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By Anastasia Fairchild, Contributing Writer
As much as I wanted to enjoy the newborn period with my first baby, the harsh reality is that it was not like I envisioned it. I was more exhausted than when I was pregnant. I had a late postpartum hemorrhage, which made recovery even harder, and I quickly became depressed. A dark cloud circled me constantly during the never ending days that seemed to drag on forever. I cried almost every day and felt very isolated, overwhelmed, and alone.
Postpartum depression can happen to any mother. But just like other mental illnesses, postpartum depression still has a stigma around it, and does not get near the discussion it warrants. So if you find yourself also suffering from postpartum depression, I urge you to get help. Luckily, there are ways to treat postpartum depression naturally and without drugs.
Is it Just The Baby Blues?
Many new mothers have the “baby blues” after childbirth. This is characterized as crying, mood swings, anxiety and difficulty sleeping according to the Mayo Clinic. Symptoms typically begin within a few short days after delivery, and can last around two weeks. The key here is that these feelings go away fairly quickly.
Or is it Postpartum Depression?
Sometimes symptoms may start off more subtly and be mistaken for the baby blues. But if the funk you are in becomes more intense and lasts longer, you may have postpartum depression. Symptoms begin within the first couple weeks after birth, but may begin as late as six months according to the Mayo Clinic. My symptoms appeared days after delivery.
Postpartum depression symptoms:
• Severe mood swings
• Excessive crying
• Difficulty bonding with your baby
• Withdrawing from family and friends
• Change in eating habits
• Difficulty sleeping
• Overwhelming fatigue
• Intense irritability and anger
• Feelings of worthlessness or guilt
• Difficulty concentrating
• Severe anxiety and panic attacks
Some people may even have thoughts of harming themselves or baby. Postpartum depression is no joke. It is important to discuss treatment options with your OB or midwife.
How to treat Postpartum Depression Naturally
1. Ask for HELP
Most people are stubborn and don’t like to ask for help. It makes them feel like they are inadequate and can’t handle it. But ask any woman who has had a baby, how hard it is those first couple months. All would unanimously agree that it is tough work! So when family and friends come to visit and leave saying, “If there is anything I can do to help, just let me know!” Take them up on that offer! People love to hold and rock babies. So have them come hold your baby so you can rest, shower, clean, workout, or just go to the store alone for the first time post-baby. New moms especially have a difficult time adjusting to the sudden change of having a human being rely on them for everything. Sometimes an hour alone can make a world of difference in mental outlook. There’s no shame in asking for help. Looking back I wish I did.
This may seem like an impossible feat with a newborn, but everyone knows that when you go without quality sleep, your ability to function and mood are directly affected. There is truth in the statement, “sleep when the baby sleeps”. A quick little nap or even closing your eyes to rest for twenty minutes here and there is important when keeping up with the demands of a newborn. A problem many moms encounter when trying to sleep is turning off the anxiety and worries of the day in their mind in order to fall asleep faster. By the time I actually unwound for the day to sleep, the baby was waking up for another feeding. The cycle would repeat all night long, even when the baby settled into longer stretches of sleep at night. I think that if I had really worked on ways to combat anxiety and depression, I could have improved my own personal sleep habits and gained some much needed rest.
3. Go Outside
My son was born at the end of fall, and living in the Midwest meant cold weather. I was hesitant to take him out in the public because of it being flu season. Since it was so cold outside I did not feel comfortable taking him out in the stroller. All new mom problems, of course. So I ended up staying bundled up inside alone, until my husband came home from work. I was definitely stir crazy! When the weather finally warmed up, I was surprised at how a short little walk with the baby and dog would brighten my spirits and mood. I only wish I had practiced baby wearing more with my newborn in the beginning. I could have worn my newborn, dressed us both accordingly, and still had gone outside to get the fresh air I so desperately needed those first few months! Fresh air and sunshine are hard to beat when combating depression! Not to mention that 15 minutes of sunlight exposure three times a week at minimum, will help maintain the much needed Vitamin D requirements.
The initial postpartum recovery period is typically 6 weeks before a mom is given the okay after the first postpartum visit to begin working out again. Everyone uses children as an excuse not to work out, myself included. But it just recently dawned on me (16 months later…) that if I am unable to have someone watch my son to work out alone, I’m just going to have to incorporate him into my routine. Grab a jogging stroller, pop in a workout DVD, or do mommy and me yoga. Whatever gets you moving and breaking a sweat will release those happy endorphins and make you feel like you’ve accomplished something for the day along with helping lose the baby weight and lifting that veil of depression. Exercise truly is one of the many ways to treat postpartum depression naturally.
