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.
Is it the “baby blues” or something more serious?
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.
10 Steps to Prevent the “Baby Blues”
1. Stabilize blood sugar.
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.
2. Reduce inflammation.
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.
3. Incorporate gentle exercise.
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.
4. Seek connection.
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.
5. Be patient with yourself and enjoy parenthood!
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.
7. Embrace your own parenting style.
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.
8. Replenish nutrients.
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:
According to Dr. Soram Khalsa in the book The Vitamin D Revolution: How the Power of This Amazing Vitamin Can Change Your Life, “up to 50 percent of pregnant women are deficient in vitamin D.” Low levels of vitamin D can contribute to a host of health issues, including depression. Researchers have found that “effective detection and treatment of inadequate vitamin D levels in persons with depression and other mental disorders may be an easy and cost-effective therapy which could improve patients’ long-term health outcomes as well as their quality of life.” Low levels of vitamin D may also contribute to reduced immunity, chronic aches and pains, increased risk for fractures and — perhaps even most concerning — may even raise the risk of breast cancer. A new mom can pass on her vitamin D deficiency to her newborn, which can increase baby’s risk of developing jaundice, respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) and other respiratory infections. We can obtain vitamin D in moderate amounts from the sun, which is why it is often called “the sunshine vitamin.” To determine whether to supplement and by how much, moms can have their doctor check their vitamin D level using the 25-hydroxy vitamin D test. Not all experts agree on the optimal blood level for vitamin D, but a general consensus is that anything under 20 ng/dL is considered deficient. And many experts say an ideal level is between 40-60 ng/dL.
B12 is very important for mood and energy levels. Low levels of B12 have been associated with fatigue and feelings of depression. Antacids, low protein diets, digestive issues and medications like Metformin can reduce B12 levels.
Low levels of magnesium, which is often called the “calming mineral,” can lead to anxiety and mood instability. According a 2006 case study published in the journal Medical Hypotheses, a 35-year-old mother-of-three with a history of postpartum depression took 200 milligrams of magnesium glycinate with each meal during her pregnancy. She did not develop any complications and did not have depression with her fourth child, who was healthy and of full weight.
A qualified healthcare professional can help you determine the right forms and amounts of nutrients for your specific needs.
9. Test, don’t guess.
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.
10. Seek help.
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!
- Healing Your Body Naturally After Childbirth: The New Mom’s Guide to Navigating the Fourth Trimester by Dr. Jolene Brighten. A naturopathic doctor and mother provides answers and solutions to common postpartum conditions, including breastfeeding support and natural solutions to enhance milk supply, natural approaches to elevating mood and easing anxiety, urinary incontinence, pelvic pain, digestive support, and many other conditions that can arise from childbirth.
- A Mind of Your Own: The Truth About Depression and How Women Can Heal Their Bodies to Reclaim Their Lives by Kelly Brogan and Kristin Loberg. An achievable, step-by-step 30-day action plan — including powerful dietary interventions, targeted nutrient support, detoxification, sleep, and stress reframing techniques — women can use to heal their bodies, alleviate inflammation, and feel like themselves again.
- How to Conceive Naturally: And Have a Healthy Pregnancy after 30 by Christa Orrechio and Willow Buckley. Christa and Willow break pregnancy into five trimesters — with the first trimester being preconception and the fifth being postpartum. They offer nutritional and homeopathic tips for preparing for pregnancy, a healthy pregnancy and rebalancing the hormones after the baby is born.
- Nutrition and Mental Illness: An Orthomolecular Approach to Balancing Body Chemistry by Carl C. Pfeiffer, PhD, MD. Carl Pfeiffer began an extensive program of research into the causes and treatment of mental illness and in 1973 opened the Brain Bio Center in Princeton, New Jersey. Here, with a team of scientists, he found that many psychological problems can be traced to biochemical imbalances in the body. With these patients, he achieved unprecedented success in treating a wide range of mental problems by adjusting diet and providing specific nutritional supplements for those conditions where deficiencies exist. This book documents his approach.
- Beyond the Label: 10 Steps to Improve Your Mental Health with Naturopathic Medicine by Christina Bjorndal. Learn, step-by-step, how you can move beyond a mental health “label” to optimal health on all levels — physical, mental, emotional and spiritual.
- 8 Ways to Eliminate Postpartum Depression and Be Free of “Mommy Brain”
- Is There a Blood Sugar Monster Lurking Within You?
- Postpartum mood disorders….dietary strategies
- The Link Between Sugar And Depression: What You Should Know
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.
- Postpartum Depression Facts
- Rates and risk of postpartum depression—a meta-analysis
- Sugar intake from sweet food and beverages, common mental disorder and depression: prospective findings from the Whitehall II study
- New Research Shows Depression Linked with Inflammation
- Maternal Health and Inflammation
- Exercise is an all-natural treatment to fight depression
- Sleep and Depression in Postpartum Women: A Population-Based Study
- Postnatal Depletion
- The Vitamin D Revolution: How the Power of This Amazing Vitamin Can Change Your Life
- Vitamin D and Depression: Where is all the Sunshine?
- Vitamin D and the Immune System
- Vitamin D deficiency in newly diagnosed breast cancer patients
- Comparison between maternal and neonatal serum vitamin D levels in term jaundiced and nonjaundiced cases.
- Cord Blood Vitamin D Deficiency Is Associated With Respiratory Syncytial Virus Bronchiolitis
- Vitamin D Deficiency and Acute Lower Respiratory Infections in Children Younger Than 5 Years: Identification and Treatment
- Vitamin D: What’s The Optimal Range?
- Vitamin D: What’s the “right” level?
- Can B12 Deficiency Cause Depression and Anxiety?
- The role of metformin on vitamin B12 deficiency: a meta-analysis review.
- Proton Pump Inhibitor and Histamine 2 Receptor Antagonist Use and Vitamin B12 Deficiency
- It Could Be Old Age, or It Could Be Low B12
- Magnesium and the Brain: The Original Chill Pill
- Test ID: HSCRP: C-Reactive Protein, High Sensitivity, Serum
- Comparison of C-reactive protein and low-density lipoprotein cholesterol levels in the prediction of first cardiovascular events.
- Postpartum Thyroiditis
- Response to sleep deprivation in three women with postpartum psychosis.
- Everything You Need to Know About Postpartum Depression
- Homocysteine and serotonin: Association with postpartum depression
- Sleep deprivation and the postnatal blues
- Dietary pattern and depressive symptoms in middle age.
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.