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Beyond the baby blues – Natural Support for Post-partum Depression

May 16, 2013 • Women's Health, Pregnancy, Naturopathic Medicine

Motherhood is a joy, a gift and a blessing. But it is not an easy task. It can be exhausting, trying and stressful. Every woman's experience is unique and the transition is challenging for many women. In fact, it is estimated that 1 out of every 6 women experiences troubling depression or anxiety after the birth or adoption of a child. This article will provide a basic distinction between the baby blues and post-partum depression and describe some natural options in treating post-partum depression.

Beyond The Baby Blues

Baby blues

In the time immediately following childbirth, a women's body undergoes tremendous hormonal and social changes that can leave her feeling down. These 'baby blues' as they are often called can have symptoms like mood swings, crying spells, loss of appetite, difficulty sleeping, and feeling sad, anxious or overwhelmed. This can last for a week or up to 10 days and will go away without treatment. However, if you have been noticing these symptoms and it is lasting for longer than two weeks or develops later but still within the first year after your baby is born, please seek treatment. You may have post-partum depression.

Post-partum depression

Post-partum depression can have symptoms similar to the baby blues but they feel more intense and do not go away without treatment. Post-partum depression is an incredibly stressful situation for a woman and her family. Often it is characterized by despondency, anger, guilt, tearfulness, worrying thoughts or images, anxiety, feelings of inadequacy and the inability to cope. Women may also experience a lack of interest in the baby, or thoughts of hurting herself or the baby. This situation requires immediate medical attention from your physician. Do not feel guilty or ashamed, these symptoms are not your fault and will not go away without help.

Naturopathic care in post-partum depression

Naturopathic Medicine is holistic care and is uniquely positioned to offer whole person and individualized care during the post-partum time. As a mother of two young boys, I understand the many factors that can lead to overwhelming feelings of inadequacy, anxiety and sadness. A natural approach to post-partum depression is tailored to each women's unique circumstances and the below information is meant to give some insight into the approach we might take. Please be advised this should not replace the advice and support of your naturopathic doctor or family physician.

Components of care to consider:

  • Sleep – Make sure mom is getting 8 hours of sleep in a 24 hour period. If she is not, our approach would explore strategies to bring in support so she can get more rest.
  • Mindfulness – It is easy to get wrapped up in the 'should be doing' of life, but in a new mother, the only thing that matters is that moment with your baby. Take it all in, just snuggle, feed and rest.
  • Omega-3 oil supplementation – As an example, one study found 500mg provided a 50% reduction of severity of symptoms in post-partum depression. Make sure your fish oil is high quality and has been purified of any environmental contaminants.
  • Iron deficiency – Has been linked with increased post-partum depression. Have your ferritin levels checked by your family doctor, ND or midwife if you are experiencing fatigue, anxiety and depression.
  • Vitamin D – Take 2000IU per day.
  • Herbal support for depression – There are many herbs that can reduce depression and anxiety. These will be tailored to your specific case and should not be self-prescribed during this critical time. Some will be used to support sleep, reduce anxiety or to help balance serotonin levels in the brain.
  • Acupuncture for depression and anxiety – Acupuncture can help build up energy during this taxing time. They work to calm down an overactive nervous system, replenish low energy and move stagnant energy by balancing out the movement in energy in the body. Read more about Acupuncture and Traditional Chinese Medicine.

The unique needs of the post-partum time

Many things need to be considered during this time. A women's social environment, her support network, her relationship with her spouse, any other children she may have, the hormonal and physiological changes and whether or not she is breastfeeding. As a trained Doula, mother and naturopathic physician with 10 years of experience and additional training in acupuncture and the safe use of herbs in pregnancy, breastfeeding and the post-partum period, Dr. Shortt is uniquely positioned to offer support.