Health & Wellness

Coping with Postpartum Depression (+ 10 Natural Remedies for Postpartum Depression) 

For most new mothers, it can come as quite a shock to realize they’re coping with postpartum depression. After all, they’ve spent months—possibly years—dreaming of kissing little feet and chubby cheeks as well as cuddling their newborns as they sleep peacefully. But life with a newborn comes with its own set of surprises and demands. And as your body readjusts post-birth, you may find that the hormonal shifts could leave you feeling sad, overwhelmed, and lonely during what’s supposed to be one of the happiest times of your life.

If this at all sounds familiar, you or a loved one may be coping with postpartum depression. But try not to worry—you aren’t alone. It’s more common than you may realize, and there are many solutions and natural remedies for postpartum depression. You just have to know where to start—and the first item of business is to let go of your expectations, trust your instincts, and ask for help.

So, I want to share my experience and also discuss what postpartum depression is, how it differs from other postpartum conditions, and what you can do about it.

 

My Postpartum Experience

I will never forget how I felt right after I delivered my first son. He looked up at me with this glimmer in his eyes and I fell in love. I wanted nothing more than to nurture and love him. Everything else in my life was truly insignificant. I had these amazing ideals and visions that I would be the most amazing mom and intuitively know exactly what to do. But I didn’t. And things definitely didn’t go as I imagined.

Coping with postpartum depression - Dr. Pingel

Being a naturopathic doctor, I was convinced that would be able to nourish my baby with my breastmilk, and there was no other option for me. But then I found myself angry whenever he latched to my breast. I would cry in pain and feel resentful. When he would unlatch, my loving mood would return and I would gaze lovingly into his eyes—until the next feeding.

After a few days of being told that this would pass and that I would “get used to it,” I started to doubt myself as a mother. I found myself feeling inadequate, like I wasn’t a proper mother. Why couldn’t I nourish my baby? Something so natural as breastfeeding was not working! What was wrong with me? Would I harm his development? Would he be sick all of the time without breastmilk? Would we lack a strong connection? It began a downward spiral of self-doubt and complete hopelessness—and it strongly impacted my connection with my baby.

It took a ton of strength for me to admit that everything does not always go as planned and that it was okay to change directions to save my relationship with my child. (And this “go-with-the-flow” attitude has been a lifesaver for me moving forward.) I learned that you cannot plan when it comes to parenting, and that nobody is the perfect parent. We just learn as we go.

In hindsight, he has grown up to be an amazing, smart, friendly, happy, and well-adjusted young man. And, in case you’re wondering, I wouldn’t change feeding him formula for the world. We have an incredibly close relationship, and I attribute that to the struggles we had to face together from infancy. He learned with me, and we are better for it.

 

What Is Postpartum Depression?

Giving birth and caring for a new baby are major life changes. Not surprisingly, childbirth and parenting require a lot of emotional, mental, and physical energy. You have read every book and imagined every scenario, but now you are faced with the reality that you have no idea how this will really go.

Compounding this are the many hormonal shifts that are happening in a woman’s body as she adjusts to the postpartum (the time after childbirth) period. These shifts can sometimes contribute to a condition known as postpartum depression (PPD). Prevalence of postpartum depression is about 1 in 7 women. [1] Read that again: 1 in 7 women; that’s a significant number.

Postpartum depression is defined as a mood disorder that can affect women after childbirth. There is no one specific cause.

A combination of physical and emotional factors, including hormonal changes and being sleep-deprived, among others, can cause a woman to develop PPD symptoms, which, amongst other things, can include severe anxiety, overwhelming feelings of sadness, and exhaustion. [2]

As with any syndrome, each woman who experiences this condition will likely experience a variety of symptoms of different severities. I experienced anger and disconnect. Others may experience sadness and neediness. There are no concrete “criteria” for what to expect after childbirth. As a result, many cases go without treatment.

