Every year, more than 600,000 mothers cope with some form of postpartum depression, which is different from baby blues—a moderate mood change that usually lasts less than two weeks and causes only mild feelings of vulnerability, sadness, and worry. Postpartum depression symptoms can include insomnia, appetite loss, and extreme emotional distress that is sometimes intense enough to interfere with daily life. Left untreated, postpartum depression could turn into chronic, lifelong depression. Don’t tough it out. Seek guidance, and follow these experts’ tips to help work through the pain.
Get your rest. It is important for emotional health to protect serotonin levels, which replenish during sleep. If possible, plan a schedule with a partner to allow for five to six hours of restful, uninterrupted sleep. Also find time to exercise, follow a proper diet, and nurture yourself.
Seek emotional support. Talk with close friends about your worries, and understand that many challenges of new motherhood are temporary. Before the baby arrives, consider what life will be like and carefully plan for it. Both partners should discuss their wishes and expectations.
Don’t forget about dad. Around one in ten fathers also experiences postpartum depression. Husbands of mothers with postpartum depression are at a greater risk, and research shows that children, especially boys, with depressed fathers are more likely to have learning and behavioral disorders. Mothers and fathers should seek help immediately if they think they might be having emotional problems.
–Shoshana Bennett, PhD, Sonoma County, California
Get enough docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), an omega-3 fatty acid vital to a healthy emotional state. During pregnancy, the growing baby demands a lion’s share of DHA, and this continues if the mother is breast-feeding. Rich sources of DHA include algae, eggs, and fatty, cold-water fish like salmon and herring. However, eating the amount of fish necessary to get enough fatty acids could be dangerous because of toxins such as mercury in fish, so get your extra DHA from other sources or third-party-tested supplements.
Load up on fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and other vitamin- and mineral-rich foods. B-vitamin deficiencies in B vitamins have been associated with mood disorders and depression. The neurons in your brain need glucose to function, but they cannot store it so you need to eat more of it; vegetables, fruits, whole grains, legumes, and dairy are great sources.
Balance blood sugar.Blood sugar can become out of balance during and after pregnancy. Avoid processed foods that lack important nutrients and are filled with sugar, which sends excess glucose into the bloodstream. This causes the pancreas to release insulin into the bloodstream to absorb the sugar, depriving the body's organs, including the brain, of energy and leading to mood swings.
–Jennifer Lovejoy, PhD, Seattle
Try an oatstraw infusion. An infusion is a large quantity of dried herb brewed for a long time, resulting in about 60 times more beneficial compounds than when the herb is brewed quickly, such as tea. Oatstraw is rich in nutrients that nourish the central nervous system, such as magnesium, chromium, vitamin A, and calcium. Boil water and pour it into a quart jar with 1 ounce of oatstraw; let it sit for four to eight hours.
Sip a tincture. Lemon balm tincture (available at many natural products stores) can start to relieve postpartum depression in as few as 24 hours and usually within ten days. Motherwort tincture is also effective, as is passionflower tincture, which can also relieve insomnia.
Exercise and sun are great treatments for any kind of depression. Activity generates uplifting endorphins in the body, and deep breathing during exercise floods the brain with oxygenated air. Ultraviolet rays cause the skin to synthesize vitamin D, which is heavily involved in many of the brain functions related to emotional well-being.
–Susun Weed,Woodstock, New York