Hugga Bear Cookies
- Bath and
Welcoming a new baby into the world can be one of the most joyous events anyone can ever experience — so then why do so many new moms experience feelings of sadness after baby arrives?
Between the sleep deprivation and hormonal, physical, and lifestyle changes; the postpartum period can feel like an emotional and physical rollercoaster. It should be no surprise then, that an estimated 80 percent of new moms can experience some degree of sadness — often referred to as the “baby blues” — in the days and weeks following the birth.
After baby arrives, women may experience fatigue, sadness, anxiety and worry. If these emotions are not totally overwhelming or debilitating and eventually go away on their own within a few weeks, they are considered the “baby blues.” In the case of postpartum depression, however, the sadness and anxiety are more severe and come on right after the birth or even weeks or months afterward.
It is estimated that 13 percent of new moms experience clinical depression post-partum. Women struggling with any feelings of sadness, anxiety or hopelessness should get the support they need. They should seek out professional help to determine if they may be experiencing postpartum depression.
I experienced some “baby blues” myself after my first pregnancy. Becoming a new mom was one of the happiest times of my life, so my feelings confused me. I was kind of in denial and even ashamed to feel sad when I should have been happy! I had heard about the “baby blues,” but that kind of thing wouldn’t happen to me, would it?
Looking back, I can see some of the contributing factors. The birth was long and complicated. I developed an infection during labor, and after over 24 hours, it ended in a C-section. Not only was that experience a letdown, but it also made my recovery more difficult. I was unable to breastfeed, and I felt guilty and sad for it. I was home alone with the baby for hours each day when I had been used to being in an office full of people. I was sleep deprived like most new parents, and my diet during my pregnancy had not been stellar.
Fortunately, my baby blues were not debilitating and did gradually improve in a few weeks. But I wish I had known how common the “baby blues” are and had some of these tips to possibly prevent or naturally heal even sooner.
When I was pregnant with my firstborn, eating for two meant regular trips to Dairy Queen. Sugary foods and drinks are nutrient deficient and are mostly empty calories. They can lead to excessive weight gain and also affect mental health. While sugar may make you happy momentarily, those feelings are followed by a blood sugar crash, which can cause fatigue and a low mood. According to a 2016 study published in the journal Scientific Reports, “Intake of sweet food, beverages and added sugars has been linked with depressive symptoms in several populations.” Often, we just reach for more sweets to get that boost again. I call that cycle the “sugar rollercoaster.” The longer you are on that rollercoaster, the worse it is for your mood, brain and metabolism. To avoid the crash, I use the “Rule of Three,” which is to have at least one of the following blood sugar stabilizing macronutrients each time you eat — healthy fat, fiber or protein.
Research shows that depression, once thought of only as an issue with neurotransmitters in the brain, is linked to chronic inflammation. Inflammation is the body’s natural response to an insult (such as an infection, virus or injury) and is an important part of the body’s immune response and healing process. It is when inflammation becomes chronic or systemic that it can lead to health issues in both mom and baby. Factors associated with chronic inflammation include a poor diet, viruses or infections, stress, environmental toxins, and behaviors like smoking. Eating a healthy diet rich in whole foods like fruit and vegetables and limiting amounts of processed and sugary foods will help to keep inflammation in check. Finding ways to reduce stress can also help lower inflammation.
When your doctor gives you the go-ahead to exercise, do it! Exercise is definitely not just about fitting back into your jeans. According to Harvard Health, it’s an all-natural way to fight depression. “For some people it works as well as antidepressants, although exercise alone isn’t enough for someone with severe depression,” says Dr. Michael Craig Miller, assistant professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School. No need to take up powerlifting or train for an Ironman — just getting out for a short daily stroll can be powerfully beneficial to mood. There are even exercise programs that are designed just for moms (where you can bring baby along!), like Fit4Mom.
Staying home every day with a newborn can feel lonely and isolating to some new moms, especially those who were working in a bustling office environment before baby’s arrival. Find opportunities to form connection and foster community with other people. Join a mommy fitness group. Reach out to family, friends and neighbors. Utilize online resources, such as Facebook groups for new moms.
From losing the baby weight, to doing everything “just right,” the amount of pressure put on new moms can be immense. No one tells you it takes time to get comfortable with all of the parenting skills, like swaddling, diapering and feeding. To make matters worse, we are inundated with stories of celebrity moms who seem to bounce back to their pre-pregnancy bodies within weeks. What these articles fail to mention is that these stars probably leaned on the support of a night nurse, trainer and healthy chef. So be gentle with yourself, take your time and enjoy being a new parent without all of the unnecessary pressure. You will be swaddling and diapering like an expert in no time. When you are given the go-ahead to exercise, you will eventually be able to pack away the maternity pants, too.