Many women coping with postpartum depression find it challenging to manage the daily tasks involved with caring for their baby and for themselves. Others may only have symptoms at certain times of the day, such as during feedings or at bedtime.

The timeline for symptoms of PPD is also highly variable and usually appear within the first month to up to a year after the baby is born and last longer than two weeks.

The diagnostic criteria for postpartum depression was adjusted to include the term “peripartum” with the release of the new DSM-5 (diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders) in 2013.

This diagnostic change acknowledges that in some women postpartum depression can actually begin before the baby is born. [3]

Can Men Get Postpartum Depression?

From time to time patients have asked me if it’s possible for men to experience postpartum depression. Parenting is not easy, folks, so of course men can be impacted as well.

The answer is, yes, dads and partners can also have postpartum depression, or “paternal postpartum depression.” Research presented in 2008 showed that about 1 in 10 new dads could be diagnosed with moderate to severe PPD. [4]

Studies show that a man’s hormones may also shift during this time. For example, his testosterone levels may decrease. A new dad or partner can also experience many physical and emotional changes that can lead to PPD.

For many new dads, watching their loved one experience depression strongly impacts their mood—not to mention they also have to pick up more of the slack during these times, resulting in even further fatigue. They feel hopeless for the mother and unsure of how to help her. This can easily result in “dad depression” as well.

For men, coping with postpartum depression is influenced by sleep deprivation, anxiety about caring for the newborn as well as supporting the mother, and the general feelings of overwhelm mentioned above. [5]

In addition, if the dad or partner has poor mental health or a history of depression, they may be predisposed to develop PPD.

“Baby Blues” vs. Postpartum Depression

Feeling the “baby blues” is much more common than postpartum depression—about 80 percent of women have the baby blues after giving birth. [6] But what’s the difference between the baby blues vs. postpartum depression?

The baby bluesusually occur within about two to three days after giving birth and last for less than 10 days. Symptoms are similar to those of PPD and they are milder, but they are no less troubling to a new parent. While coping with postpartum depression may be more difficult, experiencing the baby blues isn’t easy either.

Women who have the baby blues may:

  • Feel sad or overwhelmed
  • Experience mood swings and crying spells
  • Feel anxious
  • Lose their appetite
  • Have difficulty sleeping

Postpartum Psychosis

I also want to make note of a rare but severe form of postpartum depression called postpartum psychosisthat can occur in some women.

It’s estimated that about 1 to 2 in 2000 childbearing women experience postpartum psychosis. Signs and symptoms of postpartum psychosis usually appear within about two to three days after childbirth. [7]

Postpartum psychosis is a medical emergency because the mother may be a danger to herself or her baby.

A woman with postpartum psychosis may have extremely erratic mood swings, hallucinations, bizarre delusions, and confusion. These symptoms usually emerge within about two to four weeks after delivery.

Symptoms of Postpartum Depression

Here is a list of some of the common symptoms of postpartum depression. Coping with postpartum depression is difficult, but you can get help. If you or your partner exhibit any of these symptoms, you may find it helpful to reach out to your healthcare provider for a postpartum depression screening. [8]

  • Loss of interest in activities you once enjoyed
  • Appetite changes
  • Anxiety
  • Self-deprecating thoughts
  • Mood swings
  • Frightening thoughts
  • Sadness and uncontrollable crying
  • Sleep disturbance
  • Brain fog
  • Fearing not being a good mother
  • Not wanting to be alone with the baby
  • Lack of intimate connection with baby or loved ones
  • Loss of self-worth

Risk Factors for Postpartum Depression

There is such a variability in who experiences this condition that it makes it difficult to pinpoint someone’s risk. No one can predict how you will react to the normal fluctuation of hormones after childbirth. No one that can tell you your baby’s personality before you experience it. And no one who can tell you what the right choices are for your baby—except you.

You may have none of the official risk factors below and still feel completely overwhelmed during pregnancy and childbirth—and that is okay. Take it one day at a time, find what works for you, and ask for help.

