After giving birth, the mother’s adaptability and resources are put to the test. Also, the mother’s “baby brain” tends to take over. Unfortunately, many new mothers get the baby blues, and around 10 percent develop an actual postpartum depression that requires immediate attention. It is important to focus on the underlying causes that include the course of the delivery plus hormonal, biological, social, and emotional changes.
New mothers also have increased need for several nutrients, a problem that is often ignored. In this article, we will take a closer look at some relevant supplements and a few approaches that may have a positive effect on the mother’s mood and hormone balance. It is advisable to get plenty of these nutrients during pregnancy, as they lower your risk of running into postpartum depression.
We have different illusions about how fantastic it is to have a child, but it can actually be a somewhat dramatic change, both physically and mentally, and postpartum depression is associated with ignorance, shame, and taboos. Because of that, many mothers fail to seek the attention they need, and this may have grave consequences, even for their child.
Although postpartum depression can have many causes, the mother should always make sure to get adequate amounts of those nutrients that are particularly important for the brain, the hormone system, and the nervous system. That gives her better much better resistance.
What are the baby blues and postpartum depression?
Eighty percent of new mothers in the United States get the baby blues after giving birth, and 22 percent develop an actual depression within the first year of delivery. In Denmark, around 10 percent of new mothers develop postpartum depression, and there is most likely a large grey zone – an area of uncertainty. Baby blues is characterized by temporary mood swings with anxiety, irritability, tears, and sadness. The symptoms normally vanish within a few weeks. With a postpartum depression, on the other hand, the negative feelings continue for a whole year or longer, and the symptoms may even increase and include one or several of the following problems:
- Depression or violent mood swings
- Lacking emotions and difficulty with attaching to the child
- Fear of not being a good mother
- A feeling of shame and inferiority
- Lack of appetite (or the opposite)
- A tendency to sleep too much or the opposite (insomnia)
- Overwhelming fatigue and lacking initiative
- Lack in interest in activities that normally provide pleasure
- Lack of desire to be in contact with the male partner, with family, or with friends
- Anxiety and panic attacks
- Thoughts about harming oneself or the baby
- Thoughts about suicide
Evidence suggests that a lack of feelings of love or tenderness towards the child is the worst, and these feelings may occur at any time, from the first months until a year after birth. Unfortunately, most new mothers feel so ashamed about their frigidity that they never seek help. In some cases, a dramatic birth experience may trigger PTSD (post-traumatic stress syndrome), and that may cause some of the same symptoms as seen with postpartum depression.
Help to self-help and to professional help
There is a difference between preventing postpartum depression and trying to prevent the condition from getting worse. If a new mother shows signs of this type of depression and in worst case considers taking her own life or harming her baby, she should seek professional assistance right away. It is also important that she keep in contact with other adults, not just her own family but friends and perhaps a mothers’ group.
In any case, she must never suffer in silence.
Remember to eat a healthy diet and get your nutrients
Healthy main meals are vital. They stabilize your blood sugar and ensure a constant supply of energy to your brain. The need for vitamins and minerals is slightly increased when you are pregnant or breastfeeding. You can find supplements that are tailored for these special needs.
In the following, you can read about other approaches that may be useful.
Omega-3 for the baby’s brain and the mother’s mood
The two omega-3 fatty acids, EPA and DHA, which are primarily found in oily fish, are important for the development of the baby’s brain and nervous system. They are also important for the mother’s brain and nerves. At the final stage of her pregnancy, the mother may lack these essential fatty acids because the baby’s brain grows at a rapid rate and consumes large quantities of omega-3.
According to a large, Danish cohort study that is published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, an insufficient intake of omega-3 fatty acids increases the mother’s risk of developing postpartum depression
A placebo-controlled study from the University of Connecticut, USA, showed that supplementation with omega-3 fatty acids in the form of fish oil (a good source of EPA and DHA) helped prevent depression during pregnancy and after delivery. Fifty-two pregnant women participated in the study that lasted five days. Half the women took capsules containing corn oil, while the other half took capsules with fish oil (the omega-3 content corresponded to eating half a portion of salmon daily). The women in the fish oil group showed significantly fewer signs of postpartum depression and worries.
Other studies show that in countries where people consume higher quantities of oily fish, there is a lower rate of depression.
Having said that, pregnant and lactating women should try to limit their intake of predatory fish like tuna, as these are in the top of the food chain and contain more mercury and other toxins than fish in the lower parts of the food chain. These environmental pollutants may harm the fetus (pregnancy) and the baby (lactation). It is recommended to eat herring, salmon, and anchovies from unpolluted oceans, instead, or to take purified fish oil supplements. It normally takes around four weeks for the optimal effect of fish oil to show. There is also a lot of omega-3 in oil from linseed and other vegetable sources. However, they come in a form called ALA (alpha-linolenic acid), which is difficult to convert into EPA and DHA.
Vitamin D levels may predict the odds of depression
Vitamin D deficiencies are rather common in pregnant women, depending on where they live. Vitamin D is essential for the baby’s development and for the mother’s condition, as the nutrient functions as a hormone with importance for virtually all cells and tissues. There is even a link between vitamin D deficiency and depression. This was seen in an American study published in Psychiatry Research.
The richest source of vitamin D is the sun during the summer period. On a nice, sunny summer’s day, one can easily synthesize 30-100 micrograms of vitamin D in the skin.