Newborn babies generally wake up several times in the night, so most new parents experience some degree of sleep deprivation. According to a 2009 study published in the journal Sleep, “poor sleep may increase the risk of depression in some women.” Since a full night’s sleep is unlikely, grabbing a nap when your baby takes one can be a good strategy to get some much-needed Zs. Turn on that baby monitor so you’ll wake up if baby needs you, and relish the quiet time.
Having a baby bump is kind of like wearing a sign on your head that says, “Give me your parenting advice.” Many new parents find that the minute they announce their pregnancy, the floodgates of advice open up. When I was a new parent, I asked for a lot of advice. My hubby and I found that most of it generally improved our experiences as parents. But parents often will get unsolicited, unwanted and unwarranted advice. My advice (see, it doesn’t stop) is to take the advice with a grain of salt, and find your own style! Some of it you may find useful, and other advice you can toss out the window. Just because your friend used the “cry it out” method to get their baby to sleep through the night doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s right for your family.
During pregnancy and breast-feeding, everything that baby needs is supplied from mother. So if mom has nutrient deficiencies, she can become even more deficient during and after her pregnancy. Family practitioner Dr. Oscar Serrallach refers to this syndrome as “postnatal depletion.” He explains that nearly 7 grams of fat pass across the placenta to the growing baby each day at the end of the pregnancy term. Also tapped into are the mom’s “iron, zinc, vitamin B12, vitamin B9, iodine, and selenium stores — along with omega-3 fats like DHA and specific amino acids from proteins.” Dr. Serrallach says that a mom’s brain shrinks an average of 5 percent in the prenatal period, giving credence to the old adage of having “pregnancy brain.” If these nutrient deficiencies are not corrected, they can last for years, even decades, he cautions. Some common nutrient deficiencies that can contribute to depression are:
A qualified healthcare professional can help you determine the right forms and amounts of nutrients for your specific needs.
Because depression can be an indication of a latent physiological imbalance, medical tests may help to identify an underlying cause. In addition to the above nutrient-deficiency tests, your doctor may want to check your C-reactive protein (CRP) levels. CRP is a biomarker of inflammation. According to the Mayo Clinic, the high-sensitivity CRP (hs-CRP) test is more precise than standard CRP when identifying chronic inflammation. Levels under 2.0 mg/L indicate low levels of inflammation, which are associated with reduced risk for heart disease. According to a study in the New England Journal of Medicine, elevated levels of CRP were found to be a stronger predictor of cardiovascular events than elevated low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol levels.
Thyroid issues could also be to blame. According to Dr. Jolene Brighten, postpartum thyroiditis is estimated to affect 1 in 12 new moms. Consider having your thyroid thoroughly tested, which means testing not just the thyroid stimulating hormone (TSH) numbers but also looking for autoimmune antibodies. Learn more in this article. Talk to your doctor about your symptoms, as there may be some tests that they recommend to rule out other conditions.
Know that experiencing the baby blues or postpartum depression is not anyone’s fault or something to be ashamed about. For the safety of you and your baby, seek professional help if you are feeling anxiety, grief or sadness. Postpartum depression can be very serious. In rare cases (1 in 2,000 births), women can develop postpartum psychosis, which is a severe form of depression that can be very dangerous for mom and baby.
During my second pregnancy, I ate a better diet and stayed more active — running around after a toddler will do that! I had developed a wonderful community of moms who were going through the same things I was. I put less pressure on myself to have the “perfect” birth or be the “perfect mom.” In the end, I felt better and enjoyed the postpartum period more the second time around. I hope this article helps you enjoy your postpartum period to the fullest, too!
About the Author: A nutritionist and the author of The Perfect Metabolism Plan, Sara Vance is a passionate advocate for natural approaches to health. She regularly offers cooking and group classes and has developed a series of online courses to empower people to use foods to balance their metabolism and overall health. As a mom and a specialist in childhood nutrition, Sara loves working with kids, speaking frequently at school assemblies and leading children’s workshops. Sara is a frequent guest on the Fox 5 San Diego show, CBS Los Angeles, KUSI and CW 6. She has contributed to Delicious Living, Mind Body Green and Refinery29. Sara has also filmed videos for eHow and created a Kids Yoga series for GaiamTV.
The content provided in this article is intended for informational purposes only. It is not recommended as a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment for specific medical conditions. You should not use this information to diagnose or treat a health problem without consulting a qualified healthcare professional. Always seek the advice of a qualified healthcare professional regarding any medical questions or concerns. See additional information.