What is Postpartum Depression?
Postpartum depression is a type of clinical depression that affects women, and less frequently men, after childbirth and lasts for an extended period of time. During pregnancy and childbirth, many physical and chemical changes are experienced within the body that can be extremely stressful, and this exhaustion can carry-on after the child has been born. An individual may be suffering from postpartum depression as a result from these normal changes and not even be aware of it, and many women require medical care for at least a short time in order to become properly rebalanced.
Symptoms may include sadness, sleep problems, fatigue, lack of interest in baby, reduced libido, anxiety, mood swings, irritability, lack of energy and motivation, feelings of shame, guilt, & inadequacy, and eating problems.
In traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) the primary causes of postpartum depression are related to:
1) Emotional disruption: emotional and physical changes that occur pre and post natal
2) Extreme fatigue and exhaustion of childbirth; can cause psychological anguish
3) Blood deficiency; loss of blood during childbirth
Postpartum Depression Treatment
Acupuncture can be extremely successful in treating the depression, and other symptoms, that accompany postpartum experience. By increasing the release of ACTH, beta-endorphins, serotonin, and noradrenaline acupuncture treatments can help increase blood flow, regulate hormones and enzymes, and relax and promote natural healing of the body. Acupuncture can bring relief to mood swings, sleeping and eating problems, strengthen the immune system, and help increase overall energy and motivation.
Further, acupuncture is a natural treatment that does not interfere with lactation, so there is no risk of chemically contaminated breast milk.
Chinese Herbal Medicine
In conjunction with acupuncture or as treatment on its own, Chinese herbal remedies are useful in treating postpartum depression gently and naturally. Chinese herbal formulas are specially tailored for each individual case and are safe for breastfeeding. Formulas such as Gui Pi Tang may be useful, for example, in treating sadness and insomnia experienced postpartum by toning Spleen-Qi and Heart-Blood. The formula Fu Shen San may be useful in treating palpitations, anxiety, and confused behaviour after childbirth.
Nutrition and Diet
It is important to note that unhealthy diet and weight can lead to a higher risk for postpartum depression and anxiety, so it is critical to ensure optimum nutritional health before, during, and after pregnancy and childbirth.
The neurotransmitter serotonin is critical in regulating mood, and when serotonin levels are low mood may be negatively impacted. Production of serotonin is closely associated with the availability of the amino acid tryptophan and vitamin B6. In order for tryptophan to be converted into a precursor for serotonin, it is critical to ensure adequate levels of niacin and iron are available in the body.
Further, the hormone cortisol, produced in response to stress, converts tryptophan into a chemical that cannot be converted into serotonin. Drinking coffee and alcohol, smoking cigarettes, and stress can lead to increased production of cortisol, and therefore limited availability of the serotonin precursor.
Treatment of postpartum depression from a nutrition standpoint involves preventing deficiencies in iron, niacin, and vitamin B6.
The optimum diet should be well-balanced and include foods like fatty fish (like salmon), green leafy vegetables, eggs, beans and lentils, nuts, and citrus juice. Ensuring enough iron by eating spinach, red meat, liver, raisons, broccoli, and egg yolks is important.
Lifestyle and Mind-Body Medicine
It is important to note that high life stress and anxiety levels can lead to a higher risk for postpartum depression and anxiety, so it is critical to take care on emotional and mental well-being before, during, and after childbirth.
Ensuring a healthy, balanced lifestyle is important in the prevention and treatment of postpartum depression. This includes a balanced diet, getting enough exercise, and getting enough sunlight exposure before, during, and after pregnancy and childbirth.
Mind-Body therapies may be useful in finding relief and coming to better understand underlying the thoughts and emotions around the pre and post-natal experience. Mindfulness exercises, creative arts exercise, yoga, and guided imagery can all be extremely beneficial in postpartum depression treatment.