Healing Postpartum Depression
Many women go through a period of depression beginning anywhere from during pregnancy to a year post-birth. The overwhelm of pregnancy & childbirth, coupled with sleep deprivation & fluctuating hormones, can cause new moms to feel exhausted, anxious, and depressed. Having a C-section, not breastfeeding, having a history of depression, traumatic births, and medications taken during pregnancy or labor are other factors that can increase the risk of postpartum depression. Common symptoms include negative feelings, weight loss, lack of appetite, suicidal thoughts, body changes, anxiety, guilt, and low energy. In more severe cases there may be thoughts of harming oneself or the baby.
If you’re a new mother experiencing these symptoms, you’re not alone. While bringing new life into the world is a joy and a privilege, it is also a momentous responsibility and a stressor both physically and mentally. New mothers need gentle care and plenty of support. Be gentle and compassionate with yourself as you go through this difficult time.
Overcoming postpartum depression requires a holistic approach to improve physical, emotional, and spiritual well-being. Read on for advice on how to nurture yourself back to a place of groundedness & balance.
Gentleness- Be very gentle with yourself. Gentle thoughts, gentle days, gentle experience. 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 as much help 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.
Let yourself take form: slowly, gently, gracefully.
Rest- Getting enough quality sleep is vital for optimal health and is even more important for new mothers. This is a challenge with a newborn; however, it’s critical for mothers to receive adequate amounts of rest in order to recuperate & repair. Sleep also directly affects mood, thus scheduling nap times while the baby is sleeping can be helpful as you likely aren’t getting adequate sleep during the night. Call in help from friends and family to take care of things around the house or run errands.
Exercise- Movement is a significant antidepressant tool as it enhances circulation, boosts mood, and balances blood sugar. Depending on if you’re pregnant or not, and how far along you are, the types of exercise will vary, but even regular, steady walking with the baby can be greatly beneficial. Take yourself on outside, as the fresh air & sunshine will improve your mood & give you plenty of vitamin D, which is important for immune function & mood regulation. When you feel ready & able, make dates with friends for walks or to attend a gentle yoga class together, so you have a commitment to keep & a social engagement to look forward to and lift you up. Find ways to exercise that you enjoy so that you feel motivated to move daily.
Meditate- Even 5 minutes will help. Meditation is a great tool to effectively calm the nervous system, as focused breathing & visualization exercises help to relax the body on a deep level. Meditating helps clear & calm the mind, allowing us to handle challenges throughout the day with more clarity & positivity.
Finding a few minutes during your day to quiet the mind and meditate - and making this into a routine - is also a great way to take some alone time & to practice self-care. Try a meditation app that you can use anywhere, such as Simple Habit, Headspace, or Calm.
Eating a whole foods diet - and limiting refined & processed foods - can do wonders for healing postpartum depression. A natural whole foods diet will reduce inflammation, balance blood sugar, and provide all the nutrients necessary for healthy body functions, especially for proper brain function & mood. Focus on getting enough fiber (lots of vegetables!), healthy fats (such as nuts & seeds, avocados, and olive oil), and lean protein (organic & grass-fed meats, beans, legumes & tempeh) at every meal.
Adding more sources of Omega 3s (fatty fish such as salmon, mackerel, sardines & flax seeds, etc.) to your diet will help to minimize inflammation and to support healthy brain function & a healthy nervous system. Consumption of healthy fats is also needed for proper absorption of many vitamins such as A, D, E & K.
Other beneficial foods to increase:
-Naturally fermented foods (such as raw sauerkraut, kimchi & kombucha) to support a healthy gut microbiome (which directly impacts mood as the gut is connected to the brain via the vagus nerve) & to increase immunity.
-Plenty of leafy greens for their high magnesium & calcium content (which will support the nervous system & relax the body).
-Foods rich in iron (Stinging nettle tea, red meat, beans & lentils, blackstrap molasses, etc.) to support brain development & function, blood formation, the immune system, hormone production, and energy levels.
