Giving birth is one of the most beautiful processes of life and evolution, yet for some new mothers there is a catch. Feelings of sadness or anger after childbirth create a true struggle in the lives of many women, and may occur within 2 days of birth as pregnancy hormones suddenly drop and the new mother comes to the realization that there is now a new baby in need of constant attention. Following delivery, approximately 80% of first time mothers experience a decrease in mood sometimes referred to as the "postpartum blues," while 13% of new mothers experience a major depressive episode within a few weeks after childbirth known as postpartum depression (Wisner et al., 2002). For some women the understanding that hormones and fatigue are the driving factors in this process is important, but many mothers feel guilty about having these symptoms, thinking they are not good mothers or not "cut out" for motherhood. If you are a new mother, remember you are not alone as hundreds of thousands of women in the United States each year experience postpartum depression. Women with a previous history of depression are at a particularly high risk for depression (Wisner et al., 2002). Additional risk factors include conflict with the baby's father, stressful life events and child care stresses. As more women seek drug-free treatment for pregnancy related conditions, the ancient Chinese healing art of acupuncture can support, nurture and ease the transition into motherhood while supporting the overall lifestyle of the new mother.
Postpartum is one of the most critical times for a woman to receive regular preventative care from a Chinese medical practitioner. Acupuncturists can often offset years of "suboptimal" lifestyle and stress in the first few weeks postpartum, as well as intercept abnormalities in lochial flow to rectify years of menstrual irregularities and prevent them from occurring. Acupuncture works on the normal recuperative cycle of a woman to counteract the effects of postpartum depression. In addition to restoring a mother's energy levels after the stress of birth and alleviating depression and anxiety, acupuncturecan be used postpartum to relieve backache, perineal or other kinds of pain.
It is important to lay out some solutions for new mothers to consider as we move into this phase of life that can greatly improve symptoms related to postpartum.
Once a baby is born it is common for the new mother to focus so much on the health of the newborn that she forgets how important it is to nourish herself. Remember, the nutrients the mother gets are translated to the baby through breast milk. Therefore it is extremely important for the mother to eat a diet rich in fruits and vegetables and low in sugar and caffeine. Some babies will not like the taste of breast milk or may have
changes in their digestion after the mother eats certain foods which are important to be aware of. Even if a new mother is not breast feeding, her diet can greatly reduce mood swings as the physical body is strong and full of nutrients.
Who has time to exercise? We hear this so frequently in our clinic, but exercise for a new mother can be as simple as taking a daily walk with your newborn in a stroller. Fresh air and movement are unparalleled in their ability to regulate mood. Other ways of exercising with a newborn are home exercises such as yoga poses, push ups and stomach crunches. These can be done throughout the day in 30 second intervals which will keep a new mother from having to carve out time to do them. Holding a pose, 20 push ups or 25 stomach crunches 15 times in a day is a total of 7 minutes and 30 seconds of exercise which can have incredible benefits to postpartum depression.
Taking supplements or herbal therapies is an all natural way to gently support mood and calm the mind. While some herbal therapies will affect the taste of a woman's breast milk, an experienced herbalist should be able to create a formula which will benefit both the mother and the baby. Important supplements to consider include:
- Multivitamin: a good quality vitamin is essential
- B-Complex: B vitamins are essential for boosting mood, but they are assimilated by the body as a complex, so taking one specific B vitamin is not very effective.
- Flax Seed Oil: most babies dislike the taste of their mother's breast milk if they are taking fish oil pills so substituting flax or borage oil can be a simple solution.
- 5-HTP: commonly used supplement for depression that is converted to serotonin with the help of B vitamins
These therapies are extremely supportive and nurturing to a new mother's overall lifestyle. It is very important for new parents to make time for supportive lifestyle activities that can bridge the gap through difficult periods. Acupuncture balances out Heart and Liver deficiencies which become prevalent after childbirth along with balancing the constitutional pattern of the individual mother.
Rest/Time with your partner
New mothers need sleep for physical and mental recovery. This is easier said than done with a newborn that needs to feed every 2 hours, but consider your support group and don't be afraid to leave your baby for periods of time. Family members, doulas and friends may be able to help offering a new mother time with her partner, times to nap uninterrupted or time to rejuvenate for a few hours.