Depression is a dark and scary place, never mind the added stigma that our society places around mental illness. Very few people talk about Postpartum Depression because we assume the new parents are just a little fatigued from their new bundle of joy. Creating awareness and knowing the warning signs of postpartum depression is the first step.
Let's start here... What is Postpartum Depression?
Postpartum Depression (PPD) is a type of depression that affects a mother (sometimes the father) following childbirth. Postpartum depression does not have to occur immediately after birth but can develop during the first few weeks after childbirth and in some cases can arise up to 12 months after childbirth.
A recent study suggests that there is a significant spike in progesterone levels in women with depression compared to those without it. An imbalance of estrogen and progesterone has been associated with symptoms of PPD. Toxins and chemicals found in processed foods can further influence this imbalance.
Extreme fatigue is considered one of the early “red flags” of PPD. The obvious life change with a newborn combined with increased energy requirements and sometimes improper nutrition can all contribute to extreme fatigue after a pregnancy. Nurturing your body properly will, in turn, help you care for your newborn better.
Symptoms of Postpartum Depression
If you have had a baby and have experienced some of these symptoms in the last 12 months you may have PPD.
overwhelmed feelings like you just can not handle being a mother
depressed mood and emptiness
excessive crying for no apparent reason
guilt because you should be handing motherhood better
difficulty bonding with your baby
confused or scared about what is happening
irritated or angry with everything
loss of appetite
you feel disconnected
thoughts of leaving your family
afraid to ask for help
The Canadian Mental Health Association details the difference between natural “baby blues” and PPD. “Baby blues” involves frequent mood swings switching from joyful to depressed, these go away soon after birth. PPD is when the parents experience these mood swings as well as the symptoms listed below for a long period of time. PPD is described as a deep and ongoing depression. Very rare cases will have parents exhibit thoughts of harming their baby, situations like this should warrant a more serious response with a 911 call or immediate medical care.
Nurturing Your Mental Health
Giving birth can be a huge psychological adjustment, this can be one of the reasons that PPD can appear after childbirth. A nurturing Paleo diet can serve up some amazing benefits for brain health and in turn, can help in aiding PPD. The brain serves many connections in the body, one being the direct and indirect connection of the Gut and the Brain. The gut microbiome is the village of bacteria living in our gut. In connection to mental health, the gut microbiome has such an impact on psychology and the regulation of mood. In fact, about 90% of our Serotonin, a neurotransmitter that affects mood and behaviour, can be found in our gut! So, one can say that a happy gut is a happy brain. Problems with the gut microbiome have been linked to depression and other psychiatric conditions like PPD. We can help our gut microbiomes by eating our prebiotic-rich green leafy vegetables (gut bacteria love them!), and anti-inflammatory foods like berries, vegetables, and amazing spices like ginger and turmeric.
Consuming large portions of vegetables has tremendous positive impacts on the detoxification of the body and helps your body excrete excess hormones. Healthy sources of saturated fats can also promote healthy hormone production and balance. Additionally, consuming a whole foods Paleo diet will serve a natural balance between your fat, carbohydrates, and protein. Good sources of protein which will ensure the release of energy in your body is regulated. The abundance of vegetables and whole foods will ensure a great number of important vitamins and minerals like iron, which helps our red blood cell count, vitamin C, which helps our adrenal glands and, magnesium which helps your body convert food into energy! Vitamins and minerals like Omega-3 Fatty Acids, B vitamins, and magnesium are all important for brain health. Magnesium is a personal favourite of mine because it also helps manage stress and fatigue.
Foods to consume:
Wild-caught fish & seafood
Green leafy vegetables
Healthy fats (grass-fed butter, coconut oil, avocado)
Fermented foods (sauerkraut, kimchi, kombucha)
Variety of vegetables
Foods to avoid:
Refined and processed foods. They are typically high in sugar and lead to blood sugar spikes that affect your mood and can lead to feelings of fatigue and exhaustion.
Trans Fats increase the adipose tissue in the body which has been shown to influence hormonal imbalances. Trans fats are absent in live, natural, and whole foods. The majority of Trans Fats are artificial and industrially created making them unnatural. Along with their effect on weight and eventually hormones, they also place risk on your cardiovascular system.
Soy Products. Soy has been shown to mimic estrogen, an important hormone in the female body and one that is most prominent during and after pregnancy (along with progesterone). The phytoestrogens in soy can have an effect on estrogen levels. Estrogen dominance can express feelings of depression and mood swings in women which can go hand in hand with PPD. Hormones are tricky because progesterone dominance can exhibit the exact same symptoms.
PPD is a very serious condition and with the understanding that we are all biologically individuals with different hormone levels and body reactions, I suggest you speak with a professional in considering your own recovery.
Local Calgary Resources
Jen Reddish offers both individual and group counselling. She focuses on perinatal, postpartum and motherhood.
A great organization that offers so many different resources that can accommodate all schedules. Some include Telephone support through speaking with someone who has gone through PPD, In-Home Support through a staff member visiting your home for support, and a Baby Drop-In, where you can join other families and their newborn as you discuss and support each other with this journey. They also offer Anxiety/Breathing classes!
This link will list several Parent Link Centres according to where you live in Alberta. You can use this resource to link up with parents going through similar situations you're going through as well as professionals to support you.
The Foothills hospital in Northwest Calgary offers a Women's Mental Health clinic for women with mental health concerns up to one year after birth. There is a 24-hour emergency department as well.
Aizawa, E., et al. Possible association of Bifidobacterium and Lactobacillus in the gut microbiota of patients with major depressive disorder. J Affect Disord. 2016; 202:254-7.
Bercik, P., Collins, S.M. and Verdu, E.F. Microbes and the gut-brain axis. Neurogastroenterol Motil. 2012; 24(5):405-13.
Canadian Mental Health - http://www.cmha.ca/mental_health/postpartum-depression/#.WYFhLlTF2hA
Chaput, K. H., et al. Breastfeeding difficulties and supports and risk of postpartum depression in a cohort of women who have give birth in Calgary: a prospective cohort study. CMAJ Open. 2016; 4(1): E103-E109.
Rai, S., Pathak, A. and Sharma, I. Postpartum psychiatric disorders: early diagnosis and management. Indian J. Psychiatry. 2015; 57(2): S216-S221.
Soares, C.N. and Zitek, B. Reproductive hormone sensitivity and risk for depression across the female life cycle: a continuum of vulnerability? J. Psychiatry Neurosci. 2008; 33(4): 331-343.
The symptoms of postpartum depression. - http://www.postpartumprogress.com/the-symptoms-of-postpartum-depression-anxiety-in-plain-mama-english
Your Brain on Paleo - https://paleoleap.com/brain-on-paleo/
WHO. Improving maternal mental health. - http://www.who.int/mental_health/prevention/suicide/Perinatal_depression_mmh_final.pdf