Giving birth is a joyful and exciting experience for most mothers. After months of waiting and anticipating, there’s nothing more fulfilling than finally holding your newborn in your arms. But unfortunately, not all moms feel like this. In fact, some generally feel overwhelmed and become prone to the “baby blues” — an emotional reaction wherein the mother feels anxious, weepy, irritable, moody and unable to sleep.1
Usually, baby blues go away after two week or less. But in some mothers, these emotions do not go away and intensify instead. They often become more severe and long-lasting, resulting in extreme sadness, difficulty bonding with their baby and even having thoughts of death and suicide. When this happens, this is no longer a simple case of baby blues — it’s already postpartum depression.
What Is Postpartum Depression and What Causes It?
As its name implies, postpartum depression (also called postnatal depression) is a mood disorder that can affect a mother after giving birth.2 It's a common problem that’s believed to affect more than 1 in every 10 women within the first year after childbirth. Postpartum depression may also affect fathers and partners, but this is rare.3
Experts haven’t determined one single cause for postpartum depression; however, it’s speculated to come from a combination of emotional and physical factors. One possible cause is the fluctuating hormones due to pregnancy. After a woman gives birth, the levels of hormones (estrogen and progesterone in particular) in her body drop quickly. As a result, chemical changes occur in her brain, triggering mood swings.
Another cause is the lack of time to fully recover from childbirth. Mothers are often sleep deprived as they try to accommodate their newborn’s needs, leading to exhaustion and physical discomfort, which then contribute to postnatal depression symptoms.4 Mothers who suffer from postpartum depression usually exhibit different behaviors. The American Psychological Association has a comprehensive list of symptoms,5 such as:
Feeling overwhelmed and/or guilty
Not bonding with the baby
Being irritated, angry or moody
Extreme sadness and hopelessness
Lack of appetite
Inability to sleep and concentrate
Feeling as if you’re not a good mother
Although rare, some mothers develop more severe symptoms when dealing with depression. They lose interest in their newborn child, and may think about (or even attempt) hurting themselves and/or their baby. Some develop hallucinations and may even have suicidal thoughts.6
How Long Does Postpartum Depression Last?
Aside from being more severe than baby blues in terms of symptoms, postpartum depression actually lasts longer. It can begin any time after childbirth, from a few days or weeks after the baby is born up to six months after delivery. If left untreated, this disorder can last for many months or even longer, interfering with the mother’s ability to care for the child or do other chores and tasks.7
Try These Natural Postpartum Depression Remedies
While many conventional health care practitioners will immediately recommend antidepressants as your primary postpartum depression treatment method, remember that these drugs may do more harm than good. Some antidepressants are also ill-advised especially if you’re breastfeeding.8 Instead, try these natural methods to get rid of this disorder:
• Increase your omega-3 intake. A study has shown that insufficient dietary intake of omega-3s may increase a woman’s risk of postpartum depression.9 You can get omega-3s from foods like wild Alaskan salmon, small fish like sardines and anchovies, and flax seeds and chia seeds. Supplementing with high-quality krill oil is also recommended.
• Get vitamin B2. It may decrease your risk of this type of depression if consumed in moderation.10
• Herbs and supplements. These may help treat depression in general (and postpartum depression in particular); however, you may need to consult with your physician on whether these are safe to take, especially if you’re breastfeeding. For example, St. John’s wort has mixed evidence regarding its safety when taken while breastfeeding.
Additionally, make sure to evaluate your lifestyle and determine how you can limit or reduce your stress, so you will be able to better recover from this disorder. Here are a few tips to remember:11
Connect with your partner, friends and family. Let them know that you need their guidance and support. Don’t hesitate to ask for help, especially for caring for your baby, if you truly need it.
Accept help from others. Consider if you need to hire extra help to do tasks like cooking, housework and shopping, so you can spend more time bonding with your baby.
Make time for yourself. Allot time for relaxing and enjoyable activities. Meditate, go for a walk, take a warm bath, listen to music or read a book.
Rest whenever you can. Sleep if you get the chance. Take “shifts” with your partner, so you can get enough shuteye.
Exercise regularly. It helps boost people’s mood.
Nourish yourself with regular, healthy meals made from wholesome organic foods. Avoid processed foods and don't go for long periods without having a snack.
Avoid substances like alcohol or recreational drugs, which can only make you feel worse.