress hormones often lead to changes in thyroid and/or sex hormones, which in turn can cause depression, amongst other physical and mental problems. The variety of symptoms women can experience usually appear within weeks or months after delivery and they may include fatigue, changes in appetite, withdrawal from family and friends, insomnia, lack of concern or overwhelming concern for the baby, a sense of failure or inadequacy, mood swings, a loss of joy in activities once loved, irritability, and inability to make decisions. Be sure to get your hormone levels checked by a functional medicine practitioner or naturopath to ensure you receive proper and effective treatment.
Postpartum psychosis is extremely rare and women are more likely to develop this if they have been diagnosed with bipolar disorder, if they have developed postpartum thyroiditis, or if they have a vitamin B12 deficiency. Postpartum psychosis will develop within the first few days after delivery and symptoms may include delusions, hallucinations, sleep disturbances, or obsessive behavior towards the baby.
Holistic Healing for Postpartum Mood Disorders
Let yourself take form: slowly, gently, gracefully.
Be very gentle with yourself. Make room for gentle thoughts, gentle days, and gentle experiences. Allow yourself to move through whatever you are moving through. Know that this will soon pass and the more you fight against it, the more suffering it will create for you. Make space for all of your feelings and rest or ask for help as much as you need. Healing takes time. Just as your new baby is making its transformation into the world, you are transforming into a new role, a new life, and a new existence.
Getting enough quality sleep is vital for optimal health. This is certainly a challenge with a newborn, however, it is critical for new mothers to receive adequate amounts of rest to recuperate and repair their bodies after the birth experience. Sleep also directly affects mood, thus scheduling in mom nap times while the baby is sleeping can be helpful in increasing mood, as you likely aren’t getting adequate sleep during the night. Do not be shy about calling in help from friends and family to take care of things around the house or run errands. Try: napping at least once a day while your baby is napping.
Move Your Body
Moving your body is important to do postpartum (when you have been given the okay from your doctor or midwife) as it helps to get the blood flowing, stretches your muscles, and can give you fresh air. It’s important to not jump into an intense exercise routine while your body is still healing from the birthing process and is suggested instead to go out for a leisurely walk. Both you and your baby will get some needed fresh air and vitamin D. Make sure to take your time walking, to listen to your body, and not to push yourself. Try: a daily 15-30 minute walk outside.
Practicing self-care is difficult to do as a mother, but it is crucial to help keep you feeling like yourself. Self-care can be anything from taking a nap while your partner watches the baby, having a herbal bath to help heal from birth, or getting a massage or acupuncture to reading a book or meditating. Self-care is very individualized, and it’s anything that will make you feel calm, relaxed, and happy. Try: anything you find relaxing and comforting.
Make sure to ask for as much help as you need postpartum. Surround yourself with people who support you and are willing to listen to you. This can be your doctor, your partner, a parent, a friend, hired help, or anyone you trust in your community. The saying “it takes a village to take care of a newborn” is something new moms find very fitting.
As with any emotional or psychological condition, counseling can be a highly beneficial tool. Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is the most common form of counseling for postpartum treatment. CBT helps women to understand the relationship between the physical body & the mind and can guide people to change behavior and thought patterns. It also provides social support, helping new mothers to feel less disoriented and overwhelmed. There are even therapists that will meet with you over the phone.
Find a Postpartum Doula
If you can afford it, a postpartum doula is a wonderful investment. Postpartum doulas provide non-medical support to new parents in welcoming and connecting with their baby. They deliver mental and physical support by providing a calm presence as well as expertise in childcare. Postpartum doulas can be employed at any time, and for shorter or longer periods of time depending on the family. They can often help around the house and with any tasks that feel daunting and overwhelming during this time.
Regular meals at regular meal times as often as possible are incredibly supportive for stabilizing moods.
Eating a whole foods diet and limiting refined and processed foods can do wonders for healing postpartum depression. A natural whole foods diet will reduce inflammation, balance blood sugar, and provide the nutrients necessary for healthy body functions, especially proper brain function and mood. Focus on getting enough fiber (lots of leafy greens, vegetables, pears, raspberries, oats) lean protein (organic and grass-fed meats, beans, legumes, and tempeh).
Incorporate a variety of all fats into your diet, especially when nursing, as your dietary fat intake will decide which fats are passed on to your baby. Nutritious foods to include are low-mercury fish such as salmon and herring twice a week, sesame seeds, chia and hemp seeds, nuts and nut butters, olives, olive and coconut oil, avocados, organic grass-fed beef, and other organic animal products, such as chicken, lamb, yogurt, and eggs.
In addition, adding more sources of omega-3s (fatty fish such as salmon, mackerel, sardines, walnuts, and flax seeds) to your diet will help to minimize inflammation and support both healthy brain function and a healthy nervous system. Consumption of healthy fats are also needed for the proper absorption of fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E, and K.
Red Raspberry Leaf
Red Raspberry provides many nutrients and helps to heal and tonify the uterus. Drink daily as a tea or infusion, warm or cold. Lovely blended with Nettle & Oatstraw.
Nettle leaf is great for rebuilding and remineralizing the body as it contains many nutrients. Drink daily as a tea, warm or cold.
Oatstraw is a nervine tonic, which means it has positive impacts on the nervous system. Drink daily as a tea, warm or cold.
Lavender is great for relaxation and healing for anxiety. Drink it as a tea in the evening before bed, or put a few drops of essential oil onto your pillow to help support restful sleep.
St. John’s Wort
St. John’s Work is an herb that helps to stimulate serotonin in the brain. Take as a tea or tincture and use as instructed on the bottle.
It is important for both mom and baby to keep up your prenatal supplement routine during breastfeeding. Make sure the prenatal vitamin includes both zinc and B vitamins, as zinc is an important nutrient to keep depression at bay and B vitamins help with the absorption of zinc.
Try: continuing your prenatal vitamin postpartum in the dosage recommended on the bottle.
These are required for a healthy stress response and are depleted during times of stress. It is very helpful for both your adrenals and nervous system.
Try: a B complex especially high in B5 and B6 in their activated methylated forms. Be sure to ask your qualified nutritionist, naturopath, or functional medicine practitioner if you are not certain.
Calcium plays an important role in mood regulation and nervous system function.
Try: if taking a prenatal or multi, there is no need to supplement additional calcium. Otherwise, you may supplement calcium and magnesium together in a 2:1 or 1:1 ratio. Magnesium may also be supplemented alone (see below).
Magnesium is required for muscle relaxation. It is also needed in the body for a healthy stress response and becomes depleted in the body during times of stress. Magnesium can also help the body relax enough to provide a peaceful night’s sleep.
Try: supplementing extra magnesium up to 600 mg/day in the form of magnesium bisglycinate.
The gut is at the root of all health, and the health of your microbiome affects all your body systems, especially your mood. Probiotics help to keep the microbiome flourishing with healthy bacteria. They are also secreted in breast milk and reduce the risk of allergies and infections for both mother and child. Probiotics help to build the immune system of the baby and can be given to them through breast milk, or directly with a type meant for infants.
Try: supplementing with 10 billion CFU a day, or with 1-4 tbsp of probiotic-rich fermented foods such as raw sauerkraut, kefir, and tempeh.