That said, there are certain risk factors for postpartum depression that may increase the chances of developing PPD. Below are six of the most common PPD risk factors.

  • History of depression or major depressive disorder (MDD)
  • Personal or family history of bipolar disorder
  • Gestational diabetes
  • Stress
  • Lack of family and social support
  • Alcoholism or drug abuse

 

Coping with Postpartum Depression: 10 Natural Remedies for Postpartum Depression Symptoms

While it’s important to see your doctor if you have symptoms of postpartum depression, there are also some other steps you can take to help alleviate your symptoms.

You may want to try some of the suggestions on this list of natural remedies for postpartum depression. [9, 10]

1. Adjust expectations

Coping with postpartum depression - Dr. Pingel

First and foremost, take a deep breath and go easy on yourself. Coping with postpartum depression is heartbreaking and difficult, but it’s not impossible. Let go of the expectations of parenting that you have studied since conception. Nobody has the same experience. This is your experience and your baby—things will happen in your time.

Find one thing that gives you joy about your baby—whether it’s watching them sleep, laughing with them, or simply viewing them from afar—and allow that connection to build while you work on what you need to do to get you through this time. It will get better over time if you find the inner strength to admit vulnerability and ask for help.

2. Acupuncture

While there are no conclusive studies that show acupuncture will specifically help PPD, it’s harmless and it can promote relaxation and help with symptoms such as anxiety.

3. Massage

While more research is needed, studies have shown that massage can help to alleviate symptoms of PPD. It also gives you time to relax, feel the stagnant parts of your body, and let go of tension.

4. Exercise

Research has proven that exercise can help to lift mild-to-moderate depression. Try getting outside for a walk each day, ideally with a friend or partner (see “Social support” below). Simply getting outside alone can be a valuable mood lifter, and the exercise is a fantastic bonus!

5. Yoga

Exercise in general can improve PPD symptoms. Yoga is a gentle form of exercise that also helps with stress relief. One study on mothers with PPD showed a significant improvement in symptoms after they did yoga twice a week for eight weeks.

6. Breathing exercises

Breathwork is an easy, natural way of coping with postpartum depression. Plus, it’s a great way to relax and manage feelings of stress.

7. Meditation

Meditating ties in well with yoga and breathing exercises. Like these modalities, meditation helps you to calm your nervous system and be in the moment. Studies have shown that meditation may also help depression.

8. Light therapy

Light therapy has been shown to be helpful in treating depression, but studies have not necessarily shown that it specifically helps PPD. That said, getting enough vitamin D is important to your general health and wellbeing. Try getting outside in the sunshine for at least 15 to 20 minutes a day or invest in a UV sunlamp to get more healthy light exposure.

9. Omega-3 fatty acids

Eating a healthy, balanced diet that includes sources of omega-3 fatty acids, such as wild-caught salmon, avocados, and almonds, can help to improve your overall health. Studies have shown that omega-3 fatty acids can help PPD—even when used in combination with antidepressants.

10. Social support

Spending time with friends, either in person or chatting on the phone, joining support groupsfor new parents, asking for help from family members, or finding other sources of social support can be an important foundation in coping with postpartum depression. Remember, 1 in 7 women have experienced this, so you are absolutely not alone.

If you have severe postpartum depression, your doctor may also suggest antidepressants or hormone therapy. [11]

You may also want to see a counselor who specializes in a form of “talk therapy” known as cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) to get support in coping with postpartum depression.

 

Key Takeaways

  • Postpartum depression (PPD) is a mood disorder that can affect women after childbirth.
  • PPD symptoms are more severe than the baby blues.
  • Coping with postpartum depression can be challenging. It’s important to see your healthcare provider if you experience PPD symptoms.
  • There are several natural remedies for postpartum depression that can help you manage PPD symptoms, including massage, yoga, aromatherapy, and more.

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