Pulling it Together. One Way to Cope With Postpartum DepressionMental Health
By Joy Stephenson-Laws, JD, Founder
Over a decade ago, teen star and actress Brooke Shields braved the flashbulbs to bring awareness to the illusive and rarely discussed topic of postpartum depression (PPD). PPD is a mood disorder that typically affects women after childbirth.
According to the National Institute of Health (NIH), mothers with postpartum depression experience feelings of extreme sadness, anxiety and exhaustion. Sadly, this makes it extremely difficult for new mothers to accomplish daily tasks for themselves or for others. Severe cases of postpartum depression can evoke feelings of overwhelm, that are so mentally debilitating it results in thoughts of self-harm, or even thoughts of harming their babies.
For many years women have suffered in silence. But now there is a resurgence of strong female figureheads who are using their voices to offer mothers the opportunity to share their experiences and rise above feelings of inadequacy, despair and listlessness.
Recently, in a very public and brave attempt to share her struggles with motherhood, sports icon Serena Williams took to social media to vent about her sinking self-doubt. She boldly proclaimed: “Mostly, I felt like I was not a good mom.” Her simple statement struck a chord with mothers across the globe and has given new life to a topic that is widely misunderstood.
“I remember one day, I couldn’t find Olympia’s bottle,” she recalls. “I got so upset I started crying.”
The Grand Slam tennis champ went on to say that she felt like ‘communication’ was the best therapy for her. “I like communication best. Talking things through with my mom, my sisters, my friends, let me know that my feelings are totally normal,” It is typical for mothers experiencing postpartum depression to feel like they are isolated or alone. Opening up to family members, your spouse or a counselor are all key to overcoming these false flags of overwhelming hopelessness.
Other celebrity mothers have come forward to discuss their own dark days after giving birth, including Hayden Panettiere and the Queen B herself.
With all of the complications that can occur during pregnancy and childbirth, the fluctuations in hormone levels resulting in weight gain, it is easy to see why there are a myriad of emotional setbacks to these very extreme mental and biological changes.
Better Understanding Postpartum Depression
Serena, Beyonce and Brooke are hardly alone. While the precise number of women suffering from PPD in the United States is not fully accounted for, it is said that anywhere from 70-80% of mothers will experience some form of postpartum depression. The reason for such blind statistics is in part due to there being so many different degrees of PPD and the silence attached to it. Most women simply don’t report it to their physicians.
Sadly, it is believed that postpartum depression is very common. Some medical experts believe that the rate of postpartum depression could be at least twice as much as what is actually reported and diagnosed. Without proper counseling, increased awareness and the presence of more support groups, women remain isolated in their quiet desperation.
So why does postpartum depression occur?
After giving birth, mothers may experience a significant drop in the hormones estrogen and progesterone. This radical shift in chemicals that occurs in the brain may trigger mood swings.
To add to the problem, most mothers may not get adequate sleep. The body needs proper rest to allow for the mind and body to properly recover from childbirth. A recent study found a neural link between lack of sleep and depression, which only works to compound the onset of symptoms related to postpartum depression.
How Can You Be Proactive?
There is a nutritional approach that may help you feel your best before, during and after pregnancy. Nutrient deficiency plays an integral role in hormone balance. So it is important that you understand whether the nutrients responsible for your health both before, during and after pregnancy are optimal.
Proactive Health Labs provides comprehensive nutrient testing and a full nutritional analysis so you can have a better grasp on your biology. By measuring deficiencies at the cellular level, you can get an overview of what nutrients, including vitamins and minerals, need to be incorporated back into your diet.
With the information you receive from nutrient testing, you can change your diet based on your body’s nutrient deficiencies. Correcting these deficiencies may reduce the risks and symptoms associated with PPD.
Here are some hormone rockin’ foods that can help keep your mood, mind and body healthy, while also replenishing some of the nutrients lost during childbirth and nursing. Diet affects mood and vice versa. Understanding the cause and effect of your diet and mental state is useful when trying to curb mood swings.
- Essential fatty acids (EPA/DHA) - Try eating fatty fish, nuts, seeds, plant oils and Greek yogurts. The omega-3 fatty acids EPA and DHA are the most well researched nutrients when it comes postpartum depression and nutrient depletion. Early observational studies consistently show that dietary omega-3 fatty acid levels are low in depressed patients. Countries with lower omega-3 fatty acid consumption have higher rates of depression. EPA/DHA are essential fatty acids, meaning we need to consume them in our diet in order to have enough.
- Vitamin D - Vitamin D isn’t incredibly common in foods, but is absolutely a must for women and their overall physical and mental health. Eating dark greens like kale, okra, spinach and collards are all beneficial. Canned line-caught tuna, portobello mushrooms and soybeans can easily be integrated into recipes to get that boost of vitamin D as well. Known as the sunshine vitamin, vitamin D is very important for women of all ages. Chances are you aren’t out and about getting lots of sunlight during the final weeks/months of your pregnancy or immediately afterwards. You’ll have to make up for it in other ways, mainly diet. Studies have shown that a deficiency in vitamin D has been associated with depressive symptoms. In some studies, supplementing with high-dose vitamin D has show significant improvement in mood. At least 50% of Americans are vitamin D deficient. Because babies thrives on whatever resources the mother has available to her, there have been cases of babies born with a total void of vitamin D. We recommend that you get your vitamin D levels checked before, during, and after your pregnancy (and supplement accordingly).
- Trace minerals (specifically zinc, iron, and selenium) - Foods that are good to keep in your routine are spinach, broccoli, brazil nuts, some red meat, pomegranates, blackberries, figs and quinoa. Women’s bodies take on a heavy burden during pregnancy, childbirth and lactation, due to the outpouring of essential minerals to the fetus. Trace minerals are easy to consume through a balanced diet, as stated above, but you need to test yourself regularly for deficiencies to ensure you are consuming enough of these foods. Deficiencies in these minerals have been associated with depression and mood disorders.
Understanding and educating yourself about your nutrient levels is just one way you can fight PPD and remain healthy. Being your healthiest at this critical time of your life goes a long way to ensuring you can properly take care of your baby and yourself during this most important time of your life.
Let’s enjoy our healthiest lives!
The pH professional health care team includes recognized experts from a variety of health care and related disciplines, including physicians, attorneys, nutritionists, nurses and certified fitness instructors. This team also includes the members of the pH Medical Advisory Board, which constantly monitors all pH programs, products and services. To learn more about the pH Medical Advisory Board, click here.
(If you are experiencing severe depression it is advised you contact a healthcare professional immediately. PPD is a serious condition that requires treatment. A healthy diet can improve your mood, but it can't substitute for professional help. Warning signs of PPD include insomnia, a change in appetite, weepiness or sadness that persists all day, and thoughts of harming yourself or your baby.)