During the winter period where the sun sits too low in the sky to enable vitamin D synthesis in the skin, it is advisable to take a vitamin D supplement, especially if you are pregnant. Vitamin D is lipid-soluble, which means that the body absorbs it more easily if the nutrient is mixed with some kind of oil.
Postpartum depression and inflammation
With postpartum depression and other types of depression, scientists have observed that the white blood cells (monocytes) activate pro-inflammatory genes that increase the release of cytokines.
Pro-inflammatory messengers (signaling substances) carry undesirable information to the nervous system, and there is often a link between depression and brain inflammation. Fish oil (especially EPA), vitamin D, and selenium have anti-inflammatory properties but only when taken in sufficient amounts.
Make sure to get your B vitamins, especially B2
A Japanese study has shown that moderate intake of vitamin B2 may have a protective effect on postpartum depression. Good sources of vitamin B2 are organ meat (liver, kidneys, etc.), whole-grain, eggs, legumes, seeds, kernels, and vegetables. Pregnant women should avoid eating pure liver, as too much vitamin A may harm the fetus. After delivery, however, there is no problem. When taking supplements of vitamin B it is best to take them all as a complex. They work together as a team. Avoid taking vitamin B2 on its own.
|Your doctor can easily measure your blood levels of vitamin D and iron|
Iron deficiency is common and often ignored
Many women are iron-deficient or borderline deficient. They lose iron with their menstrual blood and the diet often fails to replace what is lost. The growing fetus consumes a large portion of the mother’s iron, and many pregnant women forget to take the recommended iron supplements. Studies show a link between iron deficiency, anemia, and postpartum depression.
Have your thyroid function measured and make sure to get enough selenium
In connection with pregnancy and birth, it is essential to have a well-functioning thyroid gland (metabolism). Unfortunately, thyroid disorders are common. Many women suffer from slow metabolism without knowing it.
Postpartum thyroiditis is an inflammation of the thyroid gland that may occur after pregnancy. To begin with, there is increased thyroid activity (hyperthyroidism), which is then followed by slow thyroid activity (hypothyroidism), which may require medical attention.
Hypothyroidism may cause extreme fatigue, depression, cold sensitivity, constipation, hair loss, and a number of other symptoms. Having too little selenium in the body may also trigger thyroid problems.
The agricultural soil in Europe has a rather low selenium content. An average European gets less than 50 micrograms of selenium daily from the diet. Studies of thyroid patients have shown good results with a daily dosage of 200 micrograms. Two large hospital studies are underway, where scientists are studying selenium’s effect on common thyroid disorders. Evidence suggests that selenium may improve the thyroid function and help prevent and treat different thyroid disorders.
Selenium supports around 30 different selenium-containing enzymes (selenoproteins) that have a host of different functions, including regulation of the thyroid hormones. When buying a selenium supplement, it is best to choose a selenium yeast with a large variety of different selenium species similar to the variety you get from eating a balanced diet with many different selenium sources.
Iodine also has a vital influence on the thyroid function.
|Pregnancy and lactation require several essential nutrients, and it is important that you get enough to cover your needs, not only for the sake of ensuring healthy fetal development but also for the course of the delivery and your own well-being.|
Lactation and skin contact both strengthen the love hormone - oxytocin
Human breast milk contains a unique cocktail of nutrients with everything that the newborn baby needs. A study that was published in The International Journal of Psychiatry in Medicine shows that women who breastfeed their babies have a lower risk of developing postpartum depression. This effect lasts for four months after delivery.
Science has also observed how a mother secretes large quantities of the hormone oxytocin when her baby crawls on its stomach at its own pace in search of her breast. According to Kerstin Uvnäs Moberg, who is a professor of physiology, this direct skin contact right after birth is essential, as it stimulates the mother’s milk production, while relieving stress and helping the mother establish a bond with her baby.
The secretion of oxytocin also helps the mother feel rewarded and increases her well-being, when she is in close contact with her baby. In other words, a mother’s feelings have more to do with hormones than with instinct.
However, oxytocin is a sensitive hormone, and different stress factors may disturb the mother’s oxytocin production or extinguish it after birth. This is the case with synthetic oxytocin (Syntocinon) for stimulating labor contractions, with epidural blocks, and with Caesarean section. If a mother is apart from her baby for an hour or more right after giving birth, it may block her oxytocin production. If the delivery was particularly complicated, or if the mother is unable to breastfeed her child, both mother and child need oxytocin. Fortunately, it is possible to produce normal levels of oxytocin even though there have been birth complications.
Oxytocin is also known as the love hormone. We need it throughout life. The production of oxytocin is stimulated by skin contact and hugs that last longer than 30 seconds.
Exercise can prevent and soothe depressions, as it stimulates the body’s production of different feel-good compounds such as serotonin, phenylethylamine, and endorphins. A meta-analysis of 16 studies that included 1,327 new mothers showed that light to moderate aerobic exercise has the ability to alleviate mild to moderate symptoms that are seen with postpartum depression. In other words, there is no need to engage in excessive training. It is often better just to go for a long walk every day with the baby carriage.
Self-indulgence and relaxation
A new mother does not have much time to herself. It is important, nonetheless, to take some pauses and recharge your batteries by engaging in relaxing activities such as listening to music or perhaps even meditating. It is important to listen to your body’s signals and get as much rest as possible. Leave the laundry and let others help you out with your chores.
Mayo Clinic. Postpartum depression
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