-Foods rich in folic acid (citrus fruits, leafy green vegetables, grains, etc.) to reduce depression
Dietary needs significantly increase during and post-pregnancy, so it’s important to stock your fridge with nourishing foods and to prepare regular meals & snacks.
SUPPLEMENTS & HERBS
New moms should continue taking prenatal vitamins. Increased amounts of specific nutrients can also help to counteract the effects of postpartum depression - increase your dietary intake of important nutrients such as Omega 3s, probiotics, magnesium, calcium, iron & folic acid (see above).
Now is also a great time to add additional Omega 3s and a probiotic to your supplement regimen for their mood-enhancing effects.
Load up on essential fatty acids (EFAs)
Crucial for optimal health pre-, during, and post-pregnancy, omega 3 fatty acids (in particular DHA and choline) support brain development & functioning in both adults and infants. They’re also important for breast milk production. You can find these in flax, hemp & chia seeds as well as in fatty fish (wild-caught salmon, mackerel, sardines, anchovies, etc.) or you can supplement with a good quality fish oil of at least 1,000 mg of EPA and DHA.
Add in probiotics
The gut is at the root of all health, and the health of your microbiome affects all your body systems. Probiotics are secreted in breast milk and reduce the risk of allergies and infections for both mother and child. They also help to build the immune system of the baby. You can take probiotics in supplement form and also include probiotic-rich fermented foods in your diet, such as raw sauerkraut, kefir, and tempeh.
Supplement with magnesium
This relaxing mineral supports immune, nerve, and muscle functioning. Some magnesium-rich food sources include raw cacao, whole grains, leafy greens, and bananas. Magnesium oil or magnesium flake baths are also helpful!
A whole foods diet and supplements provide the backbone of nutritional requirements, but herbal remedies are a great source of additional support. Specific herbal infusions can be taken as teas or tonics to nourish and rebuild the body after childbirth.
Some excellent choices for new moms include:
red raspberry leaf (to heal & tonify the uterus) - drink daily
nettle leaf (for rebuilding + remineralizing the body) - drink daily
chamomile (for its soothing & relaxing properties) - sip before sleep
marshmallow root (for pain alleviation & soothing digestion) - drink a few times per week or add to nettle infusions
lavender (for relaxation & healing) - drink in the evening before bed
milky oats: (for nutrients & reducing nervous tension) Best used as an infusion and taken during the day.
Support yourself holistically and give yourself as much physical, emotional, and spiritual healing as possible. With love & compassion, you can nurture yourself back to health from the pain & struggle of postpartum depression.
Find a Postpartum doula- Postpartum doulas provide non-medical support to new parents in welcoming and connecting with their baby. They deliver mental & 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 & with tasks that feel daunting and overwhelming as well.
Try Acupuncture- This traditional Chinese medicine practice uses needles to stimulate specific areas of the body. It can help treat postpartum depression by balancing hormones and reducing anxiety and pain. It can also provide energizing effects and support general recovery.
Acupuncture achieves these benefits by regulating the different processes of the cerebral cortex and balancing neurotransmitters, thus reducing the effects of stress & anxiety. Though this may not be your first line of defense, as soon as you are ready - seek out acupuncture to help move stagnant energy.
Seek Counselling- 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 us to understand the relationship between the physical body & the mind, and can guide people to change behavior & thought patterns. It also provides a social support, helping new mothers to feel less disoriented & overwhelmed. Often therapists will even meet with you over the phone.
Steaming the vagina (or “yoni”) helps to improve stagnation and remove old residue from the vaginal canal and womb space. Doing vaginal steams can assist the body with cleansing the uterus and improves circulation, which enhances the body’s own cleansing mechanisms.
Adding herbs to the process can enhance the effects. Beneficial herbs include lavender, white sage, nettle leaf, witch hazel, chamomile, dandelion, mugwort, and rose.
*Note: Consult with a practitioner prior to steaming postpartum as some contradictions may apply.