5. Food is Medicine
Exhaustion and depression combined with a needy baby make it very challenging to prepare meals. That’s why people turn to processed foods for a quick bite to eat knowing good and well it is not helping anyone. Eating as many nutrient-dense foods as possible helps postpartum recovery. The more variety of nutrients I can eat in my diet, the better chance I have of not having any deficiencies which could contribute to postpartum depression.
A great start is to up your protein. Eating small amounts of protein throughout the day helps keep blood sugar levels even, and therefore stabilizes mood. Eating meat, poultry, and fish along with low glycemic carbs such as nuts, whole grains, and beans has also been shown to boost production of serotonin, which is a neurotransmitter in the brain that has a calming effect. A lot of people choose to meal prep before having the baby knowing that the demands of a newborn limit quality cooking in the kitchen. Making healthy crockpot meals and freezer meals ahead of time are wonderful ways to prepare for times when you are short on energy or time to cook.
Another reminder is to try and limit your caffeine intake. Consuming too much caffeine has been shown to suppress serotonin levels. Sure it may give you the pep you need in the morning, but continuing to drink caffeinated beverages all day can leave you jittery, anxious, and unable to sleep. Don’t forget if you’re breastfeeding it is recommended to have no more than 300 mg of caffeine a day anyway.
There are no substitutes for a healthy diet; however, most people do not eat a variety of foods to cover basic nutrients and vitamins needed. Low levels of iron especially after having a baby can leave you feeling tired and depleted. So upping your iron intake either through supplements or food is important. Fish oil or Omega-3 contains fatty acids that can help combat depression. Omega-3 has been shown to combat the depletion of maternal fatty acids by the fetus during pregnancy and the continued depletion through lactation.
Try to begin for a minimum of 5 minutes a day of quiet, uninterrupted time for yourself to focus on enhancing your inner calm and to practice your deep breathing. If you can make it 20 minutes depending upon the demands of the day, then do it! By going into that quiet and calm place through mediation or deep breathing, it will allow you to reconnect with yourself. Meditation often allows people to target the negative thoughts that are plaguing them and begin to let them go. When deep breathing is practiced regularly, people benefit from the ability to quickly go back into that calm state when stressful situations arise. If you don’t know where to begin with meditation, borrow a CD from your local library or download a guided meditation on line.
It’s hard to laugh or have any fun when you’re depressed. Even if you’re not in the mood, force yourself to pop in a comedy or turn on your favorite sitcom. I personally like to crank up some good music and dance. My little one and I have our own dance parties in the living room and before I know it we are both laughing and having fun. Laughter really is the best medicine.
9. Essential Oils
There are many different brands of essential oils that have blends to combat various ailments such as anxiety and depression. Essential oils are one of the many ways to treat postpartum depression naturally. Some great basic oils to uplift mood include lemon, grapefruit, and wild orange. Lavender and chamomile are also great essential oils to help calm an anxious mind. Diluted essential oils can be sprayed in the air or diffused. Some people prefer to use them topically with a carrier oil on their temples, wrists, or bottoms of their feet. It is important when beginning to use essential oils to educate yourself on the proper way to use the oil and make sure it safe to use around your baby! Not all oils are baby friendly. It is also important that when buying essential oils they are certified pure, therapeutic grade. Aromatherapy has been shown in pilot studies to indicate positive outcomes with minimal risks in treating postpartum depression and anxiety as a complementary therapy.
10. Placenta Encapsulation
More women are choosing to have their placentas dehydrated after delivery and encapsulated to help combat postpartum depression. The placenta is a fascinating organ that surrounds the fetus in the womb and allows for the exchange of nutrients, blood and waste with the mother. Eating ones placenta has actually been around for centuries and was often practiced in Chinese medicine. Recently, it has become less taboo and has increased in popularity in the United States. No studies have conclusively proven the benefits of consuming one’s placenta, but with encapsulation gaining popularity hopefully more research will be done. Many mothers state that it speeds up recovery by reducing postpartum bleeding, boosting energy and elevating mood, and therefore relieving postpartum blues.
If you are struggling with postpartum depression know that you are not alone. It is more common than people realize. There are many natural ways to help combat postpartum depression. My depression did not go away overnight, but once I started implementing some of these changes into my daily lifestyle I started to feel better. I was finally able to enjoy my baby, and felt better about myself. However, it is important to note that if you are ever considering hurting yourself or the baby, PLEASE get help immediately. There is no shame in seeking help. Postpartum depression can be treated naturally, but some people need medical intervention and should speak with their midwife or OB as soon as possible. Don’t suffer in silence.
Did You Suffer From Postpartum Depression? How Did You Treat Postpartum Depression Naturally?
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