Having a new baby at home can be a wonderful, life-enhancing event— adorable little clothes, sweet baby smell, a profound feeling of connection. But during the six weeks of the “official” postpartum period, being a new mom can take a lot out of you as well. Sometimes that can mean that rather than just being tired, a new mom may be experiencing postpartum depression. This can last anywhere from four weeks after giving birth to up to 30 weeks after the little one has arrived.
Postpartum depression can look like anxiety, fatigue, insomnia, crying spells, poor concentration, or mood swings. Just as during pregnancy, it’s very important to continue to eat well and take good care of yourself during this time. Whether or not you choose to breast-feed, your body still needs good nutrition and activity to counteract postpartum mood swings.
If you’re experiencing postpartum depression, know that you’re not alone: 70-80% of women report feeling some sort of gloominess after the birth of their child(ren). Fortunately, we have some easy-to-implement solutions for you to try out. It’s important to also work with your doctor, midwife, or doula to see if other methods of treatment might be in order as well.
When Your Diet May Not Be Good Enough
When you were pregnant, it’s a pretty safe bet that you paid close attention to your nutritional needs and those of your baby. Well done! Postpartum, it’s just as important to keep eating well. Take a close look at your diet and really assess what’s going on. I know you’re tired, but it’s crucial that you still take good care of yourself. You not resting or being well-fed will translate to you quickly becoming exhausted, which can directly impact care of your kiddo.
If you’re a breast-feeding mom, paying close attention to your nutritional needs is paramount. Most postpartum women are deficient in calcium and zinc. The average mom who nurses is on track to lose around 20% of her lean tissue to cover what nursing eats up if she’s only eating the basic recommended daily allowance for protein. Other nutrient areas that dip are vitamins D & E, B6, iron, magnesium, and thiamine.
Bump up your diet with high-quality, grass fed, organic meats, nuts, fruits, and veggies. The nursing mom’s ability to metabolize and convert food to fuel is running high. This isn’t the time to let go of your good eating habits that were perfected during pregnancy.
It’s also not a good time to try and drop weight or cut out food groups to do so. If you’re concerned about excess carb consumption, cut out grains and add lots of nutrient-rich veggies and some low-sugar fruits. Protein will help with feelings of satiety and stabilize your blood sugar, preventing crashes from inadequate nutrition.
Two Keys to Postpartum Perfection: Omega-3s and an Active Lifestyle
The University of Kansas Medical Center is conducting studies that show that a diet low in omega-3 fatty acids is linked to postpartum depression. Omega-3 fatty acids help with levels of DHA (docosahexaenoic acid) in your body’s tissues and is vital for brain health. Women who have low levels of DHA are at risk for postpartum or perinatal depression.
Adding in or continuing to eat wild salmon, walnuts, egg yolks, chia seeds, and flaxseed will help boost omega-3 levels. Green smoothies or omelets are quick, easy, and delicious meals. Salmon can be eaten for lunch or dinner on a bed of spinach or with a side of broccoli.
If cooking or meal planning feels like too much to add to your plate right now, consider reaching out to your support system to help. Groups of friends can be called upon to arrange meal prep and delivery and usually are more than happy to help out. Add to that an opportunity to hold your cute baby and the offers will likely come pouring in!
In addition to keeping up with good eating habits, exercise and other forms of body care are crucial for keeping postpartum depression at bay. We all know that exercise boosts serotonin. The best way to capture this feel-good hormone’s benefits is through daily exercise (that’s why an energetic walk boosts your mood).
A 2008 study showed that women who exercised one hour per week at the hospital and then twice at home for a period of three months after giving birth were less inclined to show signs of depression when compared with the control group.
Other forms of self-care include massage and acupuncture. Acupuncture in particular is very effective as an alternative treatment to other postpartum depression solutions like anti-depressants or hormone therapy.
Acupuncture derives from traditional Chinese medicine practices wherein a trained acupuncturist activates points on the body via the use of tiny, thin needles. But don’t worry— acupuncture doesn’t really hurt and holds substantial benefits, including digestive relief, pain relief, and lessening of depression.
This time in your and your baby’s lives is wonderful and exhausting, so treat yourself as gently as you would a friend you love. Some days it can be difficult to get going in the morning, much less have a shower or cook a meal for yourself. That’s okay. Everything you’re doing is for the baby’s benefit, and you taking good care of yourself will only help that.
If you notice any signs of postpartum depression, like inability to sleep, fatigue, periods of crying, lack of focus, erratic moods, or anxiety, it’s imperative to get support. Know that you’re not alone— as many as 15% of other moms are going through the same thing. Help for postpartum depression is available and readily accessible. Speak to your midwife, doula, naturopath, doctor, or therapist and seek out the aid of those who can help with immediate solutions.
Consider joining a group of other new moms as a means to find encouragement, and talk to your friends or partner about what you’re experiencing. Just like the instructions for the use of oxygen masks on an airplane, you can’t help others if you don’t help yourself first.
So make self-care a high priority. Doing so will only help enhance your postpartum experience, and by causality, that of your baby as well.