postpartum depression is a condition that affects many women. Of course there is a spectrum and some women will only feel some mild issues, and others are quite severe.
The good news is, there is a lot we can do to prevent it as well as to manage it through natural health practices.
Before I go any further I would like to add a disclaimer that there is no judgment here. Medication is often needed and that decision is up to the women who is dealing with this very real issue. The only point I wish to make is that before you turn to meds, I encourage you to do what you can to heal the gut in order to create a happier internal environment. Sometimes postpartum depression can be debilitating and in that case, you probably wouldn’t even have the will to make lifestyle changes. In that case, ask for support, and if meds are needed to kickstart your motivation to make some healthy changes, then all the power to you. Just do your research, because a lot of antidepressants can have harmful side effects or simply be ineffective.
The Gut Brain Connection
Have you ever had a “gut feeling”? There is no coincidence that we feel with our gut at times. The large bowel is in charge of eliminating or letting go of waste. In Chinese medicine, it is said that if you are holding onto something emotionally (i.e. fears, anxiety, not letting go), you may experience constipation. Our bowels are very sensitive to our mood. On the contrary, we actually depend on a healthy gut for our mood. It is estimated that 80-95% of our serotonin (happy hormone) is made in the gut! That means if your gut is not in a good place, neither is your head! So we have to work to create a healthy gut environment that is rich in friendly bacteria like lactobacillus and acidophilus, and low in bad bacteria. Bacterial balance should be about 85:15 good:bad. Bad bacteria feeds on sugars and can overgrow when our diet is rich in sugars and refined carbs.
A Note on Serotonin
low levels of serotonin are connected to depression, anxiety, irritability, feeling scattered, insomia, sugar cravings and having a short attention span.
As mentioned, most serotonin is produced in the gut. It is also produced in the brain, and it needs tryptophan in order to be manufactured. We all know turkey is rich in tryptophan, but what if we want therapeutic levels? (see supplements)
Diet & Supplements
The diet should be one that helps to keep your blood sugar balanced. Low glycemic, rich in fat, fibre, protein and carbs in the form of veggies and low glycemic fruit. Keeping the blood sugar balanced is key for mood stabilization. Keeping gluten, dairy, sugar and alcohol out on top of obvious refined sugar and junk foods, is the best way to ensure you’re eating a diet low in sugars and high in nutrient density.
Omega 3 fats
Research has shown that women with the highest intakes of omega 3s were half as likely to suffer PPD than the women with the lowest intakes. The best sources are filtered and encapsulated because, unfortunately, much of our fish supply is polluted with heavy metals that we don’t want to be consuming during pregnancy. One fish known for its high mercury content is tuna and should definitely be avoided. Stick to fish such as cod, sardines and salmon but do make sure they are coming from a good source. Your local fish monger will be able to help with that.
As mentioned in the exercise section, lack of vitamin D has been shown to be associated with depression. Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) is a type of depression that only happens in the winter with lack of sunlight. For this reason it’s important to supplement with vitamin D throughout times where you don’t have access to sunlight. you can take up to 5000 IU daily throughout the winter, and 1000 IU during the summer months for maintenance.
You transfer a lot of zinc to your baby just before birth, which may leave you deficient post-birth. If you are struggling with depression, you can try increasing your zinc supplementation to 15-30mg daily. However, this should be taken short term only because it fights with copper for absorption and you need both. It should also be taken in conjunction with a good B complex.
Short for 5-Hydroxytryptophan, this supplement is a source of tryptophan in the body that helps to increase serotonin and melatonin. For this reason, it helps with depression AND insomnia. It is best taken at night. The dosage should be between 150-300mg daily
Short for S-adenosyl-methionine, this supplement can help increase levels of serotonin and dopamine in the brain, leaving us feeling happier. There have been studies comparing SAM-e to medical grade antidepressants, and they found that SAM-e was more effective. Start at 200mg, twice daily, and work your way up to 400mg, 4 times daily for desired effects. (note: this is not a good supplement for those suffering with bipolar depression).
As discussed in the gut brain connection, in order for our bodies to be in a happy place, you want to make sure you are providing it with good bacteria to populate the gut. This way, your gut can function properly and help create serotonin and send it to the brain! I recommend 10-30 CFU daily for maintenance, and up to 100 if your gut is not in a good place (leaky gut, antibiotic treatment, travel, constipation, diarrhea etc.)
It’s important to note that natural remedies and supplements are not a quick fix. They don’t work over night and require consistency. However, paired with a good diet and daily movement, you will be sure to feel uplifted almost immediately (at least slightly).
I know that when you have a new baby, and you’re exhausted as well as depressed, exercise is the last thing on your mind. You don’t need to do much, but make a commitment to at least walk around the block once a day. When you move, you increase blood flow, which helps your body deliver oxygen and nutrients around the body. This will help you to feel even a little bit better. Slowly but surely, work your way up to longer walks, and once cleared by your doctor, find a postnatal health coach that can help you safely and effectively get back into shape. Lucky for you, I have just the program for you once you’re ready to get back into it! Glowing Mama 101: Health & Fitness Fundamentals For New Moms. The best part is, it can be done from home, around your baby’s schedule.
Also, vitamin D from the sun is known to improve moods as well. If it is dark or gloomy outside (like a Canadian winter), you will want to take vitamin D in supplement form. D3 drops are the most effective and you can take up to 5000 IU throughout the winter.
As you may be having lots of scary thoughts, use a journal to write them to release them. It may also be a good time to seek talk therapy to help uncover the root cause of your feelings.
Meditation can also be a great tool to help clear your mind. There are many apps that you can find to help guide you through whatever you’re feeling (my favourite is called insight timer).
Another lifestyle practice would be to decrease your chemical exposure. Look into your foods (conventional vs organic), cleaning products, personal hygiene products, and makeup. These all add to your chemical load and can severely disrupt your hormone balance.
You can also work on creating or reading and writing down some positive affirmations. Put them on post it notes and stick them to your mirror. Repeat them often. The way you speak to yourself and about yourself will mould how you feel. Let me remind you that you are a warrior and have gone through the toughest thing a human being ever has to endure – pregnancy and childbirth!
There are lots more lifestyle tips in the glowing mama program! Check it out here!